Last week, a reader asked me to explain the difference between a layover and a stopover. I don’t think that I did it justice in person, so here’s the full explanation.
Simply put, a layover happens any time you switch planes during your journey. Most people use connection and layover interchangeably.
Generally, if your layover is more than four hours, it is considered a stopover. If you’re flying on an international itinerary, a layover lasting more than 24 hours counts as a stopover.
Whether you can use a stopover and what it will cost depends on the fare rules of the fare basis you’re using. Generally, this will fall into one of three buckets:
- One or more stopovers for free
- One or more stopovers for a charge
- No stopovers allowed – If you add a stopover, your itinerary will re-price, generally at a higher fare.
Generally, for discount fares, international airfares are more likely to offer stopovers for free or for a charge, though there are countless exceptions to this rule.
Also, if you are checking luggage, your luggage will generally be checked to your next stopover, rather than your destination.
Stopovers can save you money.
If you’re looking to visit more than one city on a trip, using a stopover can save money when compared with adding a one-way flight to your trip.
Let’s say you are taking a trip from Chicago to London and want to spend a few days sightseeing in New York on your way out. There are a few airfares available, listed below. (Note: For the purposes of this example, you can combine the outbound from one round-trip and the return from another round trip.)
Chicago (ORD) to London (LHR) round-trip for $1000
New York (JFK) to London (LHR) round-trip for $1000
Chicago (ORD) to New York (JFK) one-way for $300
Stopovers are allowed on all tickets for $100 each.
You could purchase the following tickets:
Chicago (ORD) to New York (JFK) as a one-way ticket. ($300)
New York (JFK) to London (LHR), returning to Chicago (ORD) as an open-jaw round-trip. ($1000)
Total price: $1300
Or you could purchase the following:
Chicago (ORD) to London (LHR), returning to Chicago (ORD) as a round-trip, with a stopover in New York (JFK) ($1000 for the round-trip, plus $100 for the stopover)
Total price: $1100
From the above example, you see how using a stopover can save $200 on this particular trip.
How to find and book stopovers
If you want to find airfares that offer stopovers, you can use a tool such as ExpertFlyer to or the KVS Tool to search for fares and look in the routing rules for the stopover rules. I don’t know of websites where you can find airfare routing rules for free, but if any readers bring those to my attention, I’ll gladly post them. If you’re booking on the telephone or in person with a travel agent, the travel agent can help you search for fares that allow stopovers.
Usually, you don’t need to worry about trying to find fares that offers stopovers. Knowing what stopovers are and that they can sometimes be added cheaply can save you money. If you’re planning a round trip somewhere and are considering a stopover in another city, use your favorite online travel agent’s “multi-city search” to price your itinerary with the stopover. Most likely, your trip will be priced at the lowest possible price.
How to take advantage of international “almost-stopovers”
Because anything less than 24 hours counts as a layover, you can sometimes add day trips onto your itineraries for free. I was able to do this during a quick trip I took to Poland in 2012. Here was my itinerary:
Delta 4337 from New York (JFK) to Montreal (YUL)
Departure: (JFK): February 24, 8:05 PM EST (evening)
Arrival: (YUL): February 24, 9:58 PM EST (evening)
Time in Montreal: 22 hours, 57 minutes
Delta 8612 from Montreal (YUL) to Paris (CDG)
Departure (YUL): February 25, 7:55 PM EST (evening)
Arrival (CDG): February 26, 8:35 AM CET (morning)
Delta 8584 from Paris (CDG) to Warsaw (WAW)
Departure (CDG): February 26, 9:40 AM CET (morning)
Arrival (WAW): February 26, 11:55 AM CET (morning)
Warsaw was the destination.
KLM 1364 from Warsaw (WAW) to Amsterdam (AMS)
Departure (WAW): March 1, 12:55 PM CET (afternoon)
Arrival (AMS): March 1, 3:05 PM CET (afternoon)
Time in Amsterdam: 22 hours, 25 minutes.
Delta 9400 from Amsterdam (AMS) to Toronto (YYZ)
Departure (AMS): March 2, 1:30 PM CET (afternoon)
Arrival (YYZ): March 2, 3:35 PM EST (afternoon)
Time in Toronto: 19 hours, 25 minutes.
Delta 3817 from Toronto (YYZ) to New York (JFK)
Departure (YYZ): March 3, 11:00 AM EST (morning)
Arrival (JFK): March 3, 12:45 PM EST (afternoon)
On the above trip, I took advantage of the fact that any layover less than 24 hours does not count as a stopover, so I was able to do a quick tour of three great cities for no additional airfare or stopover surcharges. The total cost of the above ticket: $416.99, including all taxes and fees.
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