This Airline’s New Flight Stopover Program Includes Free Luxury Hotel Nights

Turn a connecting flight into a restorative retreat.

The pool at the Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi surrounded by palm trees, lounge chairs, umbrellas, and a four-story yellow hotel building

Among the hotels travelers can select during their stopover in Abu Dhabi with Etihad is the Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri.

Courtesy of Shangri-La

For travelers keen on visiting the more than 80 marbled domes of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the impressive Qatar Al Watan presidential palace, and the rolling desert dunes of Abu Dhabi, there’s now a great way to do so—and it’s practically free.

Etihad Airways recently announced a new stopover program wherein passengers flying round-trip with the carrier can schedule a complimentary stopover in the United Arab Emirates inclusive of a hotel stay.

Fliers can opt to stay up to two nights at a variety of three-, four-, and even five-star hotels across the capital city—for free. 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.

As if the free overnights weren’t enticing enough, an Etihad Airways boarding pass doubles as an Abu Dhabi pass, offering discounts at attractions such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Emirates Park Zoo, as well as at eateries throughout the area.

Travelers can schedule the stopover during the booking process (they must book directly with Etihad, not through a third-party site, to score the deal), provided it’s at least three business days in advance. It’s worth noting that there are a handful of blackout periods for the program, including from November 3 through 8, December 5 through 8, and December 23 through January 2. The offer is also only valid in one direction, not both ways.

Abu Dhabi is a major connecting hub in the Middle East, especially for long-haul flights from the Americas and Europe to Africa and the Pacific. In a statement, Antonoaldo Neves, the chief executive officer for Etihad, said he expects the program to bring in more than 100,000 additional visitors to Abu Dhabi in the next year.

Etihad isn’t alone in offering a free stopover program for travelers on multileg itineraries passing through the airline’s home base. IcelandAir, TAP Portugal, and Qatar Airways are just a few of the others that boast similar stopover programs, which offer a great way for travelers to add a destination to their travel itinerary.

Emirates, another UAE-based carrier, also offers a free stopover program for its hub in Dubai. Called Dubai Connect, it’s only offered on connecting flights with a layover of 8 to 26 hours. Fliers who meet the criteria can apply (at least 24 hours before the flight to Dubai) for a complimentary visa to enter the UAE, a free hotel room (and transfer to it), and some discounted meals.

This isn’t Etihad’s first foray into stopovers. This new program replaces a previous free layover program for passengers flying in first or business class or in The Residence (a three-room suite that was slated for retirement during the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision that was recently reversed).

The news of this offering comes just weeks after Etihad announced a new route from Boston to Abu Dhabi and expanded its partnership with JetBlue, allowing travelers to earn and redeem miles in each airline’s loyalty program and providing easier connecting flights from the United States.

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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