The Art of the Transatlantic Stopover Flight (And How to Book it Yourself)

Perhaps no word in the English language is as synonymous with “meh” as stopover. Flying multiple legs on a trip isn’t the end of the world, but it’s not something to get excited about, either.

A stopover in some random airport that isn’t your final business or vacation destination in Europe can seem like a huge waste of time: “Babe, just booked our summer trip to Venice. Nine hour layover in London Heathrow, can’t wait!”  — said no one ever.

While it’s a universally accepted fact that no one wants to deal with the added time, possible checked luggage snafus, and extra takeoffs/landings, there are two excellent justifications for adding a stopover on your next flight from New York to London, or wherever you’re headed.

This post will explain why it makes sense to book a stopover, and then explain how to do it yourself. If you learn something new here, share this post with your friends on Facebook!

1. Stopovers can be much cheaper than flying nonstop.

You’re not going to find stopovers on the major transatlantic carriers such as Air France or British Airways . It’s not something they advertise to customers, mostly because so many tourists from the USA have London or Paris as their final destination, not as an intermediate stopover.

On the other hand, airlines with hubs in countries that aren’t at the top of your average tourist’s bucket list, such as Icelandair, WOW, TAP, and Norwegian, make a stopover a standard feature of the fares they offer. Icelandair gives you the option to plan a trip from the USA to Europe and take up to a week exploring Iceland before you board your connecting flight onward to the continent. WOW, Icelandair’s budget competitor, doesn’t specify how long their stopover is but it’s at least a week. TAP, the Portuguese national airline, allows for 24 to 72-hour stopovers at its hub in Lisbon. Norwegian passengers can take advantage of overnight layovers in Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, or London.

As an example, a flight from Seattle to Amsterdam costs almost 20% less if you add a stopover instead of flying nonstop. It’s $531 if you include a 24-hour stopover in Iceland and $642 if you fly direct.  That’s not always true, but worth looking into before you commit to booking your airfare.

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2. A stopover can be more than a half-day stuck in an airport.

About a year ago I had a seven hour stopover in Rome on my way to Morocco. I took a bus into the city, ate lunch at my favorite pizza bakery in Campo dei Fiori, bought a book at an English language bookstore, then walked to the Tiber river and went to my favorite gelateria in Rome for dessert (as you can probably tell, I like to travel with my stomach). It was a perfect city break before my flight to Marrakech.

And that was just a short stopover; if I had more time in Rome (and hadn’t already visited before) I could easily have squeezed in some sightseeing. Ideally, a stopover is at least 24-36 hours long –enough for you to go into the city and explore it for a day, spend a night, and maybe rest up from jet lag or flight fatigue. In places like Iceland, a week-long stopover is enough for you to see the major sights of the entire country, as long as you don’t wander too far off the beaten track like I did and get stuck in a fjord in the middle of nowhere.

So how do you search for stopover flights? Google’s ITA Matrix is my go-to search engine for planning stopover trips. Let’s say you’re looking for a flight from Seattle to Amsterdam.

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The first thing you do is enter the departure and destination points; pretty straightforward. Once you’ve done that, click on the “Advanced Routing Codes” link right below the destination section. As the name suggests, routing codes are a sort of language unto itself.
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To enter a stopover location in the routing code section, type the three letter code name for the airport you want to stop at. In this case, I’m typing in “KEF”, which is the code for Reykjavik’s international airport. This will direct the search engine to include a stopover in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. But doing this doesn’t guarantee you’ll have any time in the country; there might be a connecting flight just an hour later. So you have to specify how long you want your stopover to be. That’s when you add “/ minconnect 1440” to the command.
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It’s important to note that there MUST be a space between the backslash and minconnect, otherwise the command will fail. Minconnect means you want a MINIMUM stopover time, while maxconnect means you want a MAXIMUM stopover time; the number you enter after has to be in minutes (1440 minutes = 24 hours). In this case, I’ve added a minimum 24 hour stopover on the inbound flight, while the outbound flight will also be routed through Reykjavik but not have an unnecessarily long layover.

Once you’ve taken care of the advanced routing codes, things are pretty straightforward. If you’re flexible, you can set the search for an entire month’s worth of fares, or if you’re not, the exact dates. Make sure to specify in the “Stops” section that there may be up to one stop, and in the “Extra Stops” section, select “no extra stops” – otherwise the search engine will probably time itself out.

Then click “search,” and voila! you’re going to Amsterdam, with a nice break in Iceland along the way.


tags: flight hacking, cheap flights from usa to europe, how to book cheap flights, stopover flight hack, transatlantic flight deals between usa and europe


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