If you’re going to fly to another continent, why not build in a stopover into your flight so you can see visit another place along the way? Not only can this break up a long journey, but it allows you to experience another destination. If you do it right, it’s not going to add anything to your flight cost either.
There are basically four ways to work a stopover into your flight plans without paying extra money for it:
- Fly with an airline that allows a free stopover
- Take an advantage of a very long layover
- Call the airline to ask for extra days at your hub
- Use a budget airline for the last leg–a few days later
Airlines That Allow a Stopover for Multiple Days
This is the original stopover airline. Icelandair figured out early that one that building in a 3-day stay into their flights would mean a lot more visitors to Iceland. Those visitors spread the word on what a great destination it was and caused the country to get more and more popular as time went on. Back in the pre-internet days they were even throwing in a rental car.
The program is still going strong, so you can fly from the USA to 26 destinations in Europe (or the other direction to 18 in the USA/Canada) and spend up to seven days in Iceland. It’s not a big island really, so you could see most of it in that amount of time if you wanted. They’ll even assign a stopover buddy to help you plan your trip.
[Update April 2018 – I can no longer find this on Copa’s site or Panama Tourism’s site. If anyone knows it’s still available, leave a link in the comments.] If you’re headed to Central or South America, Copa is a great choice because it is based in Panama City, “the crossroads of the Americas.” It’s on the way to anywhere you’d want to go in South America and doesn’t require much backtracking. They’re also part of Star Alliance, so unlike with Icelandair, you can use or earn valuable mileage.
Copa also offers a stopover program though, so you can stop off in Panama for three days on your way to Peru or Argentina. They don’t really make it easy for you though. You have to either call one of their call centers to make the reservation, or you have to reserve a flight online, use the “save for 48 hours” option, then phone the call center to book it. This has been going on for years, so they’re either trying to keep lots of people employed in their offices or they haven’t found a programmer talented enough to build this into their booking system.
I’m not sure if this will be a permanent thing, but for now TAP Portugal is allowing a stopover in Lisbon on the way to their other European destinations. They are also throwing in a domestic flight to Porto if you’d rather explore that city instead. Then you head on to multiple destinations in Spain or further away.
Eithad and Emirates
If you’re up to a visit to the Arab Emirates but don’t want to go bad enough to make a special trip there, fly on one of their airlines to somewhere else. Eithad has a stopover in Abu Dhabi that even throws in a free second hotel room night. Emirates rolls out the red carpet on their stopover program for Dubai, guaranteeing free airport transfers, 24-hour checkin/out, and buffet breakfast where you stay.
Some airlines say they allow a stopover, but this spoil it in the fine print with something like “not applicable on discount fares.” So be skeptical when you see a stopover ad for Finnair or Air France. Singapore Airlines offers a stopover program, but as with the UAE ones, it’s mainly aimed at mid-range and luxe travelers. If that’s you, it’s a good deal because when you book a hotel on their list they throw in transfers, public transportation, and admission to a long list of attractions. Japan Airlines has a simple “make stopover” button on their site to add extra days in Tokyo or Osaka. If you can’t find the same price doing that as you can on other booking sites, call and try to work the stopover into whatever other deal you found.
Take Advantage of a Long Layover
Often when you’re searching for flight options, you’re looking for the one that will get you the fastest. In this case you want to look for the ones with the longest layover instead. Sometimes you don’t have a choice—like when you’re cashing in frequent flier miles and you have to take what you can get. I had a layover in Madrid one time that was close to 24 hours, so my wife and I got a hotel, went out to a nice Spanish dinner, and strolled the city. If it had landed when it was supposed to we were going to go on a tapas tour in the afternoon as well.
The one below is just an example since I’ve heard Doha called “the most boring city on Earth,” but if you took this flight that goes from New York to Katmandu you could see for yourself if that’s true.
That one is actually not all that long compared to some I’ve seen. When I searched flights to Nepal another time, one had a 37-hour layover in Delhi. If you haven’t been to India, this would be enough time to see the Taj Mahal and Red Fort, with a full night’s sleep in between.
Call the Airline
Even though we are made to feel we can book every flight out there online. as mentioned with Copa and JAL, the website often doesn’t have the same capacity a human agent does. Some airlines don’t have a formal stopover plan in place, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work one out. I’ve heard of many people calling the airline and saying, “I want flight xyz to your hub city, but want to fly out on jkl two days later instead of the same day. Can you book that for me at the same price?”
Often they can. It’s not anything shady, but they have to code it into their system the right way so it’s a layover and not two distinct flights. Some can’t or won’t, but many call center agents are bored of answering the same questions all day and are glad to stretch a little.
Do a Stopover Before the Last Leg on a Budget Airline
Many savvy travelers know that the best way to your final destination is often not with the airline that brought you across an ocean. It’s often better to connect to Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur, to EasyJet from the UK, or to Porter Air in Canada. The list goes on and on for different continents and new discount airlines are popping up all the time.
The idea here is, you’re changing planes and airlines anyway, so it’s not going to cost you any extra to put three days between those flights rather than booking them right next to each other. Just because Kayak or Skyscanner is showing you the two flights together doesn’t mean you have to book them that way. Plus many of the budget airlines won’t show up on these search sites anyway: you’ll need to visit two separate flights on different websites. So space them out and enjoy a break from being crammed into a long metal tube.