How to find and book cheap multi-city flights

How to find and book cheap multi-city flights

One of the best ways to get more value from your holidays is to turn your flights into a trip visiting 2 or more destinations. Because of the way airlines price flights, often you can find a multi-stop trip for the same price as a normal return journey to just one destination!

Some airlines, especially major flag-carrier airlines looking to boost local tourism, will often even give you a discount on your fare if you make your layover at least 12 hours.

Primarily, there are two types of cheap multi-stop flights:

  • The extended layover flight
  • Multi-city destination hopper flight

We’ll cover how to find and book each of these below:

The extended layover: Turning a layover into a second destination

The extended layover simply takes advantage of airline pricing to add a free stop en route to your already planned destination.

Options can be somewhat limiting, as not all airlines will price their routes in such a way that offers a free or low-cost stopover, but we have found that these airlines often do (when flying from the United Kingdom or Europe, in general):

  • Turkish Airlines
  • Icelandair
  • KLM
  • Air France
  • Qatar Airways
  • TAP Portugal
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Etihad
  • Emirates
  • United Airlines
  • China Southern
  • Air China
  • China Eastern

Finding these can be quite easy. To start, begin by searching for a return flight to your desired destination while looking out for airlines that are either listed above or which already show long-layover options in Google flights.

In the example from Manchester to Bangkok (below), you see Turkish Airlines already offers a discounted option on the route if you’re prepared to have an extended stop in Istanbul on the outbound leg. That’s a great place to start.

Note: I find it’s often better to keep your original outbound and return dates the same from your return flight search (in this case May 9th & May 17th) and then see which dates offer the best prices for the middle leg (Istanbul to Bangkok in our example).

Multicity Turkish Airlines

Now, in order to make Istanbul a proper destination and spend some time there, you can proceed to change the journey to “multi-city” and split the journey up into individual legs, like so:

Multi-city Manchester Bangkok

Multi-city trip Turkish

As you can see, you’ve extended the length of your stay without increasing the price and you’re now visiting both Istanbul & Bangkok in one trip!

The multi-city destination hopper: Plan a trip around multiple destinations on your list

If you’re looking to travel to multiple countries in one go, the cheapest way to do so is often by booking a multi-stop trip with a single airline (or at least one airline alliance). The exception to this is if your destinations are quite close together and can be covered cheaper by a local airline, which are plentiful in certain regions of the world (such as Southeast Asia).

In our example, we’ll be planning a trip down under to Australia and adding some stops in Southeast Asia to make the most of our holiday.

The ultimate price of the journey is mostly based on the cost to the furthest destination. There are other factors which will affect this, including the number of stops you add and where they are.

The best way to start searching is to see when it’s cheapest to fly to the furthest destination (Sydney, in this case) on Google Flights for a normal return journey. Use Google Flights’ calendar tool for this step:

Google Flights Calendar

You can see in the example above that Emirates currently offer the cheapest flights and their prices start to go up at the end of June, so we’ll aim to fit the journey in between those dates.

Now that you have an idea of the dates you’re looking to travel, you’ll want to start adding in your stops.

Filter your search on Google Flights so it’s only showing Emirates flights. This will not exclude airlines which they have a “code-sharing” with, meaning you’ll be able to see all the destinations their network flies to.

For example, Emirates hub is in Dubai, so almost all of their routes go through there before reaching the final destination - meaning so will you. Thus, to find possible mid-way stops, I recommend you open a new tab and do a “regional search” for flights from Dubai to “South East Asia” with the Emirates-only filter selected. The resulting map shows all the various destinations you can likely choose.

Google Flights Map

Bangkok looks like a good option, so let’s change our search into a ‘multi-city’ itinerary and add Bangkok as our first stop and Sydney as our second:

Birmingham Sydney Flight

Note: Don’t be surprised if the price isn’t what you expected yet, it typically varies wildly until you add the return leg.

You can then mix things up even more - we’ve got our trip to Sydney but you don’t need to fly back from there. I’m going to make the return from Melbourne since Emirates (through their Alliance partner Qantas) fly from all the big Australian cities. Let’s do another regional search to see where I can fly to from Melbourne:

Melbourne Google Flights map

Singapore looks good, so I’m going to add that to the itinerary, along with the leg home to Birmingham:

Multicity Birmingham dates

Success! For only £75 more than a normal return journey to Sydney, we’ve added stops in two other cities along the way and visited Melbourne, too. If your price has turned out significantly higher, try adjusting the dates for each leg individually to see what makes it fluctuate the most.

Pro tip: Since Emirates are a Middle-Eastern carrier, their routes between cities in Southeast Asia are limited. You can always make more open-jaw legs, like our Sydney-Melbourne example, and separately book a regional flight between your desired destinations.

Once you’ve completed your search on Google Flights, book through one of the provided links or search the same itinerary on Skyscanner or Momondo to see if any travel agents are offering the trip at a lower rate. If you use Google Chrome, you can use our handy fare conversion chrome extension to make this process easier.

And that’s all - happy travels!

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