The ultimate guide to airline stopover programs
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Want to see two destinations during your next vacation — and maybe even for the price of one?
Thanks to airline stopover programs, travelers can schedule an extended layover in a city (usually the main hub of the airline) en route to their final destination, allowing you to explore Doha, Qatar on the way to Bangkok; Lisbon on the way to Ghana; or Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on the way to South Africa.
One of the newest airlines to offer a free stopover program is Iberia. If you’re booking an Iberia flight to another destination, their Hola Madrid stopover program allows you to spend up to six nights in Spain’s capital city at no extra charge. They’re even throwing in museum and hotel discounts and freebies such as a complimentary travel card.
You may be wondering why airlines offer stopover promotions to passengers, especially as some of the programs offer those valuable perks. Not only do stopovers boost tourism in an airline’s hub city, but airlines may also be betting that you’ll fall in love with the stopover city, and will plan a return trip to explore the destination in more depth (and book a flight with the airline again).
Ready to plan a two-for-one trip? This is our comprehensive guide to some of the best airline stopover programs and what they offer.
Iberia’s aforementioned Hola Madrid stopover program allows passengers to spend up to six nights in Madrid, Spain 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 free beer. Yes, you read that correctly: free beer.
Etihad currently offers complimentary hotel stays in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, for economy flyers on two-night stopovers until July 31, 2020 (travel must be booked by March 1, 2020). You can stay for free at a number of hotels — and some are pretty upscale, too, like the Andaz Capital Gate Abu Dhabi, the InterContinental Abu Dhabi and Le Méridien Abu Dhabi. The promotion is valid for tickets booked with both miles and cash.
Here’s how to get the deal:
- Book your multicity flight on Etihad.com.
- Select your favorite hotel from the list and be prepared to enter your booking reference code. Although you have to enter your credit card, you won’t be charged unless you don’t show up.
- Once you’re done, Etihad will email you a hotel voucher. While it’s unclear if you’ll earn points on your stay, you should still add your loyalty number upon arrival.
Passengers flying in premium classes can use this form to book their free stay at hotels including the Rosewood, The St. Regis or the Ritz-Carlton. Residence flyers get a free stay at the Emirates Palace. Make sure to check blackout dates and other regulations here.
Why not stop and see the northern lights, a glacier (or two) or simply enjoy the Icelandic capital city of Reykjavík with Icelandair’s stopover program? Considered the pioneer of airline stopovers — the airline, after all, was largely built on the concept — travelers flying over the Atlantic from the U.S. to Europe or back, you can stop in Iceland for up to seven nights at no added cost. When booking, just select the stopover option and how many days you’d like to stay. For inspiration on what to do during your stopover, check out the #mystopover hashtag on Instagram, where you can view photos and videos of people enjoying Iceland during their stopovers.
Qatar Airways offers serious discounts for booking a four-night stopover in Doha, Qatar’s capital city, when you pass through Hamad International (DOH). You’ll only be charged minimal booking fees for stays at four-and five-star properties if you book by Dec. 28, 2019, and stay by Dec. 31, 2019. Rates range from $23 for one night to $165 for four nights at a four-star hotel, and $28 for one night to $210 for four nights at a five-star hotel.
Here’s how to get the deal:
- Book on QatarAirways.com using the multicity option, adding a stop in Doha.
- Make sure the minimum transit time gives you at least 12 hours in Doha.
- Once your booking is complete, you’ll see the available stopover offers on the booking confirmation page.
TAP Air Portugal
Stay for up to 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.
Brussels Airlines calls its stopover program a “pit stop” and allows passengers to stay over from one to five nights at no extra charge in Belgium. Officially, your flights lands and departs from Brussels (BRU), but because the country is small, you’ll be able to easily see more than one city. Once your stopover is booked, the airline will offer provide information about seeing popular sights and attractions for a discount — or free.
If you book a two- or three-night stopover, you get the first night free at one of several three-, four- and five-star hotels in Muscat, Oman. Prices for each of the participating hotels, as well as the dates the promotions expire (it’s different for each property) are clearly stated here, but most are valid through the end of December 2019. All itineraries must be booked here, and be sure to take into account blackout dates, visa information and other terms and conditions here.
Stop for up to two days in Bogotá, Colombia, with Avianca. When reserving on Avianca.com, select the option “Multiple Cities” and purchase flights that include a stop in the Colombian capital. The airline recommends stopping for at least eight hours to get a feel for the city, but the designated stopover webpage offers ideas for exploring Bogotá for eight, 12, 24 or 48 hours.
Experience Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a day during a quick stopover with Ethiopian Airlines. The airline provides a free hotel stay to any passengers flying with them who have a connecting layover at Addis Ababa Bole International (ADD) between eight and 24 hours in duration, including airport transfers. Best of all, Ethiopian will facilitate your transit visa upon arrival.
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 during a stopover in Jordan. However, the following conditions must be met: The stopover must be more than eight hours in length, and there can’t be any same-day connections available. If your flight meets these conditions, contact your nearest Royal Jordanian office to see if the service is available for you.
Another destination where you can enjoy a stopover (and maybe spot those elusive auroras) en route to Asia or another final city is Helsinki, Finland when flying Finnair. Stopovers can be anywhere from five hours in length to five days, free of charge. Once you’ve booked your stopover, the airline works with Visit Finland to provide stopover travel inspiration, accommodations, tour packages and more.
You can book a stopover in the United Arab Emirates when flying Emirates through Dubai — for up to 30 days. To book, use the advanced search feature on Emirates.com. Make sure to build in the duration of your stopover when booking. Then, contact your local Emirates office for assistance booking a stopover package, which can include add-ons like accommodation, transportation, meals, visa arrangements (they can help with 96-hour or 30-day visas) and tourism activities (all at an added cost).
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 into categories such as lakes, mountains, culture or combinations of all three, and you can choose budget or bestseller options as well. Packages (which range in price) include accommodations and free public transportation across Switzerland. Each package comes with a Swiss passbook with over 100 discounts on attractions, dining and more.
Turkish Airlines offers one of the best stopover programs out there. Passengers can stay in a five-star hotel in Turkey for two nights if flying the airline in business class, and a four-star hotel for one night if flying in economy — for free. Your stopover must be longer than 20 hours in order 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. You don’t need to reserve a tour, either, and you can simply 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.
Air China’s explanation of its free transit hotel option during a stopover is vague, but those traveling on an eligible ticket (purchased with cash and not miles) with a stopover within 24 hours can receive airport transportation, a family or double hotel room and breakfast in one of the following Chinese cities: Beijing (PEK), Chengdu (CTU), Dalian (DLC), Hangzhou (HGH) and Shanghai (PVG). To book, call Air China, and make sure you’re aware of any visa requirements before traveling.
Get a free stopover in Montréal (YUL), Toronto (YYZ) or Vancouver (YVR) when flying Air Canada on both your inbound and outbound trip during any flights with a connection time longer than six hours. When booking your flight, choose “Air Canada Stopover” after you’ve made your flight selection. If you’ve already booked your flight and it’s eligible, you can opt in for the stopover when managing your booking.
Those traveling on Basic, Standard, Flex and Comfort fares can get one night at a hotel at a reduced rate starting at $49, whereas Latitude, premium economy and business-class flyers can stay one night for free.
Singapore Airlines offers various packages for travelers wanting to stop over in the Lion City (SIN) for up to two nights. Stay for one night and receive a one-way airport-to-hotel transfer starting at 41 Singapore dollars ($30); stay for one night and receive a one-way airport-to-hotel transfer, free entry to over 20 attractions and discounts on meals starting at 63 Singapore dollars ($45); or stay two nights and receive a one-way airport-to-hotel transfer, free entry to over 20 attractions, discounts on meals and a one-day pass to Universal Studios Singapore starting at $221 Singapore dollars ($160).
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.
Passengers flying Alitalia can enjoy a free stopover in Rome by way of Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport (FCO) for up to three nights through Dec. 31, 2019. The catch? Flights must originate in specific destinations and end in others — and U.S. cities, unfortunately, aren’t included as valid origin or destination cities. But if you happen to be traveling on the airline between other destinations, click here to see if your flight is eligible.
Although many of the deals mentioned above have an expiration date, always check back, because airlines often extend these stopover promotions or replace them with new ones. And you don’t have to wait for an airline to offer a stopover, as you can always build one in yourself using the multicity flight-booking tool. In fact, many airlines offer unofficial stopovers that they don’t promote, like Hawaiian Airlines, where travelers going to or from the airline’s nine international destinations can get a free stopover in Honolulu (HNL) on each leg whether outbound or return, if they use the multicity option when booking on
Additional reporting by Miquel Ros.
Featured photo of Dubai by © Naufal MQ/Getty Images.
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