How to book a free stopover
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Have a little flexibility in your schedule? By tacking on a stopover to your flights, you could see two destinations for the price of one.

I’m not advocating rushing your vacation just to add another destination. Some trips require total dedication to one location. 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 a free stopover.

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 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, another easy method that I’ll show you, in case the airline you choose doesn’t have the stopover feature.

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 Expedia. 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 $1362. That means there is a high likelihood that I can book a free stopover in any of those three cities.

Roundtrip Flight on Expedia
Roundtrip Flight on Expedia

Step Two

To locate a ticket with a stopover, go to the multiple destination tool and split the trip to include the connection cities you found (Paris, London, Amsterdam).

Using the multiple destination tool, search for a ticket from Seattle to Paris, then Paris 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). Using these parameters, I was able to find a flight with a 2-day layover in Paris for $1398. A stopover in Paris for $30 isn’t bad!

Example:
Multiple Destinations flight on Expedia
Multiple Destinations flight on Expedia

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. I also searched the other two destinations. London was $80 more expensive. Amsterdam was only $16 more expensive than the round trip.

It’s also a good idea to speak 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 Quest Organizer that does all the heavy lifting of finding stopovers for you. It’s a brilliant tool, really. You should give it a try, even if you aren’t looking for a stopover.

Quest Organizer looks for possible stopovers en-route to your final destination. For example, when I put in Seattle to Tokyo, I am presented with Taipei, Taiwan. Once I’ve chosen my stopover location, the tool provides me with possible one-way options to get me there. Because it’s searching for flights that naturally go through your stopover location, the price of the ticket should be cheaper.

For example, I chose to stopover for 2 days in Taipei on the way to Tokyo and then stopover in NYC for a day on the way back to Seattle. Quest Organizer found me that flight for $1532. Doing a multi-city search on Kayak produced the same flight for $1881.

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 Quest Organizer a split second to tell you exactly where you 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:

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!

Laura Lynch

Laura Lynch is the creator and writer of Savored Journeys, an avid world traveler and lover of great food and wine.

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