I love layovers on airline tickets as they can allow you to stop in a city for up to 24 hours for free – the airline won’t cover your hotel or meals, but they will allow you to “transit” for up to 23 hours and 59 minutes on the same ticket. This can be a very powerful aspect to your travels as it allows you to explore a few other cities along the way to your destination.
For example, I recently redeemed American Airlines miles for the following ticket:
- Seattle – Los Angeles on Alaska Airlines in First Class
- Los Angeles – Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific in First Class
- Hong Kong – Bali on Cathay Pacific in Business Class
I selected the flights that specifically allowed me to enjoy 21-23 hours in Los Angeles and Hong Kong. I was able to explore both Los Angeles and Hong Kong for a day before ultimately arriving at my destination, Bali.
The Difference Between a Layover and a Stopover
As outlined earlier in this article, a layover is a connection of up to 23 hours and 59 minutes. For example, if you fly New York to London via Frankfurt and you simply connect in Frankfurt with a connection time of less than 24 hours, you have a layover in Frankfurt.
Most airlines permit multiple layovers of under 24 hours to reach your destination. Layovers of exactly 23 hours and 59 minutes can be perfect for cities that you can explore in a single day. This trick allows you to visit another city for a day without using up a stopover or paying for two tickets.
For example, when redeeming American Airlines miles, you cannot have any stopovers (stops more than 24 hours), however you can (obviously) have layovers of under 24 hours to reach your destination. Therefore you could redeem miles for something like New York to London to Barcelona and have a really long layover of less than 24 hours in London for no additional cost. However, if the connection time in London is longer than 24 hours, this would price out as two tickets as American Airlines does NOT allow stopovers.
- Layover: a connection (less than 24 hours) between two flights on one ticket
- example: New York – London via Frankfurt, the layover is in Frankfurt as you are just “connecting”
- Stopover: a stop in a city that is not your final destination for more than 24 hours
- example: New York – San Francisco – Honolulu, you spend more than 24 hours in San Francisco and therefore it is considered a stopover (if it was less than 24 hours, it would be a layover)
How To Book a Long Layover
If you want to book a long layover with an overnight, you have to search each flight individually. For example, if I know I will be flying from Seattle to Hong Kong, I have a few options – I can fly via Vancouver, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. I would first check award availability and then I would select each flight so that I land one day and depart the next in my layover city. Just ensure the “transit” time will be under 24 hours.
Once you have found your desired flights, you can call your frequent flyer program and book your award. NOTE that not all airlines allow you to put together the flights yourself. For example, Delta and United will NOT allow you to do this (you can, but it would be priced as two tickets instead of one). When searching with Delta or United, you will need to look from origin to destination (i.e. Seattle – Hong Kong) and *hope* that your desired long connection (i.e. Vancouver, San Francisco, or Los Angeles) shows up.
Frequent flyer programs that DO allow you to put together itineraries flight by flight include:
- Air Canada Aeroplan
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
- American Airlines AAdvantage
- British Airways Executive Club
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- Lufthansa Miles & More
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Most airlines do allow you to select custom routings to get from your origin to your destination.
Great Cities To Stop in for 24h
Some cities are better than others to stop in for 24 hours. It all depends on how close the airport is to the city center, if there is good and quick transportation from the airport to the hotel, etc. My favourite cities to stop in for 24 hours include:
- Hong Kong
- Abu Dhabi
As much as I love London and Paris, 24 hours in those cities is simply not enough – the airports are quite far and it takes a long time to reach the city center and perhaps your hotel. Note that while I love to stop in the cities above for 24 hours, I usually will spend longer than just a day there. However, those cities work very well with a one-day layover.
What About Checked Luggage?
When checking in your luggage, you can usually specify if you would like to have your luggage tagged all the way to your final destination or if you want to tag it only to your layover city. I usually tag it all the way to my destination and pack what I need for one night in my carry-on.
Note that additional bag fees may apply if you check in your luggage twice (once in your origin and once in your layover city). I, of course, never recommend checking in baggage – especially if you have multiple flights in your itinerary.
Maximizing a 24 hour layover can be super fun – you get off of the plane in a brand new city, explore it for the night, sleep, and fly onward the following day. While it can be fun to see one or two cities for 24 hours en route to your destination, I don’t recommend more than 2 long layovers – you will eventually feel exhausted and will want to stay longer than one night – which won’t work if you haven’t arrived at your destination yet.