Stepping out of your comfort zone and exploring undiscovered places defines modern travel. So, for all the travel lovers out there, a free stopover is a dream come true: it allows you to explore two places without having to pay more.
This weekend, we first answered the common question: what is the difference between a layover and a stopover?
- layovers are connections that are under 24 hours, and they’re built-in to your regular flights
- stopovers must be booked specifically, and are also called multi-city or multi-destination flights
The next article in this series will be next week, and we’ll tell you all the ways you can visit an additional city for free.
But today, let’s look at one of the best ways more closely: the airlines that offer free stopovers.
Free Stopovers Basics
As we’ve explained in the first article, adding a stopover to your flights will usually increase the cost of airfare.
Not choosing a longer layover (connection): that usually decreases the cost (but your options are very limited and it’ll be very short, under 24 hours). But purposely adding a stop in a city, that is usually more expensive. Makes sense; visiting an extra city is great and travelers are usually willing to pay more for that.
But some airlines offer “free stopovers” to encourage travelers to discover their home city (where their hub airport is), and as a way to add extra value and convince travelers to fly their airline.
There are 2 types:
- no extra airfare cost for the stopover
- accommodation provided for the stopover
The first one is the most common and beneficial one. With these 7 airlines, the cost of airfare is the same for a multi-city trip than for a regular roundtrip. There’s an important warning though.
Finally, the other type of “free stopover” is free accommodation provided by the airline that makes the stopover cheaper, even if the airfare isn’t explicitly the same price. We’ll cover these next week.
Airlines That Offer Free Stopovers (No Extra Airfare)
In theory, this is what these free stopovers are all about. You get a stopover for the same price.
However, there’s a warning. Two in fact. Just because the airline calls it a free stopover doesn’t mean you should take that to the bank (just like their great “sales” that are often anything but).
First, the airline might charge the same price for a flight with a stopover as it does for the same flight with no stopover, but that doesn’t mean you’re not paying more than you would on another airline. If another airline is cheaper, it’s not really free to pick the one with the stopover, because you’re still paying more than you should.
So compare this option with the ones we’ll share in next week’s article about all the ways how you can add additional cities to your trip. Comparing prices is always the key to finding cheap flights.
Second, even if they say they don’t charge extra airfare, sometimes it’s not really true. Like everything in the world of plane ticket prices, there’s no absolute rule and you should always compare to make sure the stopover really is free: sometimes, by changing the other flight segment’s date, it happens to increase the price (as airfares vary greatly from day to day) so it’s not actually always free.
There’s no formal extra charge… but the price the day of your 2nd flight can be more than it was on the original date. But it can really be free sometimes, and so it’s worth checking out. It’s usually the best deal in cases where you were going to fly one of these airlines anyway.
The booking process and rules differ by airline too, so we’ve included links. We usually recommend buying on smaller online booking sites (because they’re often cheaper) but to take advantage of stopover programs you will have to book on the airline’s website (another reason why it might not be “free”).
Some of these airlines only fly to select cities in North America, but you could still get the stopover from your own city thanks to their codeshares (airline partnerships) on their website.
City: Reykjavik (Iceland).
Duration allowed: Up to 7 days.
Stopover possibilities: They fly to 14 American destinations and stopping in Iceland on the way to Europe is a very logical routing. Now-defunct WOW air used to offer this and might come back in the long-term… we’ll share that updated story next week as well.
More details: Icelandair Stopover Policy
Why visit Iceland: Iceland is a great spot for adventures, for any interest: explore the interiors of volcanic regions, enjoy dining with the view of waterfalls, swim in the Blue Lagoon or lounge on the shores of majestic lakes.
If you are not up for an epic roadtrip, the capital city of Iceland is known for its Culture House or (Safnahúsið) where they exhibit artifacts such as the Poetic Edda, the famous oral literature of Iceland. You can also visit Reykjavík Open Air Museum and Rauðhólar, which has a group of volcanic craters. Iceland is one of the 10 safest countries in the world (and also one of the most expensive though).
2. TAP Air Portugal
City: Lisbon or Porto (Portugal).
Duration allowed: Up to 5 nights.
Stopover possibilities: They fly to 7 US airports, and the stop in Portugal is also very logical to go to Europe (all flights are to Lisbon, except from Newark where Porto is also available).
More details: TAP Air Portugal Stopover Policy
Why visit Portugal: Those with a limited budget should visit Lisbon, as it is one of the most budget-friendly cities in Western Europe. Visits to Jeronimos Monastery and Tower of Belem are sure to enhance your awareness of the local culture.
City: Madrid (Spain).
Duration allowed: 1 to 6 nights.
Stopover possibilities: They fly to 6 US airports, and the stop in Spain is again very logical to go to Europe.
More details: Iberia Stopover Policy
Why visit Spain: The second-most visited country in the world, there is so much to do and see in Spain. I just spent a couple of weeks in the Southern part of the country, and considering the great deal for 17 free hotel nights in Spain, we will be sharing a lot of content about this destination.
City: Helsinki (Finland).
Duration allowed: Up to 5 days.
Stopover possibilities: They fly to a few US destinations and stopping in Finland on the way to Europe is more of a detour than the first two.
More details: Finnair Stopover Policy
Why visit Finland: Why not visit? The Helsinki boutiques, saunas, Northern Light sightings, trysts with wild reindeers amid Nordic nature, and conquering the waves with speedboat rides—you can do all this and more with the Finnair free stopovers.
Every activity that you opt for promises to be an unforgettable experience. Finland is currently #1 on the list of the 10 safest countries in the world.
5. Air Canada
City: Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver (Canada).
Duration allowed: 1 night.
Stopover possibilities: For Americans, Air Canada serves dozens of cities and can be a great stopover option either to Asia or Europe.
More details: Air Canada Stopover Policy
Why visit Canada: Some of the activities in the cosmopolitan city of Vancouver include the Vancouver Aquarium, Capilano Suspension Bridge, VanDusen Botanical Garden, and Vancouver Art Gallery. In Toronto, you can embrace your city-slicker self and visit some of its famous sights, including the Royal Ontario Museum, the Don Valley Brick Works, and the Toronto Zoo (you can read our 10 Must-See Places In Toronto).
Those who opt for Montreal should pay a visit to the Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal, La Ronde, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Montreal Botanical Garden, the Old Port, and Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal.
6. Japan Airlines (JAL)
City: Tokyo, or Osaka (Japan).
Duration allowed: no specific limit.
Stopover possibilities: This one is special: JAL doesn’t have an official stopover policy, but it is possible to find some manually with the multi-city tool. For Americans, there are 10 gateways and Japan is a great stop on the way to Asia.
More details: Japan Airlines Stopover Search Tool
Why visit Japan: There is so much to see in Japan, whether it is in Tokyo or all across the country.
7. Turkish Airlines
City: Istanbul (Turkey).
Duration allowed: no specific limit.
Stopover possibilities: The last one that doesn’t have a specific policy, in practice Turkish also allows stopovers for no extra airfare if you can find it. They fly to 10 US cities and Istanbul’s location makes it a decent routing both to Asia or Europe.
More details: Turkish Stopover
Why visit Turkey: We spent a couple of weeks in Turkey a few years ago and it’s one of our favorite countries! Istanbul is an amazing city, with so much history there.
Want to get more great flight tips?
Having gone through this list of airlines that offer free stopovers, doesn’t it seem like a smart way to travel? If it really is free for your dates and you have the flexibility on your next trip, you might as well take advantage of all these awesome benefits that come with adding a stopover to your itinerary.
Have you ever booked a stopover? Which of these airlines will you choose for your next adventure? Tell us in the comments!
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Featured image: Iceland (Photo Credit: Martin Jernberg)
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