How to Use Free Stopovers To Kick Your Bucket List’s Ass

An icy wind instantly dried my mud-covered face. On top, a new icicle dread locked hairstyle formed, like a chia pet left in the freezer.

Nearly naked, prolonged exposure to this extreme weather could quickly result in death.

Lucky for me, most of my body was kept plenty warm, submerged in an otherworldly blue geothermal pool.

Weathering a winter blast while soaking in the world famous Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa near Reykjavik, Iceland is quite the opposite of a survival situation.

This was paradise.

Hard to believe that a side trip to this exotic little slice of heaven was free, at least from a flight standpoint.

Throw in visits to cozy city cafes, a few museums and a stroll to the beautiful and award winning opera house and it was one hell of a weekend getaway.

Opera House

Opera House

Want to visit the blue lagoon in Iceland?
What to sip on a Guinness in Ireland?
See Van Gogh’s artwork in Amsterdam?
Do some bad karaoke in Tokyo (more on that in a minute)?

Take advantage of stopovers and you can give your bucket list the beat down.

Technically, what is a stopover?

In airline terms, a stopover is simply a stop or visit to a location en route to your final destination.

When a flight is routed through an airline’s hub city, they will sometimes allow for a free stopover in that city.

Instead of just grabbing some crappy airport food on your way to a connecting flight, you can jump off the plane and discover a new place for however long the rules permit.

Since my Icelandair flight connected through Iceland on the way to Newark, it was easy to stopover for a few days before continuing on to visit my family back in the states. The flight cost the same either way.

Iceland is an expensive place, but spending a weekend there is totally feasible. When you’re in the airport 20 minutes from a world renowned spa in a gorgeous natural setting, it’s hard not to stop and ‘soak’ it in;)

Booking Stopovers Ain’t That Hard

It doesn’t take a travel guru to figure out how to book a stopover. What it takes is a diligent and motivated traveler.

Pay attention to these opportunities when booking your flight.

Here are a few tricks.

Check in with the airline – Call em up!

When you’re researching your flight pay close attention to where your connecting flights are.

If you see a place you’d like to pop off for a visit, give the airline a call and see if a stopover can be included at no cost.

Of course you can look up the airline’s rules online, but calling up and getting the right person on your side may reveal a workaround.

If the representative you get doesn’t get you, hang up and try again.

Search multiple flights

On search under the multi-city tab and route yourself through the stopover city you want to visit.

For example, if you’re leaving New York and want to see Madrid on your way to Paris, search for a flight from NYC to Madrid then Madrid to Paris.

You may be able to find that multi-stop flights are cheaper than just booking a straight round trip from NYC to Paris.

Check out National Carriers

State owned and operated or associated airlines run flights through hub cities in there country. Since they want to increase tourism, they’ll sometimes make free stopovers a part of the deal.

Check out this Wikipedia on National Carriers or ‘Flag Carrier’s”, find the country you want to visit on a stopover and do some flight searches to your destination on that airline.

Wikipedia Flag Carrier’s List

Use Frequent Flier Miles and Travel For Free

Get into travel hacking and book free flights!

By transferring your credit card points to airline partners that allow stopovers you’ll be able to take advantage of stopovers at literally no cost.

For example, when you book an award ticked with United airlines you are allowed 1 stopover plus 2 open jaws. Open jaws are flights leaving from a city different than the one you flew into originally.

Want to explore even more places at no extra cost? Combine open jaws with stopovers and you’ll really be cruising.

Here’s how to get started with travel hacking.

Bad Karaoke In Toyko = The Perfect Stopover

“This long intro…is this right?” said the short Japanese karaoke DJ as he cued up my request for Where the Streets Have No Name by U2.

‘Nobody can take away my Bono moment’, I think to myself.

The absurdly long length of the intro allowed me to duck into the bathroom where I wet down and slicked back my hair Bono style, then nerdily slipped on a pair of shades.

As Bono belted out….”I want to run” I leapt onto the stage and into the blaring lights to the amusement of the 5 Japanese businessmen in attendance, plus my friend Jim.

Just this single moment, singing off key, looking out at the stadium seating while dramatically prancing around on stage like U2’s overly expressive front man made the stop in Tokyo worth it.

When you throw in temple visits, sushi and 4 days of fun, the stopover was just as memorable as any part of my trip to Thailand.

Karaoke in Japan.


Start squeezing in stopovers while you travel, and you’ll crush your bucket list in no time.

A Few Helpful Links

Frugal Travel Guy’s 5 Most Generous Airline Stopover Rules

BootsnAll’s Indie flight planner. An alternative to kayak.

STA Travel List of Possible Stopovers By Airline Worldwide

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