How To Maximize Your Flight Awards With Stopovers

How To Maximize Your Flight Awards With Stopovers

What Is A Stopover

The term stopover often gets mixed up with the term layover and many people mistakenly use these two terms interchangeably . While they’re both very similar, they are still fundamentally different and in the context of award bookings, which one you are dealing with can make a big difference. A stopover is defined as any connection in a city greater than 24 hours. A layover is any connection in a city for less than 24 hours.

Stopovers are usually only allowed in the hub of the airline being flown and both legs of the itinerary are normally flown by the same airline. So if we are flying Japan Airlines, we can fly JAL to Tokyo and do a stopover in JAL’s hub airports in Tokyo (HND/NRT) before continuing on JAL again to another destination like Bangkok (BKK). If flying Fiji Airways, we can do a stopover in Fiji (NAN) before continuing on to Australia (SYD) etc. There are some unique cases where an airline like Emirates operates a route like New York (JFK) to Milan (MXP) that does not involve its hub airport, Dubai (DXB). Such special routes are called fifth freedom routes and in these cases, you can have a stopover in a non hub airport and then continue to somewhere else on that carrier.

Stopovers on fifth freedom routes allow an extended stay in a non hub destination
Emirates Fifth Freedom Flight Stopover

Going back to a simple example, if we are trying to fly from San Francisco (SFO) to Singapore (SIN), we can fly Cathay Pacific from SFO to Hong Kong (HKG) and then HKG to SIN. The length of time we spend transiting in Hong Kong will determine if we have a stopover or a layover. If we have a 23 hr 59 min transit time in Hong Kong, that is still considered a layover. Note that in the example below, since we have a 1h 40 min stop in Hong Kong , that would be considered a layover.

Layover in Hong Kong

Anything longer than 24 hours is considered a stopover. So in the picture below, we have a stopover. Note that Alaska still calls this a “layover” but they really should use the term “stopover”.

5 day stopover in Hong Kong

What’s So Great About Stopovers

You’re probably asking why someone would ever want to spend more time in a city that isn’t their final destination and the simple answer is because stopovers essentially allow us to fly “free” from our stopover city to our final destination. Using the example above, even though we are technically flying 2 segments: SFO->HKG and HKG->SIN with a 5 day gap in between, airlines view that whole trip as a single itinerary. This means that (depending on the program you’re booking through) the pricing of these 2 segments can be equivalent to a SFO->SIN itinerary with a layover in HKG. Look at how flying SFO->SIN with a 5 day stopover in HKG costs 30k miles.

SFO to SIN with stopover in HKG for 30k miles

While flying SFO->SIN with a 1hr 20 min layover is the same price!

SFO to SIN with layover in HKG is also 30k miles

So instead of just waiting the 2ish hours in HKG airport, we can now spend 5 days exploring Hong Kong before ultimately continuing on to Singapore, all for the same price! Compare this to booking the two legs individually.

We get this HKG->SIN leg for free!

Without a stopover, booking that second HKG->SIN leg would still cost us 12.5k miles. With a stopover, we save 12.5k miles! These savings are also applicable to the cases where we decide to pay cash for the second leg.

Cost of the Hong Kong to Singapore leg in cash

We see that even if we didn’t use miles and used cash to book the Hong Kong to Singapore leg, we would still be saving $312! Stopovers allow us to visit more places at little to no extra cost and open up the opportunity to increase the value of our miles.

How To Book A Stopover

For programs that allow you to book stopovers online, you will have to get familiar with the multi-city search option.

Alaska Airlines Multi City Search Interface
Air Canada Multi City Search Interface

You must first decide which airline(s) you want to fly and which city you want to stopover in. Once you have that down, you can split up your itinerary into two segments: origin to stopover city and stopover city to destination. You will enter these 2 segments individually into the multi city tool with the desired dates you will be departing. Make sure that you set the second leg’s date at least 1 calendar day of the first leg’s departure date. This is so you guarantee >24 hours between the two flights and will get the stopover. For example, here’s the input for a flight from San Francisco to Singapore with a 5 day stopover in Hong Kong.

How to enter city and date combinations for a stopover

If the date and city pairings you have entered are valid, you should see a list of flight itineraries and their prices show up.

List of eligible itineraries with stopover

What Programs Offer Stopovers

One of my favorite programs to book stopovers with is Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. Booking through Alaska is great because you are allowed 1 free stopover on each one way segment and booking a stopover is easy online with their system. Air Canada Aeroplan is another great program because they allow stopovers for just 5,000 miles. Air Canada has the most airline partners out of any carrier in the world and you can mix and match partners on a single itinerary allowing you to get really get creative with your award tickets. You could fly from SEA to TPE on Eva Air with a 5 day stopover in Taipei, then continue on from Taipei to Singapore on Singapore Airlines for just 5,000 miles more.

Stopover Booking Through Air Canada

There are other programs like Cathay Pacific Asia Miles and ANA which also allow stopovers but these programs are more restrictive in that they only allow 1 stopover on a round trip award booking. There are many other programs that allow stopovers but each program has its own set of rules so be sure to get familiar with them before attempting to create any itineraries with stopovers!

Rules For Booking Stopovers

Most airlines have their own individual rules for booking stopovers but the main rule shared across all airlines is that backtracking is not allowed on stopovers. Backtracking means flying to a location that was already passed on your initial route. For example, if we are flying from Hong Kong to New York, we cannot have a stopover in New York before flying to Los Angeles. This is because the flight route from HKG to JFK flies over LAX as we fly east bound. If we wanted to get to LA, we would have to fly westbound. The changing of eastbound on our 1st segment to flying westbound on our 2nd segment is considered backtracking and is not allowed on stopovers.

Backtracking isn’t allowed on stopovers

However, if we were to book HKG to LAX with a stopover in LA before continuing to JFK, this would be allowed. Since flying from HKG to LAX is eastbound and LAX to JFK is also eastbound. At no point when flying from HKG to LAX do we pass over JFK so this would be a valid itinerary to have a stopover in.

Tips For Booking Stopovers

Search For Each Leg Individually First

Let’s say your goal is to use Cathay Pacific to book an itinerary of Los Angeles to Singapore with a stopover in Tokyo on Japan Airlines. If we decide to directly search our whole trip with stopover in one go like this…

LAX to SIN via HND with stopover search parameters

We may come across an unhelpful message like below.

Unhelpful Failure Message

Rather than jumping straight into a search of your complete itinerary, first break it up into the LAX->HND and HND->SIN segments and search those separately. Searching individually allows you to easily verify that the legs you want are even available on the desired dates. Doing it this way can also surface more helpful messages like this.

More useful message

We can now see that April 28 has availability, so we can write that down and repeat the process for the HND->SIN leg. Once we have valid dates for both segments, we can now enter the whole itinerary into the multi city search and it should show up.

Full Round Trip With Stopover in Tokyo
Book A Stopover in the States

Usually when thinking of stopovers, the first thing that comes to mind is something like US->international destination 1->international destination 2. While this is a great way to use miles, another good but more lowkey way is to do the reverse. You can actually do international destination->US city 1->US city 2. This is a great way to plan for future domestic travel and get a free flight off an international award booking. For example we can fly from Melbourne to Los Angeles, with a 7 day stopover in LA before flying from LAX to Newark (EWR) at no additional cost!

Stopover in Los Angeles before continuing on to Jersey for no extra cost!

This presents some great value as transcon flights like these are usually not that cheap. Even if you don’t have any immediate travel plans, you can take advantage of the generous stopover policy and book something very far out. For example, we can book something as far as 315 days out!

315 day stopover in LA!

Lastly, stopovers are applicable even when traveling domestically in the US! You don’t have to be flying international to utilize a stopover. For example, we can fly from Los Angeles to Seattle with a 60 day stopover in Seattle before continuing on to Austin!

Domestic US Stopover


Stopovers present incredible value to any award flight for minimal to no additional cost. If utilized properly, they allow you to experience more destinations and really stretch the value of your miles. If possible, you should always try to add a stopover to your future award bookings!

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