How to Score a Free Stopover in Hawaii

Shawn Forno

Long flights suck. Luckily, there’s a better way to handle that 14-hour transpacific flight, and it  doesn’t involve slamming a pinot grigio. At least, it doesn’t entirely involve slamming a pinot grigio. Transform your next long haul flight from drab to fab with a free stopover in an island paradise.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. You can pack the fun of two vacations into one with a simple multi-day stopover built into the price of your return flight home. The Pacific is full of fantastic places to “pull over to the side of the road,” hop out, and see a few things on your way back to that miserable cubicle. Delay the inevitable return to normal life for a few more hours with a built-in (often free) stopover in Fiji, Hawaii, or the Philippines. Worst case scenario, you’ll get to work on your tan.

Stopover vs. Layover

A stopover and a layover might seem like the same thing, but I titled this article “Guide to Free Stopovers” for a specific reason. Here’s a little insight into airport jargon so you don’t make the mistake of booking a “layover” when what you really want is a “stopover.”

What is a Layover?

A layover is a stop between two connecting flights. The time between flights can vary, but typically a domestic layover means you’ll be sitting in the airport hunting for a power outlet for anywhere between 30 minutes and 4 hours.

International layovers can be as long as 23 hours and 59 minutes, so make sure you do the time zone math for your destination. Triple check that you don’t have one of those little “+1 day” notifications on your flight because that can mean the difference between a quick layover and a brutal stopover. Getting burned with a whole wasted day is no fun if you aren’t ready for it.

What is a Stopover?

Stopovers are connections that exceed the accepted layover time. Domestic flights with connections over 4 hours are considered “stopovers,” as are international flights over 24 hours. The difference between the two terms matters, because that’s how the airline books flights, and it affects frequent flyer programs.

If you’re redeeming miles, eligibility for a “stopover” ticket varies. Delta, imposes a strict “no stopover” policy when it comes to award flights. While Alaska Airlines offers free stopovers in Fiji on one-way award flights to Australia or New Zealand, even if you book with one of their partners. Just something to look out for.

How to Book a Free Stopover

The whole point of building an extra day (or three) into your flight home isn’t to make life difficult, it’s to see somewhere new (and tropical!) for free. You’re trying to squeeze every last drop out of this trip, and I applaud you for that. So, the first step to a stress-free stopover is to make sure that it’s built into the price of your ticket when you book.

stopover guide

If the airline doesn’t blatantly advertise a free stopover like IcelandAir, play around with the multi-city booking tool, and see what you can come up with. You can usually build a 3-7 day stopover into your ticket for around the same price as flying direct, or having a short layover. Sometimes, you can even save money.

Here are a few airlines that offer free stopovers on flights to and from Asia, Australia, and New Zealand:

Airlines with a Stopover in Fiji

Airlines with a Stopover in Hawaii

  • Hawaiian Airlines — Honolulu (You might have to mess with multi-destination bookings to get the “free” stopover, but play around and see what you can get)
  • Air New Zealand — Fiji (Use the multi-city booking tool)

Airlines with a Free Stopover in the Philippines

What to Do: Fiji Stopover

The key to a great stopover is getting as far away from the airport as you can, quickly. Treat it like a game—how fast can you get from airport runway to island paradise? In Fiji, the answer is just a few minutes.

The island nation of Fiji is actually composed of over 300 interconnected islands, so despite Fiji’s relatively small size, you have a lot of options for a one-day, three-day, or even a week long stopover.

If you’re only able to spend a few hours or half a day exploring Fiji’s largest island (Viti Levu), you can take a bus ($2 Fiji) from Nadi airport to The Garden of the Sleeping Giants. Take a hike, get a mud bath, see a waterfall, or just do nothing (in style of course). Travel arrangements on Viti Levu are easy and affordable, so getting to and from nearby sites and accommodation is no trouble on any length stopover.

Fiji Stopover Accommodation

If you do have more time (3 days at least), I highly recommend getting out into the smaller Yasawa or Wayasewa Islands located to the northwest of Viti Levu. There are a number of top shelf resorts like Yasewa, but affordable accommodation and all-inclusive resort style packages and bungalows are available at smaller hotels and hostels as well.

A few years ago I stayed at Barefoot Kuata on Kuata Island (just south of Wayasewa) over New Years, and it was incredible. We had a beach bungalow, all-inclusive food package, drinks, and more. I rang in the New Year on white sand beaches with a full belly and an ear-to-ear grin for around $25/day. Barefoot offers shared hostel accommodation, private rooms, and private bungalows, so you can book the room that fits your budget. Splurge on a bungalow or scrimp for a bed in the dorms—either way you’re in paradise!

Fiji Stopover: Getting Around

Buses and taxis from Nadi to your port destination are cheap and easy to get—buses cost around $2 (Fiji) and a cab to anywhere nearby should be $10-20. However, the only way to get to the island chains is by boat. The Island Hopper (commonly known as the Bula Pass) is one of the most popular island hopping fleet of vessels, but it’s also pretty pricey:

Bula Pass Rates (prices are Fijian dollars – roughly 2:1 $US)

  • 5-day pass — $420
  • 7-day pass — $530
  • 10-day — $650
  • 15-day — $775

A cheaper alternative is to contact your hotel or resort when you book your accommodation and arrange pick up from Nadi. Often they will arrange a shuttle or taxi to pick you up, and a smaller boat to ferry you over to the island.

Buyer beware: smaller boats take a lot longer (2 hours+ to make the crossing from Viti Levu to Kuata), and they are BUMPY. If you’re prone to seasickness, you might want to splurge on a bigger boat.

What to Do: Hawaiian Stopover

Stopping in Hawaii on your flight home is a time honored tradition, that harkens back to when travelers had to stop in Hawaii on most transpacific flights. The good news is, a Hawaiian stopover is a streamlined experience. The bad news is, it’s a little tough to get off the beaten path in Honolulu.

stopover guide

All Hawaiian stopovers start and end in Honolulu—Hawaii’s largest airport, and the hub for Hawaiian Airlines. Honolulu is not a quaint island town, but a thriving metropolis with hundreds of thousands of people living and working there. If you want to get the island vibes on your stopover, you have to get out of town.

Playing Tourist in Hawaii

I find that there are a few places in the world where you just can’t run from being a tourist. Paris. India. Hawaii. You’re a tourist when you visit these places, so embrace that fact. See the famous places that you want to see, especially when they’re within an hour’s drive of the airport.

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach is a mecca for surfers, and it’s also only about 30 mins from the airport. Pre-book a shuttle bus ($23) or snag a taxi ($50) and soak in the history and the beauty of this famous beach. If you’re feeling adventurous take a surf lesson. The waves aren’t the monsters of the North Shore. You’ll have a blast, and you might even catch a few gnar gnar sets. 

Hike Diamond Head

Keep heading south and you’ll come to the picturesque tip of the island at Diamond Head. If you’ve got a few hours to kill, the hike to the top of this extinct volcano are worth the effort. 360° views of Oahu stretch out from the summit, and while the climb can be steep at parts, it’s only about 45 mins each way.

Hawaiian Stopover Accommodation

Staying in Hawaii for a few days is all about your budget. You can stay at world class resorts like the Ritz Carlton Residences in Waikiki for $500/night or more modest lodging like The Polynesian Beach Club in Waikiki ($30/night). The choice is yours, but keep in mind that the further you get from Waikiki, the cheaper a hotel is going to be.

What to Do: The Philippines Stopover

Manilla is a hub for flights to and from Hong Kong and other parts of Asia. If you’re flying through the Philippines you’re probably going to have a layover and, odds are, it’s going to be a long one. A long layover or stopover in the Philippines is all about time management since the cost of accommodation and transport are both low.

 SM Mall of Asia

Manilla is renowned for its super-sized shopping malls, and one of the most impressive is the SM Mall of Asia, located in Pasay, just 20 minutes from the airport. The Philippines is a shopping hub, so if you’ve still got room left in your suitcase, stock up on some designer clothes and Pacific souvenirs for everyone back home.

stopover guide

If you don’t care about anyone else, revel in the sleek stores, skating rink, and the massive monument to capitalism that is the 11th largest mall in the world. Take that, Minnesota.

Bonus Tip: One of the best places to watch the sunset over Manilla Bay is right in front of the Mall of Asia. So that’s nice.

Spanish Old Town

If high tech malls aren’t your thing, visit the Spanish Old Town region and explore some of the city’s history in one of the cheapest horse drawn carriage rides you’ll ever have ($3). The old stone walls make Intramuros (literally “within the walls”) one of the few places in Manilla where you can walk in peace without the looming threat of traffic.

The World’s Smallest Active Volcano

If you have a few hours to kill (at least a day), head to Mt. Taal in Taygaytay (about 1-3 hours from Manilla depending on traffic) and see the world’s smallest active volcano. The trek to the caldera involves a bus, a boat, and a hike, but if the city congestion is too much for you, this is a great affordable day trip ($20 roundtrip).

The Philippines Stopover: Getting Around

Getting around Manilla from NAIA (the airport) is easy—if you stay close by. The airport itself is small—you can walk it in about 10 minutes. Taxis are cheap ($3-5 US), so flag a cab to get to your hotel destination instead of dealing with crowded, slow shuttles. Don’t be fooled by the tiny distances—a place that’s only two miles away can take an hour during heavy traffic. Budget your time accordingly!

Once you branch out from Manilla proper, things get a little more difficult. If you thought getting around Fiji’s 300+ islands was a challenge, get ready for the Philippines. Made up of over 7,000 islands, this epic archipelago is connected by land and sea with ferries allowing for a Filipino “road trip” if that’s your fancy. You can download the comprehensive E-Z Philippines Road Atlas here for more detailed driving info.

Beware of long delays and heavy traffic.

The Philippines Stopover: Accommodation

Depending how long your layover or stopover is, there are hotel options near the airport where you can rest up from your flight or explore the city. Hotel Sogo in EDSA/Harrison is 15 mins from the airport in a taxi ($3 US). They even offer half day rates starting at $30 (US). From here you’re a short jeepney ride to the Mall of Asia.

Stopover Packing Tips

Packing for a stopover is kind of tricky, since you’re likely packing for a completely different destination than your “main” trip. You definitely want to travel carry on so that there’s no chance of lost luggage ruining the short time you have to enjoy your stopover destination. The Outbreaker travel backpack, either the 35 or 45 L, is perfect. Here are a few things to add to your bag to make stopovers a breeze:

Packing Cubes

Packing cubes, in various sizes, can help you keep your clothes separated by climate. Pants aren’t useful on the island, so leave them in their own packing cube. Maybe you can even pack a “stopover” cube with a few of your go to tank tops, sandals, and bathing suit, and then just grab and go once you land.

S’Well Insulated Water Bottle ($25)

It’s nice to have your own water bottle on a short jaunt through the city. My favorite bottle at the moment is the insulated line from S’well. This water bottle keeps cold drinks cold for 24 hours, and hot drinks hot for 12. And it actually works. Available in 9oz. / 17oz. / 25 oz. I’m rocking the 9oz. which is amazing for making my morning coffee last all day.


Sandals take up practically zero space in your backpack, weigh next to nothing, and are great shoes for stopovers. Leave the clunky hiking boots in the hotel and flip flop your way around town. Espadrilles are a more fashionable substitute if you’re looking for that close-toe look without sacrificing any additional packing space.

Collapsible Daypack

A daypack that packs down small when you’re not using it, but can handle a few days worth of heavy use is a must have for a longer stopover. Make sure that the straps are padded enough to accommodate the heavier usage, and enjoy the last leg of your journey.

Travel Size Toiletry Kit

Keep a little bag with bathroom necessities like a toothbrush, toothpaste, medication, contacts, etc. within easy reach. Keep this with you on long layovers (and long flights!) and you’ll never want for the essentials. Here’s a list of dopp kit packing essentials to help get you started.

Something for the Flight

Stopovers are often hours and hours out of the time zone you just left and the time zone you’re ultimately traveling to, so jet lag is likely going to be a problem. You can do your best to fight off sleep deprivation with melatonin pills and life hacks, or you can just get some dang sleep on the flight.

Sleep is always going to be your best weapon against traveler’s fatigue, so pack a few Ambien, extra strength Nyquil, or something to relax you on your flight so you can catch a few zzz’s and wake up refreshed and ready to maximize your time in paradise.


Stopovers are awesome if you can get them for free (or close to it), and you know what to do when you land. Plan your trip in advance, down to the last detail, and be ready to soak up every second of fun in the sun on your whirlwind Pacific Island mini-holiday.

  • Layovers are short — stopovers are long (know the difference)
  • Get off the main island in Fiji if you have time
  • Don’t be afraid to tourist it up in Hawaii
  • Check out one of the world’s largest malls in Manilla

Have you ever taken a stopover? Do you have advice or packing tips to share? Add them to the comments!

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