Looking to know the difference between layover vs stopover? If flight booking jargon confuses you, you’re not alone. From transfers and transits to open-jaw flights and open-ended tickets, you’re bound to encounter a slew of complicated terms when booking a flight to your next vacation – but don’t brush them away.
The key to saving and making the most of your travels is understanding airline industry mumbo jumbo. This article will help you cut through one of the most common areas of confusion: the layover vs stopover.
Layovers and stopovers may sound very similar for the typical traveler, who would use both terms interchangeably to describe a ‘stop’ en route to their destination.
While this is true in essence, there are aspects of layovers and stopovers that are entirely different, and understanding their nuances is key to traveling on a budget and enriching your travel experience.
Here’s everything you need to know:
Table of Contents
What is a layover?
Layovers are more common than stopovers, which explains why most travelers are more familiar with this term. So what does layover mean?
In a nutshell, a layover is a stop that you make for a short time at a connecting airport en route to your destination. If you want to understand the difference between layover vs stopover, the key element to pay attention to is time.
Layovers may be thought of as mere connections – a short break before heading to your final destination. They run under 24 hours and are often included by default in tickets.
What is a layover flight and how does it affect travelers? Flights with layovers are often (though not always) cheaper than direct flights by virtue of their inconvenience, as they often serve no beneficial purpose for travelers other than to extend the duration of their flight.
During layovers, your aircraft may land at the connecting city to drop off and pick up new passengers. Sometimes, layovers require you to stay in the aircraft until it departs. Other times, you must get off the plane and head to a new aircraft at the airport.
Can you leave the airport during a layover?
Always make sure to check visa rules for the connecting country you’re in. While some countries allow free transit visas for short visits, others will require you to pay for a full-entry visa. Still, other countries will not allow you to leave the airport for the duration that you wish.
If you’re allowed to leave the airport, the sky’s the limit. With time and logistics factored in, you can explore the city!
Visit a landmark, try some local food, or buy a souvenir. If you’re anxious about spending time outdoors, there’s plenty to do at the airport you’re in, especially if it’s a major airport.
Relax in an airport lounge, grab some food, or snag a few trinkets!
There are two types of layovers: short layovers and long layovers.
What usually affects the duration of a layover is the type of flight you’re in: domestic flights often have shorter layovers than international flights.
Here’s what happens on each one.
How long is a short layover?
Short layovers often run between 30-minutes for domestic flights and around an hour for international flights. International layovers are longer to give travelers enough time to go through customs and immigration before boarding their next flight.
Do short layovers offer enough time to make my connecting flight?
Some travelers worry that their layovers may be too short to allow them to make their connecting flight. And while this is a common issue for travelers, airlines often provide their guests with enough time to make their connection, but there are no guarantees.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to determine if your layover time is enough, but for good measure, aim for flights with a 60-minute layover for domestic destinations and a 2-hour layover for international destinations. This gives you enough time to change terminals or go through customs and immigration.
If you’re taking an international flight on two different airlines, there’s much to factor in. Do you need to claim and re-check your baggage? Is it peak tourist season? Is the airport you’re in very busy? In these cases, a 3-hour long layover may be necessary.
Giving yourself this much leeway guarantees a stress-free and more comfortable journey that tight-connection would not afford.
How long is a long layover?
When discussing the difference between layover vs stopover, travelers must understand what a long layover is and how it differs from a stopover. If your layover lasts for a little more than 10 hours, it is considered a long layover. On the other hand, a stopover lasts for 24 hours or more.
What can you do during a long layover?
Long layovers offer much more freedom than short layovers, as they allow you to explore a new city without the time constraints of the latter.
But can you leave the airport during a layover? It depends!
In most cases, you could, but you’ll have to go through customs and immigration before leaving the airport. If your layover lasts 10 hours or more, you should definitely consider it, but not before factoring in how long the immigration process is and the time required to clear passport control and security.
A layover that lasts for six hours may seem like enough time to sneak in a few city tours, but that time can quickly run out when you consider the logistics.
What is a stopover?
As mentioned, the difference between a layover vs stopover is the duration you spend at a connecting airport. While a layover lasts for less than 24 hours, a stopover is generally considered to last 24 hours or longer.
Stopovers are considered to be a great option if you’re looking to explore the connecting city, especially when the stopover lasts for several days.
Unlike layovers, an airline stopover is not included in your ticket by default, so you’ll have to voluntarily book them if you want one. Flights with stopovers are generally a bit more expensive than direct flights, though in some cases, the airfare for staying a few days in your connecting city is still the same as one.
If one of your main goals is to explore the connecting city, the cost-benefit you get from stopovers is undeniable.
In less common cases and depending on the airline, travelers may even be able to add more than one airport stopover to their itinerary, which results in a multi-stop trip around the world.
Can you leave the airport on a stopover?
Just like layovers, the answer is: it depends. In a majority of cases, you can leave the airport during a stopover. If you’re traveling domestically, such as within the US if you are a US citizen, you can leave the airport safely and legally.
However, on international flights, leaving the airport on stopovers if you have no visa may get you into trouble, though this is only true for countries that require visas for visitors.
How can you book a flight with a free stopover?
Want to know how to book a flight with a free stopover? Travelers who are looking to explore multiple cities on their vacation will find plenty of ways to score free stopover flights. Here’s what you need to know.
Book through an Airline Stopover Program
If you paid for your flight instead of using your airline miles, several airlines around the world have stopover programs that allow you to make a stopover in their hub city without having to pay extra. Booking a stopover flight is as easy as visiting the airline’s website and booking through their stopover program.
These programs are a great way to explore the best stopover destinations or visit friends in a connecting city. Before diving in, however, travelers must carefully read the program’s conditions to ensure they’re qualified.
A flight from Toronto to Paris with TAP Air Portugal, for example, allows you to transform your Lisbon layover into a multiple-day stopover without extra fees. You may even be offered several perks to make your Portugal stopover more fun!
Air China offers a night’s accommodation, breakfast, and transit to and from the airport for passengers transiting through Chengdu, Beijing, Hangzhou, Chongqing, Shanghai, and Tianjin.
Travelers on a long layover in Cairo International Airport between EgyptAir flights may qualify for the airline’s layover program. This comes with a free hotel, food, and transport from to and from the hotel.
If your transit time is greater than eight hours and less than a day, transit passengers in Ethiopian Airlines may be eligible for a free hotel, meals, and transportation.
Looking to make a stopover in a quiet town? Stopover Switzerland offers one to four-night stopovers to your flight with no extra fees. This is a great way to explore Zurich, Lucerne, or take in wonderful views of the Swiss Alps!
Book a DIY stopover itinerary
One of the main differences between a layover vs stopover is that the former is included by default in your ticket. Stopovers, on the other hand, need to be booked voluntarily.
Booking a DIY stopover itinerary is the same as booking a multi-city flight itinerary. Your stopover will be your connecting city. This allows the traveler to choose how long he’ll stay and how many stopovers he wishes to include in the trip. The traveler can also add stopovers to both legs of his roundtrip journey.
The budget traveler will want to look for a stopover that reduces the cost of his airfare. To do this, he must check out the common layover destinations on round-trip tickets. It’s easy to do this on booking websites like Scott’s Cheap Flights, Skyscanner, Priceline, Expedia, Hotwire, and Orbitz.
For a more affordable trip, you can try getting separate tickets from New York to LA and then LA to Sydney. In most cases, this will be a lot cheaper than buying a New York to Sydney ticket.
Other related airline terms you should know about
Another point of confusion is layover vs stopover or transit. Once again, a layover is a stop that lasts less than 24 hours, while a stopover lasts 24 hours or more. On the other hand, Transit is simply the act of returning to the same aircraft after your layover at the airport.
A traveler in transit is expected to continue his journey on the same airline, flight, and boarding pass. The term transit should not be confused with the term ‘transfer’, which requires the traveler to change planes or airlines.
If your flight has many legs with several stopovers or layovers in different cities, you’re in a multi-city flight. Building a multi-city itinerary is a great way to visit several destinations at once and is usually cheaper than separate one-way flights. The discounts may be even deeper when you book each leg with a different airline.
Some travelers who book layovers or stopovers to secure cheaper airfare might have also heard of skiplagging.
Skiplagging is the practice of booking a flight itinerary where the stopover is the intended destination.
For example, if you’re flying from Point A to C, with a stop at Point B, you hop out at Point B without taking the rest of the flight.
This is often done because, in most cases, the airfare from Point A to C is a lot cheaper than taking a direct flight from Point A to B.
Skiplagging is a completely ethical travel trick, but there are a few caveats to this practice. You can learn more and find cheap flights at Skiplagged.com.