Travel Tip: How to Add a Free Stopover to Your Next Trip

A stopover is a connection between two flights of more than 24 hours.  A stopover is a great way to maximize your travel budget by adding an additional destination to your itinerary – ideally at no extra cost.

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Let’s say you wanted to fly from JFK in New York to Kochi in Southern India to reach the destination Varkala, India (one of the top 10 South/South-East Asia backpacker beaches).  You might end up using a Gulf Air flight that is routed through Bahrain in the Persian Gulf.  Gulf Air generally allows free stopovers in Bahrain, which means you have the option of adding a Persian Gulf exploration onto your trip to South India.

It’s not uncommon for a national airline (such as Gulf Air) to offer free stopovers in the airline’s hub airport. This makes sense for a nationally subsidized airline to allow passengers the option to stop and spend extra tourist money in the country they’re flying through.

Working a Stopover Into Your Plans

If you are using the ITA Matrix (the best cheap flight tool you never heard of) to search for your cheap flights, you can check the fares rules of tickets you select.  Fare rules will have a section to describe the stopover rules for the ticket.  Some stopover rules say that stopovers are permitted, but we’re specifically looking for “free stopovers.”

If you were looking for a return flight from JFK to Bangkok and didn’t have 60,000 or a frequent flyer miles ready to use, then you could consider buying this pricey but but reasonable ticket for $1,077.

Checking the Stopover Rules

  1. Click on ‘rules’ link next to the Fare 1 or Fare 2 (highlighted in red).
  2. Fare rules will open. Scroll down or use the browser’s ‘Find’ feature to find the ‘Stopovers’ section.

how to add a free stopover

From this sample itinerary we see that this ticket does allow free stopovers, it actually allows 2 free stopovers!

Here are the stopover restrictions for this ticket:

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6 STOPOVERS PERMITTED ON THE PRICING UNIT – 3 IN EACH DIRECTION

LIMITED TO 2 FREE AND 4 AT CNY 500 EACH

1 FREE IN EACH DIRECTION

2 IN EACH DIRECTION AT CNY 500 EACH

“Limited to 2 FREE” – that’s the important part. This means you can fly from JFK to Shanghai, China and hang out for a week. Go on to Bangkok and explore Southeast Asia for a couple months and then fly back to Shanghai for another week of fun before heading home.  You were planning on just going to Bangkok, but instead you can visit Thailand and go to China twice for the same price (don’t forget to consider the cost of your Chinese visa).

Booking a Flight with a Free Stopover

There is a chance you will need to call the airline directly to book the ticket. In some cases you can buy tickets containing free stopovers online, from cheap flight search engines such as Vayama or Momondo.

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Adding a Stopover to a Rewards Ticket

Depending on the airline, adding a stopover when booking an award ticket (i.e. redeeming frequent flyer miles) is easy.  Here are some things to keep in mind.

  1. You will probably have to call in to the airline reservation center to book your ticket. Online interfaces can’t generally handle stopovers on award tickets.
  2. Just because the first airline ticket agent you speak with says your requested itinerary is impossible, that does not make it so.  Politely hang up and call back a moment later.  You’ll eventually find a representative who is willing to help.
  3. The stopover city generally needs to be approximately on the way to your destination (assuming you take the most direct route).  Sometimes it is possible to have a stopover in a city that is in a distant and remote location.
  4. If you’re told that adding a stopover will increase the miles required for your ticket, again politely hang up and try a different ticket agent.

Here are the official rules for getting a stopover on a reward ticket for common frequent flyer programs.

United Airlines Frequent Flyer Mile Stopover Rules

A stopover is permitted on round-trip award travel only. One stopover is permitted, unless otherwise noted. Additional mileage may be required for Saver Awards within the mainland U.S., Alaska and Canada.

US Airways Frequent Flyer Mile Stopover Rules

  1. For travel within the continental U.S., Canada and Alaska, a stopover is defined as a stay of more than 4 hours between connections (if there is a connecting flight available within 4 hours). If you’re traveling outside the continental U.S., Canada and Alaska, a stopover is defined as a stay of more than 24 hours between connections.
  2. Stopovers are not permitted when travel is within one award region or for multi-city travel.
  3. For travel outside the continental U.S., Canada and Alaska, you’re allowed one stopover per US Airways itinerary at a US Airways gateway or international destination (or in a partner hub city if you’re traveling on an award partner). US Airways hub/international gateway cities include Charlotte, Philadelphia and Phoenix. Please call Reservations for additional US Airways international gateways and partner hub cities.
  4. Stopovers are allowed only for the most direct route of travel.
  5. Stopovers must be included in the reservation when you book. You may not add a stopover once an award has been ticketed.

American Airlines Frequent Flyer Mile Stopover Rules

All American Airlines award tickets are issued on a one-way basis, and hence Stopovers are not allowed.

Delta Airlines Frequent Flyer Mile Stopover Rules

One stopover is allowed per Award.

Air Canada Frequent Flyer Mile Stopover Rules

Intercontinental travel (travel between two continents): Two stopovers permitted in addition to the point of turnaround. One open jaw is permitted in lieu of one of the two stopovers.

Avianca Airlines Frequent Flyer Mile Stopover Rules

No stopovers allowed on one-way awards. One stopover may be allowed on some round trip awards.