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When planning an international vacation, you typically want to squeeze in as much as possible. Because if you’re flying halfway around the world, you should make the most of your time off, jet lag, and the money and miles you’re already spending to get there!
That’s why savvy travelers take advantage of free (or discounted) stopovers on award tickets, which let you visit multiple cities for the price of one! It’s a terrific way to stretch the miles and points earned from the best travel credit cards to see more destinations.
On paid tickets, stopovers are sometimes included for free, or other times require booking 2 separate flights.
But some award flight redemptions will allow you to include a stopover at no additional charge! And this can be a great way to spend a day (or a week!) exploring a different city on the way to your true destination.
I’ll share some of the best airline programs that allow free stopovers on award flights, and how to go about booking them. I’ll also include some programs that offer discounted (or cheap) stopovers, as well as strategies for getting the most out of your travel!
What’s a Stopover, Anyway?
A stopover is usually defined as any stop on the way to your final destination that is 24 hours or more. For example, a 2-hour layover to switch planes that doesn’t involve leaving the airport is not a stopover. But if that layover happens to occur in Chicago and you extend your stay for 24 hours to take a river cruise and eat deep dish pizza, that would constitute a stopover.
Other examples of stopovers would include flying from the west coast to Europe, but stopping over in New York for the weekend to visit with relatives before proceeding on to London. Or flying from your small regional airport in Texas to Dallas for a 48-hour barbecue-eating adventure – that’s a stopover.
When Stopovers Can Save You Time, Money, or Both!
I personally love to strategically utilize stopovers when traveling to far-flung places. For example, an intercontinental trip is no small feat to plan. At a minimum, these trips require precise scheduling, a dozen hours of flying (at least!), and hundreds if not thousands of dollars. That’s a lot of work – so let’s try to make the most of it!
If you want to visit the Forbidden city and Tiananmen square in Beijing, why not throw in a well-timed stopover in Tokyo to try the world’s best sushi and experience the amazing Tokyo Skytree? Or if you have to carefully plan your European vacation around kids’ school schedules and are short on time, why not stopover in London for 24 hours to visit Big Ben and Westminster Abbey before proceeding to your destination of Rome?
The best part is, you can often work in stopovers on award flights for little or no additional cost! That means instead of buying separate flights from Rome to London before proceeding home, you can likely build in a free stopover to experience London’s glory for no additional miles or cash. Stopovers are just one more way that you can make the most of points and miles to get huge travel for very little money.
Airlines That Offer Free Stopovers
My favorite uses of free (or discounted) airline stopover policies are listed below, with a brief description of how each use case functions and how to go about booking them. I’ve noted whether a free stopover is allowed only on round-trip journeys, or whether they’re extra generous and allow a free stopover when booking one-way!
Alaska Airlines (1 Free Stopover on One-Way Award Flights)
Alaska Airlines has my favorite stopover award policy, as they allow one free stopover on one-way award flights. This means you can use your stopover on a simple domestic itinerary (such as flying from San Diego to San Francisco, stopping over, and then continuing on to Washington, DC) or on a more complicated international journey.
Several folks on the MMS team have made use of this stopover when booking award flights on partner airlines such as Cathay Pacific (stopping over in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Hong Kong), Japan Airlines (stopping over in Tokyo), Icelandair (stopping over in Reykjavik), or Emirates (stopping over in Dubai).
Singapore Airlines (1 Free Stopover on Round-Trip Award Flights, Additional Stopovers for $100 each)
Singapore Airlines has a good stopover program in that they allow you one stopover on round-trip award flights booked on Singapore Airlines flights. Additionally, you can add another stopover (up to 3 total) for $100, or pay for a stopover on a one-way award flight for $100.
Theoretically, this benefit should be limited to flights on Singapore Airlines. But I’ve also had success “convincing” (read: begging) Singapore Airlines phone agents to extend this courtesy to award flights on United Airlines. To do this, you might need to ask multiple phone agents or request to speak with a supervisor.
Cathay Pacific (Up to 5 Free Stopovers and 2 Open Jaws)
We’ve previously discussed the incredibly generous and overly confusing Cathay Pacific award chart. But Cathay Pacific offers the most generous stopover and open jaw policy found on nearly any airline – up to 5 free stopovers AND 2 open jaws on round-trip award tickets!
Note: An open jaw is when you fly into one city, but then fly out of another city to fly home. For example, flying from Los Angeles to London, and then returning from Paris to Los Angeles is an example of an open jaw.
Here’s more information on Cathay Pacific’s generous award booking rules.
United Airlines (1 Free Stopover/One-Way Flight With the Excursionist Perk)
United Airlines does not offer a traditional stopover benefit, but you can get tremendous value out of the United Airlines excursionist perk. It’s a bit more complicated than a simple stopover, but you can essentially include a free one-way flight (and thus a free stopover!) on round-trip award flights that begin and end in the same region.
United Airlines miles are particularly easy to earn, because you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United Airlines from cards like the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, and Chase Sapphire Reserve®. Here’s more about all the ways to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
Air France/KLM Flying Blue (Free Stopovers Removed Last Year)
The Flying Blue loyalty program used to allow free stopovers on award tickets, but updated their policy to remove them just over a year ago. Bummer!
Air Canada Aeroplan (Up to 2 Free Stopovers on Round-Trip Award Flights)
Air Canada Aeroplan offers a generous stopover policy when booking with Aeroplan miles. If you book a round-trip award flight, you can include up to 2 stopovers along the way. This means that you could easily visit a total of 3 destinations with only a single award booking!
And because of Aeroplan’s reasonable award chart, this is a great way to combine European destinations into a single trip! For example, you could fly from Denver to Amsterdam (stopover) to Zurich (destination). And then fly home via Dublin (stopover) back to Chicago. Journeys like this can represent a huge savings, and a great way to make the most of your miles and time off!
ANA Mileage Club (1 Free Stopover on Round-Trip Award Flights)
Japanese airline ANA offers 1 free stopover on round-trip award flights. And because ANA has such reasonably priced award options, this can be a great deal. But be sure to look out for steep fuel surcharges, which can sometimes cost in the $500 to $1,000 range for round-trip flights! Here’s more information on booking incredible round-the-world award flights with ANA.
ANA miles are easy to earn if you have AMEX Membership Rewards points, because they’re a 1:1 transfer partner.
Japan Airlines Mileage Bank (Up to 3 Stopovers on Round-Trip Award Flights)
Although Japan Airlines (JAL) miles are more difficult to earn, they are extremely valuable for booking award flights. And when you book a round-trip award flight, you’re allowed up to 3 stopovers for free! This can be incredibly valuable on partner airlines such as Emirates, where you could add in up to 3 different stopover cities in addition to your destination.
For example, you could fly from New York to Milan (stopover) to Dubai (stopover) to Bangkok (destination). Then fly home from Bangkok to Dubai to Athens (stopover) back to New York. That’s sure a lot of flying, but also an incredible itinerary to book as one reasonably-priced award!
Bonus: Distance-Based Award Charts (Such as British Airways)
With distance-based award charts, you’ll typically pay a certain amount of miles per segment you fly based on the length of the trip. British Airways is one program where the cost in Avios points is determined by the length of each segment of your flight. So you can essentially build in as many “free” stopovers as you want!
For example, you would pay the same amount of British Airways Avios points when flying from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles as you would flying from New York to Chicago (stopover for 1 week) and then on to Los Angeles. This might not always provide the best value, but is a good option to keep in mind!
If you do some digging, many frequent flyer programs will allow you a free or discounted stopover (a stop of 24 hours or more) when booking award flights. And you can be strategic about booking with a specific airline or mileage currency when stopovers matter (or don’t!) to you.
And if you know in advance the kind of trip you’d like to take, it can be valuable to build a strategy regarding what type of miles you’ll earn and how you’ll redeem them to make the most of free stopovers and open jaws. Then, you can check out our top travel credit cards or our Hot Deals page to see which of the highest current offers support your travel needs. In the end, we’re all about the best tricks and tips (such as free stopovers on award flights) to get the most from points, cash, and vacation time!
Which airlines have you used to take advantage of a free stopover? Do you know of any other particularly savvy award flight options?