How to plan a free stopover on your next trip abroad
When you travel on an airline like Qatar or Emirates, chances are that you'll stop in Doha, Qatar, or Dubai on a layover, but never actually see the city. Interestingly, many airlines have free or heavily discounted stopover policies, which give you enough time between your two flights to explore the airline's hub city.
You could spend a day discovering Doha on the way to Bangkok, for instance. Or walk the hills of Lisbon, Portugal, before jetting off to Ghana. Enjoy a few days exploring Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on the way to South Africa. Those are just a few of the possibilities.
Taking advantage of airline stopover programs is a great, inexpensive way to pack even more travel opportunities into a trip by adding a whole additional destination to your itinerary.
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These stopover programs are beneficial to the airline too. For one, they boost tourism in an airline’s hub city. Airlines also bet that you’ll fall in love with the stopover city and will plan a return trip to explore the destination more in-depth. Assuming you do, you'll likely be booking another ticket with them.
Ready to plan your two-for-one trip? This is our comprehensive guide to some of the best airline stopover programs and what they currently include. Keep in mind that this guide focuses on paid tickets, so check out our complete guide to award ticket stopovers if you're booking with points and miles.
Not quite as extensive as some of the other options on this list, Avianca will let you break your trip in bustling Bogota for up to 24 hours via its stopover program. To book it, select the “Multiple cities/Multidestinos” option on avianca.com and enter your travel dates and cities.
Just make sure your stopover is eight hours or more. The airline offers suggested plans for eight, 12 and 24 hours, including activities like visiting Monserrate for stunning views of the city or perusing the antiquities at the Museo del Oro.
Related: Here’s why you need a healthy stash of Avianca LifeMiles
Through the new Panama Stopover option, Copa Airlines passengers can spend between 24 hours and seven days in the nation's capital, Panama City. While there's no extra charge to book a Panama stopover, you'll still need to cover some expenses, like an overnight hotel, if needed.
Fortunately, hotels are heavily discounted, and you can select the tour itinerary that appeals most to you on the website. I, for one, like the Panama City and Beach tour, which includes six nights split across two five-star hotels. This tour includes all food and drink, transportation and hotels for $1,242 per person.
If you're flying Emirates, why not take the opportunity to explore the United Arab Emirates for a few extra days along the way?
To take advantage of the airline’s Dubai Stopover program, use the advanced search feature on the airline’s website and ensure you have built a stopover into your itinerary. You can do this by building a multicity itinerary with a stop in Dubai.
After booking, contact your local Emirates office for assistance reserving a stopover package, which can include add-ons like accommodation at one of over 100 partner hotels, transportation, meals, visa arrangements (they can help with 96-hour or 30-day visas) and tourism activities.
You can also visit the airline’s Hotels & Visas desk at Dubai International Airport (DXB) Terminal 3. All arrangements come at an added cost but might still be worthwhile since the airline does all the legwork for you and has secured special rates for its customers.
Related: How I’m spending over 5 million Marriott Bonvoy points
Etihad currently offers two different stopover options in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. After booking a multicity itinerary with a stopover of at least 24 hours that does not originate or terminate in Abu Dhabi, you can use your booking number to reserve either a free one-night stay (or a discounted stay of up to six nights) at one of over 20 premium hotels. These include the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas and the Andaz Capital Gate Abu Dhabi.
Alternatively, you can opt for a one or two-night stay at one of over 10 three- and four-star properties. The airline also provides discounts on activities and tours.
Transit times through Addis Ababa Bole International Airport (ADD) in Ethiopia can be long. So if your layover is between eight and 24 hours, Ethiopian Airlines will arrange a complimentary hotel stay and airport transfers, provided you have the necessary visa or are eligible for a transit visa upon arrival, which the airline will facilitate.
Related: A review of Ethiopian Airlines in economy on the 787-8 from Newark to Lome and back
Take in the northern lights and some art nouveau architecture with a stopover of up to five days when traveling through Helsinki Airport (HEL) on Finnair. Granted, you’ll have to pay for your own accommodations and activities, but your ticket shouldn’t cost more when adding extra time in the city. The airline partners with Visit Finland to provide stopover travel inspiration, accommodations, tour packages and more.
Iberia’s Hola Madrid stopover program allows passengers to spend between one and six nights in Madrid at no extra charge. You can also obtain discounts on hotel stays with Melia, airport transfers, entrance to museums such as the Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza and a two-day complimentary transport card.
Related: The cheapest ways to book a trip to Spain with points and miles
A lot of airlines have added Iceland service, and it's easy to connect through Keflavik International Airport (KEF) from the U.S. to other points in Europe. So you might want to check out Icelandair’s stopover program, which is considered the pioneer of airline stopover packages.
You can stay for one to seven nights at no added ticket cost. When booking, select the stopover option and how many days you’d like to spend exploring the land of fire and ice. For inspiration on what to do during your stopover, check out Iceland Travel, where you can view various excursions and activities.
Related: Here’s how to get to Iceland on points and miles
Fly Oman Air via its home airport of Muscat International Airport (MCT) between international destinations — the airline doesn't fly to the U.S. — and you may be eligible to book a stopover of two or three nights with one night free at partner hotels through Oman Air Holidays. There are a few terms and conditions to be aware of, such as booking a round-trip international itinerary, but the stipulations aren’t too complicated.
Related: 8 tips for strategically booking your first stopover
Although you’ll need to check some of the blackout dates, Qatar Airways offers serious discounts on stopover packages, including hotels, meals, city tours and activities for passengers transiting through Doha's Hamad International Airport (DOH).
You can even book themed packages, such as a beach vacation and a luxury trip with a private desert safari. You can book a ticket with a stopover using this page on Qatar Airways' website.
Related: Airport hotels with day rates and how to book them
Swiss International Air Lines
Stay from one to four nights in Switzerland with the Stopover Switzerland program. First, book your multicity itinerary through Swiss' Stopover Switzerland booking portal, and then select your travel package for the number of nights you’ll stay.
Packages are bundled by cities and categories like “luxury,” “taste of Switzerland” and “best of Switzerland,” with pricing that starts at 180 Swiss francs ($185). The arrangements include accommodations and free public transportation across Switzerland, plus a passbook with over 100 discounts on attractions, mountain trains, dining and more.
TAP Air Portugal
Stay for between one and five days at no additional charge in Lisbon or Porto during a stopover in Portugal. Start by seeing if your flight is eligible for a stopover and, if it is, select which city you’d like to visit. Then you can choose whether you’d like to schedule your visit during your inbound or outbound journey and specify how long you’ll stay.
Once your stopover is booked, you can use TAP Air Portugal’s mobile app for discounts on hotels and attractions, travel inspiration, guides and more.
Related: 8 reasons Portugal is the perfect place to visit
Turkish Airlines offers one of the best stopover programs out there. Business-class passengers with a stopover of 20 hours or more will stay in a five-star hotel in Turkey for up to two days.
Economy-class passengers will stay at a four-star hotel for one day — for free. Your stopover must be longer than 20 hours to qualify for a free hotel room.
Once you’ve reserved your flights, send an email (click here to find the right email address based on destination) including your name, reservation code or ticket number, dates needed for accommodations, preferred room type (single, double or triple), telephone number and email address at least 72 hours before your first flight.
If your stopover is between six and 24 hours, you can explore Istanbul with a free city tour, including bus transportation and meals. You don’t need to reserve ahead of time. Just head to the Touristanbul desk upon arrival at Istanbul Airport (IST) to register. For more information on the different tours offered, click here. As always, make sure to check visa requirements before traveling.
Related: How to get to Istanbul on points and miles
Building a stopover into your itinerary is a great, cost-effective way to see another country or city during your trip. Luckily, many airlines and tourism boards are only too happy to help travelers make the most of even a short time on the ground to explore a new destination and hopefully pique their interest in another visit.
Even if your airline doesn’t publish or promote a stopover program of its own, you can always explore your options by performing multicity searches and pricing out tickets, then making your own hotel and transportation arrangements. If in doubt, you can always call up the airline to ask what your choices might be.
Hawaiian Airlines, for instance, lets travelers flying to or from the airline’s nine international destinations enjoy a free stopover in Honolulu on each leg, whether outbound or return. The only stipulation is that travelers must use the multicity option when booking on Hawaiian’s website. So you might have more opportunities than you think to see another part of the world on your next vacation.
Additional reporting by Miquel Ros, Eric Rosen, Kyle Olsen and Andrew Kunesh.