What’s better than a trip to a new and exciting place? A trip to two new and exciting places! With direct flights often more expensive and harder to come by, many South Africans are choosing to fly on indirect routes involving a connecting flight – think deals with Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Qatar Airways, and a whole host of other airlines.
If you have a long connection time or simply want to maximise your holiday experience and minimise the chances of 36 consecutive hours spent in airports and on planes, taking advantage of airline stopover can be an easy way to see a new city or country without any extra hassle or admin. Here are some of our favourite options.
Istanbul, Turkish Airlines
Turkish Airlines makes it easy for passengers who have a long layover to spend a day in the city with their free city tour service. If your layover is longer than 20 hours though, here’s where you really score. Economy Class passengers are eligible for one night’s free accommodation at a four star hotel, including breakfast. If you’re in Business Class, this gets bumped up to five star. And it’s not a hotel in a far-out, dodgy part of town. Your ccommodation is in Sultanahmet or Taksim – both central and well-located areas. All you have to pay for is your transfers to the hotel and any extra meals on top of the breakfast. You will ned an online visa in advance, but they’re free and easy – so if you’re flying via Istanbul, definitely stay for a night and explore this unique city straddling Asia and Europe, both physically and culturally.
Doha, Qatar Airways
Qatar’s exceptional service doesn’t stop once you get off the plane in Doha. Their Doha city tour allows you to experience the major highlights of the city; Katara, The Pearl, Museum of Islamic Art and Souq Waqif. The tour costs just R140 (slight fluctuations in cost will depend on the exchange rate, of course) and they leave every two hours between 8am and 8pm. If you have a longer layover; i.e. more than five hours, you can do a full-on desert adventure from as little as R850.
You can book the tours in advance online up to 48 hours before you arrive, or you can head to the ‘Discover Qatar Tours’ desk once you arrive to try and get a spot.
That isn’t all though. Like Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways offers a free stopover programme too. You get one night’s free accommodation at one of their partner hotels, and can take in the sights and sounds of the city before getting a good night’s sleep. South Africans no longer need a visa for a short trip to Qatar (up to 30 days) so there really is no excuse!
Ahhh Dubai – The New York of the UAE. You can experience this glittering, cosmopolitan city rising out of the desert on a stopover with Emirates. Because they often have amazing deals on flights to the UK and the US, it’s quite likely that you’ll find yourself facing a long layover at the airport. Instead, sip on a cocktail poolside, admire the Burj Khalifa or shop to your heart’s content at the designer boutiques and glitzy malls.
Though Emirates doesn’t offer free stopovers, they do offer affordable options which can help you see the city without spending a fortune. You can spend as little as R560 per person for three nights’ accommodation including breakfast, as well as a meet and greet service upon arrival and transfers between your hotel and the airport.
Singapore, Singapore Airlines
Admittedly, landing in Changhi airport in Singapore is something else. You could happily spend a day in the airport, thanks to its butterfly gardens, free WiFi, sleeping pods, TVs and all kinds of luxury amenities that really don’t seem to belong in an airport. But, you could also take yourself out of the serenity of the butterfly gardens to immerse yourself into the vibrant, buzzing culture of Singapore.
Stop for a night, don’t pay any extra for your flight, and for around R400 you can get a night at a lovely hotel, along with complimentary rides on the hop-on hop-off bus, and access to more than twenty of Singapore’s best attractions, including free meals, entries to museums and landmarks, and amazing deals on activities, for the more adventurous amongst us.
You can also take a complimentary tour of 2.5 hours if you have a layover of more than 5.5 hours – you have a choice of two different tours; the Heritage Tour or the City Sights Tour. The Heritage Tour will take you to Chinatown, Little India, Singapore’s banking district and Kampong Glam. The City Sights Tour will show you some of Singapore’s marvels of architecture and design – the Marina Bay Promenade, Gardens By The Bay and the Singapore Flyer.