How Airline Stopover Programs Can Work for You

Posted June 12, 2018 7:01 p.m. EDT

Travelers increasingly can visit two destinations for the price of flying to one: Several new airline stopover programs are trying to entice fliers to do that by offering appealing reasons to spend time in the city that they are connecting through.

George Hobica, an airline industry analyst, said that attractive stopover programs, created for destinations where the airline is based, are a growing trend. “Stopping in your connection city on the way to your final destination used to have an extra cost, but now, layovers are increasingly free and come with additional freebies for travelers like hotel stays,” he said.

Carriers are paying more attention to their stopover programs, Hobica said, because they help boost tourism in the country where the airline is based and increase the airline’s business at the same time. “Having good stopover programs generally doesn’t cost airlines a lot because they usually collaborate with local tourist boards and hotels to create them,” he said.

Stopover programs are most common among international carriers that fly long-haul routes and can be booked directly with the airline or through the travel agencies that fliers purchased tickets from.

Turkish Airlines, for example, has a stopover program for passengers who are departing from the United States and have more than 20 hours of connection time in Istanbul on their way to more than 305 destinations worldwide. Fliers who qualify get one night of free accommodations in a centrally located neighborhood (economy passengers stay at a four-star hotel, and business-class passengers stay at a five-star hotel), breakfast and transfers between the airport and their hotel.

Singapore Airlines offers a Singapore Stopover Holiday package for passengers connecting through Singapore that has a starting cost of $35 a person but is valued at more than $380 a person, according to James Boyd, a spokesman for the airline. Fliers get a one-night hotel stay, free unlimited rides on the airline’s Hop-On Bus and access to more than 20 attractions in the city such as the Adventure Cove Waterpark, the National Gallery Singapore and a river cruise. The offer also includes free meals at several restaurants such as the popular chicken-rice chain Boon Tong Kee.

The stopover program from TAP Air Portugal allows fliers to spend as many as five nights in Lisbon or Porto for no extra charge on their way to more than 65 destinations in Europe and Africa via Lisbon or Porto. Final destinations within Portugal like Madeira and the Azores also qualify for the program, which includes discounts at more than 150 hotels, a free bottle of wine at select restaurants, free activities including tuk-tuk rides and free admission to several museums. With the stopover program from Qatar Airways, residents from 80 countries, including the United States, receive visa-free entry into Qatar, along with a free night’s hotel stay in Doha (fliers can choose from a list of properties), round-trip transfers between the airport and their hotel, early check-in, late checkout, free breakfast and discounts for activities.

Emirates flies to more than 150 destinations globally through Dubai but wants its customers to see Dubai, too. Its stopover program includes a meet-and-assist at Dubai International Airport, discounted rates at more than 90 hotels and apartments in the city, breakfast and round-trip transfers between the airport and hotel.

Star Alliance, a group of 28 airlines including United Airlines, Lufthansa and Thai Airways, has a new Round the World program that allows fliers to book a fare around the world on a single airline ticket, with as few as two and as many as 15 stopovers. Each stop must be for at least 24 hours, and the direction of travel has to be east or west.

United Airlines doesn’t have a formal stopover program, but it permits passengers who are flying internationally to spend up to 24 hours in their connection city without any additional charge.

Jaclyn Sienna India, the owner of the New York travel company Sienna Charles Travel, said she almost always plans for a stopover when she’s flying internationally and encourages other travelers to do the same. “Stopovers are a golden opportunity to take a trip to a place that you may not have a chance to see otherwise,” she said. “They’re inexpensive and break up your journey. Why wouldn’t you do one?”