By Catey Hill, MarketWatch
This is one high-flying deal.
Though you might not see this widely advertised, a number of airlines are offering travelers free stopovers in their home cities. That means you can spend the night (or sometimes up to a week) in a new city — and not pay any extra airfare.
‘These stopover programs are squarely aimed at luring people to spend time, and spend some cash, in these airlines’ home countries.’
—George Hobica, founder of AirfareWatchdog
This “little known” hack can “stretch the travel dollar and travel experience of Americans visiting a bevy of destinations,” says Gabe Saglie , an anchor and producer at travel deals site Travelzoo.com. Adds George Hobica , founder of airline deal site AirfareWatchdog.com: “Airlines used to charge a lot for stopovers and some still might,” but with this deal, “it’s like getting two countries for the price of one.”
Of course, airlines don’t do this out of generosity. Often they work with local tourism authorities to create these deals, says Hobica. “These stopover programs are squarely aimed at luring people to spend time — and spend some cash — in these airlines’ home countries. But travelers stand to win here, by getting two vacations in one, basically, and adding and crossing yet another destination off their to-do list,” says Saglie.
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So who’s offering this deal? Plenty of airlines. Fly Icelandair /zigman2/quotes/209069747/delayed IS:ICEAIR +1.27% across the Atlantic — say, between London and New York — and you can stop over in Iceland for one to seven days with no extra airfare cost — and you can get a “free stopover buddy” which is simply a local who can take you around for free.
Curious about Finland? Fly Finnair /zigman2/quotes/200297452/delayed FI:FIA1S -0.22% and you “add a stopover of up to 5 days to any round trip between Asia and Europe.” Want to vacation in Portugal?” Get a free stopover of up to 5 nights in Lisbon or Porto when you fly TAP Air Portugal. Looking for something closer to home? Air Canada /zigman2/quotes/207443554/delayed ACDVF +4.39% gives stopovers to Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver.
Other airlines that offer free stopovers include KLM /zigman2/quotes/201457369/delayed KLMR -83.33% (stopover in Amsterdam), Japan Airlines /zigman2/quotes/200824855/delayed JAPSY +4.25% (stopover in Tokyo for flights originating in North America), Aer Lingus (stopover in Ireland), Copa /zigman2/quotes/201099371/composite CPA +3.98% (Panama City), Etihad Airways (Abu Dhabi), Ethiopian Airlines (Adias Ababa), Qatar Airways (Doha), Hawaiian Airlines /zigman2/quotes/203188135/composite HA +6.38% (Honolulu, but it’s only for international travelers).
Of course, these come with restrictions — you may have to fly to and from certain cities to get the deal. And as Liana Corwin , a consumer travel expert at Hopper, advises travelers to look at additional costs such as transportation to/from the airport, local hotel prices, exchange rate, etc.
If the costs add up to more than the difference between a stopover flight and a direct flight, think hard about whether it will fit in your budget or if you should save the visit for another vacation. “In some cases you get a free tour or a free one-night hotel stay,” says Hobica.