Most everyone prefers nonstop flights, but when they’re not available or not affordable, consider turning your flight connection into a fascinating multi-night stopover. A handful of airlines have stopover programs that allow travelers to experience two countries for the price of flying to one—and you might even get a free hotel stay out of it. We reached out to miles-and-points expert Gary Leff, the genius behind award-travel sites View From the Wing and Book Your Award, to get his picks for the best international airline stopovers.
Istanbul via Turkish Airlines (en route to Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and India)
“If you’re flying on a Turkish Airlines ticket with a stopover in Istanbul of more than 20 hours, they will give you a free hotel stay,” says Gary. Business-class passengers can stay in a five-star hotel for two nights, while economy-class passengers can stay in a four-star hotel for one night.
Turkish Airlines has another service called Touristanbul, which offers free sightseeing tours for layovers between 6 and 24 hours (you cannot combine this offer with the hotel offer). Fliers can sign up for one of five daily tours to visit Istanbul landmarks like Galata Tower and Dolmabahçe Palace.
Lisbon or Porto via TAP Air Portugal (en route to Europe, Turkey, Morocco, and Southern Africa)
“I’m a fan of TAP Air Portugal because it frequently runs very deep discounted business-class fares—sub-$1,000 round trips to much of Europe from the airline’s various U.S. gateways,” says Gary. The airline’s stopover program allows travelers to stay up to 10 days in either Lisbon or Porto—a great way to break up a trip to the rest of Europe, or even certain countries in southern Africa.
It’s important to note that the free stopover applies to airfare only, but passengers can also take advantage of exclusive offers and discounts at partners ranging from hotels to transportation to admission fees. (See all benefits here.)
Dubai via Emirates (en route to Africa, Australia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and India)
Dubai Connect offers one free hotel stay, one free meal, and ground transportation to and from the airport; it’s available to any Emirates passenger (regardless of cabin) who has a layover between 10 and 24 hours. The one caveat is that you must be booking the shortest connection possible for the package to be applicable; so you can’t choose the longest layover if a shorter one is available. (“This is to encourage you to use Emirates even when their flight schedules may not be ideal,” says Gary.)
While Emirates doesn’t include free city tours, it does offer hundreds of discounted activities through Dubai Experience—a collection of custom itineraries sorted into different categories such as “Adventure” and “Spa & Relaxation.” You can buy the Dubai Experience either at the time you buy your flight or afterward.
Doha via Qatar Airways (en route to Australia, Africa, India, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia)
To break up ultra-long flights to places like Australia and Southeast Asia, consider booking a flight with Qatar Airways with an extended stopover in Doha. For layovers longer than 12 hours, Qatar offers discounted hotel stays (very discounted—starting at $14 per night in a four-star hotel), as well as airport transportation and city tours.
In addition, you can also book stopovers for up to four nights, where the price for four nights of four-star accommodations starts at $73.
“Visiting the Museum of Islamic Art is worth the stopover alone,” says Gary. “The museum was I.M. Pei’s last building design, and is a piece of artwork in itself.”
These airline stopover programs can help break up a long journey—but remember that if you want the ultimate on-the-ground experience during a three- or four-night stopover, the folks on our WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts are your best resource. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes.
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