Wouldn’t it be nice to have two vacations instead of one? If you’re traveling a long distance, wouldn’t it be nice to stop off for a while in that place where you have to change planes instead of sitting around the airport? With a stopover built in—officially or unofficially—you can enjoy two different places instead of just the final destination.
Some of the formal airline stopover programs have been around for ages. Part of the reason so many people have been to Iceland is that Icelandair has long allowed passengers to stay for a while on their trip between North America and Europe. They even threw in extras during promotions, like a hotel room, a rental car, or a local guide. It worked so well they’re now talking about what to do about too many tourists.
Here are some airlines officially offering stopover programs that you can code in while booking. In some cases you’ll have to call to work it out, in others you can choose an option when you book direct online. Then we’ll look at some ways to work this out even when there’s not a program in place.
Airline Stopover Programs
Icelandair and WOW Air
Icelandair comes first on the list because they were the pioneer in this area. They still have one of the most generous and straightforward options around. You can stay for a day in Reykjavik or stay for up to seven and explore the countryside. Even better, this also applies to their budget subsidiary WOW Air.
TAP Air Portugal
I’ve raved about Portugal for years after going on a bike tour of Alentejo, but I spent some time in Lisbon too and would love to return. If you book an international round-trip flight with Portugal’s airline, you can stay over in Lisbon or Porto for up to three nights. Here’s a bonus: hotel rooms in Portugal are some of the best values in Europe.
A full vacation in Finland doesn’t come cheap, but you can get a taste of Helsinki on a stopover of up to five days for free on international flights between North America, Europe, and Asia. The instructions for booking are refreshingly simple on this one.
If you book an international flight on Air Canada and end up with a layover of six hours or more in Toronto, you are eligible to extend that for days if you want. In some fare classes this is free, in others it’ll cost you $49, but you can do it all online. See the rules and procedures here.
I’ve always said if I’m going to fly all the way from the east coast to Hawaii, I might as well keep going to somewhere more exotic in Asia or the South Pacific. I may have found a reason to stay though. By ponying up a few extra dollars in fees, you can use Hawaiian Airlines multi-city tool to build in a few days in Honolulu where you would change planes for Japan, Australia, New Zealand, or Samoa. Naturally, you could use this to hit two different islands instead as well.
The Panama-based airline Copa is one of the best options for flying between North and South America and they’re part of the Star Alliance. You can break up the trip halfway by stretching your legs in Panama City for a while. Have we mentioned lately that Panama has some of the cheapest booze in the world? And some of the best hotel rates for nice places? It’s a little tricky to book this online though and you can’t go back and add it later, so it’s best to check prices online then call the toll-free number.
You can book a stopover in Hong Kong when flying this airline and in theory you can squeeze one in elsewhere if you have two connections. Where they really shine though is if you book with miles: this blog post outlines ways you could have a stopover in five cities through their One World program options. It gets even better with the next airline when it comes to reward mile bookings.
Japan Air Lines (JAL)
This Japanese carrier has Tokyo stopovers built into its multi-city booking tool, so it’s easy to set up some time in Japan on the way to somewhere else. As with Cathay Pacific though, where you can really go crazy with stopovers is in their One World redemption scheme. It’s based on miles flown, not stops, so you could hop around Asia or Europe for weeks on one award ticket.
This is not a comprehensive list and other airlines offer more limited options, such as only up to 24 hours (Turkish Air), a free local day tour (Singapore and Turkish), stopovers only from one country (Argentina itineraries on KLM), or stopovers only available to business class passengers. Fiji Air offers a stopover, but only as part of a vacation package to Australia or New Zealand. Hopefully more will jump on the bandwagon in the future. It seems crazy that Aer Lingus doesn’t do this for Ireland, for example, but this could change at any time.
Creating Your Own Stopover
I got out at the metro stop near Notre Dame Cathedral and wandered for hours along the Seine. I ate some cheese, drank a glass of wine, and snapped photos like a tourist visiting the city for the first time. That’s because I was visiting the city for the first time. I had a 20-hour layover at hideous Charles de Gaulle airport coming back from Kyrgyzstan and I wasn’t going to waste it hanging out there. I booked a cheap hotel nearby that had a shuttle and hopped the metro into the city. The next day I took the shuttle back to the airport after a horizontal sleep and a shower.
The quirks of international connections often create a situation like this. Normally you want to avoid long layovers if you’re on a tight schedule, but if you’re looking for them you’ll often see that “+1” indication on the choices, meaning you won’t’ depart until the next day. It’s not unusual to see layovers of more than 24 hours either if you keep scrolling down. So the easiest way to create a free stopover is to just choose the option with the longest layover.
Sometimes it can be a similar price to book one yourself via the multi-city option. You book a flight from A to B, then B to C, then C to A on the return. If the price is the same or not much more than just booking a round-trip flight, voila you have your stopover and can stay as long as you want.
You can also book a flight from A to B, then C to A, and find an alternate way between your stopover city and your eventual departure point. That could be a train, a bus, a ferry, or a cheap regional flight on the likes of AirAsia or WizzAir. Technically this isn’t a stopover since you’re not returning to the same airport, but it accomplishes the same thing.
Occasionally you can get away creating a stopover in the USA in a hub city on the way home. If you live in Chattanooga let’s say, and you’re coming home from Europe on United, there’s a good chance you’ll have to change planes in Newark or Dulles. Sometimes for free, sometimes for a change fee you can spend a few days in New York City or Washington D.C. before making your way home to the final airport later. You can find 100 free things to do in Washington D.C. if you spend a day in the city.
For more details, check flight options on Skyscanner to get an idea of price ranges, then book direct or call the individual airline.