Editor’s note: Most airlines have paused these stopover benefits during the pandemic. Check with the airline directly to confirm eligibility before booking. Save these ideas for when it’s safe to travel again, and always follow all COVID-19 restrictions, rules and safety regulations both at your destination and upon returning home.
Want to visit some of the most vibrant cities of the world-—for free? Booking a ticket with an airline that offers a free stopover to their hub city is an excellent strategy for world travelers. Many times, you’ll have access to free or inexpensive tours and in some cases, you can even get a free hotel room on your stopover vacation.
What Is a Stopover? What Makes It Free?
A stopover is like a layover, but much longer. Instead of transferring immediately to your next flight, you have enough time to get out of the airport, explore the city, and stay a couple of nights. Depending on the airline, you may be able to book an extended stay before you take the next leg of your flight to your final destination. The stopover benefit is great as you’ll only be charged for one ticket instead of two.
Cities that want to increase tourism offer this free stopover to entice travelers to visit and they often do so through the national airline. If you’re flying an airline that offers a free stopover to its main hub city, plan in a few extra days on your ticket and start checking off that bucket list.
How Do You Book a Flight With a Free Stopover?
Every airline has some version of the “multi-city booking tool.” In most cases, this is what you’ll select to book your stopover.
You’ll click to add a flight/segment for your stopover city.
Then, you’ll add your final destination and the flight back.
For this example, Singapore Airlines even has a blue button offering the option to book a stopover in Singapore.
When you check out, your ticket price should be the same with the stopover included.
Related: The Worst Mistakes Travelers Make at the Airport
What Airlines and Cities Offer Free Stopovers?
Not every airline offers a free stopover. In most cases, you’ll have to pay for an extra ticket, so the trick is knowing which airlines offer it and what cities you can visit.
Here’s a great list of free stopovers to get you started:
Singapore (Singapore Airlines)
Singapore is one of the coolest cities, and they want everyone to know it. From the fantastic airport to the towering Marina Bay Sands hotel and the delicious hawker food stalls, Singapore has a lot to offer visitors. The process for booking a stopover with Singapore Airlines is by far one of the easiest you’ll come across. After securing your ticket, you’ll be able to book a hotel right on the airline’s website for as little as $1. Booking through the airline also includes a host of free tours to top attractions including Sentosa Island, Gardens by the Bay, the Singapore Zoo, and more.
Hawaii (Hawaiian Airlines)
How does a free stopover in Hawaii sound? You can book a ticket from the mainland United States to an international destination serviced by Hawaiian Air, such as New Zealand, and enjoy a free stopover in Hawaii. Other international destinations for Hawaiian Airlines include Tahiti, Samoa, Australia, South Korea, and Japan.
Reykjavík (Iceland Air)
If you’re considering a European vacation, flying Iceland Air could get you a free stop in Iceland on your way over (or the way back). It’s even possible to book a trip to the Canary Islands with a stopover in Iceland! You could soak in the Blue Lagoon, sleep under the Northern Lights, hike to thundering waterfalls, and explore the unique landscape Iceland is known for. Your stopover in Iceland can be easily booked online for up to 7 days.
In Madrid, you can walk through historic neighborhoods, visit the Royal Palace, catch a flamenco show, and eat your way through some incredible Spanish cuisine on your stopover trip. You can stay for up to six extra nights in Madrid and from there, you can fly anywhere.
Dubai has no shortage of activities for a stopover. Whether you want to tour the tallest building in the world, visit a mosque, sled down immense sand dunes, relax in a luxurious hotel, or go skiing indoors, there’s something for everyone. You may even qualify for a free hotel stay.
Istanbul (Turkish Airlines)
If you haven’t visited Istanbul, you’ll want to put this on your list. You won’t want to miss the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Turkish delight or mouth-watering kebabs. Beyond the free stopover, Turkish Airlines is one of the few airlines that offers a free hotel even for economy ticket holders. The airline has a specific list of cities and countries you need to be traveling to in order to take advantage of the free hotel benefit, which you’ll find here.
Hong Kong (Cathay Pacific)
Hong Kong is known for its show-stopping, skyscraper skyline. The densely-packed island is also home to historic architecture, botanical gardens, vibrant street market shopping, and comforting dim sum dishes. Cathay Pacific is the flagship airline for Hong Kong and often holds sales with a free stopover included.
Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and more (China Airlines, China Southern)
China Airlines and China Southern allow free stopovers to their main cities. If you’ve been aching to see the Great Wall of China or the eclectic architecture of Shanghai, you can do it on a free stopover. These airlines do have a hotel benefit, though there are many restrictions.
Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver (Air Canada)
If you want to spend a few days exploring the largest cities in Canada, consider booking a ticket through Air Canada. The routing may be different than you’re used to, but the benefits of feeling the French vibes of Montreal, experiencing the outdoor beauty of Vancouver, or walking the metropolitan streets of Toronto are worth it.
Tokyo or Osaka (Japan Airlines)
Japan Airlines doesn’t have a webpage about their free stopover, but you can build one in with their multi-city tool. Some bloggers report direct contact with the airline is the best way to book the stopover in Tokyo or Osaka. In the past, if your stopover lasted fewer than three days, you wouldn’t be charged extra. If you’d like a longer stay, the $100 stopover fee might be worth it to you.
How to Get the Most Value From a Stopover
If you want to score one of those cheap flights and you’re a little flexible, search Google Flights or Skyscanner first. Take a look at what airline you’ll be flying and what city your layover is in. When you go to that airline’s website to book, use the multi-city tool and work in a stopover.