How to Take Advantage of Long Layovers And Airlines Offering Free Stopovers
Updated: May 2
Imagine a night on the shores of Casablanca, Morocco, hearing the call to prayer as dusk fades, or eating adventurously in Iceland for a night or two before heading to Europe. Perhaps the Middle East calls to you, or seeing the sky afloat with balloons in Cappadoccia, Turkey. It's all possible given some clever planning with long layovers, or by taking advantage of airlines offering free stopovers.
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What is a Long Layover?
Simply, a long layover is any layover longer than a full night's sleep. Anything 12+ hours warrants the need for a hotel room, and offers travelers an excellent opportunity to enjoy at least a cultural experience or two, a meal, and if time permits, some siteseeing.
An easy option to book on your own, Google Flights offers filtering tools to allow searches for layovers of any length.
Long layovers offer my family an opportunity to stop and regroup before hopping on leg 2 to whatever destination we are traveling to. For instance, with our home base in Orlando, there are no direct flights to Japan or Europe, so in these two examples we look for places to recharge, refuel and relax before slogging back through the airport for another long flight.
For me, traveling the 3 or more hours to my first destination and then connecting on a 8-14 hour flight (depending the final destination) is doable in one jaunt, albeit exhausting. But when you add children, lots of bags, and let's face it - a sense of adventure to the mix, a long layover can be very enticing.
The benefits of this go beyond the need to just recharge, as the chance to see to new things, if even for a quick fix, is worth it. Think of it like a cruise ship port - you're docked for one day, experience a taste of the location, and you move on.
The gimmick - the stop is included in your airfare.
The Benefits of a Long Layover
Recharge and Relax
Especially traveling with young children, they can only manage so much travel in one day - and same goes for the parents. It's exhausting enough keeping up with your kid's needs without adding in jet lag, cramped seating quarters and spilled cranberry juice cocktails on the flight.
A long layover can provide the chance to have a relaxing meal outside of the expensive and rushed airport restaurants, and a plush bed to lay your head before another big travel day follows.
Airport Hotel Conveniences
Yes, sometimes we just need to rest our heads, but a 15 hour layover doesn't need to be endured trying to lay flat on airport waiting area seats.
With a quick airport shuttle or even an in-terminal airport hotel option like the Montreal Marriott Terminal Hotel, you can breathe easy exiting your airplane and going straight to a hotel to drop your bags, clean up, and perhaps enjoy amenities like a concierge lounge or free breakfast.
The Opportunity to See a New Place
This is what a long layover is all about. Don't see it as an inconvenience, this is the time to explore!
The Cost of Long Layovers
Airfare is Included
Airfare is included in a long layover. In the case of flying to Madrid from Miami, for instance, I can fly to Casablanca, Morocco first, arriving in Madrid after a 30 hour layover in Morocco. The tickets costs me Miami > Madrid prices.
Should I have broken down the fare into one way tickets, the price increases dramatically. In this case, Miami > Casablanca is one fare, then Casablanca to Morocco. Even doing this as a multiple destination flight option increases the fare. So the solution? Book a long layover.
Remember, this is not meant to cost you an arm and a leg, but it's supposed to be a cheap way to see a new place without having to buy an extra plane ticket.
In fact, booking a long layover more often than not can be cheaper than booking a short layover through the same destination!
Lodging and Transportation Costs are Minimal
Book a hotel preferably walking distance to something interesting, or rely on short distance taxi rides and public transportation.
Hotels in the airport terminal can be the most convenient, or ones with an airport shuttle.
Here's a few airport hotels I've stayed at around the world that I would recommend:
Marriott Montreal Airport In-terminal Hotel : offering a bar, restaurant, cafe, meeting rooms and an executive lounge, this convenient hotel is located in the terminal!
Hampton by Hilton London Stansted Airport : This clean and convenient hotel is connected to the airport by way of a short pedestrian walk, about five minutes long. Great for a one night stay!
Hilton Madrid Airport : Boasting serious '80s futuristic decor, this solid choice offers a wonderful buffet breakfast and a short shuttle ride to the main terminal at MAD. The concierge lounge offers unlimited free drinks to those with Hilton status, and the lobby restaurant has an excellent menu for last-night-in-Spain paella and jamon.
Hampton by Hilton Alcobendas : Also a Madrid airport hotel, it offers a free shuttle and a really wonderful breakfast spread. In the evening, don't bother heading out in search of dinner, because their on-site cafe style restaurant has a multitude of delicious tapas options for the hungry traveler.
Sheraton Frankfurt Airport Hotel & Conference Center : Nice executive lounge and easy walking to the terminal await at this convenient airport hotel.
Hampton by Hilton London Gatwick Airport : This Hilton property is connected to the terminal! If you're staying for a long layover, check out my London destination guide and follow the itinerary for London Bridge station, which is just a 35 minute direct train ride from the airport.
The savvy traveler would seek out booking options using points for their preferred hotel brands, or through their credit card programs, furthering the cost savings.
Cost: free (points) to $150 for lodging; TBD transportation costs depending on destination
Meals are Up to You
Meals are always cheaper outside the airport. Research something definitive of the destination in advance and make a reservation. The last thing you want to do is traipse around a new city in search of food after a day of travel.
Cost: up to you!
You've only got one day, or maybe even half a day and some sleeping hours, so make the most of your time by researching the top attractions in your layover city, prioritizing proximity to your airport hotel.
Consider that often times these long layovers are also done in the reverse direction as well, so you may get two opportunities to stay in one trip! This allows you to split up the itinerary.
Cost: up to you!
The Downsides of a Long Layover
Sometimes we're boxed in to a week or maybe two weeks of travel, depending on work and school schedules, so it's impossible to consider "wasting" a day or a precious night prolonging the arrival at your final destination. This decision must be weighed upon when deciding to travel on a long layover overnight trip.
Repeat Layover Stops
I'm about to visit the Montreal Airport In-Terminal hotel for the third time in two months. Once the appeal of a new city and the glitz and glamour of a hotel lobby bar wear off, it becomes less appealing to stop over and more appealing to just keep on traveling.
Keep the layover destinations fresh each trip and get creative on where you might end up!
When connecting to an international layover, you have to pick up your bags at the baggage claim, clear customs and then re-check the bag before going to your gate.
It's important to understand that this still holds true with a long layover - with one caveat. You will retrieve your bag, clear customs, but instead of re-checking it, you simply carry it in hand and walk out of the airport.
The next day you'll have to go to the check in desk and do a bag drop. You should already be tagged for the final destination.
The problem here is - the airport luggage handlers may not understand when you are boarding your next flight and will route your bag straight on to your final destination.
This happened to me in Canada. We had bags that started in Orlando and were making their way towards the next Japan flight (scheduled for the next day) and they never showed up at the bag carousel.
Keep those bag tag receipts handy - you'll need it to locate your luggage and get it back!
Pro tip: consider popping an air tag in your luggage - you can literally track your bag moving through the bowels of the airport bag belts.
Not So Great Destinations
Sometimes, we're stuck in garbage airports at garbage hotels, near garbage areas of town. This is obviously not the ideal situation for a long layover and takes a lot of will-power to make it great.