Scheduling a free stopover is a great way to visit part of the world that you otherwise wouldn’t get to see. In this guide, I outline some of the best, most convenient free airline stopover options and explain how to go about scheduling them into your itinerary. I will try to keep this list up to date as new stopover offers become available.
How to Make a Free Stopover
Many times when taking an intercontinental flight, you will be forced to endure a long layover while in transit. Rather than spending hours on end in an airport waiting for your next flight, simply schedule a couple of days between your flights to explore a new city and have a bit of rest
There are two ways to make a free airline stopover. You can Schedule your own or take advantage of a free stopover offered by an airline. Below, I’ll explain how each method works.
How to Schedule Your Own Stopover while Flying
You make your own stopover by simply booking separate flights, usually on different airlines. Schedule yourself a few days between flights for sightseeing.
By booking separate flights, you can search for the best price for each leg of your journey. This way, you can take advantage of cheap flights between major airline hubs then fly budget or regional airlines to make it to your destination. Depending on where you are flying, you often save a nice chunk of money by doing this. Especially when you are flying between destinations that don’t offer a lot of connections.
This is my favorite way to make a stopover because the options are endless. You can stopover anywhere you want for however long you want. For researching flights, I recommend Skyscanner. Their site is easy to use and allows you to easily search many airlines all at the same time for the best price for your route and dates.
An Example of an Airline Stopover I Scheduled
Last year I needed a flight from Cape Town to Seattle. This isn’t a common connection so instead of flying on one airline and having a long layover somewhere, I booked two separate flights on two different airlines and scheduled a stopover in between. While searching for the best stopover for my route, I searched for cities that had the best prices on both the flight from Cape Town and the flight to Seattle.
I had several options including Bangkok, Manila, and Tokyo. After a bit of research and shopping around on multiple airlines, I ended up stopping in Bangkok for a few days on my way to Seattle. I flew Kenyan Airways from Cape Town to Bangkok, then Korean Air from Bangkok to Seattle. This turned out to be cheaper than flying one airline all the way and I got to spend a few days in one of my favorite cities, Bangkok.
Free Airline Stopover Offers
Many airlines offer free stopovers in their hub cities or the capital of the country that they are based in. They use this as an incentive for passengers to fly their airline and to bring tourism to the country where they are based. Often times, the airline partners with the country’s tourism board to make these stopovers possible.
You schedule an airline stopover when booking your flight. Some airlines offer discounts on restaurants and hotels if you take advantage of their stopover offer.
One Extra Cost to Consider: Airport Taxes
One drawback to making a stopover is the fact that you may end up paying more in airport taxes. Every airport you stop in generally charges a tax that is included in the price of your ticket. The amount depends on the city or country. Sometimes airport taxes are lower or not charged at all if you are just transiting through a city rather than stopping there.
In all cases, you will be paying the airport tax when you purchase your ticket. It doesn’t matter if you are making your own stopover or using an airline stopover program. This tax is the only additional cost of making a stopover.
Best Cities for Scheduling your Own Stopover
Beijing or Shanghai, China
Citizens of 53 countries are allowed to visit Beijing or Shanghai for up to 144 hours on a stopover without a visa. To find out if you qualify, you can view the list of countries on the Beijing International Airport website. The only requirement is that you have a confirmed flight leaving to a third country in less than 144 hours from your time of entry. There is no charge for entry. Once in the country, you are allowed to travel in Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei. The same visa free stopover is also offered in Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Liaoning.
When you arrive at immigration in China, there is a special booth for 144 hour visa free travelers. If you arrive in the night as I did, the booth may be closed. If this is the case, just go through the regular line and they will stamp your passport and send you on your way. The process was efficient and smooth.
For a step-by-step guide to making this stopover, check out my article: 144 Hours in Beijing Visa Free
When to Stopover
Beijing is a very convenient city to make a stopover in if you are flying between East Asia or Oceania and North America. I made this stopover on a flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. Two 12 hour flights back to back would have been exhausting. By making this stopover, I was able to break up the long journey and visit a really fascinating city. I was also able to take advantage of flying on a low cost Chinese airline for the Beijing to Los Angeles leg.
Dubai or Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
For visa requirements for your country, you can check the official UAE government website. Most nationalities can stay in the UAE for 30 days without having to prearrange a visa. Most Europeans can stay for 90 days.
When to Stopover
This is a convenient stopover to make when flying between Africa, Asia, or Oceania, and Europe. Dubai is very centrally located in the world and has one of the worlds busiest airports making this one of the easiest, most convenient stopovers.
I made this stopover when flying from Europe to India. I flew Turkish Airlines into Dubai then caught a flight on the budget airline SpiceJet to Delhi.
Seoul, South Korea
You can check visa requirements on the Korea Tourism Organization website. Most nationalities can enter for free for up to 90 days.
When to Stopover
This stopover is most convenient when flying between East Asia and North America. Seoul is a very busy hub airport with many flights transiting through. This makes scheduling a stopover here is easy and convenient.
If you are just on a long layover in Seoul, the airport offers free city tours. Multiple tours are available depending on the duration of your layover. They will bus you into the city and take you to one of the main tourist attractions. You will then have a chance to walk around and enjoy a Korean lunch. Information about the free tours can be found on the Incheon Airport website.
This is a cheap, convenient stopover to make when flying between North America and mainland Europe. Many flights transit through one of London’s airports as it is the busiest city in the world for air traffic.
You can find flights on Norwegian Air from Los Angeles to London for as low as $170. After spending a few days on a stopover in London, you can take a cheap Ryanair flight to pretty much anywhere in Europe. This is a great way to save money when flying across the Atlantic.
Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, USA
If you’re planning a trip from the United States to Mexico, the Carribean, or Central or South America, you can save a good chunk of money by flying out of Tijuana Airport.
When you fly out of Tijuana (TIJ), you get to take advantage of flying Mexican budget airlines like VivaAerobus, Interjet, or Volaris. You also avoid paying expensive US airport taxes.
The best way to do this is to first get to Southern California. The ideal airport to fly into would be San Diego. From there, it’s just a short trolley ride to the border. You could also fly to Los Angeles and take a bus or shuttle down to the border.
I recommend you schedule a few days to visit one of my favorite cities, Tijuana. You can also take some time to explore San Diego which is one of the United States’ most beautiful cities.
Best Airline Stopover Offers
Icelandair in Reykjavik, Iceland
If you are flying Icelandair, you can make a stopover in Reykjavik for up to a week at no additional cost.
When to Stopover
This stopover is most convenient when flying between North America and Europe. Icelandair offers some decent rates between the two continents so this is a pretty easy and economical stopover. I made this stopover when flying from Seattle to Helsinki.
What to see
Iceland is one of the most naturally beautiful countries on earth. Make sure you get out of the city to experience the breathtaking landscapes. If you plan your stopover between September and April, you may be lucky enough to see the northern lights.
TAP Portugal in Lisbon or Porto
TAP Portugal allows a free stopover of up to three nights in Lisbon or Porto. The only requirement is that you must purchase a round-trip intercontinental flight to qualify for this stopover. This stopover is most convenient for flights between North America and Europe.
Emirates in Dubai, U.A.E.
Emirates offers a free stopover in Dubai. To schedule the stopover, just use the multi city booking page on the Emirates website. Simply add the desired duration of your stopover.
Qatar Airways in Doha
Qatar Airways a free stopovers in Qatar. To take advantage of the offer, use the multi city booking page on the Qatar Airways website and schedule your desired length of stay in Doha.
KLM in Amsterdam, Netherlands
KLM offers 2 free stopovers in Amsterdam. This means that you can stopover both on your way to your destination and on your way home.
FinnAir in Helsinki, Finland
FinnAir offers 2 free stopovers in Helsinki. You can stop for up to 5 nights on your way to your destination and on your way home.
Turkish Airlines in Istanbul
Turkish Airlines offers a free stopover in Istanbul if you are flying round trip to a qualifying destination. You can check the list of destination on the Turkish Airlines website. Turkish Airlines also offers a free night of hotel accommodation in Istanbul.
China Southern and Air China in Beijing or Shanghai
China Southern and Air China both offer free 72 hour stopovers in Beijing or Shanghai. There is no need to worry about a visa for this stopover because both cities offer 144 hour visa free stopovers for citizens of 53 countries. The only requirement is that you have a confirmed ticket to continue on to a third country after your stopover. You can check the list of accepted nationalities on the Travel China Guide website.
Japan Airlines in Tokyo or Osaka
Depending on your flight origin and destination, Japan Airlines offers a free stopover in Tokyo or Osaka. They do not offer free stopovers on their website. To make the booking you simply use their multi city booking page or give them a call.
This stopover is most convenient for flights between North America and Asia. Whether you stopover in Tokyo or Osaka depends on which airport you fly out of. Most Japan Airlines flights from North America to Asia will transit through Tokyo-Narita Airport.
Singapore Airlines in Singapore
Singapore Airlines offers free stopovers in Singapore. Booking works the same way as Japan Airlines. You must use the multi city booking page on their website or give them a call.
Air Canada in Montréal, Toronto or Vancouver
Air Canada allows you to make a stopover in Montréal, Toronto or Vancouver if your flight is traveling outside of Canada or the U.S. and has a connection in one of the three cities that is over 6 hours. This offer is valid for one way and return tickets. For more information on qualifying routes, check Air Canada’s website.
Copa Airlines in Panama City, Panama
Copa Airlines offers a free stopover in Panama City. To take advantage of this stopover offer, you must call Copa to request the stopover before you complete your booking.
Ethiopian Airlines in Addis Ababa
If your flight has a layover between 8 and 24 hours, Ethiopian Airlines will arrange you a hotel and transport to the city. Addis Ababa is a fascinating city to visit. Unfortunately, you’ll most likely have to pay for a visa on arrival in order to make this stopover. That will cost around $50.
Hawaiian Airlines in Hawaii
Hawaiian Airlines offers free stopovers in Hawaii on international flights between North American and Asia or the South Pacific. There is no time limit on the length of the stopover.
Final Thoughts on Free Airline Stopovers
Scheduling a free stopover is a great way to explore a new city that you otherwise wouldn’t get to visit. It also helps to avoid those situations where you are forced to spend hours on end waiting for your next flight.
So far in my travels, I have made stopovers in London, Seoul, Beijing, Dubai, and Bangkok. Visiting these exciting cities didn’t cost me any extra in airfare. In some cases, I even saved money.
Have you made any stopovers that aren’t on the list? Comment below with your experience and recommendations.
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