6 Places You Can Visit for (Almost) Free on a Stopover Flight

Airline stopover programs provide a great, affordable way to extend your trip and visit an additional destination. Here’s how to see two countries for the price of one.

Exterior of peach-painted building with tables and umbrellas out front and ironwork balconies in Lisbon, Portugal

Heading to Europe? Why not stop in Lisbon, Portugal, en route to your final destination when flying with TAP Air Portugal?

Photo by Diego Garcia/Unsplash

Often, when you’re traveling from one country to another on a connecting flight, the time spent in the connecting hub feels a bit like being lost in a no-man’s-land of travel—neither here, nor there. However, a growing number of airlines are working to reshape travelers’ relationships with extra-long layovers.

In recent years, more carriers have started offering airline stopover programs that encourage travelers to explore additional destinations along their journey, spending between 24 hours and 10 days (depending on the program) in a locale without incurring additional airfare charges. It’s a more extended break in the itinerary than a layover, which generally refers to a relatively short stop between connecting flights. Stopovers are typically free to schedule and often include complimentary or heavily discounted hotel stays and on-ground transit. It’s an opportunity for the airline to direct more tourism dollars to a capital city or flagship country and offer travelers the opportunity to visit multiple destinations for (more or less) the price of one.

Here are six of the best airline stopover programs to help extend your vacation.

White exterior of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Take a detour to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Photo by Katerina Kerdi/Unsplash

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Those transiting through Abu Dhabi can opt to stay in the capital of the United Arab Emirates for a spell with Etihad Airways’ stopover program.

Travelers transiting through Etihad’s home base can choose a complimentary one- or two-night stay at various three-, four-, and even five-star hotels across the capital city. Some of the luxury options include the Shangri La Qaryat Al Beri, Bab Al Qasr, and the Grand Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel & Residences Emirates Pearl. You can find the full spread of hotel options on Etihad’s stopover page.

Other perks of the program include up to 30 percent off dining at select restaurants (many of which are within the hotels offered through the program) and free tickets to attractions like the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, and Saadiyat Island. There is also a free shuttle service that connects travelers to the various sites.

The program is only available to those who book directly through Etihad’s website. To be eligible, you must book at least three days before you arrive in the Persian Gulf city. Other stipulations include a handful of blackout periods (including November 3 through 8, December 5 through 8, and December 23 through January 2), and the offer is only valid in one direction (so you can’t score a free stay on both your away and return tickets).

Exterior of the National Museum of Qatar featuring interesting architectural elements such as different planes going in numerous directions intended to look like a desert rose crystal

Soak up art, architecture, and culture, at the National Museum of Qatar, during an extended Doha layover.

Photo by Deepak Siva/Unsplash

Doha, Qatar

If you’re interested in exploring Doha, Qatar’s capital city, on the cheap, the country’s airline can help. Under the Qatar Airways stopover program, travelers can book a stopover of up to four days and then choose from a handful of heavily discounted accommodations packages. For example, fliers staying a single night in Doha can choose between the Standard option (which includes a four-star hotel for $14 per person) or the Luxury option (a five-star hotel for $77 per person).

To book, choose “Qatar Stopover” in the flight search panel on Qatar’s dedicated page for the program. From there, you’ll need to enter the preferred trip and stopover details, then click “Show Flights.” The site will show your options, which work for any flight that connects through Doha. After you’ve purchased your tickets, you’ll need to visit the stopover hotel booking page to score the deal on accommodation.

White spiral staircase in the public library in Helsinki, Finland

Explore masterful design and architecture, such as the public Rikhardinkatu library (pictured), and coffee shops galore in Helsinki, Finland.

Photo by Natalya Letunova/Unsplash

Helsinki, Finland

For those interested in experiencing the happiest country in the world, take advantage of Finnair stopover service in the capital city of Helsinki. The program allows travelers to stay in Helsinki for up to five days at no additional cost—and booking it is incredibly easy.

When you start booking on Finnair’s website, select “stopover” (as opposed to round trip or one way), enter your departure and destination cities, intended travel dates, whether you want to make your stopover on the outbound or return journey, and how many days you’d like to stay in the country.

Finnair doesn’t offer discounted hotel stays, but the airline does provide some suggested itineraries to help visitors maximize their visit—be that exploring the concept shops of Helsinki or chasing the northern lights farther north.

Shop with stacks and stacks of colorful Turkish treats and shopkeeper in the background

When in Türkiye, eat all the bazaar sweets.

Photo by Michael Parulava/Unsplash

Istanbul, Türkiye

Turkish Airlines’ stopover program is somewhat tricky to navigate—there’s no option to search for itineraries with long stopovers on the website, so you’ll have to hunt for one—but it’s one of the more generous schemes out there once you work out the details.

Any passenger with at least a 20-hour connection period in Istanbul qualifies for the “Stopover in Istanbul” program, wherein you’ll be granted a hotel room completely free of charge. (Economy-class passengers are awarded one night in a four-star hotel and business-class fliers get two nights in a five-star hotel.)

Once you’ve booked the flight (and it’s at least 72 hours before departure), you’ll need to email a program representative your ticket number, name, desired accommodation dates, preferred room type (single, double, or triple), and phone number. The representative differs depending on what country you’re departing from, but all contact information is available on the airline’s online stopover page. Vouchers for the accommodation will be sent via email.

Beyond the complimentary rooms, travelers can also take advantage of a free city tour, which is sponsored by Turkish Airlines’ Touristanbul. To sign up, passengers need to go to the Hotel Desk at the International Arrivals Terminal of Istanbul Airport.

view of the waterfront in Porto, Portugal, as seen from a tiered park with people sitting and playing on the steps and grass

There are worse ways to spend a layover than exploring the Portuguese coastal city of Porto.


Lisbon and Porto, Portugal

What sets TAP Air Portugal apart from the other stopover programs is that it’s not limited to just one city and it allows fliers to stay for up to 10 days.

TAP Air Portugal’s stopover system is incredibly easy to navigate; when you’re booking, all you need to do is input dates, departure, and destination cities and select the “Add Stopover” button. After that, a pop-up will allow you to choose between a stopover in Lisbon or Porto, whether you want to do the stopover on the inbound or outbound flight, and for how long.

After you’ve finished booking, TAP Air Portugal offers discounts on hotels, attractions, and more on its mobile app.

Aerial view of Reykjavík featuring both colorful and grey and white buildings and rooftops with the sea off in the distance

Spending some time in the utterly charming city of Reykjavík, Iceland.

Photo by Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Reykjavík, Iceland

Icelandair is credited as the pioneer of the free airline stopover; it has been offering some iteration of the program since the early 1960s, which greatly helped increase tourism to the land of fire and ice.

The current program allows travelers to book a stopover in Reykjavík, Iceland, for one to seven days at no additional cost. All you have to do is select the “Stopover in Iceland” option and input how many days you’d like to stay when booking your ticket. It’s particularly useful for flights between the United States and mainland Europe.

Unlike some other destinations, Icelandair’s program doesn’t offer free or discounted accommodation or transportation, so be sure to factor travel within the country into your costs. However, it is possible to book some tours (like an abbreviated Golden Circle tour, where guests can visit Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysir geothermal area, two of Iceland’s most famous natural wonders) directly through the airline.

This story was originally published in July 2023 and was updated on June 25, 2024, to include current information.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at Afar. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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