Best airlines to leverage free or low cost stopovers on paid tickets by region

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Stopovers on both paid and award tickets are some of the most cost effective ways to travel for less. Instead of traveling between point A and B, with stopovers, you can do A to C (stopover) to B (destination) to D (stopover) back to A or any combination therein. Before we get started, lets explain the difference between a layover and stopover.

  • Layover – a connection under 4 hours for domestic itineraries and 24 hours for international itineraries. Staying under those time limits and you will not trigger incremental costs
  • Stopover – any connection greater than 24 hours and the maximum stay for the fare (for example, if the fare allows for a maximum stay of 30 days, you can technically do a stopover for up to 30 days).

To take advantage of stopovers, please read our How to Take Advantage of a Stopover guide. You have to get comfortable with using ITA Matrix to find stopovers more easily. If you don’t want to play with that, ExpertFlyer, a paid service has the full routing rules for each fare and you can see where all the possible connection points (and thus potential stopovers) might exist.

Of the over 7,500 deals that we’ve written about, around 70% of them are international. Based on the data we have collected, here are the carriers with the best stopover options by region.

North and Southeast Asia

The best option for low cost stopovers in this region is on United. United’s low cost fares to Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand consistently allows for the following:

  • Two stopovers for $100 each, but not in Guam.

What exactly does that mean? Let’s use the recent $736 fare between San Francisco and Shanghai as an example. The fare is for non-stop service, so you’re probably thinking, I have to do point A to point B like this:

It is actually possible to stopover in Hong Kong and Tokyo as an example. So instead of a trip just to Shanghai, you could’ve booked a trip that looked like this – San Francisco to Hong Kong (stopover) to Shanghai (destination) to Tokyo (stopover) to San Francisco. The added cost would’ve been $200 plus incremental taxes and fees associated with the stopover. For under $1,000, you could’ve visited 3 cities and 3 countries instead of just one. That’s stretching your dollars!

In contrast, American and Delta are much more restrictive in terms of their stopover opportunities with low cost fares. Delta usually allows for stopovers only in the United States, though we have seen a few that allow for international stopovers but not in Japan or Guam. American either doesn’t allow stopovers at all, stopovers only in the United States or in very limited cases, in Asia.

Indian Subcontinent and Middle East

The best options here are with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic or Emirates. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic allow stopovers in London for free (however, a stopover in London will trigger the Air Passenger Duty and that would add at least $20 – $150 to the fare depending on the distance of the destination from London). Emirates allows for free stopovers in Dubai.

South America

South American carriers are very flexible with stopovers at very reasonable prices. Our two favorites are LAN and TAM. Let say there’s a fare on TAM to go to Buenos Aires from New York, here’s how to potentially leverage its network and partners to full effect.  An example: New York – Rio de Janeiro (stopover) – Buenos Aires (destination) – Lima (stopover) – New York.  With LAN, the same can be done, let’s say it has the same fare from New York to Buenos Aires. You can do New York – Santiago de Chile (stopover) – Buenos Aires (destination) – Rio de Janeiro (stopover) – New York. LAN and TAM are the same company in different countries, so you can fully leverage their network.

For Star Alliance flyers, Avianca is very flexible with stopovers. On the same New York to Buenos Aires fare, it is possible to do something like this: New York – Bogota (usually not a stopover option) – Lima (stopover) – Buenos Aires – Lima – San Salvador (stopover) – New York.

Delta flyers, sorry, you guys are stuck. We don’t see many stopover options with them or their partners.

Africa

Once again, the best options for Africa are with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic or Emirates. That means the stopover will either be in London or Dubai. We rarely see stopovers in Africa itself.

Europe

“Can I stopover in Europe?” is probably the most requested stopover question we receive. In general, fare rules for carriers between the US and Europe do not allow for stopovers. They are usually point to point with two consistent exceptions — United’s fares to Scandinavia and Turkish Airlines’ fares. Do you wonder how we were able to post about the Newark to Paris deal on United for $594? That was actually a Newark to Oslo fare that we made Paris as the stopover.  Effectively, Paris became the destination as only an overnight was required in Oslo. Some stopover possibilities with United’s Scandinavia fares include Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Munich.

For Turkish Airlines, the stopover has to be in Istanbul. It is a great city and there are a lot of low cost carrier options from Istanbul. Also, if you have a long layover in Istanbul, they give free city tours. We don’t feature Turkish fares because their low cost fares are non-mileage earning.

Australia / New Zealand

We haven’t seen enough deals to have any expert advice on stopover possibilities to Australia or New Zealand.

Central America

All US carriers usually allow for stopovers in their gateway city. For American, that is usually Miami and Dallas; for Delta it’s Atlanta or Los Angeles; and for United – Houston or Newark.

Hawaii / Alaska

Normal domestic fares do not allow for stopovers in the United States. However, fares between the US and Hawaii or Alaska usually allow for a stopover at the gateway city for usually $50 more. Just look at the respective airlines rules and you probably can stopover.

Conclusion

  • United fares to North and Southeast Asia are great for stopovers at low incremental cost
  • British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Emirates are great to the Middle East, Indian Sub-continent and Africa
  • LAN, TAM and Avianca are great for South America

One final bit, finding a stopover is a lot of manual work. Sometimes, it takes a few minutes to find and sometimes hours. We cannot help you do it for fares we post — it’s just not scalable for us. Please read our How to Take Advantage of a Stopover guide and start from there.

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10 Responses to "Best airlines to leverage free or low cost stopovers on paid tickets by region"

  1. Jeff says:

    In your Central America section you reference AA allowing stopovers in their Gateway city (i.e. Miami). My understanding is that AA did away with free stopovers in gateway cities all together about 6 months ago? Is flying to/from Central America an exception?

    Thanks,
    Jeff

    Reply
  2. Potreroflyr says:

    Are you overlooking HIP checks, especially for Japan? Stopovers in Tokyo frequently force a reprice to a higher fare, in my experience. Haven’t looked closely lately, but fare rules often specify HIP restrictions.

    Reply
    • The Flight Deal says:

      @Potreroflyr – at least the last three fares out of SFO to Asia (ICN, PVG and SGN) — that hasnt been the problem.

      Reply
  3. Wolfgang says:

    How would I go about booking the SFO-HKG (stop)-PVG (dest.)-TYO (stop)-SFO routing with United?
    Use the multi-city search on the United website? Tried that, didn’t work for me.

    The HKG-PVG and PVG-NRT segments would be with another airline (CA, NH, OZ etc.), right?

    Reply
    • The Flight Deal says:

      @Wolfgang – never use United to do anything. Here’s what we did on ITA. Screenshot —
      ITA construction.

      And the result:
      $834 with ~2 days in HK, 3 days in Shanghai and 2 days in Tokyo.

      Notice the fare is still SFO – SHA (Shanghai) and SHA – SFO on ITA. To book this, Hipmunk and enter each segment individually should do it.

      Like we said on the post, you have to get comfortable with ITA.

      Reply
  4. Evan says:

    Air New Zealand typically lets you stopover in New Zealand on a journey to/from Australia at little to no additional cost. Same with using NZ to get to Pacific Islands via Auckland.

    Reply
  5. Jay Cherner says:

    Where is the best place/hotel to stay in Mumbai in april? where to look for sightseeing, transportation, food, etc.?

    Reply
  6. david lim says:

    your matrix software is full of it just check or book Singapore or Cathay Pacific airlines directly you will get stopover FREE instead of United Airlines which also has terrible flight services, lol

    Reply

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