Gone are the days of sleeping on cold airport chairs and using my carry-on bag as a pillow during an overnight connection! These days, some airlines will pay for my hotel room -- and more! -- if I’m subject to a long layover.
In fact, some airlines, like Air Astana, offer free (or nearly free) opportunities to stop over in their home country (Kazakhstan, in Air Astana’s case) as a way to tease visitors to return for a longer trip. Other airlines offer a free hotel night when you have a long layover in their hub city, but they don’t broadcast this benefit.
On international flights, stopovers are defined as being in a transiting airport for many hours -- usually six or eight, depending on your class of flight -- between your departing city and final destination.
Here are 17 airlines that offer free -- or nearly free -- hotels when you have a long layover. You might actually plan a long layover to take advantage of some of these airline’s stopover programs -- which usually come with other deals -- as an opportunity to break up your long itinerary, acclimate gradually to your new time zone, and dip your toe into a new country.
1. Almaty Or Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, Via Air Astana
When flying from Southeast Asia to Europe, I always check Air Astana, Kazakhstan’s national airline. Twice I’ve taken advantage of their stopover holiday promotion, which allows you to stay one or two nights at a local hotel for a rock-bottom price that includes breakfast and private round-trip airport taxi.
A few years ago, I spent two nights and a day in Almaty, the City of Apples. I visited an art museum, toured the president’s residential palace, rode a cable car to the top of Kok-Tobe Hill, and finished my day at a traditional Russian spa. Instead of power sightseeing, you could spend a day golfing, trekking, or mountain biking at your own expense.
More recently, I spent one night in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan’s capital. Since it was January and literally freezing, I decided to spend only one night. Although I arrived at my four-star hotel at 9 p.m. and was picked up the next day at noon, I enjoyed the hotel’s Olympic-size pool, jacuzzi, and two saunas (open until a generous 11 p.m.) and full buffet breakfast (complete with a custom omelet station) -- plus personal round-trip airport transfers -- for $1. Yes, one U.S. dollar!
2. Seoul Via Asiana Airlines
Asiana Airline passengers can book a downtown Seoul hotel for $150 USD for two people ($120 USD for a solo traveler) and receive round-trip airport transfer by airport bus, a gift card worth 10,000 won ($8 USD) for duty-free shopping at Incheon International Airport, a 10 percent discount at a specified airport restaurant, and a free pass to the Matina airport lounge (worth $33 USD).
Or choose to discover Incheon, South Korea’s new “smart city,” for $120 to $250 depending on hotel class, day of the week, and optional additional tours. Enjoy a one-day Incheon City Tour pass, round-trip airport transfer by bus, a 10,000 won airport duty-free shopping voucher, and free entry to the Matina airport lounge. It doesn’t matter which airline you are flying out on, but your onward flight must depart within 72 hours of your arrival in Seoul.
Or enjoy a luxury stay at Hotel Paradise or Hotel Art Paradiso and enjoy a swimming pool, fitness center, half-price use of the sauna, three meals at the cafe, a 70,000 won (approximately $60 USD) casino betting coupon, free admission to the Paradise art galleries and exhibits, and other discounts to Paradise attractions. Packages start at 220,000 won ($185 USD) for double occupancy. Note that Hotel Art Paradiso is adult-only.
Information on all three experiences is available here. Navigate between the “Asiana Stop,” “Discover Incheon,” and “Stopover in Paradise” tabs to find the deal you’re interested in.
3. Abu Dhabi Via Etihad
Fly Etihad and enjoy two free nights in Abu Dhabi at one of 15 three- and four-star hotels, most of which offer pools and fitness centers. When en route from Tokyo to London, I broke up my trip with a tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the world’s largest mosques, and a visit to the gold souk (market), a truly opulent experience! You can also book free bus service from the airport on Etihad’s web site.
4. Doha Via Qatar Airways
Explore Doha for up to four nights to break up your Qatar Airways flight. Stay at one of 19 four- and five-star hotels for as little as $23 USD a night. Enjoy spas, pools, fitness rooms, and other luxuries. Those participating in Discover Qatar stopovers can apply for free transit visas.
5. Singapore Via Singapore Airlines
For as little as 41 Singapore dollars ($30 USD), Singapore Airlines passengers can enjoy a night on the town while staying in one of nearly 40 hotels. For an additional 22 SGD, partake in any of 20 attractions. Stroll through the Gardens by the Bay, soar over the city with a cable car Skypass, float down the Singapore River in a bumboat, and more! One-way airport transfer is included.
6. Istanbul Via Turkish Airlines
Turkish Airlines passengers get a free night in a four-star hotel when transiting for 20 or more hours through Istanbul. Tickets must be round-trip with both inbound and outbound flights through Istanbul and departure and destination cities must be on Turkish Airlines’ designated list. Costs for visas and airport transfers are not included. You can transit through either Istanbul Airport (IST) or Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW).
7. Montreal, Toronto, Or Vancouver Via Air Canada
Fly through Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver on Air Canada and get a free or discounted hotel room for a night. No round trip necessary, but you can take advantage of this stopover promotion both coming and going -- stay in one city on the way out and another on your way home! Note that to be eligible for this deal, your itinerary must include a city outside Canada or the U.S.
8. Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Tianjin, And Chongqing Via Air China
Break up your trip with a free night at a hotel, breakfast, and round-trip airport transfer, compliments of Air China. Your transit time can be as little as six hours, providing a nice break for a shower and nap, or as long as 24 hours for domestic flights or 30 hours for international flights, giving you time to catch a glimpse of whatever city you’re in.
9. Shanghai, Xi’an, And Beijing Via China Eastern Airlines Or Shanghai Airlines
Travel from Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), New York (JFK), Chicago (ORD), Honolulu (HNL), Vancouver (YVR), or Toronto (YYZ) and transit through Shanghai, Xi’An, or Beijing for more than 12 hours to be eligible for a free hotel room whenever an earlier flight to your final destination is not available.
10. Guangzhou, Beijing, Urumqi, Wuhan, Shenzhen Via China Southern Airlines
Spend the night in Guangzhou or Beijing, enjoy breakfast and airport transfers, and receive up to 144 hours (or six days) of visa-free entry to China! Free accommodations and hotel/airport transfers are also available to China Southern Airlines passengers who transit through Urumqi, Wuhan, or Shenzhen.
11. Dubai Via Emirates
If your connection in Dubai is more than eight hours (six hours for business class passengers), and that’s the best routing available, Emirates will treat you to a hotel room, restaurant meal, airport transport, and visa assistance.
12. Addis Ababa Via Ethiopian Airlines
Enjoy a free night in a hotel, round-trip transportation, and visa assistance from Ethiopian Airlines if your only connection option leaves you stuck in the Addis Ababa airport for eight hours or longer.
13. Bahrain Via Gulf Air
Enjoy a leisurely evening in Bahrain, plus breakfast and private transportation, starting at 47 Bahraini dinars ($125 USD). Gulf Air offers several stopover tour packages for up to three nights, which sometimes include tours. And all waive the visa fees!
But if your transit time is more than seven hours and less than 24 with no other connecting options, Gulf Air will provide you with a free or discounted hotel room depending on the cost of your airline ticket.
14. Xi’an, Haikou, Guangzhou, Lanzhou, Dalian, Hangzhou, Shanghai Pudong, Chongqing, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Tianjin, And Changsha Via Hainan Airlines
If you are transiting through one of these Chinese cities on Hainan Airlines during the night for more than six hours, avail yourself of their free hotel room and airport shuttle service. Meals and visa fees are not included.
15. Amman Via Royal Jordanian
An overnight stopover of at least eight hours in Amman will get you a free hotel room, a meal, and ground transportation as long as you are not flying on a discounted ticket or able to book an earlier flight to your destination. Contact the airline directly for booking instructions.
16. Colombo Via Sri Lankan Airlines
If you are flying through Colombo with an eight-hour layover and no earlier connection options, contact your nearest Sri Lankan Air ticket office to secure a voucher for a free hotel room. Note that your round-trip ticket must cost at least $700 USD (or $350 for a one-way ticket).
17. Xiamen, China, Via Xiamen Airlines
Spend a free night in a hotel in Xiamen if your connection is six hours or longer and there’s no earlier option. Breakfast is included, but not round-trip transportation or visa fees.
Pro Tips For Planning A Stopover
Ask whether your luggage will be checked through to your final destination or if you’ll need to claim it in the transiting city. If it will be checked through, be sure to pack a separate carry-on bag with clothes that are appropriate for the weather in your transiting city. Be sure to carry on a bathing suit or gym clothes, too, as many of the transiting hotels have pools and fitness centers!
Book early. Most airlines require at least three days to process and confirm a hotel reservation.
Print all reservation details. Your phone might not work in the transiting airport, and it’s best to have your confirmation handy in a format that can be handled by anyone. Someone assisting you might need to walk into a back room to consult a supervisor. (Not all airline personnel know about these stopover programs.)
Read the fine print. Some airlines have strict rules regarding your ticket’s fare class; others have blackout periods or require a round-trip itinerary.
Finally, check the visa requirements for visiting your transiting city.
Don’t have time to spend the night but want to make the most of your transit time? Read up on these seven surprising things you can do during a long layover.