How to plan a free stopover on your next trip abroad
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Want to see two destinations for the price of one on your next trip?
Several airlines offer stopover programs where travelers can schedule extended layovers in cities (usually an airline’s main hub) en route to their final destination. You could spend a day discovering Doha, Qatar on the way to Bangkok, Thailand, for instance. Or walk the hills of Lisbon 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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Why do airlines offer stopover promotions, including value-added perks like museum passes and even accommodations, to passengers in the first place? Stopover programs 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…and thus book another flight 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. Just note that some of these are on hold for the moment due to travel restrictions, so before trying to book anything, call your airline to discuss the options.
Air Canada passengers can schedule a free stopover in Montréal (YUL), Toronto (YYZ) or Vancouver (YVR) when flying the airline (or Air Canada Rouge and Express) to or from a city outside Canada and the U.S. that connects in one of those hubs. Your stop just has to be over six hours to be eligible. If it is, you should see an option for “Air Canada Stopover” when booking your flight. You can also add in a stopover after booking if your itinerary is eligible. You have until 96 hours before your flight departs to do so.
Those traveling on Basic, Standard, Flex and Comfort fares can get one night at a hotel at a reduced rate starting at CA$ 49 ($40.50), while Latitude, premium-economy and business-class flyers can stay one night for free.
Air China lets you book a free transit hotel during stopovers of up to 24 hours on eligible tickets, including paid fares and award trips. Your itinerary can include domestic flights with a connection, international flights connecting in China, or international flights connecting to a domestic or regional one (vice versa).
Stopovers are available in the airline’s hubs of Beijing (PEK), Chengdu (CTU), Dalian (DLC), Hangzhou (HGH) and Shanghai (PVG).
The package includes free airport transportation and a family or double room that includes breakfast. To book, call Air China, and make sure you’re aware of any visa requirements before traveling.
Not quite as extensive as some of the other options on this list, Avianca will let you break your trip in bustling Bogotá 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.
Brussels Airlines’ “Belgium Stop Over” urges visitors to take advantage of the country’s small size and efficient transportation network to see as much of Belgium as possible during a stay of 1-5 nights at no extra charge.
They can even enjoy over 50 free activities during their stay, such as a city tour of Brussels (BRU), beer-tasting in Antwerp, and visiting the Castle of the Counts in Ghent. Once your stopover is booked, the airline will provide information about your options.
Flying Emirates anytime soon? 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.
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.
Etihad currently offers two different stopover options in Abu Dhabi (AUH), the capital of the United Arab Emirates. After booking a multi-city 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 or 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.
Take in the Northern Lights and some Art Nouveau architecture with a stopover of up to five days when traveling through Helsinki (HEL) on Finnair. Granted, you’ll have to pay for your own accommodations and activities, but your ticket shouldn’t cost more for 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, a complimentary transport card and even free beer. Yes, you read that correctly: free beer.
Given how many airlines are adding service to Iceland post-pandemic and how easy it is to connect through Keflavik (KEF) from the U.S. to other points in Europe, 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.
Fly Oman Air via its home airport of Muscat (MCT) between international destinations. You might 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.
Although you’ll need to check entry requirements and blackout dates, Qatar Airways offers serious discounts on stopover packages, including hotels, meals, city tours and activities for passengers transiting through Doha (DOH).
You can even book themed packages, such as a beach vacation and luxury trip with a private desert safari. To be eligible, your stopover must be 12 hours or more, and your airline ticket must start with “157.”
Though Royal Jordanian’s stopover policy is vague, it may be possible for you to get one night free at a hotel (as well as meals and ground transportation) in Amman (AMM) during a stopover in Jordan.
However, the following conditions must be met: The stopover must be more than eight hours in length (six for business-class passengers) and less than 24, and there can’t be any shorter same-day connections available. It’s also not valid on award tickets. If your flight meets these conditions, contact your nearest Royal Jordanian office to see if the service is available for you.
Singapore Airlines offers various packages of up to 10 nights for travelers wanting to spend some time in the Lion City (SIN). Most include complimentary one-way transport between the airport and hotel (this is currently suspended due to COVID-19, though) as well as entry to dozens of attractions and discounts at various restaurants.
To book, first decide whether you want your stopover on your inbound or outbound flight. Next, use the multicity flight tool and add Singapore as a stopover in your itinerary. Then, select your preferred package and hotel and pay.
Swiss International Air Lines
Stay from one to four nights in Switzerland with the Stopover Switzerland program. First, book your multi-city flights through Swiss International Air Lines, 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 195 Swiss francs ($218). 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 (LIS) or Porto (OPO) 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 for how long you’ll stay.
Once your stopover is booked, you can use TAP Air Portugal’s app, FlyTAP, for discounts on hotels and attractions, travel inspiration, guides and more.
Turkish Airlines offers one of the best stopover programs out there. While it is currently suspended because of COVID-19, it’s likely to return once travel begins to normalize again. If the terms return to their pre-pandemic conditions, business class passengers with a stopover of 20 hours or more will stay in a five-star hotel in Turkey for two days.
Economy class passengers will stay at a four-star hotel for one day if flying in economy — 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, guided tour and meals (this is also suspended for now). 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.
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 multi-city 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 (HNL) on each leg, whether outbound or return. The only stipulation is that travelers must use the multi-city option when booking on
Additional reporting by Miquel Ros and Eric Rosen.
Featured photo of Dubai by © Naufal MQ/Getty Images.
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