Stopover vs Layover
At times, the aviation industry seems to have its own language, and many of the terms used by airlines are regularly misunderstood — such as the difference between a direct and nonstop flight. Another pair of words that always seems to be misused is layover and stopover. Despite sounding similar, they are actually quite different and the nuances are important when travelers decide to redeem their miles.
A layover is a broad term that means any connection between flights. This could include a stop as short as 30 minutes (depending upon the airport) or as long as four hours (or up to 23 hours and 59 minutes on international flights). Airline crew use this term, slightly differently. For them, a layover means an overnight stay while a connection refers to a shorter stop, but for fliers and travel providers, it’s ok to use these two terms interchangeably.
However, while it’s fine to use the term layover when you really mean connection, you should know the difference between a stopover and layover. A stopover can be a layover, but it can also be a much longer stop — often a second destination on part of a multi-stop itinerary. If traveling domestically, a stopover typically qualifies as anything that lasts longer than four hours. So if you fly from Palm Springs to Dallas/Ft. Worth and on to New York, and you have a domestic connection of longer than four hours, that is called a stopover.
Stopover vs Layover
Why should you care? Well, unless you’re booking an award ticket, you shouldn’t. But if you’re redeeming miles for a flight, airline agents will reference this terminology. Many airlines, like Delta, impose a no stopover restriction on most award tickets.
When traveling internationally, a stopover refers to a stay that lasts longer than 24 hours. Savvy frequent fliers know that they can build in extended or even overnight stops at many hub cities like London, Paris, or Amsterdam, and not get charged additional miles as long as they leave within 24 hours to their final destination, thereby avoiding a stopover. This time stipulation keeps the stop in the layover category, as if it were a simple connection, while allowing travelers enough time to get a full day and night in a city.
You cannot add unlimited layovers to an award ticket, but it’s reasonable to assume you can include one or two. Want to stop in Egypt to see the pyramids on the way home from Kenya? You can do that. Want to visit the Louvre traveling back from Istanbul? That’s also possible.
Airlines like British Airways manage their programs based upon distance, so it might mean a layover will cost you more money than a direct flight, but the good news is that you can often turn that layover into a stopover at no extra cost. Additionally, while American and Delta recently quit allowing free stopovers on award tickets, United still permits one stopover per roundtrip journey, which means you can stay for days or even months in an additional city on your itinerary. Want to turn that Egypt detour into a week long trip? Or spend the spring coworking in Paris before returning home? You should probably fly United on your award ticket.
While the layover and stopover sound the same, it can pay off to know the difference if you want to extract added value from your miles.