Four words that unlock airfare freebies
When it comes to long haul travel, there are definitely two kinds of airline travellers.
The first is the passenger who just wants to get across the globe as quickly as possible, prepared to get off the first flight from Australia, go through transit and straight onto the next long leg.
Then there's the other kind, who like to break up the journey with a layover in a good hotel between flights, to make the transition across the time zones a little easier. A layover is considered any stop of 24 hours or less, while a stopover is usually a few days.
Certain airlines have layover deals built into the fare that not only sweeten the offer by not costing an extra cent but can also make the journey far easier.
In addition to the flights, the fare might also include a layover with transfers, an overnight hotel stay and some meals. In airline speak, it's known as a Stopover Paid By Carrier (STPC) service.
This is usually offered when an airline does not have a direct connecting flight until the next day, so the layover package is offered to keep customers happy between flights.
But while the service is available on many carriers, it seems to be something of a secret among many travellers. It's not always promoted and may only be locked in if asked for.
"Some travellers are unaware that some airlines offer complimentary accommodation and other freebies to make the long journey easier and far more seamless," Demi Kavaratzis, Partner Marketing Director of Expedia, says.
On Japan Air Lines, the Sydney flight takes off just after breakfast and lands into Tokyo Narita in time for dinner. After an overnight layover at the nearby four-star Nikko Hotel, the connecting flight out of Tokyo the next morning arrives into Paris in time for dinner.
It's a similar story on JAL from Melbourne to London, with a takeoff just after midnight, arriving into Tokyo for breakfast. A hotel layover is provided for the day, with the connecting flight to Paris leaving early the next day at 2.45am. Fares for mid-February return flights, transfers, hotel and certain meals, from Sydney to Paris start from $1,617.44, and on Melbourne to London from $1,738.40. The layover deal is also available on North American routes like to Los Angeles and Chicago.
Both Korean carriers - Asiana and Korean - offer a similar deal when flying through Seoul. According to a Korean Airlines spokesperson, the service has proven important in establishing a point of difference for passengers wanting value for money. "We offer the complementary ground service for connecting passengers in order to raise schedule competitiveness," he said.
"The service is available on most European destinations and some China/America/Japan destinations that do not connect with a same day service." A mid-February Korean return from Brisbane to London via Seoul is from $2060, with the layover hotels either near Incheon Airport at properties like the Hyatt, or a longer trip into downtown for the Royal.
At this stage, Asiana only flies out of Sydney connecting through Seoul, but offers a similar deal to Korean and JAL. "We have 29 destinations that the overnight hotel applies, and 25 destinations where the hotel day use / city tour applies," an Asiana spokesperson says. "The overnight hotel applies when connecting time is 20 - 25 hours and the hotel day use applies when connecting time is over eight hours.
Among the layover hotels are the four-star Best Western Premier or the Incheon Airport Hotel. An Asiana mid-February Sydney to Frankfurt return fare starts from $1647 and to New York is from $1400, with the layover deal applicable.
On Vietnam Airlines, an extended layover (usually over six hours in Ho Chi Minh City and over eight hours in Hanoi) entitles passenger to the STPC service of daytime and overnight hotel accommodation, meals and a range of city tours.
In the Middle East, Qatar Airways has an STPC service for passengers with extended transit times of between 8 - 24 hours in Doha, en route to their final destination. While not technically a layover deal, Etihad is currently offering Australians travelling to Europe a free Abu Dhabi one-night stopover for Economy passengers and two-nights for Business. The deal is available until March 31.
As good as these layover deals appears, it does pay to check all the terms and conditions first. Most layover deals must be confirmed at the same time as the flight is booked, and are rarely offered on one-way trips. And while the deal may be offered on one leg with an extended layover, it might not be if the return trip has tighter transit times between flights.
Then there is the code of the flight ticket, and on some super-cheap fares, the layover deal may not apply. There can also be blackout periods throughout the year where the deal is not available.
"This is when it pays to read the fine print and check with the airline about exactly what's on offer before booking," Expedia's Demi Kavaratzis adds. "Checking those details early on could save a whole of disappointment later on."