One of the most satisfying parts of travel planning is when you find new ways to add value to your trip. When redeeming miles for travel, this can usually be accomplished by optimizing your flight routings and maximizing the stopover rules of the loyalty program.
However, another way to take advantage of stopovers that’s often overlooked is by taking advantage of individual airlines’ complimentary stopover services on paid fares.
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What Are Airline Stopover Programs?
On regular paid fares (i.e., not award bookings), many airlines around the world afford passengers the ability to stopover in their hub city at no charge en route to their final destination.
For example, if you booked a fare with TAP Air Portugal from Toronto to Paris, TAP’s stopover program would allow you to transform your short Lisbon layover into a multi-day stopover at no additional cost to your airfare, and may even offer additional perks to make your time in Portugal more enjoyable.
Airline stopover programs are a great way to visit a friend or family member who happens to live in a hub city, or to get a sense of the city and country for a possible return at a future date. Allowing these stopovers also adds a boost to the local economy, which will certainly be needed once the worldwide travel restrictions are lifted.
While the availability and benefits of airline stopover programs vary greatly, there is definitely value to be found across the board. As each traveller has different priorities, the value may come in the form of a nice hotel at a reduced price, a memorable experience that draws you back, or crossing a major world city off of your bucket list.
This post will summarize the stopover programs offered by airlines around the world. Note that most programs apply only to paid fares booked with the airline; some perks are extended to award tickets as well, and will be noted as such. Generally, it’s more common to see things like layover tours and overnight hotel stays being extended to award tickets, rather than the ability to extend your stopover up to five or seven days at no additional cost.
While every effort was made to include as many as possible, by no means is this an exhaustive list; if I’ve missed one, please leave a comment below the article and I’ll be sure to update it accordingly.
Air Canada’s stopover program allows you to stop in Toronto, Vancouver, or Montreal en route to your final destination. To qualify, your layover needs to be at least six hours long, and your reservation must be made at least 96 hours prior to departure.
The cost of a hotel room varies depending on which fare you purchase. For Basic, Standard, Flex, or Comfort fares, hotels start at $49. For Latitude, Premium Economy, or Business class fares, hotels are either free or offered at a reduced rate.
Air China offers one night’s accommodation, breakfast, and transit from/to the airport for passengers on qualifying itineraries transiting through Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Tianjin, and Chongqing. For domestic–domestic transfers, your layover must be between six and 24 hours long. For all other itineraries, it must be between six and 30 hours long.
There are a lot of terms and conditions to navigate, but if you are transiting via any of the aforementioned cities, and if you qualify for a 24-hour transit visa, the program could be a nice way to get some sound sleep and explore a bit of the city before moving on to your final destination.
There are two stopover programs for passengers flying with Asiana and transiting through Seoul.
Information about the first program is scarce, but some data points suggest that passengers travelling via Seoul are eligible for a free hotel room. If there is not an earlier available connecting flight, the airline will put you up for the night. It would be worthwhile to contact Asiana prior to booking your flight for details on this program, though, as the information is otherwise difficult to find.
Asiana has a separate (paid) service for passengers transiting via Seoul. For US$75 per person, you get: a night at a hotel, round-trip transportation from/to the airport, a one-time pass to the Matina Lounge in the West Wing of Terminal 1 at Seoul Incheon, a 10,000 KRW ($11) gift card for duty free, 1,000 extra miles for Asiana Club members, and a 10% off coupon for the CJ Foodville ICN. While the value isn’t necessarily exceptional, this service takes away a lot of the fuss of planning a stopover.
Avianca recently introduced the Bogotá Stopover program. If you are booking with Avianca, you can extend your stopover in Bogotá for up to 24 hours at no cost. There are a variety of tours and experiences that you can purchase through the website for between $70 and $250. If you prefer to do things yourself, they suggest buying a Transmilenio transit card at the airport and heading into the city.
Brussels Airlines’s stopover program allows you to stay in Belgium for between one and five nights at no extra cost. The website lists 50 different free activities that you can take part in. With the extensive train network in Belgium, you can reach any city in around an hour. You’ll have to sort out accommodation on your own, though, as there aren’t any hotel partnerships offered at this time.
As an important hub connecting North and South America, Panama City-based Copa Airlines allows you to add up to seven days’ stay in Panama at no additional cost. If you’re looking for some guidance on what to do, the snazzy website suggests itineraries based on how long you plan to stay. The prices seem very reasonable, too.
If you find yourself stuck in Cairo International Airport on a long layover between EgyptAir flights, you may be eligible for EgyptAir’s layover program, which applies to award tickets in addition to paid tickets.
The airline will put you up in a hotel, feed you, and transport you between the airport and the hotel if you meet the following conditions: 1) you arrive on the last available international flight, 2) you depart on the next available international flight to your destination, and 3) your layover is between six and 24 hours long (business class) or between eight and 24 hours long (economy class). You may want to head to the pyramids on a layover tour while you’re at it.
As a major airline connecting African countries with most of the world (and vice versa), Ethiopian Airlines offers qualifying transit passengers a free hotel, transportation, and meals if your transit time is greater than eight hours and less than 24 hours. The information on the website is scarce, but it would be worth checking out to ensure your transit is as comfortable as possible. Several travellers also report that Ethiopian’s stopover program is valid on award tickets as well.
Singapore Airlines’s Stopover Holiday Packages offer various combinations of hotel stays, attractions, and food & drink experiences for purchase. The “Basic” package gets you a one-night hotel stay, transportation to/from the hotel, and a SIM card for $35 SGD per person, which represents pretty decent value.
Singapore Changi Airport also offers free tours to connecting passengers. You can choose between the Jewel Tour (which is a guided tour of the airport), the Heritage Tour (which is a historical tour of Singapore), or the City Sights Tour (which explores modern Singapore). You can register for the tours at the airport as long as you are a connecting passenger and have at least 5.5 hours between flights.
Swiss offers the Stopover Switzerland program, which allows you to add between one and four nights to your booking at no extra cost.
This could be a great way to stop in Switzerland for a ski or hiking trip before heading over to your final destination. You can choose between a variety of packages, but the value isn’t necessarily fantastic. With any of the packages, you get free travel by bus, train, and boat in all of Switzerland, which would be an interesting way to see different parts of the country.
TAP Air Portugal
TAP Air Portugal heavily advertises their Portugal Stopover program, which allows you to spend time in Lisbon or Porto for between one and five nights at no extra cost.
The website lists a variety of perks included with the program, including reduced rates at hotels, attractions, and restaurants. Interestingly, some restaurants will even give you a free drink – a great perk indeed!
Ricky has previously described some of the many perks for layovers in Istanbul on paid and award tickets, so be sure to have a read-through of his experience with the program.
Depending on your origin and destination, Turkish Airlines may put you up in a hotel while you connect in Istanbul. At the time of writing, Canada wasn’t included on the list of eligible origins, so you may want to look at booking via a US hub to be eligible for the program. Passengers booked in economy are eligible for a one-night stay, while passengers booked in business class are eligible for a two-night stay in a five-star hotel.
If you aren’t eligible for a free hotel and would rather tour the city, Turkish Airlines also offers a free guided tours of Istanbul, including meals, transportation, and admission to a variety of sites. Istanbul has become one of my favourite cities to visit and transit through, and programs like these definitely sweeten the deal.
You can book stopovers with Finland’s national carrier for periods between five hours and five days at no extra cost. While the program doesn’t offer any hotel or experience deals, spending some time experiencing Finnish saunas in the winter or endless daylight during the summer solstice would certainly be a fulfilling way to break up a trip. Finnair’s North American destinations include San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and New York JFK.
Iberia’s stopover program allows you to stop in Madrid for between one and six nights. The website lists a variety of discounts for hotels, attractions, shopping, car rentals, baggage handling, and SIM cards. An interesting perk is that you’ll get three free beers at La Cervecista, a beer store that stocks over 400 types of beer.
Japan Airlines doesn’t have a dedicated webpage for its stopover rules. There are several data points, though, that suggest being able to book up to three nights in Tokyo (when flying through Haneda or Narita) or Osaka (when flying through Kansai) at no extra cost. With the extensive train network in Japan, you could cover a lot of ground in three days, not to mention sampling some of Japan’s finest foods as well.
Qatar Airways’s stopover program is perhaps one of the most valuable among all the world’s airlines. For bookings made on the Qatar Airways website, you can book free stopovers of up to four nights at no additional cost. To sweeten the deal, you also get very reasonable nightly rates at four- and five-star hotels (starting at just US$23 per night), as well as a free transit visa for the duration of your stay.
Royal Air Maroc
Royal Air Maroc’s stopover program allows you to spend some time in Casablanca when transiting through Morocco. You can also extend your stay for up to five days at no cost by booking with the multi-city search tool on the website.
Meanwhile, in terms of layover services, Royal Air Maroc offers two different levels of service depending on the length of your layover. If your layover is between four and eight hours, you can enjoy a free meal in the transit lounge in Terminal 3. If your layover is over eight hours, and if you have a transit visa, you will be put up in a hotel in the city; if you don’t have a transit visa, you may be put up in a hotel room inside the airport.
Royal Jordanian’s Zuwar Stopover program offers both a complimentary hotel/meal service for passengers with long layovers and a variety of paid services. Similar to other airlines, if you have a long connection time (between eight and 24 hours for economy class and between six and 24 hours for business class) and if there aren’t any earlier flights, the airline will feed you and house you.
If you don’t qualify for the free hotel, the Zuwar Stopover program offers a host of paid activities depending on the length of your layover. While the prices seem a bit steep, they do seem to pack a lot into the scheduled timeframe. Again, there is also something to be said about the convenience of embarking on one of these tours compared to planning everything yourself in an unfamiliar country.
If you find yourself in Colombo on a connecting flight, Sri Lankan Airlines will give you a place to stay. Your connection must be between eight and 24 hours long, and you need to have spent at least US$350 (one-way) or US$700 (round-trip) on your ticket.
As a Oneworld Connect member, Fiji Airways offers stopovers of up to two nights at no extra cost when flying between the US and New Zealand or Australia. The airline will also cover the cost of your accommodation for those two nights in Fiji, as well as transportation to/from the hotel.
The stopover service is valid for round-trip itineraries only, for itineraries between Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Honolulu and Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, Christchurch, or Wellington. The fare purchased must not be a “year round fare” that isn’t subject to blackout dates or travel-period restrictions.
China Southern Airlines
Similar to Air China’s stopover program, China Southern Airlines offers free accommodation and transfers to qualifying passengers in Guangzhou, Beijing, Wuhan, Chongqing, Urumqi, Shenzhen, and Dalian.
There is an extensive list of inclusion and exclusion criteria to navigate, which means that the set of travellers’ data points is rather limited, but if you are transiting via any of these cities with China Southern, it is worth looking into.
While Kenya Airways’s route network isn’t nearly as extensive as other airlines, if you do find yourself booking with them and transiting through their hub in Nairobi, why not treat yourself to a layover safari! For US$200 plus an additional US$21 for a transit visa, you’ll enjoy entrance to the Nairobi National Park, a guided four-hour safari, and a meal. You should also have a minimum connecting time of eight hours to qualify.
While information about booking a stopover in Ireland is scarce on Aer Lingus’s website, there are numerous reports that you can book up to seven nights in Dublin at no extra cost when booking an Aer Lingus fare. Try contacting an Aer Lingus booking agent to build your ideal itinerary.
Aer Lingus flies daily between Dublin and Toronto. Plans to fly to Montreal have been postponed indefinitely, but the airline also flies to a number of US cities, as well as offering solid connectivity throughout all of Western Europe.
Air Astana, Kazakhstan’s national airline, has a very attractive Stopover Holidays program. After you have booked a multi-city flight with a stop in either Nur-Sultan or Almaty, head over to the Stopover Holidays page to book a hotel. The first night is priced at only US$1, with transportation from/to the airport and a buffet breakfast included. You can choose to extend your hotel stay or book your own accommodation for the rest of your stopover.
In 2018, my wife and I took advantage of this stopover when we flew from Beijing to Almaty and onward to Istanbul after a three-day stopover. We thoroughly enjoyed the stay, and we look forward to returning to explore the country again in the near future.
Emirates’s stopover program is very well-developed. The airline actively encourages travellers to spend a few days in Dubai as they transit to or from their final destination.
You can either book yourself a stopover with the multi-city search on the Emirates website, or you can book with one of their authorized travel agents. Be sure to hold on to your boarding pass, as it may offer your discounts on accommodation, attractions, tours, dining, and shopping throughout Dubai.
The airline has a separate program for passengers with long connections, which is called Dubai Connect. If you have a layover of longer than six hours (business class or First Class) or eight hours (economy class), and if there are no earlier flights that you could depart on, the airline will cover your hotel, meals, and transportation in the meantime.
Etihad Airways allows you to book a two-night stopover in Abu Dhabi at no extra cost by using their multi-city search engine. After you’ve made your booking, you can choose which three- or four-star hotel you’d like to stay at, and they will arrange for your free two-night stay. You can also upgrade to a higher class hotel by covering half of the cost.
If you’re flying with Hawaiian Airlines on an overseas flight, you can add up to four days in Hawaii to break up your trip at no extra cost. You’ll only be able to do this on one direction of your trip, though. Book your stopover by playing around with the multi-city search tool on the Hawaiian Airlines website.
Hawaiian Airlines flies between the USA and Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.
Icelandair has been offering a stopover program since the 1960s! Passengers travelling between North America and Europe can stay in Iceland at no additional cost for between one and seven nights. Build your stopover on the Icelandair website using the multi-city search tool. Unlike many airlines, you can include a stopover in Iceland on both your outbound and inbound flights.
For stopovers in Muscat, Oman Air’s main hub, you can benefit from subsidized accommodation courtesy of the airline. While not all fares are eligible for no cost stopovers, if you qualify, the airline will pay for one night in a hotel for a two- or three-night stay.
Furthermore, if you book a business class or First Class fare with Oman Air (keeping in mind that the airline often has very competitively priced fares in business class), then they will put you up in the excellent Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, for a complimentary one-night stay, with the option to extend for two more nights at preferential rates.
Although paid fares usually don’t offer the same stopover flexibility and unlimited routing possibilities that award bookings do, you can often still build yourself an itinerary that lets you see two places (or more) on a single booking by taking advantage of your chosen airline’s stopover program.
The basic benefit is the ability to build a stopover into your fare at no additional cost, and some stopover programs will throw in extra benefits like hotels, guided activities, or free food & drink to sweeten the deal further.
While the pandemic has definitely put travel plans on hold for the foreseeable future, planning a future trip offers a meaningful escape while we are all stuck at home. If you can combine an attractive fare sale with any of the above airlines’ stopover programs, you can add some serious value to your future travels.
Have you made use of one of these airline stopover programs before, and what was your experience like? Are there any programs that we missed? Feel free to leave a comment below.