Are all your searches for nonstop international flights coming up insanely expensive? If you’re flexible and willing to add a short side trip into your airfare search, you may find this helpful hack can save hundreds on your itinerary.
In instances where nonstop flights to your destination are obscenely overpriced, turn your intended final destination into a stopover city, by tacking on a small onward flight to the end of your trip (or before) and you just might be able to cut your airfare in half.
I know, it sounds a bit confusing, and there’s no mistake the airline industry makes it that way on purpose, but I’ll try my best to explain how to make this method work on an upcoming trip for you.
Shift Your Final Destination into a Stopover City and Save Big
Below are a couple of example itineraries exhibiting how utilizing an extended paid stopover or a multi-city add-on can significantly reduce the overall price on your airfare, and even allow for a bonus side trip all while pocketing some superb savings.
Example 1: Tokyo Drift – Paid Stopover
A top spot for leisure and business travelers alike, airlines have become hip to the demand on Tokyo bound flights and routinely list nonstop fares well over the $1000 roundtrip mark. So as my prime example, I’ll start off with how swapping your stay in the Japanese capital into an extended stopover can drastically undercut the high priced nonstop options offered by many airlines. For instance, let’s take a look at this two-week itinerary from Washington DC-Dulles to Tokyo-Narita on ANA for a wallet-gouging $2,211 roundtrip below.
Washington DC to Tokyo for $2,211 roundtrip - Nonstop Flights
Yikes, that’s a pretty expensive nonstop option if I ever saw one, and it’s not even in premium economy or business! Luckily, on most itineraries, Japan's two major carriers, ANA and Japan Airlines, allow for customers to add a stopover in Tokyo en route to another destination for just an extra $100. Giving travelers a chance to stop and explore the Japanese capital as part of a larger journey. With that tidbit of information in hand, flyers in the know can look at options on those carriers that connect via Tokyo and onward to perennially cheaper destinations like those in Southeast Asia.
For example, ANA regularly offers much lower ticket prices on itineraries ending in Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines rather than in its home base of Japan. But at some point, all those itineraries will connect through its hubs in Tokyo along the way. Let's take a look at this sample itinerary from Washington DC-Dulles to Ho Chi Minh City on the same exact dates as the nonstop trip to Tokyo above.
Washington DC to Ho Chi Minh City for $569 roundtrip - Connecting through Tokyo
As you can see, the fare from DC to Vietnam is pricing at a quarter of the cost of the nonstop option to Tokyo and includes the same flight departing from Dulles on ANA. So why would a trip including the same nonstop flights plus added legs to Ho Chi Minh cost so much less? Supply and demand. ANA relies on business travelers and customers desiring only a direct option to pay a premium for it. But savvy travelers who know that connecting onward often provides much cheaper tickets can tailor an itinerary to take advantage of the airline’s generous stopover guidelines. With these two itineraries in hand, the expensive nonstop option and the one routing though Tokyo onward to Vietnam, let's have a look what happens when you use ANA's paid stopover policy to extend your stay in Tokyo.
Washington DC to Tokyo as a paid-stopover for 14-days, traveling onto Ho Chi Minh City for 1-day then returning back to JFK for $669 roundtrip
Above is the same itinerary from DC to Ho Chi Minh City, but if you look closely there is only one day spent in Vietnam, and the bulk of the two-week trip spent in Tokyo – the desired destination. All for just $669 roundtrip with the added $100 extra accounting for the paid stopover fee assessed by ANA.
Further breaking this itinerary down, you’ll notice it’s onboard the same nonstop flight to Tokyo-Narita as the first mentioned exorbitantly priced option on the outbound leg, but since the return segment routes through the stop in Ho Chi Minh City, some stellar savings go into effect.
Would you be willing to save $1,542 on a trip to Tokyo by just making a pit stop to Vietnam and back on the way home? I would.
And that’s the catch with utilizing this stopover method hack. Although you'll be able to spend the majority of time in your desired destination, in this case, Tokyo, you’ll be required to tack on an extra leg to the discounted destination in order to reap the savings.
But there’s no need to treat these backtracking flights as an extra hassle and added transit time.
If you’re willing to give it a go, this method is a perfect fit for flexible travelers who want to explore a new destination and maximize the bang for their buck on a terrific 2-for-1 offer. For display purposes in the instance above, I only added a day in Vietnam, but there are usually no restrictions limiting your timeframe, and a passenger could easily build in a full weekend stop or longer bonus trip alongside the 1,000 plus dollars of savings.
Example 2: Turkish Delight – Multi-City Add-On
In this example, I’ll use a completely different carrier in another region of the world to demonstrate how adding a tack-on trip and converting your intended final destination to the stopover city can also cut down on ticket costs.
Turkish Airlines has one of the most generous stopover policies in the industry, allowing customers the ability to spend time as much time as they'd like in their Istanbul hub for free! So unlike the example above, you won't have to pay a set amount for the stopover benefit, but a minimal cost might be added on some itineraries when adding extra segments to reduce the overall price.
Let’s say that you have your eyes set on spending over two-weeks touring Istanbul and bopping around the Bosporus. When searching for trips departing New York-JFK to Istanbul, you'll find that going rate on nonstop flights for your November dates are pricing out at $869 roundtrip.
New York to Istanbul for $869 roundtrip - Nonstop flights
While direct flights to Istanbul have been continually creeping up in cost lately, other European cities have been enjoying some record price drops. Forced to keep up with the competition, Turkish Airlines has been reducing rates on its offerings to many of its destinations in Europe with itineraries totaling a lot less than they charge for nonstops to its Istanbul base.
Have a look at this city pairing for example; flights from New York-JFK to Munich, Germany onboard the airline are listing at only $628 roundtrip. That’s $240 less than what the nonstop option to Istanbul would run you on the same travel dates.
New York to Munich for $628 roundtrip - Connecting through Istanbul
Using the same logic as in the first example, let’s see what happens when we use Turkish’s stopover policy to create a multi-city itinerary where the majority of your time is spent in the initially intended destination of Istanbul, but combined with the fare pricing of the cheaper Munich itinerary.
New York to Istanbul as a stopover for 15 days, traveling on to Munich for same day return, then on to New York $682 roundtrip
Above you can see that by making Istanbul your “stopover” city and extending the time spent there to the original two weeks stretch that you began your search with is much cheaper now* when the “tack on” flights to Munich are added. In this example, you wouldn’t even need to leave the Munich airport, just fly there and back in the same day to shave off $187 per ticket.
Now is $187 worth flying back and forth from Munich and spending an additional six plus hours flying and in transit worth the savings? For most passengers – probably not, but if you’re paying for a family of four, the potential savings can quickly add up.
Of course, this is the utmost example of tacking on an add-on segment for a quick turnaround to save on an itinerary. In most cases, you'd incorporate a couple of days to explore Munich on the tail end of your trip to not only save nearly $200 but to also get a bonus city break.
*($682 roundtrip. $54 more than just the Munich only itinerary. So it is a minimal increase, not necessarily a “free” stopover in Istanbul. But overall, significantly cheaper than the quoted $869 nonstop fare.)
All About Location
Take note that this stopover system doesn’t quite work in every region. On flights to Western Europe, fares are so low nowadays that applying this method is often unnecessary. On domestic and Caribbean flights, stopover policies and route networks nearly nullify this approach altogether.
This hack is really highlighted when used on itineraries to expensive Middle-Eastern, Asian, African, and Eastern European destinations that often command over-the-top nonstop ticket prices.
Easier Said than Done
While my examples above are easily laid out, there’s no doubt that utilizing these methods will require some trial and error to make this system work for you. The best approach is to decide your intended final destination or city where you plan on spending your most time and work backward from there.
If Seoul is your desired destination, limit your search to airlines with hubs in that city like Asiana or Korean Air so you'll be guaranteed to connect through. Secondly, search for nearby cities you'd like to enjoy a side trip to or a location that historically has cheaper fares (with only those airlines selected) once you've found a cheaper itinerary connecting through your desired city start playing around with dates to extend the layover to your liking.
At first, the process might be time-consuming, but you’ll forget about all of that when you’re busy counting all the coin you saved while on your bonus tacked-on trip.