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How To Plan And Book A Stopover

What is a stopover?

A stopover…one of the most valuable ways to see an entirely new place for almost no extra cost, yet something few travelers know of or make use of. What is a stopover, and how’s it any different than a layover?

Technically, a stopover is just a layover that is at a connecting hub for more than 12 hours (it could be days long!) This lets you get out of the airport and into the city. If your destination requires a long-haul flight, to a different hemisphere for example, chances are the airline has to stop at a hub to refuel, offload passengers, and board new ones for the next leg. You’re there anyway, and probably have to wait in the airport for a few hours at the least. Why not extend your layover and spend a day or two in town? It’s not expensive, either.

Usually you can get a stopover for no cost, or sometimes even add an extra leg for less than your original ticket cost.

Airlines price fares from A to B, and they usually don’t care if you add destinations in between. If you’re flying from New York City to New Delhi on British Airways, for example, you’ll be able to book a stopover in London. Or if you’re flying from Chicago to Dakar on Brussels Airlines, you’ll be able to stopover in Belgium.

Airline geography plays a big part in structuring a stopover. It’s important to know the directions, hubs, and routes of certain airlines. Regardless, if you have a connection at an airport somewhere in your trip, it’s worth checking to see if you can turn that layover into a stopover.

Our friends at BootsnAll have a great article on stopovers that’s worth checking out for even more information and insights on how to use a stopover for maximum potential.

How do stopovers work?

Airlines with long haul flights have to refuel, offload passengers, and take new passengers on. Many airlines offer free stopovers, especially if it’s at a hub in their home country. Iceland Air, for example, is famous for offering free stopovers in Reykjavik. It makes tourism in unexpected or out-of-the-way destinations accessible to travelers who might never go there as a solo destination.

Other airlines that offer free or affordable stopovers in their home cities include Emirates, which lets you stopover in Dubai, Japan Airlines in Osaka or Tokyo, Finn Air in Helsinki, Thai Airlines in Bangkok, and a host of other options.

Sometimes there are hidden options for stopovers that your travel agent can fill you in about. You might not know, for example, that if you’re flying to Madagascar on Air Seychelles you can get a free stopover in the beautiful Seychelles Islands. The same with Air Mauritius!

madagascar stopover
Tropical coast in northern Madagascar

What are some good ideas for stopover destinations?

Usually, the easiest destinations to select as stopovers are hubs that you’re already connecting at during your long-haul flight. Regional hubs are often exciting places on their own. For Europe, hubs might include London, Amsterdam, Reykjavik, Frankfurt, Zurich, or Brussels. For the Middle East, many airlines such as Emirates are based out of Dubai, a perfect pick for a stopover because of the expense in visiting Dubai any other way.

Let’s look at some example fares and see what sort of stopovers can be scheduled with little or no cost to your ticket price. This makes even more sense if you’re spending a little extra on your trip by booking a business class flight.

So you’re looking at a flight to Madagascar. Your journey begins and ends in Dallas. A round-trip is $2390 for trip date between August and December 2016 (current prices). But if you want to add stops to your trip, it doesn’t have to cost much more. Adding stopovers so that you can visit New York City, Paris, Johannesburg, and Dubai will only cost $2674, which comes out to around $70 extra per stop.

For a round-the-world trip starting and ending in Rome, with stops in Cape Town, Goa, and Vietnam, the cost will be $2262. But if you add six extra stops…in Johannesburg, Mumbai, Delhi, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Thailand, that will only increase the trip total to $2378…only a hundred dollars more.

But sometimes you actually save money. Say you’ve booked a round-the-world trip. You’re starting in the United States, heading to Argentina, then across to Morocco, then a few weeks in Bali, then China, then back home. A route from Kansas City – Buenos Aires – Marrakesh – Bali  – Shanghai – Kansas City would cost $4883 (current prices for a September-November 2016 trip). Want to add 9 extra stops? Adding extra stops in Miami, Colombia, Peru, Spain, Casablanca, Dubai, Singapore, Thailand, and San Francisco would actually cost only $4625…that’s $200 less for adding more stops!

madagascar stopover 2
Baobab trees in Madagascar

You can book stopovers directly with the airlines, or via your travel agency.

It’s not possible to book stopovers directly on most do-it-yourself online booking tools. And even if you’ve already booked your flight, you can change your itinerary for a small fee (usually no more than a few hundred bucks, which is still far more affordable than flying on a separate flight to the added destination).

Try out a route on TripPlanner, and ask an agent for a free consultation on which stopovers you might be able to add to your trip itinerary for free!

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