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The Best Airline Stopover Programs to Try This Summer

From Abu Dhabi to the Azores or Panama to Fiji, here are ten of the best stopover programs around the world

by Fergus Cole

June 12, 2024

Photo: Courtesy of Bambi Corro / Unsplash

Flying long-haul isn’t for everyone as the extended hours, limited space, artificial cabin environment, and jetlag can leave travelers too exhausted to fully enjoy their destination upon arrival. Additionally, layovers can add to the stress, significantly increasing the total travel time, doubling the inconvenience of boarding and disembarking, and usually requiring several hours of waiting in an uninspiring airport departure lounge.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. Many international airlines offer enticing stopover programs inviting their passengers to spend more time in the connecting city, allowing them to explore the sights, take in a new culture, and refresh their batteries before heading to their final destination.

Photo: Courtesy of Artur Voznenko / Unsplash

Flights with a layover are often cheaper than flying direct, which makes them a popular choice among cost-savvy travelers. For the longest journeys, they can be essential.

Lengthy stopovers can also be a great way for business travelers to conduct their affairs in multiple locations on one trip. For example, if you are traveling to Singapore for work but have a client in Hong Kong that requires attention, you could choose a Cathay Pacific flight with a stopover in Hong Kong. This would allow you to arrange a meeting between flights.

So, if you’re planning a long-haul trip this summer and have a bit of time, you should consider taking advantage of a stopover program.

What is a stopover program?

A stopover program can come in many shapes and sizes, but it is essentially a scheme offered by an airline that allows passengers to leave the airport when on a layover to explore the city and spend more time in the country than the airline operates from.

For example, if you want to travel from New York to Bangkok, you might struggle to find a direct flight but could opt for an Air India flight with a layover in Delhi. With a stopover program, you could explore the Indian capital at no extra cost.

Qutub Minar tower in Delhi, India / Photo: Pikoso.kz/Shutterstock

However, stopover programs vary greatly in terms of what is offered. Some will allow you to leave the airport, while others will allow you to choose how much time you want to spend in the layover city. Meanwhile, some airlines will even throw in a free night in a hotel to entice you to book with them.

So, with the summer travel season now upon us, let’s take a look at ten of the world’s best airline stopover programs in 2024:

Copa Airlines

Panamanian flag carrier Copa Airlines is ideal for those traveling to South America or the Caribbean but wanting to break up the journey with a layover in Central America.

Copa’s ‘Panama Stopover’ program allows passengers the chance to stay in Panama from 24 hours to 7 days at no additional cost to the airfare. But while there’s no extra cost to the flight, you must pay for any extra expenses, such as hotel stays.

Photo: Panama City, Panama. Courtesy of Yosi Bitran / Unsplash

The Panama Stopover program includes several different packages depending on your preferences, whether you want to soak up the culture and nightlife of Panama City, immerse yourself in the extraordinary natural biodiversity of Panama’s national parks, or spend your time lounging on one of the country’s idyllic tropical beaches.

One package, the Panama City and Beach tour, includes three nights each in two luxury hotels—one in the city and one on the beach—along with meals, tours, and travel for $1,242 per person.

Icelandair

If traveling between North America and Europe, you may consider flying Icelandair with a stopover in Reykjavik. The Icelandic flag carrier offers many transatlantic flights from the U.S. that stop at Keflavik International Airport (KEF), and the Icelandair Stopover program allows passengers to explore this naturally unique and beautiful island mid-journey.

Photo: Reykjavik, Iceland. Courtesy of Nicolas J Leclercq / Unsplash

At no extra airfare cost, you can choose to stay in Iceland for a day up to a week. The airline also offers a range of itineraries, whether you’re staying for 24 hours, 48 hours, or 72 hours, although you’ll need to cover hotel costs yourself.

While you’re unlikely to witness the northern lights during the summer, Iceland has plenty more to offer the adventurous traveler, from its lush green landscapes, otherworldly volcanic formations, breathtaking waterfalls, and all-night partying in the world’s northernmost capital city.

Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines has one of the world’s largest international flight networks, offering services to hundreds of destinations across six continents, often with a layover at Istanbul International Airport (IST). It also offers one of the globe’s best stopover programs with various packages depending on your fare type and length of stay.

Photo: Istanbul, Turkey. Courtesy of Engin Yapici / Unsplash

If applying at least 72 hours before your flight, Business Class passengers can claim two nights free in a five-star hotel in Istanbul, while Economy passengers also get a great deal—one free night in a four-star hotel.

Passengers on shorter layovers of between six and 24 hours can also take advantage of the airline’s free city tour, which can be arranged at the Touristanbul desk upon arrival at the airport.

Istanbul, straddling the border of Europe and Asia, is one of the world’s most fascinating cities. It offers a never-ending array of attractions, including ancient architectural wonders, maze-like bazaars, high-end modern shopping, and mouth-watering cuisine, making it a melting pot of cultures for travelers to explore.

Etihad Airways

Based in the capital of the United Arab Emirates – Abu Dhabi – a country known worldwide for its luxurious lifestyle, Etihad is similarly highly regarded for opulent service, and its stopover program is also up there with the world’s best.

Photo: Abu Dhabi. Courtesy of Kamil Rogalinski / Unsplash

For layovers of 24 hours or more, Etihad offers passengers up to two nights free at one of a range of three-star hotels or discounted rates of up to four nights at a range of four- and five-star hotels.

Etihad’s ‘Abu Dhabi Stopover’ program lets passengers explore the Emirate’s fascinating mix of high-end luxury, Islamic architecture, and white sand beaches. Travelers can also enjoy an exciting desert safari by jeep or camel, or visit neighboring Dubai, just 90 minutes away along the coast.

Iberia

Spanish flag carrier Iberia offers its coveted ‘Hola Madrid’ stopover program, allowing passengers to explore the Spanish capital for 24 hours or stay there for up to six nights at no extra airfare. It’s available on any Iberia flight with a layover in Madrid, and the stopover length—whether on the outbound or inbound flight—is up to the passenger.

Madrid / Photo: Alev Takil/Unsplash

While there’s no option for a free hotel stay, it offers discounted rates at Melia hotels and discounts on airport transfers and museum entrance fees, including at the world-famous Prado.

Guests can also claim a free two-day travel card, giving them greater freedom to explore the sprawling city from neighborhood to neighborhood and sample its world-famous tapas on the way.

TAP Air Portugal

TAP Air Portugal‘s stopover program is available in not one but two of Europe’s most vibrant and historical cities – Lisbon and Porto. It is also one of the most flexible and extensive offers, allowing passengers to stay in either destination for up to ten days.

The booking process is super clear and simple at the point of reservation, and you can also add an additional flight with a stopover in other Portuguese destinations, including the Algarve and Madeira, at a discounted rate of 25 percent.

Lisbon / Photo: Alessandro Aviles

The Portuguese flag carrier has a wide range of hotel partners in Lisbon and Porto, where you can get between 10-20 percent off your stay, while discounts are also available on various museums, restaurants, and tours.

So, whether you want to explore the vibrant seaside capital or the majestic riverside home of Port Wine, TAP Air’s stopover program has you covered.

Japan Airlines

Japan Airlines (JAL) refers to itself as ‘stopover friendly,’ and its stopover flight program confirms that. Whether your flight has a stopover of 24 hours in Tokyo, Osaka, or any other major Japanese city, JAL’s program allows travelers to break up their journey in one of the world’s most captivating countries. Certain stopover packages may also offer hotels, transport, and tours discounts.

Shibuya District and Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo / Photo: Luciano Mortula-LGM/Adobe Stock

Travelers can also add other destinations to their trip through the JAL Japan Explorer Pass. This additional program offers fares as low as $50 one way to more than 30 destinations across the country.

So, when choosing a stopover with JAL, you have a choice of exploring the immense metropolis of Tokyo, stepping back in time in the ancient city of Kyoto, lounging on the sub-tropical beaches of Okinawa, going off the beaten track in the northern island of Hokkaido, and much, much more.

Singapore Airlines

Long-regarded as one of the world’s leading international carriers, Singapore Airlines‘ stopover program is also well-distinguished. Singapore’s Changi Airport (SIN) often tops lists of the world’s best airports, too, and while it’s true that it’s an attraction in itself, the city-state of Singapore has so much more to offer the discerning traveler.

Photo: Singapore. Courtesy of Swapnil Bapat / Unsplash

Singapore Airlines offers a stopover program called ‘Holiday Before the Holiday’ for travelers purchasing a multi-city flight. This program allows travelers to design a unique itinerary lasting up to three days.

Like Turkish Airlines, Singapore Airlines also provides a stopover program for passengers with shorter layovers, offering free sightseeing tours to those with layovers lasting between 5 and 24 hours.

Whatever your preferences, you can find things of interest in Singapore, from its futuristic architecture and luxury shopping malls to its manicured, man-made beaches and fragrant food markets displaying culinary delights from across Asia and beyond.

Fiji Airways

Traveling from the U.S. to Australia or New Zealand is long (very long), and what better way to break up the arduous flight than with a few days soaking up the sun on the Pacific island paradise of Fiji? You can do just that with Fiji Airways’ stopover program, which lets you choose how many days you want to spend during your layover at Nadi International Airport (NAN) with no additional airfare and stays under 96 hours, which is also exempt from any additional departure tax.

Photo: Fiji. Courtesy of Josaia Cakacaka / Unsplash

Even if lounging on a beach under a palm tree, coconut in hand, isn’t your thing, Fiji offers many more adventurous types, from world-class surfing and scuba diving with sharks to visiting traditional island villages and zip lining through the jungle.

Fiji Airways, which recently became a full-fledged member of the Oneworld Alliance, has several hotel partners and discounted tour offers to make your stay easier and more enjoyable.

Azores Airlines

Probably the least-known airline on this list, Azores Airlines offers a stopover program that shouldn’t be dismissed. Available on flights between the U.S. and Europe, this program gives travelers the chance to explore the idyllic archipelago of the Azores, sometimes referred to as the ‘Hawaii of the Atlantic.’

Photo: Azores. Courtesy of Photo by Karim Sakhibgareev / Unsplash

Application for the stopover program is super easy when booking your flight with Azores Airlines, as the option will automatically be suggested for you, offering the choice of two islands – São Miguel or Terceira – with a stay of up to seven days.

It also allows you to add experiences to your stay, from food and gin tours to island-hopping cruises.

At the same time, other activities on offer include surfing, scuba diving, and swimming with dolphins. This can be done in near isolation, as the Azores are still devoid of the tourist crowds seen in many other parts of the world.

Mini Vacations Are Possible

While long-haul flights can be exhausting, airline stopover programs offer a unique way to transform layovers into mini-vacations. These programs allow travelers to explore new destinations, recharge, and break up their journey. From the vibrant nightlife of Panama City to the natural wonders of Iceland and the cultural richness of Istanbul, stopovers can enhance your travel experience.

So, as you plan your next trip, consider the adventure a stopover can offer. It can turn your travel into a richer, more enjoyable journey.