Fancy seeing one of the greatest cities in the world on a FREE stopover?
A unique and little-known fact for many planning their long-haul travel via the Middle East is the availability of a free stay in Abu Dhabi for up to 2 days. You heard right, FREE! But strings attached, yes, always strings.
Let’s take a deep dive into how it works, though, as it may be far easier to access than you think and play in perfectly with your travel plans – after all, who doesn’t love breaking up international travel with a stopover and exploring a new city?
We are an independent Abu Dhabi-based travel blog and not a travel agency – we cannot book your travel for you but point you towards handy resources to make the most of your time in the UAE capital. We are an Etihad affiliate but this is not a paid promtotion.
How Does The Etihad Stopover Package Work?
Encouraging Etihad passengers to make more of their journey than simply touching down through the stunning new AUH terminal in Abu Dhabi, Etihad has introduced some pretty enticing packages to have you stay 24 hours or more in the UAE.
The perks and packages change over time, but the information here is all relevant for 2024 travel bookings with national flag carrier, Etihad.
When you are planning your flights and looking at connection times in and out of Abu Dhabi, consider adding a full 1 to 2 days between flights so you can take advantage of an Etihad stopover package.
Unlike the Emirates program in Dubai, which offers free stays to passengers unable to connect quickly enough with their scheduled flights, the Etihad Abu Dhabi stopover program is intentionally designed to make you stay longer!
There are a few different offerings to look at; a free stopover, a premium stopover and transit connect:
- Your flights in and out of Abu Dhabi’s Zayed International Airport must both be with Etihad (or an Etihad-operated flight if codeshare).
- You must stay in one of their list of designated 3* hotels (NB 3 stars in Abu Dhabi is still pretty good, and we reckon some of their current list are actually 4*!), and the booking MUST be with Etihad, not the hotel directly.
- The stopover must be booked at least 72 hours in advance.
- You must stay a minimum of 24 hours in the UAE, with a maximum ‘free’ stay of 2 consecutive nights.
- You can only use it on one leg of your journey if you’re on a return ticket.
- Only your hotel stay and applicable tourism taxes are included; it does not include your meals, airport transfer, additional hotel service or compulsory AED 15 per night hotel room fee.
- The leader booker in your party must be aged 21 or over (Minor travelling on Etihad? Read this guide!)
- You must be eligible to enter the United Arab Emirates – i.e. from a country eligible for a Visa on Arrival or allowed to apply for a tourist Visa – Etihad can help you with how to apply for this if you’re eligible.
- Currently, this campaign looks to be open until 24 December 2024 but could be extended or amended.
- Subject to availability! Be aware of public/religious holidays and major events in Abu Dhabi that may lead to a shortage of availability in hotels.
Which Free Hotel in Abu Dhabi to choose
Are you looking to catch some sun and rest in Abu Dhabi or be in the heart of the action? From the current list of available free hotels for Eithad stopovers, we’d choose:
- Traders – for a good location between the airport and the city with a little private beach and Grand Mosque views
- Aloft Abu Dhabi – modern, family-friendly option in a good location near the exhibition centre
Premium Stopover in Abu Dhabi
If you simply can’t bear the thought of a 3* hotel, or you don’t feel two days will be enough (we think it’s too short!), then a Premium Stopover could be just what you need. Here’s the difference compared to the Etihad Free Stopover.
- A Premium Stopover allows for a minimum of 2 days and a maximum of 4 days.
- You will get a 40% discount on your stay, rather than a free stay, and a wider choice of 4 & 5-star hotel options thrown in.
- Most of the terms are as above, including age limits, taxes, eligibility for a Visa and pre-booking.
The key difference really being you get longer to stop and explore that city with a really good hotel price. 4 days even gives you long enough to check out some of the neighbouring cities on a day trip, such as Dubai or Al Ain. It may not be free, but pretty darn good value.
Etihad Transit Connect
We will have to get back to you on this one – designed for visitors staying under 24 hours. Etihad has presently pulled all information about this one from their website, so we assume this one is currently not available, but perhaps a new package is in the works to service those with 8-24 hour layovers.
We understand for tourists requiring Visas for the UAE they won’t even issue you one if your layover is less than 8 hours!
How Do You Book Your Free Stay in Abu Dhabi?
Once you have your airline ticket (this can be booked directly with Etihad or through a travel agency or intermediary), simply log into the Etihad Stopovers page of their website and use your booking reference number to book your desired hotel.
How Does Etihad Stopover Compare to Emirates And Dubai Connect
If you are tossing up between booking with either of the two UAE-based airlines, then there are some very important differences between Emirates & Etihads ‘free stay’ promotions:
- Dubai Connect is to help passengers who cannot get an Emirates connecting flight within 8 hours (Business/First – 6 hours); rather than being a stopover service to encourage you to see the city, it is really meant for handling passengers with long layovers so they can get some rest between flights and don’t need to clog up the airport (but you can leave the hotel on your own accord).
- Dubai Connect is all-inclusive; ie your meals and transfers to/from the airport are included during your short stay. You can leave the hotel if you wish but at your own expense.
- Dubai Connect will not let you choose the specific hotel you’ll stay in. They have a list of participating hotels for Economy and Business and First but these are allocated to you on arrival, not at your own choice.
We have a much more thorough explanation of what Dubai Connect is and how it works over here on our Dubai Travel Planner website.
So, if price and speed of your journey are your primary concern, rather than which city you’ll see, an Emirates Dubai Connect stopover provides a good way to connect your flight with some rest in between. The Etihad package is more enticing for sightseeing passengers who intentionally want to break up their journey.
What To Do During Your Stopover in Abu Dhabi?
This is where it gets fun! There is so much you could do even with just 24 hours in the UAE capital, but it depends on what type of traveller you are.
We have a detailed guide here with different 1-day itineraries you can try in Abu Dhabi – if you are here for two days, simply choose two different days off our menu of ideas!
1-Day Abu Dhabi Itinerary
One day spent six different ways; mix and match our suggestions for the ultimate 24 hour Abu Dhabi itinerary!
- Sun & Relaxation
- Adrenaline Rush
- Nature Lovers
- Best of Everything!
Key Landmarks and Attractions in Abu Dhabi
Some of the most iconic landmark buildings and tourist attractions you might want to see on your journey (click on each to learn more!):
- The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – the largest mosque in the UAE (free)
- Qasr Al Watan – The Presidental Palace
- The Louvre Abu Dhabi – Museum focused on the history of humanity
- Qasr al Hosn – old fort and birthplace of Abu Dhabi
- Yas Island Theme Parks – Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, SeaWorld Yas Island and Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi
- Observation Deck at 300 – highest viewing deck in the city with 360-degree views
- Abrahamic House – cultural tour and active houses of worship; church, mosque and synagogue (free)
- The Corniche – famous waterfront of the city (free)
- Saadiyat Beach – the city’s most beautiful natural sand beach
- Desert Safari – hit the dunes outside of the city for a Bedouin experience or extreme sports
Why not pre-book a sightseeing tour? Then, all your transportation needs will also be taken care of with expert commentary.
Additional Costs to Consider on an Abu Dhabi Stopover
So your hotel stay is FREE; but now, on to the extra strings we mentioned. They’re not overly onerous, only what you’d expect to pay on any normal city stopover, but worth considering and adding to your budget:
- You pay for transfers. The hotels on this list aren’t far from your airport, so they shouldn’t cost you too much in a taxi – but they are worth adding to your budget, say another AED 60 in each direction. You can attempt to work out the local bus system; it is efficient in terms of service but not ideally made for tourists getting about (learn about Abu Dhabi transport here, and especially have to get a Hafilat bus card if you want to attempt this)
- Meals aren’t included; come on Etihad, not even a basic brekkie buffet? OK, you can add these to your bill with the hotel directly, or get out and explore a bit! You’ll need to leave a credit card for any incidentals.
- Sightseeing costs. There are some incredible FREE places to visit in Abu Dhabi, such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Abrahamic House. But note entry fees at other key attractions as we’ve listed above.
Alternatives to the Free Etihad Stopover
If you feel the conditions of the Etihad stopover are too restrictive to your travel plans, or you’re travelling with a different airline into Zayed International Airport (AUH), you can, of course, plan your own Abu Dhabi stopover.
IMPORTANT TO NOTE FOR ABU DHABI LAYOVERS: Strangely, as of January 2024, the shiny new Zayed International Airport, hasn’t as yet opened an airside airport hotel.
Its incredible to thing with the years of delay in opening the new airport they couldn’t get this essential amenity correct from opening. Looks like the infrastructure is there for an Aerotel, its just not open yet! So the Premier Inn at the old airport and Yas Plaza hotels are still the closest option land side if you just want to grab some shut eye.
Abu Dhabi is not an overly complicated place to visit and self-plan a stopover. We are long-term Abu Dhabi residents and have pulled together a tonne of resources over the years to help you plan your own trip to the UAE capital:
We hope this guide has helped you understand more about the ‘free’ stays in Abu Dhabi offered by Etihad and whether they might be the right sort of package you want to add to your international itinerary.
Please note we are not a travel agency. This site is a travel blog to help newcomers to the UAE self plan their trip, we cannot book your flights, hotels, visas or connections for you. We may make a small commission if you click on any of our hotel or tour recommendation links.Abu Dhabi Travel Planner