Maximize your vacation this summer with a stopover ticket

Why have one vacation when you can have two?
Why have one vacation when you can have two?
Image: Reuters/Nacho Doce
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Layovers get a bad rap. They’re either a panicked rush or a never-ending slog—and almost never preferable to flying direct.

But what if there was a way to make layovers part of the trip itself? More and more airlines are actively marketing stopover tickets as an alternative for travelers who are willing to broaden their definition of “getting there.” By extending your layover in an airline’s hub city from several hours to several days, you not only get to add an additional component to your vacation—but often a cheaper flight, too.

Patrick Surry, the chief data scientist at airline data analysis app Hopper, says that airlines offer stopover tickets as a way to incentivize passengers to book with them, even if their routes are far longer than a nonstop flight.

“I always hearken back to the the golden years of air travel where taking the plane trip was part of the excitement of going on vacation,” Surry said. “Now people think of it of wasting an entire day to have a horrible experience on a plane—so [stopovers] are a really interesting way to bring back some of the love of getting there.”

Stopover tickets aren’t new, per say, but they are becoming more commonly—and conspicuously—marketed to travelers rather than hidden within an airline’s fine print. Legacy carriers like Icelandair, Emirates, and Turkish Airlines have long been offering stopover tickets through their hubs of Reykjavík, Dubai, and Istanbul—but even low cost carriers like WOW Air are now adding stopover options on transatlantic routes. Portugal’s flag carrier TAP Air extended its maximum stopover length to five days last year, meaning travelers can spend a nice chunk of time in Lisbon or Porto before traveling on to dozens of destinations in Europe, the US, or Africa—at no extra airfare cost.

So if you want to add a stopover to your summer holiday plans, what should you watch out for? Beware of visa restrictions, Surry said. Just because you’re staying for a single night won’t mean you aren’t subject to a country’s standard entry requirements—but it’s easy to forget if you think of it as just a layover. In addition, don’t try to game the system by booking a stopover for the cheap fare and planning to abandon the second leg. Airlines frown upon this as it violates the conditions of carriage, and may not allow you to board your return flight if you didn’t fully complete your outbound journey.

In addition, booking direct on an airline’s website is a good idea for a stopover, as metasearch engines and online travel agencies often don’t display multi-stop itineraries as clearly. Also, while many airlines offer stopover tickets as an option, some make the booking process much simpler than others. For a list of airlines that have streamlined the stopover booking experience, see here.