When it comes to air travel nowadays almost nothing is free. From checked baggage fees to prepaid seat assignments, airlines have found numbers of ways to get deeper into your wallet. However, on many international carriers, one freebie remains - the free stopover.
Visit Two Destinations for the Price of One
Stopovers give passengers the ability to explore two cities for the cost of one round-trip airfare. So what exactly is a stopover? A stopover is a break in your round-trip journey that lasts over 24 hours, allowing an overnight or multi-day stay at the airline’s major hub or connection city (anything less than the 24-hour mark is just considered as a layover). Instead of having connecting passengers wait around the airport for hours on end many airlines and tourism bureaus have introduced free stopover packages and tours. Enticing travelers to spend a few days and explore their home country and boost local tourism before jetting off to their final destination.
Not all airlines offer the ability to book a free stopover and while others do, they can make the process much more difficult. So, I’ve done a little research to find which airlines actively promote a complimentary stopover and those who are most flexible with booking your mid-journey jaunt. Below is a list of 10 airlines and a little advice that will help you book a free multi-day stopover as easy as possible.
Stopover City: Lisbon or Porto
The flag carrier of Portugal will allow travelers up to a 5-night stopover in either Lisbon or Porto en route to their final destination at no extra cost. Aptly named the “Portugal Stopover” fliers can choose to stop on either end of the journey on medium and long-haul flights, even flights ticketed as a one-way. However, a “Portugal Stopover” can only be used once per round-trip either outbound or inbound journey, not both. TAP Portugal has partnered with local restaurants in which you’ll get treated to a free bottle of Portuguese wine and with area hotels to provide those taking advantage of the stopover to exclusive discount rates.
Not only is Lisbon one of the more budget-friendly destination in Europe it offers a wide range of activities like hiking, sailing or finding a club to listen to the regional music genre of Fado to keep you busy on your multi-day stopover. Try the pasteis de Nata while you are visiting the Tower of Belem and Jeronimos Monastery on the outskirts of Lisbon. For US-based fliers, TAP offers nonstop service to Boston BOS, New York JFK, and Miami MIA to Lisbon LIS. For those wanting to stopover in Porto OPO, the only option is to do so on the nonstop route that departs from Newark EWR. More information on TAP Portugal’s “Portugal Stopover” offer can be found here.
Stopover City: Reykjavik
Tourism to Iceland has exploded over the last few years, and Icelandair’s generous stopover policy has certainly added to that growth. When flying from North America to Europe, Iceland air will allow travelers to stop in Iceland for up to seven nights at no additional cost. In 2016, Icelandair even launched a “Buddy” program to promote its stopover option, pairing travelers with an Icelandair employee to show them around Iceland for a day based on their interests. While that program has ended it has introduced a new program called “Stopover Performances” which you can gain free access to private concerts or stand-up comedy shows during your stopover.
While tourists outnumber the locals in Reykjavik KEF nowadays, an extended layover will allow you to escape the city on the Golden Circle, Iceland’s sightseeing route that features Gullfoss waterfall and UNESCO World Heritage site Thingvellir National Park. Icelandair provides service to 18 US cities and 5 airports in Canada. New routes from Dallas DFW, Cleveland CLE, and Kansas City MCI begin this May. More information on how to enjoy an Icelandair Stopover can be found here.
Stopover City: Reykjavik
Ultra Low-Cost carrier WOW air known for its $99 fares to Europe has implemented a similar stopover policy to its hometown competitor Icelandair. WOW air stopovers are only available on round-trip reservations on transatlantic flights, if you choose to do a stopover on a one-way you will need to break it up into two separate reservations. There doesn’t seem to be a limit to the length of the stopover but fliers will need to piece the itinerary together that incorporates the cheapest fares in order to make this stopover “free”.
While the stopover may be free on WOW air, almost nothing else is. Checked baggage, food, and seat assignments will all incur additional fees. WOW air charges a $45 fee (online price) each way for carry-on bags larger than 17x13x10 inches or heavier than 22 lbs. and a $65 fee (online price) each way for checked luggage up to 44 lbs., only a personal item is included in basic fares. To learn about how to book a WOW air stopover in Reykjavik KEF you can find additional details and itineraries for your Icelandic holiday here.
Stopover City: Istanbul
Turkish Airlines doesn’t officially promote its stopover as being free, but it is easy for travelers to book a long layover in Istanbul for equivalent money using the multi-city tool on the airline’s website. International transit passenger that only have a layover of 6 to 24 hours are offered free city tours throughout the day by Touristanbul a service provided by Turkish Airlines. See the free tour schedule here.
If you plan a longer stopover, Turkish Airlines will even set you up with a hotel room for one night if your qualifying stopover lasts more than 20 hours. Turkish Airlines flies to the most international destinations of any other airline, making its hub at Istanbul IST a great choice for travelers willing to break up their trip with a multi-day stopover. Turkish Airlines serves 11 destinations in North America with nonstop via Istanbul then connecting onward to over 110 countries worldwide. Find out more about how to take advantage of a stopover by the Bosporus here.
Stopover City: Doha
Qatar Airways has extended its +Qatar Stopover program through December 2018. Qualifying passengers traveling through Doha DOH are eligible to receive a visa-free entry into Qatar and a free hotel stay. The new transit free visa is available to travelers from 80 countries that have between a five-and 96-hour layover in Doha. This is a nice development to promote tourism within Qatar when I had an 8-hour layover in Doha during the Summer of 2016 the transit visa cost around $30 USD and definitely did not include the option for free accommodation.
The easiest way book your stopover is to visit the dedicated +Qatar Stopover site here and follow the guided instructions. Similar to the other airlines mentioned this stopover may occur on either the onward or returning flight portion of the round-trip ticket. Qatar Airways has nonstop service from 10 US destinations, with hopes to launch a San Francisco SFO route sometime this year.
Stopover City: Dubai (Milan, Athens)
With over 88 million passengers passing through Dubai DXB last year, Dubai is the world’s busiest airport when it comes to international travel. Many of those passengers missed out on Emirates options for a short Dubai stopover to split up their voyage. There are two options for booking an extended Dubai stopover with Emirates. The first option is to book a round-trip flight using the multi-city tool and manually adding in a stop in Dubai for a few days. By doing this, you can choose which leg of the trip you wish to include the stopover on.
The second method is to book the Dubai Stopover package offered by Emirates. This package isn’t exactly free, but it provides travelers with a streamlined and easy way to indulge in the flashy Arabian city. After or while booking your flight, you will need to contact the Emirates office nearest you requesting a Dubai Stopover. This may sound like a roundabout system but it's required to process the no-charge tourist visa. While doing so, the agent will give you information on hotel pricing and assist in setting up transfers to/from the airport. To book a stopover in Milan, you will need to depart on the New York JFK flight connecting through Milan MXP with a connection onward. To stopover in Athens ATH, you will need to be on the Newark EWR service with onward flights in order to take advantage of these two unique stopover options.
Stopover City: Helsinki
Finnair allows customers to book a stopover at their hub in Helsinki HEL from 5 hours up to 5 days. Finnair’s website makes it easy to plan your extended layover with its simple to follow booking instructions that can be viewed here. Like many other airlines featured on this list, Finnair allows you to choose whether you want your stopover on the outbound or return leg of the journey.
After deciding on your stopover length, Finnair also provides a hassle-free way for travelers to book a number of excursions. From chasing the Northern Lights to culinary tours of downtown Helsinki, you can pick what best suits your interests all within the stopover booking site. Finnair has a limited nonstop network to US cities. Serving only New York JFK with year-round service and seasonal service to Chicago ORD, Miami MIA, and San Francisco SFO.
Japan Airlines JAL
Stopover City: Tokyo or Osaka
Although not promoted on their website like other airlines on this list, Japan Airlines offers customers free stopovers at Tokyo NRT, Tokyo HND, and Osaka KIX airports. You have a couple options for booking your stopover with JAL. First, you can use JAL’s multi-city/stopover booking page and manually select the travel dates in which you wish to stopover. By doing this, I could replicate the same round-trip price but with a 3-day stopover in Japan included on many of my flight searches.
However, if the price jumps during your search you can always contact the JAL reservation office by phone and they will help you organize your stopover at no extra cost. Keep in mind that the stopover city must be where your flight connects through in Japan, most flights departing North America will allow the stopover at Tokyo-Narita airport. New York JFK and San Francisco SFO have nonstop flights to Tokyo-Haneda. If you were hoping to have your JAL stopover to occur in Osaka, your options are to depart from Los Angeles LAX or Honolulu HNL.
Stopover City: Singapore
Top-rated Singapore Airlines also provides free stopovers at its hub at Changi International Airport SIN in… surprise - Singapore. Like previously listed airlines you will need to navigate their multi-city/stopover booking page to select your stopover dates. Unlike JAL, the multi-city tool is fairly straightforward on the Singapore website and the price displayed with stopover included should match the cost of the listed round-trip flight. If you have any trouble matching prices, contact a representative at Singapore Airlines and they will assist you in applying the stopover.
For those wanting a turnkey stopover experience, Singapore Airlines offers a Stopover Holiday package with discounted rates on hotels, attractions and free transfers to/from the airport. Singapore Airlines serves connecting routes from Houston IAH, New York JFK, Los Angeles LAX, and offers nonstop flights from San Francisco SFO.
Stopover City: Panama City
The Panama Tourism authority and Copa Airlines have partnered up to allow passengers transiting through Panama to stop and spend a few days on the way to their final destination. To ensure that you are getting the free stopover you must purchase your ticket through the Copa Reservations Sales office to confirm that the fare is layover eligible. Only one stop in Panama allowed per itinerary.
Spend your stopover visiting the famous canal or in the UNESCO heritage site and ruins of Panama Viejo. Copa Airlines flies nonstop to 13 US destinations and to Montreal YUL, Toronto YYZ in Canada. To find out more information on how to reserve your Panama City PTY stopover go to the visitpanama.com layover page here.
Header Image courtesy of Eva Cornejo Coba via Shutterstock.