How to explore two cities for the airline ticket cost of one flight destination

Back in 2009 my wife and I traveled from San Francisco to Australia, visiting Sydney and Melbourne for a total of 6 days, yet we paid for an SFO to Melbourne flight only. Sacre bleu – how is that possible?!

This definitely works for United Airlines – it might work for other airlines, but I haven’t explored that option with them. The secret sauce lies in the airport connections and the power of lay-overs.

For the above trip I searched for flights from my (then) home airport to one of the two cities to check where the connections were.

Option 1: San Fran to Sydney: Melbourne isn’t one of the connections – not good.

Option 2: San Fran to Melbourne: Yes! Sydney is one of the connections on the way to Melbourne.

Notice how the lay-over is just 2 hours and 20 minutes. No chance of checking off the Opera house in that short amount of time. Here’s the trick – you can extend the lay-over for 1, 2,…. x days! Instead of catching the 10:55 flight on Friday Nov. 13th, you could take the 10:55 flight on Tuesday Nov. 17th (just an example, you can pick any date).

Extending your lay-over doesn’t cost anything directly, but indirectly it costs $25 (back in ‘09, this may have gone up since then). This is because you can’t extend the lay-over online, but need to speak to a United Airlines customer service representative to implement the proposed schedule. When a United Airlines human helps book your trip, this (back then) cost $25. If your membership status is high enough (e.g. Premier Executive back then with UAL), then that booking fee gets waived.

Now go have planning fun! Here are some ideas/options:

  • San Fran –> Marrakech (Morocco): Explore Portugal (lay-over in Lisbon)
  • San Fran –> Tokyo (Japan): Explore Hawaii (lay-over in Honolulu)
  • San Fran –> Bangkok (Thailand): Explore Hawaii (lay-over in Honolulu) and/or Japan (lay-over in Tokyo)
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