You are likely to have a layover on an international trip. Therefore, it is key to maximize that time. I prefer either layovers under 3 hours or more than seven hours. If your layover is between 3-7 hours, you will likely find that you don't have enough time to leave the airport to explore.
Stopovers- A stopover is a layover longer than 24 hours. This allows you to explore a city or a country. Some airlines offer free stopovers, such as Icelandair and Air Canada (if the layover is longer than six hours). I am a big fan of stopovers since it allows you (1) break up a long trip and (2) lets you do a mini side trip for free.
Multi-City- You can also sometimes build in a stopover for free or a small fee using the "Multi-city" option in Google Flights. For example, if we published a flight deal from Los Angeles to Hong Kong with a layover in Tokyo, you could enter Los Angeles to Tokyo on August 3, Tokyo to Hong Kong on August 5, Hong Kong to Los Angeles on August 15 (your return flight). Sometimes it works, but sometimes the airline will price it as separate flights, which makes it very expensive. We will try our best to inform you if it is possible to do a multi-city booking.
Under Five Hours
If your layover is under four hours, you do not have time to leave the airport. You would have to go through that countries immigration, find transportation to and from, and go back through security. Your best options would be:
Airport Lounges- Having lounge access makes a huge difference on a long trip, especially if you can get a shower and some good food during a layover. We detail the cards that offer airport lounge access. Priority Pass has a great network of lounges outside of the U.S. and several large airports have multiple options.
Duty-Free Shopping- If you are on your way back home, check out the duty-free shopping in the airport.
Between Five and Ten Hours
In this range, I would probably consider leaving the airport. However, some airports are very far from the main city. For example, Seoul's main airport is about 1.5 hours from the city center. In that case, consider finding something fun to do closer to the airport.
If the airport is close to the city, go on TripAdvisor and look at the top 5 things to do or restaurants and pick one. Some airlines even offer free tours of their city.
More than Ten Hours
With more than ten hours, you should definitely leave the airport and consider getting a hotel. Try to see one or two places, grab some food, and take a short nap somewhere. Some airlines, detailed below, offer free hotels, stopovers, or tours for extended layovers.
Stopovers, Tours, and Free Hotels
Icelandair- This airline invented the free stopover and it is why Iceland has become so popular. You can book a stopover for up to seven nights.
Air Canada- You can get a free stopover in Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver, if your itinerary includes one city outside of Canada or the U.S. and the connection time will be more than six hours. The six-hour requirement makes it a little harder to use compared to several other stopover programs.
Qatar Airways- Until December 31, 2018, Qatar offers a free visa and a free hotel night (or 2 nights for $50) to all customers transiting through Doha.
- (Standard Policy for after above promotion) Qatar Airways offers a free hotel if (1) there is no connection of less than eight hours available; (2) The transit time in Doha is between eight and 24 hours; (3) The booking does not include flights to or from Kuwait (KWI) or Muscat (MCT).
Etihad Airways- Etihad offers discounted hotels and activities for economy customers. Business class or first class customers on a cash flight can get a free premium hotel in Abu Dhabi. You can also purchase access to the Etihad arrival lounge for $30.
Emirates: Emirates will offer a free hotel if the best connection time for an economy passenger is between 8 and 24 hours (6 and 24 for first and business class). Emirates will even pay transportation to the hotel. Emirates also offers a free stopover in either Milan or Dubai.
Taipei- Offers a free city tour if your layover is longer than eight hours. Tours start at 8:15 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.
Singapore- Singapore Airlines offers discounted hotels for people stopping over for one night in Singapore. One package, which starts at $40 SGD (or $30 USD) includes one hotel night and airport transportation. The other package starts at $50 SGD and includes one hotel night, free rides on the SIA Hop-on bus, and admission to 15 tourist attractions.
- For any airline, you can go on one of the two tours that leave at several times throughout the day.
Finnair- Finnair lets you book a free stopover for up to five days in Helsinki and even combines other OneWorld partners on the ticket for the best price.
TAP Portugal- TAP lets you do a free stopover in either Lisbon or Porto for up to 5 nights.
Turkish Airlines- Turkish Airlines has a free stopover program that also includes a free hotel night for economy class customers at a four-star hotel if you are going to and from certain areas and your transit time is longer than 10 hours (7 for business class; Review of Transit Hotel and Program). If your connection is between 6-20 hours, you can instead do a free tour of Istanbul (Review of the tour).
Brussels Airlines- You can arrange a stopover from one to five nights in two Belgian cities of your choice.
Ethiopian Airlines- When you book on Ethiopian's website you will be given a prompt after you select "Search Flight" that allows you to arrange for a stopover in Addis Ababa on a connecting flight. However, you do need to choose one of the six tours that offered by Ethiopian's tour operator. Alternatively, if the earliest potential connection is between 8-24 hours, you can get a free hotel in Addis Ababa.
Air China- Free hotel for long connections requiring an overnight stay.
China Eastern- China Eastern's policy states that "Passengers purchasing international tickets from the United States or Canada for a journey operated entirely by China Eastern Airlines or Shanghai Airlines are entitled to a Stopover Paid by the Carrier (STPC) service for any overnight stopover given there are no connecting flights available on the day of arrival. This is applicable for flights departing from Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), New York (JFK), Chicago (ORD), and Honolulu (HNL) of the United States and Vancouver(YVR), Toronto(YYZ) of Canada via Shanghai, Kunming, Xi'an, or Beijing."
China Southern- If your connection is between 8 and 48 hours with no potential faster connection, you can get a free hotel.
Royal Jordanian- If you have an overnight connection between 8 to 24 hours, you can get a free hotel.
Korean Airlines- Provides free tours.
SriLankan Airlines- This airline may you a free hotel if you earliest connection is more than 8 hours away.
Royal Air Maroc- If you have a layover of more than 24 hours, Royal Air Maroc will provide you a free hotel night.
Hawaiian Airlines- If you are traveling from one of Hawaiian's international destinations, you can do a free stopover in Hawaii. If you are traveling from the U.S., you can do a stopover for $60.
Japan Airlines- You can book up to two stopovers via a multi-city booking in either Tokyo or Osaka.
Xiamen- Offers a free hotel if your connection time is between 6 and 24 hours and an international flight on your ticket. However, you may just want to book a room on your own after this review.
Other Potential Airlines: These airlines don't have official policies, but you might be able to get a free hotel for a very long layover with Asiana, EgyptAir, Japan Airlines, and Thai Airways.