It's not a hoax or a hack. It's a helpful hint that will change all my future travel plans.
It all started with my friend Andrea, who blogs at WanderingiPhone. She's an all round lovely gal who appreciates a savvy bargain as much as the next person. Andrea was telling me about an amazing trip she took to South Africa, "hacking" her points to get free layovers and stopovers in Ethiopia, Israel, and Poland along the way (much like we did in 2013 - seriously, we flew around the world for $350.)
And then Andrea told me that Ethiopian Airlines gave her a free night's accommodation at a Hilton in Addis Ababa, plus meal vouchers and ground transportation. Uh, WHAT?!?!
I LOVE stuff like this! We have seen so much of the world thanks to layovers and we enjoy everything about these 'bonus' mini trips, including all the research that goes into making sure our layover logistics are organized. I immediately had to learn more.
I discovered Rapid Travel Chai's blog post on the subject, which confirmed Andrea's belief that she probably stayed in a Hilton because she was business class (though the hotels for economy passengers seem fine, if unexciting). It also gave plenty of important details, like how the flights couldn't be domestic layovers. I was hooked. I was instantly dreaming of my next international trip and Ethiopia was on the list.
Do you know how dumb I feel knowing that, instead of spending a fortune on a hotel I could have spent a more modest amount, upgraded to the comfort (and free food!) of premium economy, and still had a great place to sleep?
Remember how I searched and searched and searched some more to find a tiny (yet chic) Holiday Inn room in Singapore for $150? Turns out I could have had an entire package - including transportation, attraction admissions, and tours - for about $50 (or up to about $200 for the poshest of all posh hotels).
- You can enjoy layovers for no extra charge - and, in fact, your base fare might be cheaper as "inconvenient" layovers are less popular.
- During those layovers, your airline could very well be paying for your hotel - and maybe your ground transportation, your meals, and your fun too. (And if not, they're still offering steep discounts and plenty of perks.)
- You might just be able to upgrade your entire flight category for a much more glamorous experience - and STILL save money compared to a regular hotel booking.
And *all* it takes is a little research. Or maybe a lot, depending on how your preferred airline feels about fine print. Of course, there's always some fine print, like how your layover usually has to be less than 24 hours, and how you can't enjoy these perks if there's an earlier flight you could have chosen. As always, I choose to categorize research as fun. It's all part of the travel dreaming and planning process and you can never go wrong with being a more well informed passenger.
Update! Check out this awesome reader story from John:
"I've done this! :-) Last year a $200 Air Maroc flight from Madrid to Nairobi had a 26-hour layover in Casablanca. They covered us a nice 3-star hotel with pool and even 4 complimentary meals. Yum, Moroccan food! The strange thing is that they only did this because I knew about it and went to their customer service desk and asked. It's not stated on the ticket nor did any gate agent offer it to us. When we got to Casablanca I inquired with customer service and it was no problem at all. They ushered us right to the hotel. But I think most people would have had no idea this perk even existed..... For such a cheap ticket we were actually pretty skeptical that it was going to work, particularly since it wasn't noted anywhere other than an obscure portion of their website that I hunted down on my own. The hotel + meals seemed to be worth the value of the ticket alone."
(You can read more about his experience here.)
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