On a recent Turkish Airlines flight from San Francisco to Istanbul, I noticed that a surprising number of people—both at the boarding gate and on the flight—were looking at guidebooks for destinations far beyond Turkey. Their end points were varied—Greece, Rome, Dubai, and beyond. But as they chatted with other travelers, I noticed that what united all those people was an excitement to add a vacation to their vacation; a stop in Istanbul on the way as part of the airline’s stopover program.
Turkish isn’t alone in offering a stopover program—a long layover that provides the chance to add a stop in an airline’s hub city at no added flight charge. A surprising number of airlines, including Icelandair, Iberia, and Emirates, also have a version of it.
Why is a stopover program worth considering?
Stopovers tend to be offered on long-haul flights, which means there are actually two benefits to taking advantage. On the most practical level, booking a stopover is a chance to break up a long travel day on the way to your final destination, a pause to stretch your legs and sleep in a bed overnight. What’s more, it’s a way of adding a whole extra destination to your itinerary, an opportunity to see a place without planning a whole vacation there.
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What costs are associated with adding a free stopover?
There’s no additional cost for pausing (usually for 1-4 days) in the chosen city of an airline’s stopover program. Except in a few noteworthy cases, hotel costs (along with transportation, meals, and activities) are still your responsibility during the stopover.
Airlines with Stopover Programs
These are the airlines that offer free stopover programs. We’ve also dug into airlines that offer mini-stopover programs that give you the chance to sightsee (or rest) during a long layover, airlines that offer stopovers on award tickets, and airlines that give you all the tools you need to DIY your own stopover.
After putting its standout stopover program on hiatus during the pandemic, Turkish Airlines has relaunched it, and is sweetening the deal with longer free hotel stays in Istanbul. Passengers who are connecting through Istanbul and have a connection period of at least 20 hours can take advantage of the Stopover in Istanbul program.
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Through the program, economy-class passengers coming from the U.S. can stay up to two nights night free in a four-star hotel (after booking, the airline provides a hotel voucher that can be redeemed on the airline’s website after the ticket purchase). Business-class passengers coming from the U.S. can stay three nights free in a five-star hotel.
Icelandair’s Stopover in Iceland program offers transatlantic passengers the option to add a one- to seven-day stopover in Reykjavik (and the rest of the country) for no additional cost. To inspire layovers and simplify planning, the airline has ready-made Stopover itineraries arranged by number of days you stay.
Emirates’ Dubai Stopover programs add appeal to a Dubai layover. With its Dubai Connect program, passengers with a Dubai layover of between six (for first or business class tickets) or eight (for economy and premium economy) and 26 hours receive complimentary hotel stays and meals.
For longer stopovers (there’s no maximum stay with the stopover program), the airline can arrange a 48-hour visa and travel planning help in Dubai, Ras Al-Khaimah, Sharjah, or Abu Dhabi.
For short layovers that don’t offer enough time to leave the airport, the airline’s Dubai Stopover Airport Services offers lounge access and 6- or 12-hour hotel room packages at Dubai International Hotel directly inside Terminal 3.
To book a stopover package, reach out to the airline or a travel agent after booking a flight and select the package and hotel you want. Bookings can be made up to 48 hours in advance, though it’s a much better idea to book well in advance for better hotel availability.
Etihad has three different stopover options for flights connecting through Abu Dhabi. For passengers with layovers of 10 to 24 hours, there’s the complimentary Transit Connect package, which gives economy, business, and first-class passengers a free night stay at a hotel close to the airport.
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For stopovers of one or two nights, the airline’s Stopover On Us program gives passengers free stays at select three- and four-star hotels in Abu Dhabi. For stays of two to four nights, there’s the Best of Abu Dhabi stopover package, which offers more time in the UAE capital at discounted nightly hotel rates (up to 40% off).
TAP Air Portugal
TAP’s Portugal Stopover program allows passengers to add a one- to 10-day stopover in either Lisbon or Porto at no additional charge. As an extension of this offer, passengers who want to visit other destinations in Portugal (and its islands) can book domestic airfare at a 25% discount. There are also other discounts on hotels, restaurants, and things like sightseeing passes.
Iberia’s Stopover Hola Madrid program allows Iberia passengers to book a layover in Madrid without additional charges. Stays can range from 24 hours up to six nights, and while Iberia doesn’t cover the cost of hotel stays, it does offer discounts on hotel stays, transportation, activities, and restaurants in Madrid.
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Air Canada has a Toronto stopover program that gives passengers the option to pause in Toronto for up to 48 hours as a layover between two destinations.
Qatar Airways’ Qatar Stopover program allow passengers flying through Doha to add a one- to four-night stopover on either the outbound or return flight. The package includes extremely discounted hotel stays (one night at a standard hotel starts at $14 per person or $81 per person at a luxury hotel). Tours and excursions like city tours and whale shark expeditions are also bookable for stays.
Copa’s stopover program gives passengers in transit the option to extend a layover in Panama City for up to seven days. And of note, while most of these stopover programs allow passengers to take advantage of the stopover program only going one way, Copa gives travelers the options to do a stopover on both the outbound and return trip for a fee of $250 for the second stopover.
Qantas takes a the-more-the-merrier approach to its stopover program, allowing one or more stopovers at no extra cost on eligible Qantas flights and oneworld partner airline flights.
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To book, passengers use the multi-city booking tool on the airline’s website—a similar approach to the airlines listed in the DIY stopover below. What sets this program apart is the assurance that the stopovers are allowed at no additional charge on eligible flights.
Airlines with Mini-Stopover Programs
Airlines that have mini stopover programs include Finnair (which has short-visit ideas for layovers of six to 24 hours), Air China (which offers free hotel stays for passengers with long layovers in Beijing, Chengdu, Dalian, Hangzhou, and Shanghai), and Ethiopian Airlines (the airline offers connecting passengers with layovers between eight and 24 hours hotel stays).
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Royal Jordanian has a Zuwar Stopover Program, which offers a huge selection of guided tours for passengers with layovers of six hours or longer (there are also traditional food experiences for shorter layovers).
Award Travel Stopover Programs
There’s one more approach to finding no-cost multi-day layovers in airlines’ hub cities. Certain frequent flyer programs offer free stopovers on award travel. Programs that offer reward tickets with stopovers include Air France and KLM’s Flying Blue program, Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer program, Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan, and Air Canada’s Aeroplan.
Using Airlines’ Multi-City Booking Tool to DIY a Stopover
Even if an airline doesn’t have a formal stopover program, it may have a multi-city booking option that will allow you to create a gap between your flights in your layover city. And while this option doesn’t score you the perks—like free hotel stays, discounts on activities, and no additional airfare costs—of a true stopover program, it does offer the chance to add a few days in a destination.