Why visit one country when you can see two? Many airlines let you do just that with free or low-cost stopovers.
If you’re adventurous and want to get the most out of your airfare dollar, consider working a free stopover into your next international trip.
The first thing to know about a stopover is that it’s absolutely not the same as a layover. Far from being an inconvenience in the middle of a long-haul trip, a stopover is a legitimate stay—days, even weeks—in a city along the way to your final destination. Such an itinerary can afford you the opportunity to visit two cities on one ticket for about the same fare as you’d pay to simply fly directly to your destination.
For example, you could fly from New York to spend five days in Rio de Janeiro then continue on to visit Buenos Aires for a week for about the same price as a round-trip to just one of those cities.
While airlines occasionally charge for stopovers, often times they’ll offer them for free as a way to encourage tourism in their home regions or better compete against nonstop flights to particular destinations. (Even “free” stopovers do require you to pay some additional airport taxes; these are often just a small percentage of your overall fare.)
So how do you find these fares? Stopover information is buried in the fine print of fare rules, but you can find them using airfare search tools like Google’s ITA Software. All you need to do is click on “rules” when you pull up the details on a particular flight option. From there, you can search for the stopover section and see if one is allowed on the fare.
The truth is, though, that simple experimentation can yield good results. Pick two cities you want to visit then input them into the multi-city search available on many travel sites, like Expedia, Hipmunk, Kayak, or Orbitz. You’ll often see options that are reasonably priced, about the same as if you booked a typical round-trip to just one city. While it may not be apparent in the results, these are often fares that leverage free or low-cost stopover rules.
You can also take advantage of free stopovers on some award tickets booked with airlines miles. United MileagePlus allows one free stopover on round-trip international award tickets, and Alaska MileagePlan allows a stopover on any award. (American AAdvantage and Delta SkyMiles no longer offer free stopovers on awards.)
While stopover rules are always subject to change, here are just some of the trips that are possible.
Australia and New Zealand
Qantas and Virgin Australia often let you stopover for free in Brisbane, Melbourne, or Sydney on trips from the U.S., so there’s no need to buy a separate ticket to visit two of those cities. Air New Zealand offers a free stopover in Auckland, and Hawaiian Airlines offers one in Honolulu on the way to Australia.
Royal Air Maroc, with service from New York, offers free stopovers in Casablanca, even on trips to Europe, while South African Airways sometimes allows them in Johannesburg.
Cathay Pacific often offers a free stop in Hong Kong, while EVA Airways does on select flights to Taiwan. Air India and Jet Airways each allow one for many flights to India, letting you for example hit both Mumbai and Goa or Delhi and Chennai on one fare. Singapore Airlines offers a free stop in Singapore on some fares.
Aer Lingus lets you stop in your Ireland gateway as part of an onward journey to other European destinations, and Icelandair has one of the better publicized free stopover programs in Reykjavik. Virgin Atlantic offers a free stop in the U.K.—and prominently displays the option when you search for flights on its website.
Turkish Airlines offers a free Istanbul stop, and if the Turkish Airlines schedule requires you to spend at least ten hours in Istanbul, you get free hotel accommodations for up to two nights. LOT Polish Airlines, with service from Chicago and New York, allows a free stop in Poland, and Finnair offers one in Helsinki if you book via its call center.
Emirates and Etihad Airways offer a free stop when connecting through their Dubai and Abu Dhabi hubs.
Most South American airlines offer a free stop, including LATAM (which operates under the LAN and TAM brands), letting you for example fit both Brazil and Argentina into a trip. Copa also offers a free stop at its Panama City hub along the way.