Did you know that many airlines allow you to book a free stopover as part of your flight when you buy airline tickets? By tacking on a free stopover to your flights, you could see two destinations for the price of one and save an incredible amount of money in the process.
If you have extra time to devote to a stopover on an overseas flight, I highly recommend it. It enables you to see more for your money and make the most of your vacation time! Of course, it’s not always easy finding these stopovers. You have to know how to look for them. But once you’ve learned how, you’ll see that it can be very easy and rewarding to add a free stopover.
When Nick and I started traveling together, I had already been to 33 countries and he had only been to 2. We started experimenting with the free airline stopover as a way to visit the places I’d already been without devoting an entire flight to it.
What we learned is that we can pretty easily visit top cities on our way to or from our intended destination for little to no extra money by using this stopover flight booking technique. Imagine that. FREE flights!
Let us show you how to book free stopover flights.
What is a Stopover?
Technically, a stopover is different than a layover. If you wish to stay longer than 24 hours in a second destination, it is considered a stopover.
We’re going to show you how to book flights that include a stopover, because this requires an addition skill than booking a long layover. Don’t worry if this all sounds a bit confusing. We’ll iron it all out of you.
What is the difference between a stopover and a layover?
A note about layovers: You will occasionally find flights that include layovers of up to 24 hours as part of the regular round trip ticket. If you don’t have a lot of time to burn, take advantage of those. We did an 18-hour layover in Frankfurt as part of a RT ticket and while it wasn’t a lot of time, it was still worth it to us.
How to Find a FREE stopover Flight
» Go Through the Airline
You’ve probably seen some airlines advertising stopovers direcly. Icelandair promotes their stopovers in Reykjavik en-route to other destinations in Europe. They even have a handy “Icelandair Stopover” button to make booking easy. Singapore Air, Japan Airlines, TAP Air Portugal and Emirates are three others that openly advertise stopovers. There is a whole page on the Emirites website devoted to booking a Dubai stopover package.
But many airlines don’t advertise stopover flights, so travelers don’t know it’s possible and even if they do, don’t know how to go about booking one.
» Use the Manual Method
Some airlines, like IcelandAir and now British Airways, have a convenient stopover search button on their flight tool that allows you to look for and select the stopover options they offer. It’s really convenient and I wish all airlines would offer it, but alas, they don’t.
My favorite way to find stopovers is to search on Skyscanner (download the mobile app here) using the multi-city search functionality. This enables you to find stopovers quickly on almost any airline.
Step One: Search for your preferred round trip
Let’s look at a trip from Seattle to Hong Kong. Begin by looking for a round trip flight to Hong Kong.
The search reveals possible connections in Beijing (PEK), Shanghai (PVG), Taiwan (TPE) and Seoul, South Korea (ICN). So, there is a high likelihood you can book a free stopover in any of those cities.
Step Two: Search for a multi-city ticket
Now you need to locate a ticket with a stopover in one of those destinations (longer than the layover of the round trip flight).
Perform a new search on Skyscanner, but this time click “Multi-City” rather than “Roundtrip”.
Using the multiple destination tool, search for a ticket from Seattle to Beijing (PEK), then Beijing to Hong Kong, and returning from Hong Kong to Seattle. (Note: each carrier has rules about stopover duration that we’ll discuss in a bit).
The multi-city search reveals that I can get a stopover in Beijing for 3 days for the exact same cost as the round trip flight with no stopover.
If you want to stay longer in Beijing than 3 days, I tried a 5 and 7-day stopover and the cost remained the same.
Now, let’s say you want to add 2 free stopovers to your trip.
You can do a multi-city search for a 3-day stopover in Beijing on the outbound flight to Hong Kong, and a 3-day stopover in Shanghai on the way home from Hong Kong. See the results below.
The price of the overall ticket rose by only $4 and I was able to add 3-days in Beijing and Shanghai. Now I get to see three destinations for the same price as one.
As another example, I am flying from London to Sydney and wanted to add a stopover somewhere fun on the way to break up the long flight. I used Skyscanner’s to search roundtrip for possible connections and found that Hong Kong and Singapore are the most likely stopover destinations. Doing a multi-trip search including these legs shows that I can stop over in either destination for the same prices as the round trip.
Of course, not all flights can have a free stopover added to them, even when using this method. For instance, when I searched for a Taipei stopover, the ticket increased by $200.
You will find sometimes that the flight price goes up dramatically when adding the stopover. This is why you have to be flexible and willing to take what you can find.
Use AirWander to Book a Stopover
I also use an online tool called AirWander to find successful stopover destinations. This tool does all the heavy lifting of finding stopover destinations for you. It’s a brilliant tool, really.
AirWander looks for possible stopovers en-route to your final destination. For example, I will search for a flight from London to Sydney. It will then show me the estimated price of the round trip ticket (which is $742 for this flight), as well as a list of stopovers available along the route.
There are dozens of options and each one tells me how much of a price difference the stop will add to my total. Some choices are Singapore, Melbourne, Hong Kong.
Some of the stopover options are more expensive, some are cheaper (see below).
I chose a stopover in Singapore on the way there.
The result was a flight with a 3-day stopover in Singapore for $712.
For me, the best part of this tool is the suggested destinations to visit on your way or on your return, because it can take hours of digging through flights in order to find these stopover cities. It takes Airwander a few seconds to tell you exactly where I could go. Extremely handy!
Alternative Ways to Find Stopovers
If you can’t find anything good, try speaking to the airline’s reservation agent before booking, because they might know of additional tricks or tips on getting the best routing and pricing. Don’t expect them to do the homework for you though. Always call in with at least a preliminary plan and a basic knowledge of their rules.
I usually try a bunch of combinations online until I find something good. Again, flexibility pays off. I’ve even found, in a few instances, that booking a stopover can make a flight cheaper. For instance, in a search for Seattle to Tokyo, I found that adding a Singapore stopover made the trip $250 cheaper, even though it’s not on the way.
My examples are international flights, but you can book stopovers on domestic flights as well, using the same technique.
You can also make stopovers when using your airline miles to book a free flight. Many of the international flights we book using our miles cost 60,000 miles. For the same amount of miles, you can often add one or two stopovers. Of course, exactly what is allowed is based on the airline.
Best Tips For Finding Free Stopovers
- Find out where the airline’s hub is, because you can almost always make a stopover at a hub.
- Be as flexible as possible. The more flexible you are with times and dates, the more likely it is you’ll find something great.
- If you look far enough in advance, you’ll probably find a ticket easily. The longer you wait, the harder it tends to become, as flights become more scarce.
- If you find a good stopover flight, be prepared to purchase it right away. Stopover flights become more expensive the closer it is to departure.
What Are the Airlines Rules for Free Stopovers?
Each airline has its own rules concerning stopovers, so if you want to fly a particular airline or use airline miles, you’ll need to be familiar with their specific rules. The problem is that the airlines are constantly changing their rules and there’s no good way to keep track of them except to call and ask.
The airlines’ rules usually include how many stopovers and/or open jaws you can build into an itinerary. An open jaw is where you fly into and depart from a different city or airport. In our example above, an open jaw would be flying Seattle to Paris, then flying from Rome on to Istanbul. I would need to find my own way from Paris to Rome.
Here is an updated list of airline stopover and routing rules compiled by Travel Is Free (2014). And here is a detailed diagram and info put together by Well Traveled Mile. Keep in mind that these lists may not contain the most up-to-date information.
To learn what rules govern your own situation, be sure to check the airline’s website for information and call directly for confirmation. If you’re unable to find the route you want using the online multiple destination planner, a phone agent can usually help you work it out or find something feasible. It sometimes takes a little configuring to get the perfect combination.
Airlines That Offer Free Stopovers
Sometimes the easiest way to find a free stopover is to plan one with an airline that advertises free stopovers. There are a few well-known ones that you can check out:
Air China: Up to 72 hour visa-free stopover.
Air France: Not available on non-flexible fares
Emirates: Allows up to 96 hours stopover
Etihad: Maximum 2 nights
FinnAir: Two free stopovers permitted (one in each direction)
Hawaiian Airlines: Available to customers traveling from international destinations
Icelandair: Stays up to 7 nights
Japan Air: Two free stopovers for up to five people
Singapore Airlines: Two free stopovers on every class
TAP Air Portugal: On a long-haul flight (round trip or one way), if the final destination of your trip is the Azores, Madeira or Algarve. You can stop off for 1-5 nights in Lisbon or Porto.
British Airways offers multi-stop options with added stopovers. Use their multi-city tool to find this option.
Try a flight search today on Sky Scanner:
Once you’ve had some practice, you’ll see that finding free stopovers to add to your journeys is incredibly easy. It’s a great way to see more and stretch your travel dollar even farther. If you have any tips to add about booking stopovers, let us know in the comments section!
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Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.