Travelers with flight layovers in enticing locales seldom take advantage of a fairly easy process to utilize a multi stop flight and stay in the layover city for an extended period of time. Many airlines in fact offer extended layovers—framed as multi city or multi stop tickets—at a cost ranging from free to $100 for those who know how to work the system.
Free stopovers are harder to find and typically involve an airline affiliated with a certain international hub: multi stop flights through Iceland and Singapore using Icelandic Air and Singapore Air, respectively, comes to mind. Read this article on Hopper for a nice overview of international stopovers with one flagship city designated as a primary travel hub and option for travelers to enjoy a free stopover on the way to other destinations.
Cheap Multi Stop Flights
The real leg work begins when a traveler wants to stay for multiple days in a city en route to his or her end destination when free layover options don’t apply. The limited cities and airlines actively participating in free layover fares virtually ensures travelers are left wanting another option. Luckily, many airlines do offer some form of stopover arrangements.
Consider a person with plans to fly from New York City to Thailand. Nearly every flight from the East Coast to Southeast Asia stops in a big city like Tokyo, Hong Kong, or Shanghai. I’ll use a specific example where the traveler is especially intrigued with Japan and wants to look at options for a potential week-long stopover in Tokyo before flying onward to Bangkok.
Step #1 – Research Layovers
The key is to first search for flights with only the departure city and end destination in mind. Imagine searching blindly for a multi-city flight from NYC to Tokyo and then again from Tokyo to Bangkok without any knowledge of airlines that even pass through Japan en route to Thailand. A lot of flight search aggregators—even those with multi-city options—also do a poor job of implementing stopover fares for airlines. The end results are a lot of hunting for more expensive fares; a search that’s quickly aborted—along with any plans of a layover.
Travelers should instead search for NYC to Bangkok on or around the preferred dates and scan the options for a layover in Tokyo. Note the last option. In this instance United Airlines not only offers a similar price point to the cheapest competitors, but flies through Tokyo (NRT).
Step #2 – Use Layover Intel to Perform a Multi City Search
Armed with the knowledge United Airlines flies through Tokyo, perform a multi-city search for with an extended layover in Japan—preferably on the airline’s own site. The example below shows a week-long stay in Tokyo using United Airline’s own flight search tool.
The results show the price for a stopover is $100 plus added taxes and fees. The pricing matches United Airline’s stopover rules, which allow a maximum of two per round trip flight at $100 each. The added costs are a drop in the bucket compared to a separate trip to Japan and reflects a great purchasing decision for people with time on their hands to spend additional time exploring other locales. Note stopover dates aren’t always available—even if the airline technically allows for it. The best solution is to slightly adjust the dates and try again.
Multi Stop Flights: A Recap
#1 – Perform a traditional flight search and scan layover cities using an aggregator like Google Flights or Kayak.
#2 – Use the airline and layover city of choice to perform a multi-city search—preferably on the airline’s own website.