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.

Some trips require total dedication to one location and there’s no time for an extra destination. But sometimes, you have extra time or just want to see more for your money, and adding a short stopover in another destination is very desirable, especially if you can do it for free! Let us show you how to book stopover flights.

What is a Stopover?

A stopover has great flexibility. It lasts more than 24 hours in duration and can be extended up to a specified length to allow you to actually see and enjoy the destination you stopped in.

You may be referring to these flights as long layover flights and wondered how to book flights with long layovers. That’s what we’re going to show you today. How to book flights with long layovers or how to book a stopover.

You’ve probably seen some airlines advertising stopovers. 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 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 most travelers don’t know it’s possible and even if they did, don’t know how to go about booking one.

What is the difference between a stopover and a layover?

A layover is a connection that lasts no longer than 4 hours for domestic flights and no longer than 24 hours for International flights. Layovers are fairly common, especially overnight layovers, but usually they aren’t long enough to benefit you.

My husband and I started traveling together about 7 years ago, at which time I had been to 33 countries and he had been to 2. So we started experimenting with the free airline stopover as a way for him to visit the places I’d already been.

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!

A note about layovers: You will find flights that include up-to-24-hour layovers 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 do you find and book a free stopover flight?

Some airlines, like IcelandAir, 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. There is, however, an easy manual search method that I’ll show you, in case the airline you choose doesn’t have the stopover feature. And if you make it to the end of the article, I’ll show you an even easier way to do it!

Step One

The best tactic for booking a flight with a multi-day stopover is to use the multiple destinations function on a flight-booking tool like Skyscanner or Expedia. I personally prefer Skyscanner because it’s so easy to use and finds great flights.

First, you need to look up round-trip flights to your final destination and take note of the cities in which those flights make connections. These are the locations where you are most likely to be able to book a free stopover. You should also see where the airline’s hub is, because you can almost always make a stopover at a hub. And try to be as flexible as possible.

Example

Let’s look at a trip from Seattle to Istanbul. For a round-trip flight, I found a ticket with a connection in Paris, London or Amsterdam costing around $818. That means there is a high likelihood that I can book a free stopover in any of those three cities.

Use Skyscanner to find possible stopovers
Use Skyscanner to find possible stopovers

As you can see, the flight I found has a (+2) next to it. That indicates that there is a long layover, or possible stopover of a day in Amsterdam. If that’s what you’re looking for, then there’s no reason to continue, you can just book this flight and have 24 hours to spend in Amsterdam.

However, searching for multi-leg journeys intentionally may actually result in a drop in price, so it might be worthwhile to continue to step two.

Step Two

To locate a ticket with a  stopover (longer than the layover of the original flight), go to the multiple destination tool and split the trip to include the connection city or cities you found (Paris, London, Amsterdam).

For instance, using the multiple destination tool, search for a ticket from Seattle to Amsterdam, then Amsterdam to Istanbul X days later and returning from Istanbul to Seattle. (Note: each carrier has rules about stopover duration that we’ll discuss in a bit).

Performing a multi-stop flight search will uncover possible stopovers
Performing a multi-stop flight search will uncover possible stopovers. (Image from Skyscanner)

Using these parameters, I was able to find a flight with a 4-day stopover in Amsterdam for even less than the price of the round trip ticket. That means it’s actually saving me money to stopover for a few days in Amsterdam.

Adding a stopover sometimes saves money
Adding a stopover sometimes saves money (Image from Skyscanner)
Example:

I searched for Paris and London as stopovers, as well. It cost roughly the same to fly through Paris, but was actually $50 cheaper still to fly through London, at $745.

If you look far enough in advance, you’ll probably find a ticket like this easily. The longer you wait, the harder it tends to become, as flights become more scarce.

Try it for yourself now on Skyscanner.

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.

UPDATE:

I was recently introduced to a new online tool called Air Wander that does all the heavy lifting of finding stopover flights for you. It’s a brilliant tool, really. You should give it a try, even if you aren’t looking for a stopover.

Air Wander looks for possible stopovers en-route to your final destination. For example, when I put in Seattle to Tokyo, I can click the “Stopover” button to see what stopovers are 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 are more expensive, some are cheaper.

Airwander's stopover tool
Airwander’s stopover tool

I chose Taipei on the way there, and Hong Kong on the way back. I then searched for these flights. The result was a ~$1000 flight that was pretty decent. The only issue was that the first flight actually contained a layover in Xiamen, China, enroute to Taipei. Without that layover, the ticket costs $1700. I checked Expedia for this flight, and it was indeed $1700 on Expedia.

If it was dead set on a stopover in Taipei, I would be super excited that Airwander found that alternative that saved me hundreds. And if I wasn’t set on Taipei, I could choose a different stopover that didn’t have a long layover. The point is that it gives dozens of options and it DOES IT FOR YOU.

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!

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
Korean Air

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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How to book a free stopover
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6 thoughts on “How to Book a Free Stopover on Your Next Flight

  1. Sneha Jain says:

    Brilliant post. One question – When I go to quest organizer and I search from Seattle to Tokyo, it gives me the entire list of flights from which I can choose the stopover destination. I have to go back and add stopover destination and search again… Is there a way to just get the list of suggested stopovers?

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Sneha, I’m not sure I understand. You can get the list of suggested stopovers by putting in your From and To destinations and your dates. All the suggestions pop up there. You don’t have to continue on to search for the flights if you don’t want to. You can just use the list of destinations to do some additional research. If you have questions about the search tool, you might contact Airwander (formerly Quest Organizer). They can help.

  2. Terry mcmanus says:

    Both sites are very useful but airwander would be great if it worked better. It gives you stopover option easily but if you hit details or anything it freezes and then you can’t do anything with it. It happened to me multiple tries. If they fix that it is great. Otherwise I would have some fear of using it

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Terry, I’m sorry to hear you’re having trouble with the Airwander site. I use it quite frequently and I’ve never had it lock up on me. Maybe they were having a temporary glitch?

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