When it comes to air travel nowadays, almost nothing is free. From checked baggage fees to prepaid seat assignments, airlines have found countless ways to get deeper into your wallet. However, on many international carriers, one freebie remains, and it's one of the most valuable airline perks out there – the free stopover.
Visit Two Destinations for the Price of One
Stopovers allow passengers the ability to explore two cities for the cost of one roundtrip airfare. So what exactly is a stopover? A stopover is a break in your journey that lasts over 24 hours; permitting an overnight or multi-day stay at the airline’s primary hub or connection city. (Anything less than the 24-hour mark is just considered a layover).
Instead of having connecting passengers wait around the airport for hours on end, several airlines and tourism bureaus have gotten hip to the fact that if a passenger leaves the airport and spends a few days explore their home country before jetting off to their final destination, it boosts local tourism.
Unfortunately, not all airlines are on board complimentary stopovers, and while others do, they make the process such a hassle you'll give up before the search page loads. So, to take the trouble out of your planning, I’ve sussed out the top airlines that actively promote free stopovers and are the most flexible for booking mid-journey jaunts. Below is a list of nine airlines plus a little advice on how to schedule your free multi-day stopover to help you score a terrific twofer deal!
Stopover City: Lisbon or Porto
The flag carrier of Portugal allows 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” flyers can choose to stop on either end of the journey on medium and long-haul flights, even on flights ticketed as a one-ways! However, take note that a “Portugal Stopover” can only be used once per round-trip either outbound or inbound journey, not both. To sweeten the pot, TAP Portugal has even linked up with local restaurants and hotels to give passengers exclusive rates and bonuses to enjoy en route.
Not only is Lisbon one of the more budget-friendly destination in Europe. It offers a wide range of activities like hiking, sailing, or just relaxing in a cafe listening to traditional Fado tunes to entertain you a multi-day stopover. Just make sure to try the Pasteis de Nata while visiting the Tower of Belem and Jeronimos Monastery on the outskirts of Lisbon, to consider your visit complete. For US-based fliers, TAP offers nonstop service to Boston (BOS), New York (JFK), Chicago (ORD), Washington DC (IAD), San Francisco (SFO), 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’s “Portugal Stopover” program can be found here.
Stopover City: Reykjavik
Tourism to Iceland has exploded over the last few years, and Icelandair’s generous stopover policy has undoubtedly played a major role. Even though visitors outnumber the locals in Reykjavik (KEF) nowadays, you can use extended layover to escape the city and get in touch with the island's natural beauty. Iceland’s famous Golden Circle sightseeing route features the picturesque Gullfoss waterfall, and UNESCO listed Thingvellir National Park; making it a perfect side trip when spending extra days exploring en route.
When flying from North America to Europe, Icelandair allows travelers to stop midway across the Atlantic for up to seven nights (each way) 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, the carrier has put together a handy adventure guide on how to make the most of your time on the island according to stopover length.
Icelandair services 15 U.S. cities and 4 airports in Canada, for more information on how to enjoy a stopover in Iceland click here.
Stopover City: Istanbul
Turkish Airlines doesn’t officially promote its stopover as being free, but it's relatively simple to build in a long layover in Istanbul by using the multi-city tool on the carrier’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. View 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 free of charge. Turkish fly to the most international destinations of any other airline, making its newly crowned hub at Istanbul (IST) an excellent choice for travelers wishing to break up their trip. Turkish Airlines serves 12 destinations in North America with nonstops via Istanbul to over 120 countries worldwide. Find out more about building in your stopover by the Bosporus here.
Stopover City: Doha
Qatar Airways has extended its Qatar Stopover program through the end of December 2019. Qualifying passengers traveling through Doha (DOH) are eligible to receive a visa-free entry into Qatar, and a hotel stay for as little as $23 per night. The new transit free visa is available to travelers from 80 countries that have between a five-and 96-hour layover in the Qatari capital. When I had an 8-hour layover in Doha back in 2016, the transit visa cost around 30 USD and definitely didn't include a discount accommodation option.
The easiest way to book your stopover is by visiting the dedicated Qatar Stopover site here and follow the guided instructions. Similar to other airlines mentioned, this stopover may occur on either the onward or returning flight portion of the roundtrip ticket. Qatar Airways provides nonstop service from 10 US airports.
Stopover City: Dubai, Milan, and Athens
With over 89 million passengers passing through Dubai (DXB) last year, it's the world’s busiest airport regarding international transits. And many of those passengers missed out on Emirates two options for a short Dubai stopover to split up their voyage. The first is to book a roundtrip flight using the multi-city tool and manually add 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'll need to contact your nearest Emirates office and request a Dubai Stopover. This may sound like a roundabout system, but it's required to process the necessary tourist visa at no extra charge. 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'll need a seat on the Emirates New York (JFK) to Milan (MXP) flight with onward service to Dubai. For travelers looking to climb the Acropolis in Athens (ATH), then you'll need to be departing on the Newark (EWR) service as those two routes are fifth-freedom specific.
Stopover City: Abu Dhabi
Rounding out the ME3, this year Etihad Airways has launched a stopover program of its own to lure passengers into a break at its base in Abu Dhabi (AUH). And it might be the most generous of them all. To sweeten the deal the carrier is even throwing in two free nights accommodation at over 20 of its hotel partners throughout the city.
To take advantage of this outstanding offer, travelers will need to book their trip on Etihad's site using the multi-city tool. Then manually build in their desired stopover dates. Once booked, simply choose from the listed here and provide your flight details then Etihad will email over a voucher for your free two-day stay. If you’re looking for ideas on how to spend your 48-hours in the capital of the UAE, on its dedicated stopover site, Etihad has created a quick video to drum up some travel inspiration and has a list of itinerary ideas to keep you busy. If free hotels aren't already enough, complimentary bus service to/from the airport to top destinations like Yas Island and the Louvre Abu Dhabi are part of this phenomenal package. So if you're serious about scoring your free stay, you'll have to do so by March 31, 2020, as this deal is just too good to last. Etihad operates nonstop service from four U.S. airports, Washington DC (IAD), New York (JFK), Chicago (ORD), and Los Angles (LAX).
Stopover City: Helsinki
Finnair flyers can book a stopover at the airline's hub in Helsinki (HEL) from 5 hours up to 5 days. With it's easy to follow steps on its stopover booking site, selecting your dates for your city break in Helsinki is a cinch. Like many other carriers featured on this list, Finnair gives you a choice on whether you'd like your stopover on the outbound or the return leg of your journey.
After deciding on your stopover length, Finnair provides a helpful list excursion booking benefits to best maximize your visit. From chasing the Northern Lights to culinary tours of downtown Helsinki, pick what best suits your interests all within the stopover site. Finnair runs a limited nonstop network to the U.S., serving only New York (JFK) and Los Angeles (LAX) with year-round operations and service to Chicago (ORD), Miami (MIA), and San Francisco (SFO) on a seasonal basis.
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 stop 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 roundtrip price but with a 3-day stop in Japan included on many of my flight searches.
However, if the price jumps during your search, 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're eyeing the Osaka option, you'll need to depart from either Los Angeles (LAX) or Honolulu (HNL).
Stopover City: Singapore
Perennially top-rated Singapore Airlines provides free stopovers at its hub at Changi International Airport (SIN) in… surprise, you guessed it– Singapore. Like previously listed airlines, you'll need to navigate their multi-city/stopover booking page to select your stopover dates. But unlike JAL, the multi-city tool is relatively straightforward on the Singapore website, and the price displayed with stopover included should match the cost of the listed roundtrip flight. If you have any trouble matching prices, contact a representative at Singapore Airlines, and they'll assist you in securing the stopover.
For those wanting a turnkey experience, the carrier offers a Singapore Stopover Holiday package with discounted rates on hotels, attractions and free transfers to/from the airport. Departing the States, Singapore Airlines operates nonstop routes from Seattle (SEA), San Francisco (SFO), Los Angeles (LAX). And for the ultra-long-haul road warriors, the world's longest flight linking up two Star Alliance mega-hubs Newark (EWR) and Singapore (SIN) at over 9,500 miles.