Stop right now

More airlines are offering attractive stopover packages, encouraging passengers to experience two-destination holidays. Ben West picks out some great half-way points

With Covid restrictions now having fallen away in far-flung destinations, long-haul travel is truly back. However, with lengthy flight times and costly direct routes, many travellers are choosing to incorporate a stopover break before arriving at their final destination. 

Malaysia Airlines is one airline offering stopovers that enable bonus side trips in Malaysia, although these have set time frames to book and travel. 

“Travellers heading to Sydney, for example, can now add a beach holiday stopover to Langkawi as part of the trip – and for a very small fee,” says Daniel Bainbridge, Malaysia Airlines Regional Director, UK and Europe.

Iceland is promoting itself as an attractive stopover destination en-route to the USA, with multiple airlines offering programmes that incorporate adventure and nature.

“We’re finding a surprising proportion of passengers opting for a Reykjavik stopover when they book a flight,” says Birgir Jonsson, PLAY Airlines’ CEO. “The demand is increasing as the awareness of our stopover programme grows, and as we showcase how much visitors can experience with a few days’ in Iceland.”

Offering attractive stopover packages is a great way airlines can make a virtue out of having non-direct flights when competing with airlines offering direct routes.

“PLAY’s affordable prices and no extra flight cost when booking a stopover provides the perfect opportunity for travellers to tick Iceland off their wish list, giving us an advantage over our direct competition with airlines flying from London to the USA,” claims Jonsson.

Etihad is another airline tempting passengers to stop en route. “Abu Dhabi is an attractive destination, with its modern skyscrapers, beautiful beaches and rich heritage,” says Jeremy Pollock, Etihad’s Country Manager UK and Ireland. 

stopover qatar

Stay a while

Airport layovers are often dismissed as an inconvenience, yet with a bit of planning they can add greatly to the holiday experience. Building a stopover into an itinerary is a cost-effective way of seeing another country or city during a trip – and often on another continent – and there are few downsides. It’s also a way of  reducing the effect of jetlag by introducing a lesser time difference than you would face at your ultimate destination.

“For enthusiastic travellers, stopovers are the ideal opportunity to experience a new country while on the way to their final stop,” says Pollock. “Particularly for those travelling to ultra-long-haul destinations, such as Australia, a stopover in Abu Dhabi allows passengers to split their journey into shorter segments while experiencing the beauty of the United Arab Emirates for a few days.”

Stopover programmes are beneficial to agents too as twin-centres become increasingly popular. They also increase the likelihood of a return visit to explore the destination in more depth.

That’s certainly the case for Iceland. “Many passengers use this as a chance to chase the Northern Lights, visit Iceland’s famed hot springs and spectacular glaciers, before travelling on to the USA. It offers two holidays in one,” says Jonsson.

Icelandair also offers Reykjavik stopovers and has just launched a new route to Detroit, Michigan, allowing UK travellers a stopover for up to seven nights in Iceland just paying the extra taxes and fees.

stopover abu

Two for the price of one

For travel agents, suggesting a stopover to a potential yet hesitant client – for example a brief city break on the way to their long-haul beach holiday – could be the clincher in them signing up to the deal. 

“Agents can offer more, and for less money, by either extending or combining a trip with desirable destinations for the exact same flight rate,” says Jonsson.

“When travellers stopover in Abu Dhabi with Etihad Airways, their boarding pass doubles up as the Extraordinary Abu Dhabi Pass, granting access to exclusive deals and discounts on days out and dining in Abu Dhabi,” says Pollock. “This deal allows travellers to make the most of their time, whilst also saving money.”

Ireland is a great layover option for travellers going from the UK to the USA, and Aer Lingus finds a sizeable number of passengers opting for a mini-holiday in Ireland en-route, even though it does not have any formal stopover programmes. Stopovers of up to five days are free of charge.

Aer Lingus has just launched a new transatlantic route, its first service to Cleveland, Ohio, via Dublin, with connections from nine UK airports.

Dublin Airport is one of only a few airports outside North America that offers a pre-clearance facility, meaning that passengers arriving in the USA are treated as domestic arrivals and avoid immigration queues. 

stopover lisbon

Top stopover programmes

Korean Air: Korean Air’s K-Stopover & transit programme, connecting through Incheon Airport to New Zealand, Australia and South-East Asia, allows stopover travellers to enjoy the capital Seoul and wider Korea, with its rich cultural heritage, beautiful architecture, unique attractions including K-pop, K-food and K-beauty, as well as take advantage of discounted package products from accommodation to shopping vouchers.

Etihad: Etihad offers the Best of Abu Dhabi stopover package, available until December 20, for Abu Dhabi stopovers between two and four nights.

Travellers can benefit from 40% discounts at selected Abu Dhabi  premium four- and five-star hotels. The airline also offers Stopover on Us, where guests staying in Abu Dhabi for up to two nights can stay in a complimentary three or four-star hotel.

Qatar: More than 80% of the world’s population live within a six-hour flight from Qatar, making the destination an excellent stopover destination. It’s an opportunity to do everything from exploring Qatar’s spice markets of Souq Waqif to soaking up local street art and camping in the desert.

Qatar Airways’ stopover packages start from £11.35pp per night for a four-star hotel, and £16.20pp for a five-star hotel.

TAP Air Portugal: TAP Air has reintroduced its popular stopover scheme. The partnership with Turismo de Portugal enables customers to stopover for up to 10 days, and grants access to exclusive offers and discounts across hotels, restaurants, attractions, experiences and tour partners. Customers using the programme can also enjoy 25% off the price of a standard ticket using a promotional code. The carrier offers long-haul services across Africa and the Americas.

Saudia: Saudi Arabia has introduced a free-of-charge 96-hour Stopover Visa to passengers travelling to their final destination on Saudia and flynas, the latest move to make the destination more accessible. Stopover Visa holders are eligible for a complimentary one-night hotel stay when booking through Saudia. Custom stopover itineraries have been developed, and the visa application will be automatically available through airline booking platforms.