How to Book a Free Airline Stopover
Planning a long-haul flight and have a layover? You can take advantage of many airlines’ free stopover programs. A stopover is when you break up a journey by spending a short amount of time in a connecting city, giving you the chance to explore a new destination without paying for an additional flight. Think of it as a long layover, where you get to leave the airport and explore anywhere from 12 hours to a week or more, depending on the airline's rules. In the travel industry, it is called “Stopover Paid by the Carrier” or “SPTC” when the airline pays for you to stay by giving you free perks like hotel rooms or airport transportation.
I’ve done stopovers in over a dozen cities, including Singapore, Beijing, Dubai, and Taipei. In fact, every time I fly to Asia, I try to make a stopover. Whether I’m traveling for business or leisure (usually both!) I always try to see new places and break up my trip a bit.
This article will address the following questions about free stopover programs.
- What is a free stopover?
- What airlines offer free stopovers?
- What cities can you do free stopovers in?
- How to book a free stopover.
What is a free stopover?
Certain airlines allow you to book your flights with very long layovers so you can visit the city you are connecting in. This is usually done at no extra charge to you and, in many cases, can actually be cheaper than booking a short layover. There are many airlines that offer free perks, discounted hotel rooms, and tours to incentivize travelers to leave the airport and see their city.
How many airlines offer free stopovers?
Right now, we’ve found nearly twenty airlines with free stopovers. If you follow us on TikTok, you’ll have seen that our 7 Free Stopover post has hit nearly 1 million views. After this went viral, we dove in to see just how many free stopovers we could find, and we were astonished by all the free stopovers that people don’t know about. We found nearly 25 airlines that offer free stopovers, many of them offering incentives like free nights, airport transfers, etc. for you to see their country.
Keep reading to hear which airlines offer free stopovers…
Can’t I just create my own stopover?
Sure, if you wanted to visit Dubai on the way to Asia, you could just book a flight to Dubai, then book another flight to Asia, but it’ll probably be a lot more expensive. With a free stopover, you are just buying one ticket instead of two. One major advantage of free stopovers is that you pay less in airport taxes if you are just doing a stopover, or the country will waive them entirely, which is why it’s called a free stopover. You probably didn’t even know you are charged airport taxes, but if you look at the breakdown of your ticket price, they usually make up a sizable portion of your airfare.
Why do airlines provide this free stopover service?
If an airline offers a free stopover, it is usually to try and get encourage people to see cities in their home country and stimulate the local economy via tourism. For example, Iceland Air wants you to visit the country of Iceland to bolster its economy. You can see the capital of Reykjavik, which is located about 45 minutes from the airport, and if you have the time, they allow you to stay a week and you can actually drive around the entire country. Iceland is an amazing place to visit!
Here’s a quick list of cities and airlines that offer free stopovers and links on how to book a stopover.
Iceland Air’s Stopover in Iceland
Iberia’s Hola Madrid Program
Avianca’s ¡Bogotá Stopover!
Panama City, Panama:
Copa’s Panamá Stopover
Royal Jordanian’s Zuwar Stopover
China Southern Free Accommodation
Air Canada’s Experience Toronto
Amsterdam, Netherlands, Paris, France, and other cities:
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines’s / Air France’s Flying Blue Stopover
Turkish Airlines Stopover in Istanbul
Emirates Dubai Stopover
Finair’s Helsinki Layover
Porto and Lisbon, Portugal:
TAP Air Portugal’s Portugal Stopover
Abu Dhabi, UAE:
Etihad Airways’s Stopover in Abu Dhabi
Seoul, Gyeonggi, & Incheon, South Korea:
Korean Air’s K-Stopover
Cathay Pacific Stopover
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia:
Saudi and Flynas Stopover Visa
Oman Air Stopover in Oman
Looking to extend your trip? Check out our tours for young people to Spain, Iceland, Jordan, or Turkey!
Bonus Stopovers: these airlines don’t really advertise their free stopover programs, but there is no reason you can’t take advantage of them.
Ethiopian Airline’s Addis Ababa Stopovers
Eva Air’s MyTaiwanTour
I had a great time in Taipei on my Eva Air stopovers... Here's what I’d suggest you do if you have a 24-hour Stopover in Taipei, Taiwan.
How do I book my free stopover on the airline of my choice?
Most airlines have a webpage that explains how to book your free stopover. Some airlines may have a specific button or option to select the stopover during the booking process, while others may require you to call or email their customer service team to add it to your itinerary.
In several cases, I’ve just looked on airlines’ websites for flights with long layovers. The cheaper long-haul flights usually have long stopovers of up to 48 hours, so I just went ahead and booked the flight. Of course, I checked to see if my passport would get me into the country visa-free. This is how I exited the airport in Dubai, Beijing, Taipei, and Singapore.
Each airline has a different process, and perhaps we can outline how to book each in a future article, but for now visit the above links for more information, and read the details carefully…
Do I need a visa for a free stopover?
Well, that depends on what passport you hold, so the best thing to do here is simply Google: “Do I need a visa as a (insert nationality) to visit (insert destination country)?” I can tell you that China offers a 72-hour visa-free transit policy that allows passengers from 53 countries to stay for up to 3 days without a visa. I’ve taken advantage of this in Beijing, and I’m glad I did.
To use another example, Saudi Arabia also has a program whereupon booking a flight with a long connection in Jeddah, you can automatically apply for a visa with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Your visa is usually approved in a matter of hours.
What about my bags?!
Great question. If you’ve checked your bags to your final destination, be sure to bring whatever you need for the length of your stopover onto the airplane in your carry-on luggage. Finnair, for example, says not to worry about your bags, just enjoy your 24 hours in Helsinki, and your bags will arrive at your final destination. I’d recommend packing a carry-on with everything you need. You can always try to explain to the airline upon check-in that you want it to come off the plane on your layover so you can re-check it after your stopover, but you are really playing with fire here. When in doubt, go Team Carry-on!
Want more travel tips like this? Check out The Millennial Travel Guidebook: Escape More, Spend Less, & Make Travel a Priority in Your Life.