Travel lovers know the agony of spending countless hours in a connecting airport, staring longingly through the windows at a city just out of reach. For many international travelers, lengthy layovers are often missed opportunities to cover extra ground. Getting out of the airport can be easier (and cheaper) than some might think. With a little planning ahead, your next layover stop can become an exciting destination in itself.
When flying internationally, layovers tend to be much longer than typical connecting flights between U.S. cities. Some airlines will offer perks when you book an international flight with a prolonged layover in their hub city. The required length varies from airline to airline, with some offering free hotel stays for layovers as short as 8 hours, and most capping off somewhere between 12-24 hours. It is important to research airline policies ahead of time since some layover freebies come with caveats. Heading to East Asia but always wanted to see Dubai? Emirates will pay for hotels, meals, and airport transfer for layovers in their hub city, but only if no other connecting flights are available. If you end up trying to score a deal by playing with different flight options, remember to note the flight’s arrival time. There will be few options for sightseeing if your plane touches down at 11:00 pm local time.
Know the travel visa requirements of the country before you finalize your plans. While most countries do not require travel visas for tourists visiting less than 72 hours, it’s best to confirm this ahead of time. If you have not made the necessary visa arrangements, you might end up stuck at the airport.
Be sure to pack appropriately for an extended layover, and make plans for your luggage if needed. While airlines often check your bags through to your final destination, this is not always the case. Find out if your airline requires you to recheck bags during your connection. Many airports have a left luggage facility for storing baggage, but make sure to confirm your airport offers the service. Savvy travelers who avoid checking bags by cramming everything into a rolling carry-on might want to opt for a backpack instead.
Another idea for maximizing your vacation time is to do a stopover in a connecting city instead, by booking a multi-city flight. Websites like https://airwander.com/ will help you find the cheapest stopover options based on your place of origin and ultimate destination. Some airlines offer perks for these slightly longer visits as well. Once your layover destination is confirmed, what should you do with your limited time on the ground? Get organized with travel planning apps like TripIt or PlanChat, or map out the best itinerary for your location with the Sygic Travel app. With a few extra hours of planning time, you can end up with a few hours in an “extra” city on the way to your final destination.