A long layover can be a drag when you’re just sitting around in the airport. Here's how my family & I snapped up a free hotel layover with Air Egypt.
After an amazing trip to Zimbabwe, it was time for us to return home to England. Surprise, surprise, during our transit in Egypt we discovered we had a 12 hour layout in Cairo. If there's anything worse than long-distance flying, it's knowing you're making a layover in an interesting destination, but can't visit it.
Luckily Egypt Airline, along with others have begun to pick up on this desire for travellers to tick bucket lists in hours. Whilst sitting in the transit lounch, our names were called and we were told they had a 4* hotel, buffet and access to tours waiting for us.
Here’s a list of the airlines which allow you to take free side trips en route to your final destination, some of which even pick up the tab for your hotel!
Got a connection of six hours or more? Air Canada offers a nifty stopover program, which allows you to spend a night or more in Montréal, Toronto or Vancouver at no additional airfare, and many Air Canada tickets include a complimentary night’s stay at a nice hotel.
To make things even more enticing, you can route through one city on the way out, and another on the return, allowing you to see two top Canadian destinations in just one side trip! Our recommendation? Vancouver.
It’s hard to think of a more enthralling city to unwind in than Madrid, and Iberia just launched a new stopover program which lets you. Called “Hola, Madrid”, you can now stopover in Madrid for up to six nights with no additional airfare.
Even better, Iberia has negotiated discounts up to 40% with Melia hotels, and wrangled stopover passengers three free beers from Mahou, as well as savings all over town from museums to transfers. Madrid is amazing any time of year, so use this whenever you find a great Iberia fare!
You can enjoy a free night hotel stay and take in the city of Doha when flying with Qatar Airways, thanks to the Qatar+ Stopover program. Nationals of 80 countries are able to take advantage of visa-free transit in Qatar, making it easy to split up your trip with a relaxing break in the city by the sea.
The stopover program offers many excellent hotels, which will more than help you pass the time! Be sure to check out these Doha tips before you go.
If you’re facing an Addis Ababa connection of 8 hours or more, Ethiopian wants you to enjoy it no matter what cabin you’re flying in. For passengers with connections between 8-24 hours, the airline will sort out a complimentary hotel to passengers and bus service to get you there.
It’s a great city to visit, too! To get your hotel, you’ll need to visit the interline transit desk on arrival. Make sure you have a transit visa or be sure to grab one on arrival for the smoothest process.
Who’s going to say “no” to a couple extra days relaxing in the sunshine at a five star luxury resort in Dubai? If Emirates is your best flight option, chances are you’re going to be connecting in Dubai, so why not make use of their easy stopover program to take in the buzzing atmosphere, great shopping and sunny beaches?
Another budget hotspot is Istanbul, a colourful city sure to stimulate the senses. Free tours here include a visit to the famed Blue Mosque (pictured above), Hippodrome Square, the incredible Grand Covered Bazaar, and more.
Important note(s): to qualify for the free Istanbul tours, you must be flying with Turkish Airlines. Travellers are advised to check if they need a visa while in transit, which can be viewed here.
Layover time needed: 6 to 24 hours max.
Where to register: the Hotel Desk in the International Arrival Hall, which is located after passport and customs control next to Starbucks. Arrive at least half an hour before a tour starts. Location is viewable here.
Tour schedule & info: There are 5 tours which each cover various highlights. Tours run daily from morning to evening. Scheduling can be found here.
THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE BOOKING A LAYOVER?
You may need a passport that is valid for a minimum of 6 months. Check tour restrictions.
You don't need a visa to take airport layover tours as you're considered an “in-transit” passenger (Istanbul being an exception as described above). Often you may need to hand over your passport for the length of the tour. Always ensure beforehand that your passport is not an exempt country, as some countries are not allowed to have in-transit passengers.
Confirm any extra costs such as museum entries which may not be covered.
Consider packing meals e.g. it may be cheaper to buy a sandwich at an airport food court chain than a museum. Alternatively if seeing a market, you may wish to hold out for stall food.
Check what documents you need to board a tour. Commonly you may need to show the airline ticket of your previous and upcoming flight.
Consider where to store your luggage if applicable (some tours may not have room or allow you to bring your luggage with you).
Take note of when you need to arrive for tours – some require you to show up 30 minutes to an hour beforehand.
Have you had a layover? Where did you go? What was your experience?