Visiting places you otherwise wouldn’t have, for free (or, the art of the 23-hr layover)

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This is following up on a trick I used in my last posting.  Airlines have a bunch of sneaky rules for booking that you need to do some research on to be hip to.  One of these concerns stopovers vs layovers.  As far as most airlines are concerned, a stopover is when you have an “extended” stop at a place enroute to your final “destination”.  A layover is when the flight routing requires you to connect to another flight that will get you to your final destination. These flights with extended layovers are often the cheapest options which will save you some money, too.

Many people do not choose these flights because they want to get from A to B as quickly as possible.  As a budget traveler though, I like to do as much travelling as I can while I’m actually travelling.  Another bonus to picking flights with layovers is that you have more segments in your flight, and maybe even more miles.  More miles and more segments= quicker to getting elite status on an airline.  I’m not one of these “have to fly first class” characters that I see on many of the frequent flyer sites.  I can understand why they like to, but for me, I’m actually totally content sitting in economy.  The thing I look forward to with having status is that at certain levels your miles earned can be multiplied, example, by a factor of 1.5, 2, or more.  This is good.  More miles=more flights you can take, for almost nothing.  Some people also like status for free bags or upgrades; as for me, I almost NEVER check bags for ease/speed of travelling.

I decided to make use of layovers to visit some places I otherwise wouldn’t have on my recent trip to Turkey, and I’m glad I did!   At first my search on kayak was turning up options that were around $1100-$1200 for the cheapest flights on the dates I wanted.  Not so great.  I decided to try another website, and found flights on expedia for $850 or so.  One of these cheaper flights (about $880) provided me with the opportunity to go to Hamburg, Germany for a day both on the way to and from Turkey, as well as a day in Zurich, Switzerland, in addition to a chance to get dinner in Frankfurt if I was quick about it (it ended up raining heavily so I stayed at the airport for that one).  Spending a little time in all of these places gave me a brief taste for the country and made me decide whether or not they were places I’d like to go to again.

The idea is to maximize your time on these layovers so you can actually do something.  A 12 hour layover from 10pm to 10am the next morning is pretty useless; you PROBABLY (see upcoming post on Hamburg) won’t be able to do all that much during these hours.  You can either try to schedule a long layover during daylight hours, or you can pick the longest layover possible.  And don’t worry about leaving the airport, as long as the country doesn’t require a visa, you are okay to leave!  Just explain to the customs person that you are getting some fresh air for a few hours and you are all set.  (Always check visa/passport requirements before travelling to a country to be safe).

I’m hoping to use these long layovers to visit Beijing later this year (well, as long as all that environmental nonsense isn’t going to make me DOA) and potentially catch up with a few new friends I made in Berlin while in Madrid later this summer.  And of course my daytrip to Guatemala for free (plus any tour/etc fees and food)

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