Skip to content

How to plan a free stopover on your next trip abroad

July 11, 2022
13 min read
Elevador da Bica funicular in Lisbon, Portugal
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

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.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

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.

Avianca

Bogota, Colombia. (Photo by Starcevic/Getty Images)

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

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Copa Airlines

Old Panama City is beautiful and busy. (Photo by John Piekos/Getty Images)

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.

Emirates

Dubai. (Photo by owngarden/Getty Images)

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.

(Screenshot from emirates.com)

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 Airways

The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. (Photo by ©Rodrigo Kristensen/Getty Images)
The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. (Photo by Rodrigo Kristensen/Getty Images)

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.

Ethiopian Airlines

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Photo by Emad Aljumah/Getty Images)

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

Finnair

Helsinki. (Photo by Miemo Penttinen – miemo.net/Getty Images)

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

Puerta del Sol Madrid
Madrid. (Photo by Dominic Dähncke/Getty Images)

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

Icelandair

Iceland. (Photo by Peerasit Chockmaneenuch/Getty Images)

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.

(Screenshot from icelandair.com)

Related: Here’s how to get to Iceland on points and miles

Oman Air

The Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman. (Photo by Ahmed Al Shukaili/Getty Images)

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

Qatar Airways

Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Fitria Ramli/EyeEm/Getty Images)

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

Zermatt, Switzerland. (Photo by thipjang/Getty Images)

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

Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Sean Pavone/Getty Images)

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

Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul. (Photo by Shaoyang Zhou/EyeEm/Getty Images)

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

Bottom line

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.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023