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Long Flight? Take a Stopover Break

If you’re planning a long-distance overseas trip—one of those 18-hour marathon nonstops, or even worse, two 12-hour flights with a connection—you might want to take a stopover at an intermediate point, especially when the normal itinerary is back-to-back red-eyes. Or maybe you really want to visit two countries. Either way, you can sometimes arrange a stopover between your home airport and most distant destination with little or no extra cost.

Where You Can Stop: For the most part, easy stopovers on intercontinental trips are confined to one of an airline’s major hub cities. That means the usual suspects: Dublin, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Oslo, and such in Europe; Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Istanbul, and Qatar in the Middle East; Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, and Tokyo in Asia; Fiji, Honolulu, and Tahiti in the Pacific.

How Long to Stop: If all you want is a short break between long flights, you can sometimes ticket yourself with a connecting time up to 24 hours as a through ticket, avoiding many fees at the connecting airport. But if you really want either a good rest or a good chance to visit the connecting country, you have to ticket the stopover itinerary as three or four separate flights.

“Free” Stopover Package: This column was triggered by a promotion Air Tahiti Nui announced last week with too short a purchase window for me to get it into print: On travel from the United States to Auckland, New Zealand, stopover three nights in Tahiti for no increase in airfare and only $14 per night in hotel fees. Sadly, you don’t see many promotions like this, but keep on the lookout for one.

No-Extra-Airfare Stopovers: The grandfather of all no-extra-airfare airline stopover promotions is on Icelandair, which has been featuring Reykjavik stopovers since the 1950s, occasionally (but not now) with a no-cost hotel package. Even so, the Iceland stop is so popular that when the line started flying nonstop from New York to Luxembourg, most of its customers preferred an Iceland stop. In Best Airlines for Free Stopovers, Caroline Costello found the only other airline actually claiming no-cost stopovers was JAL, although that isn’t clear on the line’s website. But many other lines offer de facto no-cost or very-little-extra-cost stopovers just on the basis of their pricing. Even at the same airfare, however, a stopover longer than 24 hours is likely to incur extra airport fees. And some lines don’t offer stopover deals on their lowest fares—a non-starter for most travelers.

Stopover Packages: Several airlines feature stopover deals at their hubs, including Emirates at Dubai, Etihad at Abu Dhabi, Icelandair, Qatar, Singapore, and Turkish at Istanbul. Most of these are promotionally priced hotel/sightseeing/transfers packages, operated by a cooperating local tour operator; the deal on Turkish is a “free” Istanbul sightseeing tour on stopovers of six to 24 hours.

Finding the Deal: If you know where you want the stopover, use one of the big search engines such as TripAdvisor or Kayak: Enter a “multiple cities” itinerary, including the stopover point, and the search engine automatically displays the lowest total fare, including the stopover. Use an independent search engine, because airline websites typically do not sort multicity trips by price. The main problem is that the least-expensive itineraries often return one-stop or connecting flights for each leg of the itinerary, so you have to scroll through several pages to find itineraries with nonstop components. Conversely, if you’re looking for the least expensive stopover point, enter only the endpoints of your trip, find the least expensive connecting itineraries, and see where the lowest-fare itineraries connect.

Frequent Flyer: Most frequent-flyer programs permit at least one and usually two stopovers on intercontinental trips with no extra miles. But you do have to pay the added airport fees. And unless you really want to stop in London, stop somewhere else, because U.K. air duties and airport fees can add up to $400 or so to any departure.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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