When I decided to take a trip to Europe next year, I knew I wanted to add in a couple of stopovers on the way. Flying all the way from New Zealand to Europe is NOT FUN! If, like me, you suffer from severe motion sickness, that second flight leg can be truly horrific. And when you land, you still have to navigate your way to your accommodation.
The best way to avoid motion sickness is to cut your travel time down as much as possible. Including stopovers into your travel plans accomplishes this, and you get to explore a city you may not have otherwise visited. When you search for flights to your chosen destination using a flight aggregator like Skyscanner, Webjet, Kayak etc, they’ll bring up the cheapest flights, but they’re always heading straight to your destination with as short a layover as possible. You can search for multi-stop flights, but you need to know exact dates first and they generally won’t search for cheaper flights on other dates.
So, how do you find the cheapest flights AND add on stopovers?
1. Start by performing a general flight search using an aggregator.
First, check out what flights are available to your destination by searching on multiple flight aggregators. Not all aggregators search the same airlines/websites. For example, Skyscanner and Kayak are great for searching flights departing the US or Europe, but they won’t find as many flights leaving New Zealand as Webjet or House of Travel will. Have a look on as many websites as you can and check out the websites of your preferred airlines as well, just in case they are running specials that aren’t showing up on the aggregators.
2. Assess the options.
When you’ve found the cheapest flights, take a careful look at them to see if they’re suitable. Many of the cheapest flights leave late at night or very early in the morning. Or they might arrive at your destination in the middle of the night or to airports far away from city centres. In these two situations, often pubic transport can’t be relied on so you would have to pay for an expensive taxi, thus negating the lower flight cost.
When I started looking for flights to Europe, the cheapest options had departure times and long layovers that I wanted to avoid; such as departing at 11pm, arriving in Sydney about the same time and not flying out again until 5am. Then there were still two more layovers to look forward to before reaching London. No thanks – I’m willing to pay a little more to avoid that situation.
Note that flight aggregators aren’t always up to date with their pricing. The above example shows a $1118 fare from Flight Network. When following the link, I find the fare is $1175 before fees. Airlines’ own websites also don’t always show all the options, so flight aggregators and 3rd party sites can help you get a sense of where airlines fly and what combinations of flights could work.
3. Repeat the search on the airline’s own website.
Now that you’ve sussed out the best flight options, search on the airline’s website and look at the routes they fly. The aggregators will often show this as well, but by going to the airline’s own website you can more easily see all flights and routes taken in a particular day, as well as days either side of the search date. You’ll be able to see which flights make stops at the cities you would most like to visit.
4. Search mutli-stop itineraries on the airline’s website.
Now that you know which flights fly the best routes for the best price, it’s time to play with the dates. Say after following the previous three steps you’ve found that you can fly from Auckland to London via Vancouver on the 10th April for $1237. You want to turn that layover of a few hours into a few days. Start a multi-city search, flying Auckland to Vancouver on the 10th April and Vancouver to London 3 days later (or however long you’d like to stopover for). If you’re lucky, you’ll find it costs the exact same price as flying straight to your final destination. Other times, the flights you want will be well booked up, thus the price will be higher. Or the airline may not fly that particular route on the day specified. In that case, keep playing with the dates until you get a price-point and set of dates that work for you.
In some cases, I’ve heard that individual countries or airports charge additional taxes or fees to travellers stoping over for longer than a day. You can see if this is affecting your particular flights by checking the fare breakdown. If the taxes and fees portion for the stopover are higher than for the direct option, that’s what’s happening.
You may not be able to get the perfect mix of the best airline, the ideal stopover location, the cheapest price and convenient flight times, but with a bit of patience you should be able to find something that works for you. In my case, I would have really liked to stop over in Singapore. However doing so on my preferred airline, traveling on my preferred days, would have added $500 to the cost of the ticket. In the end though, I found flights on my preferred airline with stops in Tokyo and Los Angeles, which I’m pretty happy with. Singapore will just have to wait until next time.