It's not a hoax or a hack. It's a helpful hint that will change all my future travel plans.
I've said it a hundred times: The great thing about travel is how you're always learning. But today I'm not talking about learning history or geography or languages. Nope, I've been schooled in a whole new way and it changes EVERYTHING!
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?!?!
Nope, this wasn't compensation for some disastrous flight. This was an automatic included perk of booking a flight with them that included a layover. Yep, we're talking 100% free hotels and meals simply for choosing their airline and booking a flight with a layover.
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.
I immediately dove into research and discovered that IT WASN'T JUST ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES WHO DID THIS! Oh, hello there Air Canada and Turkish Airlines. Nice to see you on this LIFE CHANGING blog post from MapHappy. Yep, airlines - lots and lots of airlines - will provide FREE hotel rooms (and other swank perks) under a program called Stopover Paid By Carrier (SPBC). Sometimes they proudly advertise this perk, and other times they keep it quiet. But offer it they do.
The Air Canada info really caught my eye because we're based in Canada.According to their rules, status passengers and those in premium economy and business class get free hotel rooms for Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver layovers (and the humble economy passenger can pay $49, which is like spare change in these cities.) Do you know how many flights we have disregarded because they would have involved an overnight layover in one of those cities and the standard hotel fees were prohibitive? Do you know how many times we've agonized over paying for a hotel and breaking up our voyage for a more restful trip versus saving money and powering through?
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?
If your preferred airline isn't on this list, don't despair. Plenty of airlines do offer free accommodations for select, but not all, layovers, and others have heavily discounted accommodation programs. It is always, always, always worth asking and then asking again.
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).
Are you arriving at the same mind-blowing conclusion as me? I feel this occasion calls for full color ink!
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.
I haven't had an opportunity to put any of this into practice yet. Normally I would be hesitant about sharing travel tips I hadn't personally experienced and vetted but this was just too good not to share. I can't wait to put this into practice on my next applicable flight and, if you have personal experience traveling this way, please share your stories and advice in the comments.
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.)
Inspired by these crafty frugal travel tips? You'll like these posts as well.
5 Creative Ways to Save for Travel
9 Reasons Why Pizza's the Perfect Travel Food
Travel Value All Stars: Visiting Food Trucks