Airline Fare School # 9 – Secret stopovers, Part 2

We’re going to go two directions here: Hawaii and the Caribbean.

But first let’s consider why stopover provisions even exist in the first place.

At one time and even now, it’s not always possible to fly between two places with nonstop flights or nice, neat connections. In order to use one airline from Point A to Point C via Point B. an overnight stop may be necessary. The airline knows that if its fare is broken point-to-point, it is likely to be more expensive than a competitor’s. In such an instance the airline is trying to turn a negative into a positive, or at least into a neutral.

The greater the distance and difficulty of reaching a destination, the more likely it will be that fares may include a provision for free or fixed-price stopovers. Travel from North America to Africa historically and to this day is mostly via Europe, and fares often will allow stopovers in Europe at a carrier’s hub city.

Besides distance and difficulty, another possible reason for a carrier to allow stopovers may be to highlight an advantage that other carriers don’t have. British Airways offers free stopovers in London which we’ll look at in the next chapter of AFS. As you would expect, London is BA’s giant hub and they are leveraging it by offering free stops in one of the world’s most visited cities.

Finally part of the reason for stopovers allowances may be legacy. The Alaska Airlines Seattle stopover you saw in the previous chapter may be a remnant of the special bond between Alaska and the Pacific Northwest – Seattle in particular – that has existed since the late 19th century and the Yukon Gold Rush. Even now, the vast majority of seats between the Lower 48 and Alaska are from Seattle.

For all of these possible reasons there are times when I don’t see why a carrier allows stopovers. And probably because stopover provisions are relatively obscure (although very useful for those in the know which now includes you), just because airline X offers free stopovers in a market does not mean that airline Y will also.

I have never seen stopover provisions in fares published by any of the so-called “low cost carriers” such as Southwest, Airtran, jetBlue, Spirit, etc. If you have a break in travel with these airlines you will pay purely point-to-point fares.

So for domestic carriers, stopover provisions will only be found among the legacy network carriers which include United, American, Continental, Delta, Northwest (soon to be fully absorbed in Delta), and US Airways, plus the more regional in nature Alaska Airlines and sister carrier Horizon Air.

In general what I have found is that American, Delta and U.S. Airways are more likely to have stopover provisions, United is in the middle, and Continental is the stingiest. Alaska/Horizon has several instances of free stopovers on fares to points outside of the continental 48 states including Alaska, Hawaii and Mexico.

So let’s look at a couple of stopover examples in fares to Hawaii and the Caribbean.

Most readers of Planes, Trains & Automobiles I suspect live in California so the Hawaiian stopover allowances probably won’t mean much since there aren’t a lot of places to stop between here and Hawaii.

But fares published from inland U.S. points to Hawaii often allow a stopover in the airline’s gateway city for service to Hawaii for $60. much like United’s Denver stop we looked at in the previous chapter.

Because fares within the continental 48 states are so low now, the stopover provision may not come into play because it would be less expensive to break the fare into separate point-to-point fares via the connecting or stopover city.

Interesting things are possibly with Alaska/Horizon’s fares to Hawaii, however. Alaska Airlines’ service to Hawaii is relatively new, and with the exceptions of Oakland-Kona/Lihue, Anchorage-Honolulu, and Portland-Maui service, it’s all operated from its Seattle hub.

Probably because of that and because in some cases (mostly on the return flights) an overnight layover is unavoidable in Seattle, Alaska offers a free stopover there on fares between the mainland and Hawaii. For business travelers in the inland Northwest (including nearby Redding served by Horizon Air) this may present the opportunity to graft Hawaii on to a short-notice business trip to Seattle for little or no additional money.

Take a look at these two fare displays. The first is between Redding (RDD) and Seattle (SEA) on Horizon Air and the second is between Redding (RDD) and Honolulu (HNL) on Horizon/Alaska. (Go back to read about fare displays in AFS # 1 if these aren’t understandable.)


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It will depend upon how much advance notice you have and of course the availability of the appropriate inventory on flights (especially the Seattle-Hawaii flights) but it wouldn’t be far fetched to only pay a hundred bucks more to turn your business trip to Seattle a work/fun combo of Northwest cedar and Hawaiian palm trees.

On the return you would have to overnight at your expense in Seattle (there is only one daily SEA-RDD flight leaving presently at 2:50 p.m., too early for most connections from Hawaii) but it’s important to remember that if you’re mixing business and pleasure you could organize it so the pleasure (Hawaii) comes first, followed by the business (Seattle). With no need for a connection on the return a forced overnight in Seattle isn’t an issue. (Outbound from Redding to Honolulu there is an excellent connection in Seattle.)

From other inland Northwest cities served by Horizon Air, the greater frequency of flights makes the forced overnight less likely.


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Let’s change direction but keep the weather warm: the Caribbean. And highlight a great example of using a little known stopover provision to your advantage.

Fares to Atlanta can be expensive. But Delta, the carrier that operates the colossal Atlanta hub, in many cases allows free stopovers in Atlanta on fares to its extensive array of Caribbean destinations. You can pay less or not much more for a trip to an exotic locale such as San Juan, and then make a stopover going, coming or even both ways in Atlanta.

Take a look at this example using


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And why is this possible?


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Many Delta destinations in the Caribbean and Central America offer fares that allow stopovers in Atlanta and in some cases unlimited stopovers along the applicable routing. It would be entirely possible to book a round-trip to San Jose, Costa Rica with a stopover in Atlanta, and pay less for the entire trip than you would for just the Sacramento-Atlanta fare.

What’s more, all of the legacy network carriers offer stopover provisions of some sort – some better than others – on many published fares between the U.S. and Caribbean destinations.

Do I have your attention now? Come back for the last installment of “Secret Stopovers” in AFS # 10!

(Link to previous chapter, AFS # 8 – Secret stopovers, Part 1)

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