Stopover Bonanza: Explore These Cities on Free (or Cheap) Airline Layovers

In our post-merger airline environment, you could spend your whole life in your living room waiting for a decent fare sale. So if you want to see the world, it's up to you to find ways to save on international airfare. Fortunately, one of the oldest methods is still with us: free stopovers.

Stopovers are simple. An airline, usually based in another country, gives passengers permission to get off the plane in their hub city and spend a little time, as long as their final destination is another one of the destinations in their network. After a few days looking around the airline's home turf, you continue on to your final city. So it's like getting two vacations in one.

Not all airlines permit it. American-owned ones. in particular, want to charge you extreme amounts of cash to let you break your journey. Sometimes, cheap fare classes won't allow stopovers or passengers of some nationalities may be excluded. But North Americans and Western Europeans can find free (or nearly free) layovers in these places as a matter of course.
Iceland by icelandair
Iceland: Icelandair
For a half a century, a goodly portion of Iceland's visitors have arrived there on a stopover thanks to a progressive, tourism-positive policy by its national airline. Icelandair's offer is one of the most famous and longstanding stopover allowances in the travel industry, and as a bonus, in pausing in Reykjavik, you often get a cheaper fare to Europe than from its competitors. You can stay for up to seven nights for free before boarding an Icelandair plane to your final destination.

Abu Dhabi: Etihad Airways
To stimulate visitorship to the United Arab Emirates' capital city, the airline's "Essential Stopover" program tacks on hotel (from $36 a night) and buy-one-get-one tickets to attractions. You just have to stay at least two nights.
Dubai: Emirates
Elsewhere in United Arab Emirates is the glitzier city of Dubai. One you have booked your airfare that includes a stopover, the airline will act as travel agent to hook you up with hotel, rental car, and desert tours from about $50 per night. It'll even meet you at the airport to acclimate you. Since the airline flies to some 140 other places in the world, this one can come in handy. Ask for the "Dubai Stopover."
Istanbul: Turkish Airlines
Richard Flinn/ Community
Istanbul: Turkish Airlines
Not only does the airline permit free stopovers for independent travel, but if it issues passengers an intinerary to another destination that includes more than 10 hours of waiting at Istanbul's airport, it will give you a free hotel in town. So if you book a ticket with a really long transit period in Istanbul, you can hop into town for some stopover fun.
Shanghai or Beijing: Any airline
Any multi-hour airline transit in Shanghai or Beijing now grants you the privilege of entering China for up to 72 hours without enduring the cumbersome process of applying for a Chinese visa. Don't bite off more than you can chew, though—traffic in Beijing is a living nightmare and you'll need to get back to the airport on time. Among the many travel companies vying to serve this mini-market, Context Travel ( puts together four-hour mini-tours of the cities that'll have you back to the airport in time.
Fiji: Air Pacific/Fiji Airways
Stop over for as long as you want on your way to Australia or the South Pacific. A beach like this sure would break up the monotony of a long, unfcomfortable transpacific flight.
Honolulu: Hawaiian Airlines
Honolulu: Hawaiian Airlines
Yes, you can even use free stopovers to indulge in the United States' own Pacific island paradise. If you're flying from North America to an international destination (for Hawaiian, that includes Japan, Thailand, Korea, Australia and even Tahiti), get off the plane in Oahu and make yourself at home in Honolulu.
Lisbon or Porto: TAP Air Portugal
Porto Convention & Visitors Bureau
Lisbon or Porto: TAP Air Portugal
When it initiated its codeshare with JetBlue, TAP Air Portugal enticed American passengers with this carrot: It will throw in a three-night stopover in Lisbon or Porto (pictured), and then you can continue on to one of the airline's nearly four dozen other destinations in Europe. The hotel is up to you, but there's no charge for the stop. The offer comes and goes, so ask for it.
Stopovers Worth a Try
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Worth a Try
Even though short stays aren't currently official policy at these airlines, some once made them a regular offering. For others, readers occasionally report being able to play with their booking engines and find stopover fares that are just $65–$110 more than direct itineraries: Air France (Paris), Air New Zealand (the South Pacific), Japan Airlines (Tokyo and Osaka), Thai Airways (Bangkok), and Virgin Atlantic (London). Finnair (Helsinki) told Frommer's that's it's looking into adding them in the future. That's smart, since it benefits more people to increase tourist traffic to a city rather than keeping spending within the airport.

So it never hurts to check. Price a few itineraries with a short stay and see if you can find a steal on that bonus vacation.