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Free stopovers on cheap cash tickets – how to find and book them

by on Mon May 4, 2015 • 6 Comments


Stopovers are often confused with layovers. But in reality they’re much more useful and rewarding.

A stopover is an actual stay in a 2nd city along the way to your destination on an airline ticket for more than a day. It can be 2 days, a week, 2 weeks – your choice within the expiration date of the ticket.

They often make tickets significantly more expensive, but sometimes airlines include rules that let you include as stopover for little cost or even free – other than the difference in airport taxes.

Free stopovers were once a gold mine with award tickets.

They can still be had, but now that American AAdvantage and Delta SkyMiles no longer offer them on regular awards, they’re not as accessible as they used to be. Among U.S. programs, United MileagePlus and Alaska MileagePlan still do offer one per award (United only on international roundtrips, Alaska on any award, including one ways) which is a great way to stretch  your miles further.

But it’s often overlooked that regular cheap airfares can also yield really interesting free (or nearly free) stopover possibilities.

Travel agents historically know them well, but they’re accessible to anyone with some patience and curiosity. For example you can…

  • Stop in Melbourne, Sydney, or Brisbane on a trip to Australia with Qantas
  • Enjoy both Buenos Aires and Rio on a South America trip with TAM
  • Visit Dublin on the way to Madrid with Aer Lingus
  • See Hong Kong on the way to anywhere Cathay Pacific flies
  • Fit two cities in India into the same trip with Air India or Jet Airways
  • Explore Istanbul on the way to or from anywhere Turkish Airlines flies

And the ITA Matrix Airfare Search makes it easy to find the often arcane stopover rules for anywhere you want to fly.

Here’s a quick rundown of where to find them.

The ITA site works like most travel search sites you’re used to. Just input where you want to fly…


Click on the fare you’re interested in to see the flight detail page.


Then click on ‘rules’ on the flight detail page to  see the detailed fare rules.


You’ll get a long list of rules, and you’re interested in looking at the stopover rules. You can just search for ‘stopover’ within the page to get to them quickly.

Looking at the rules in this case, you can include a stopover in Ireland where your flight across the Atlantic departs or arrives.


Unfortunately you can’t book any flights directly from ITA, but you can use it as a guide for what to look for when you go to your usual travel site or call a travel agent.

Or if you don’t care about rules, just pick two cities you’re interested in visiting, and plug them into a multi-city search on your favorite travel site.

You should see a few options that price pretty close to a basic roundtrip, because they have free or reduced price stopover rules.

For example with Hipmunk here’s a normal roundtrip flight to Paris for about $1,000 on Aer Lingus with no stopovers – just regular connections at the airport.


And with a multi-city search for Boston – Dublin on August 5th, Dublin – Paris on August 12th (week long stopover in Dublin), and Paris – Boston on August 19th (a week long stay in Paris), you get to visit both Ireland and France on the same trip for a similar price.



Stopovers aren’t limited to international cities. You can often stop at your U.S. gateway for free, and for example spend part of your vacation in New York or Los Angeles. American Airlines flights to Central and South America also often let you stop in one of its hub cities for free along the way.

So do some creative searching, push the boundaries, and you’ll be surprised at what you find.




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6 thoughts on Free stopovers on cheap cash tickets – how to find and book them


    How can I book Aer Lingus with Avios? Do I transfer my Avios to them or do I buy from BA website or over the phone?
    Thanks for your prompt reply!


      @LOURDES – Call Avios and they can check the space. It doesn’t show up on the BA website. If they see space, you can then decide to transfer the points to Avios.

  2. Ed

    Any tips for narrowing down on what cities may be allowed for stopover and circle trips on a ticket?

    Stopover: The farecode doesn’t specify stopover cities.

    Circle trip: The fare code specifies what airlines can be combined, but how do you search potential flights based on that?

  3. atxtravel

    Nice, thanks! How often does this work? Have you found any other practical routes or is it more like a novelty for specific airlines and cities?


      @atxtravel – If you’re creative the AA stopover in hubs down to Central/South America can yield some almost free one ways.

      For example DFW-CUN is about $484. But you can book DFW-CUN (stay) – DFW (stay) – DCA for $509. Basically if the fare from the other city is the same or lower, you have a shot of a free one way, as the fare ends up being a combination of DFW-CUN and CUN-DCA.


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