Your Guide to Airline Stopover Programs

Sep 22, 2018

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With so many new entrants in the long-haul market, it’s a good idea for an incumbent airline to leverage the assets that are hardest to replicate by competitors. After all, you can copy someone else’s cabin or standards of service, but not the unique personality and heritage associated with a particular place.

That’s why many airlines are offering sropover programs at their hubs as a way to attract more connecting passengers. (Stopovers are different from mere connections — they are longer.) Entities like local tourism authorities often partner with airlines to craft stopover packages that let transit passengers access local attractions at lower rates, sometimes even for free, in order to lure them into staying some nights at the city of transit.

The pioneer — as befits an airline that was literally built upon the concept of stopover — has been Icelandair, but many other carriers have joined the bandwagon.

We have compiled a list of some of the airline stopover programs you can enjoy around the world.

Icelandair (and WOW Air)

Iceland’s otherworldly beauty is a major tourist attraction. A stopover on a trans-Atlantic trip seems to be the ideal excuse to explore the island in all its majesty, and Icelandair’s stopover program is meant for precisely that. Icelandair has also launched a “Stopover Buddy” program, where members of its staff volunteer to share some of their time showing visitors the local way of life, for free.

Rival Icelandic low-cost airline WOW Air does pretty much the same thing, too. Its business model is also built largely on transporting connecting passengers between Europe and the US, and the airline offers a stopover program of its own.

TAP Air Portugal

One of the first marketing initiatives after Jet Blue founder David Neeleman’s team took over at Portugal’s flag carrier airline was the launch of the Portugal Stopover program, part of a strategy to turn Lisbon into one of Europe’s major gateways.

Long under the radar, especially compared to neighbor Spain, “cool Portugal” has become one of the hottest destinations in Europe, with a rejuvenated tourism and hospitality industry. And TAP wants you to notice.

Passengers travelling through Lisbon or Porto with TAP can get up to five nights at preferential rates as well as the possibility of partaking in a number of experiences, provided by partners on the ground. TAP has gone as far as launching a dedicated app. In an interview with TPG earlier this year, Neeleman touted the Portugal Stopover program. The airline says it’s been successful, with over 100,000 travellers going through it.

It has recently been expanded to cover not only Lisbon and Porto, but other regions throughout the country, including the Azores and Madeira.

Brussels Airlines

Travellers can stay from one to five nights and select two Belgian cities of their choice, where they will be able to enjoy a number of museums and other sites of interest free of charge. Given the size of Belgium, chances are you will end up exploring the country thoroughly should you opt for the longer-stay package.


Ethiopian has managed to make Addis Ababa a truly global hub in the heart of Africa. It’s also the flag carrier of an ancient land, packed with historical, natural and cultural wonders, from the rock-carved churches of Lalibela to the cradle of coffee.

For those who wish to venture beyond the ADD airport, Ethiopian launched last August, its own stopover product. If you book your connecting flight on Ethiopian’s website, you will be offered to spend a few extra days in the country and choose one of the six packages that Ethiopian Holidays, the airline’s tour-operator subsidiary, has put together.


Another airline that has found a successful niche is Finnair, with its routes to Asia that appeal to connecting European passengers. The Finnish airline is also actively promoting the top attractions of its home country. The Northern Lights, saunas and the vast unspoiled nature of a country known for its countless lakes is one the major themes of the stopover program. Finnair lets you extend your stopover free of charge, although you would need to book your package separately with partner Finland Tours.

Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines has upped the game when it comes to stopovers. In its quest to become one of the world’s super-connectors — it has already more destinations than any other airline — it offers free hotel nights and city tours.

Economy passengers with a layover of 20 hours or more in Istanbul are eligible for a free night at a four-star hotel. If you happen to be flying business class, you are entitled to two nights at a five-star hotel.

Passengers with six- to 24-hour transits can explore Istanbul with a free guided tour.

Air Canada

Provided you book at least 96 hours in advance and the itinerary involves at least one city outside of the US and Canada, Air Canada lets you take some extra time at any one of its main gateways: Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver.

Travellers on flexible Latitude fares, Premium Economy or Business Class tickets are entitled to a free or highly reduced hotel night. Passengers on other types of fares can also benefit from reduced rates, and no additional airline fees linked to the stopover.

Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways

The so-called Middle Eastern Three have become giants mostly because of connecting traffic, so it’s not surprising that all three should have stopover options that offer preferential rates for selected hotels and activities. Etihad even offers a second complimentary hotel night to those staying in Abu Dhabi for at least two nights (you would still need to pay the first one, although at a special rate).

Featured image by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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