5 Tips for Making a Free Mini-Vacation Out of a Layover

5 Tips for Making a Free Mini-Vacation Out of a Layover

Maximize your travel time.

By Karen Gardiner

We can't help you make your vacation longer (and Americans definitely aren't known for having extended vacation time) but we can help make it at least seem longer. Follow these simple tips and find out how you can add a mini vacation to your next international getaway.

1. Book with an airline that offers a free stopover.

For decades, Iceland has been a common stopover point on low-priced routes between the U.K and the U.S. In recent years, as the national airline Icelandair has expanded its route, the Icelandair Stopover program has become even more popular. Travelers flying between Europe and the U.S or Canada are permitted to spend as many as seven days in Iceland at no additional cost. They even let you borrow a local friend, or, a "stopover buddy" for a day. While Icelandair's program is the most talked about (thanks to Iceland's explosion in tourism over the past decade), there are other airlines offering the same deal, including Finnair and Japan Airlines.

2. Check the address bar on that airline's website.

If you Google "airlines offering free stopovers," you will likely come across a few articles. Some of those articles, though, don't mention that those offers are only for flights originating from countries other that the U.S. So when you come across such an offer, before your excitement turns to disappointment, check the country tag in the address bar — such as "AU" for this one, which promotes an offer only valid for flights from Australia.

3. Make your own stopover.

You don't even need to book an airline that promotes a free stopover policy; often you can just do it yourself. If you are looking for a flight from A to Z and find one that includes a stopover in a third city you'd like to visit, select the website's multicity option and manually build in a route that includes all three. Often the price is the same or only slightly higher. When I was booking a flight from Amsterdam to Tbilisi, I noticed that my flight with Turkish Airlines included a short stopover in Istanbul. I decided to play around with the booking site to find out if I could build in a two-night layover in Istanbul to my trip. Simply by selecting the multicity option on the website, I was able to do so for a slightly higher (but still very reasonable) price. Sometimes it's just a matter of playing around with dates to get the best price.

4. Check visa requirements.

Obvious, but worth mentioning. That two-night stopover I spent in Istanbul required purchasing a Turkish visa (easily done online). If you are stopping over in such places as Iceland, Japan, Finland or any other place where U.S. citizens do not require a visa, fine, but always check just in case. If you want to stopover in China, a country for which obtaining a tourist visa is normally a drawn out process, note that 72-hour visa free transit is now possible, meaning you can visit major cities without a visa for up to three days.

5. Short layover? Take a free tour.

Even if you don't want (or don't have time) to extend your layover, you can still make better use of your transit time than hanging around in an airport. If your layover is at least six hours and less than 24 hours, you can take advantage of Turkish Airlines' Touristanbul service. You get picked up at Atatürk Airport and whisked around on a whistlestop tour of the city, taking in such sites as the Topkapi Palace and Spice Bazaar. Entrance fees and food are included and, as you are still technically in transit, you don't need a visa.

If you have a layover of at least 5.5 hours in Singapore, you can embark on one of two free tours. The Heritage Tour takes in Chinatown, Little India, and the colorful Kampong Glam district. The City Sights tour offers a ride on the Singapore Flyer ferris wheel as well as a peek at some of the city's most striking architecture, including the spiky glass facade of Esplanade — Theatres on the Bay, and the Avatar-like concrete and metal Supertrees at Gardens at the Bay.

Free layover tours are also offered in Doha (through Qatar Airways) and Taipei.

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