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 few 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 stopovers this year.
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 offers 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. (The program was paused in 2020 due to Covid, but should restart soon; check their website for updates.)
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 they frequently run 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 five nights in either Lisbon or Porto—a great way to break up a trip to the rest of Europe, or even select countries in southern Africa.
Aside from getting to explore one of two beautiful cities, TAP’s stopover program comes with added perks such as exclusive hotel rates, free bottles of wine at partner restaurants, and discounted tours and entry to popular attractions. (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 offer 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.
“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.”
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