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11 Tricks to Turn Your Boring Layover Into a Luxury Escape

If you have a long layover, here are insider tips on how to make the most of your time.

On a recent trip to Bali, a destination with no direct flights from North America, I flew Philippine Airlines with a long layover in Manila both ways to save thousands of dollars on airfare. There was no way I was staying in the airport for 16 hours following an equally long flight, so I set out to make the most of my layover. Both times, I checked into a luxury hotel (more affordable in Manila than most other Asian cities) and felt rejuvenated and refreshed heading back to the airport.

If you do it right, a long layover can save you money on flights and allow you a mini jaunt in a new city. With a little rest in between, you’ll feel better when you arrive at your final destination. Here are my tips for a luxurious layover.


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Give Yourself at Least 12 Hours

You’ll want to allow at least 12 hours between flights so that you can comfortably leave the airport and enjoy your time in the city. It’s always possible that your first flight might be delayed, and that could cut into your layover time. We had 16 hours in Manila, which felt like the perfect amount of time to explore. If you’re flying Turkish Airlines (they have the largest flight network in the world) and have a layover of 20 hours or longer in Istanbul, you can even apply for a complimentary hotel voucher. Economy class passengers can get one night in a 4-star hotel, while business class passengers can get two nights in a 5-star hotel.

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Plan Everything in Advance

You’ll want to hit the ground running upon landing, and the last thing you want to do is try to make decisions and organize plans after a long flight. Hopefully, you got some rest on the plane, but if you’re sleep-walking off the jet bridge like a woozy zombie, it’s critical to have plans already set for a stress-free experience. That includes booking hotels, restaurant reservations, tickets to attractions, and logistics to get wherever you’re going.

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Book Any Transit You Might Need

If you’re heading straight to a hotel, booking an airport transfer with the hotel will offer the most seamless experience. Landing at 4 am, there were no lines at customs, and I breezed through, leaving the airport within 10 minutes of stepping off the plane. There were no taxis then, so I was glad to have a driver waiting for me with a chilled water bottle. Consider whether rideshare services are available in the city you’re traveling to or whether taxis will be easy to find at the time that you land. In some cities, like Hong Kong and London, there may be a quick and easy public transit option from the airport into the city’s heart.


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Make Sure There's a Place to Store Your Carry On

If you’re not checking into a hotel, you’ll want to have a plan for where to store your carry-on. You can’t just leave it at the airport if you’re leaving the premises. If you’ve hired a private driver, you can keep it in the car, but if you’ll be schlepping your bags around, consider traveling with just a backpack or duffel bag as a carry-on. If you are stuck maneuvering a roller bag around crowded city streets, it will definitely cramp your sightseeing style.

INSIDER TIPAnother great tip is Luggage Hero, a service that pulls up certified luggage storage options at nearby stores and hotels.


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Book a Private Tour Guide

If you’re interested in touring the city, hiring a local private guide for the day will maximize your time and provide you with more flexibility. This is the best way to see as much as possible with limited time on the ground, and private tours are also customizable to your interests. Group tours may be a little less expensive, but also difficult to time with your flights. They won’t wait around if your travels are delayed. Plus, do you really want to be on a bus with a bunch of strangers right after a long-haul flight?

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Book Alternative Hours of Check-in

My flights into Manila arrived early morning, around 4 am. I needed to check in much earlier than a typical check-in time and would leave by dinner time without spending the night. The Edsa Shangri-La and The Peninsula Manila were amenable to adjusting check-in and check-out times to fit my schedule. Both of these luxury hotels had rooms available for around $150, which was a great value. As soon as we arrived, we showered, napped for a couple of hours, and set our alarms to avoid missing the sumptuous breakfast buffets full of tropical fruit, noodle soups, and Filipino arroz caldo. Just call before booking to see what the hotel can do for you. It’s important to communicate your needs before you arrive.

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Pack a Change of Clothes in Your Carry-On

Remember that you most likely won’t have access to your checked baggage during your layover. If you’re flying with the same airline on both legs, your bag should be checked to your final destination. That means anything you want to access during the layover—medication, toiletries, clothes—should be packed in your carry-on bag. Personally, after a refreshing shower, the last thing I want to do is put my dirty clothes back on. Pack a clean change of clothes appropriate for the climate in your layover destination.

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Get a Spa Treatment

On the way to Bali, I booked an excellent hot stone massage at the Edsa Shangri-La, and it was just what I needed to work out the crick in my neck from sleeping in a funny position on the plane. If your layover goal is relaxation, then a spa treatment is definitely in order. In my experience, massages help reduce the effects of jet lag, and facials help rehydrate tired skin after hours spent in a dry airplane cabin.

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Eat a Nutritious Meal

Between flights, it’s wise to eat a light and nutritious meal, and the health-conscious and plant-based Naturally Peninsula menu at The Peninsula Manila was an ideal choice. I enjoyed a calamansi tarragon soda, Mediterranean mezze, and mushrooms al ajillo with cauliflower purée in the bustling lobby. I felt light and energized afterward instead of being in a food coma. At the Edsa Shangri-La, I had fantastic Chinese delicacies at Summer Palace—braised sea cucumber, shiitake mushrooms, water spinach, and a super refreshing chilled lemongrass jelly in whole coconut for dessert.


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Do Yoga or Light Exercise

Moving your body and doing some light exercise will increase circulation and combat muscle fatigue. That could mean walking around the city or yoga and light stretching in the privacy of your hotel room. At both hotels, I asked for a yoga mat to be placed in my room, and The Peninsula Manila even sent up a branded leather duffel bag with a foam roller, yoga blocks, and resistance bands.

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Monitor Your Second Flight

Keep an eye on your second flight and make sure that you get back to the airport with time to spare. On my way home from Bali, my second flight was delayed by more than three hours. Luckily, I knew that about 12 hours in advance, so I could spend the flight delay lounging at The Peninsula listening to lovely piano music and snacking on hors d’oeuvres at the gallery club lounge rather than fuming at the airport. When I notified the Peninsula’s concierge about the delay, they offered to keep an eye on the flight and inform me of any further changes, which allowed me to relax. You’ll also want to avoid rush hour traffic in a foreign city. Ask the hotel concierge for advice on how long it will take to get back to the airport at that time of day.