What’s the Difference Between a Stopover and a Layover?

Use these tips to maximize your miles and see more on your travels

Stopovers vs. Layovers: The Extra Mile

Why not add a stopover in Paris on your next trip?

Photo by Marie-Eve Vallieres

This week’s column examines a quirk of award travel that can really maximize your miles. Let’s say you’ve plotted out the places you want to visit, and are now turning to the daunting task of actually booking the award ticket. Well, there is something you should keep in mind before you hand over your credit card.

Stopover versus layover—and why that matters

It all comes down to the nuances between a stopover and layover. It’s not just semantics, it could actually lead to huge mileage savings.

A layover typically refers to a connection point between cities, sometimes as short as 30 minutes or as long as 23 hours, whereas a stopover refers to staying longer than 24 hours in any given city when traveling internationally (on domestic itineraries, the limit is reduced to four hours).

When booking award tickets (the same does not apply to revenue tickets), many airlines permit you to make a stopover en route to your final destination. So if you’re flying between New York and Paris, but have a stopover in London, it’s like a visit to another city without costing any more miles (though the taxes may be slightly higher). The same isn’t possible on revenue tickets (i.e., if you’re paying cash), because fares are built between two cities. Adding in a stopover on a revenue ticket would mean being priced as NYC to London; London to Paris; Paris to New York. With mileage tickets, it’s just a redemption of miles ... the same mileage price because mileage tickets are based on regions.

Who lets you and who doesn’t?

United permits one stopover on an international round trip. If you’re flying between New York and Rome, why not add a few nights in Paris, too? Your Star Alliance award ticket from United would allow a stop there on either the outbound or return portion of your trip. Other creative possibilities include flying from the U.S. to South Africa on Star Alliance, but spending a few nights visiting the Pyramids in Cairo.

Delta and American no longer allow stopovers, unfortunately. But, even so, you can still build in a few layovers to your itinerary. Get it? It’s a layover, not a stopover. It just means that you can’t stay longer than 24 hours in any one city. Here it’s key to stick to a routing that makes sense. If you’re flying between New York and Rome, it doesn’t make sense to stop in Istanbul, but perhaps an afternoon shopping in London could work. If you’re connecting in a city anyway, why not take advantage of the layover to see some of the sights. (See our favorite cities for layovers.)

Alaska Airlines lets you make a stopover on both domestic and international tickets (they partner with international airlines like Cathay Pacific, Emirates, and Korean Air among others). If you fly between LAX and Johannesburg on Cathay, you can stick around in Hong Kong for a few days. Alaska even lets you stop over on one-way tickets! Say you’re flying Boston to Seattle to Honolulu one way, but wanted to spend extra time visiting a friend in Seattle. Alaska will let you build in a stopover for several days, even weeks, whereas all other domestic airlines would not let you stop in Seattle for more than four hours, or they would charge mileage based on two separate tickets.

When time is of the essence, this little trick can help you get more out of your mileage. Study a map next time you plot out your award ticket to see what cities may be reasonable for a quick visit.

Ramsey Qubein is a freelance travel journalist covering hotels, cruises, airlines, and loyalty programs from around the globe.
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