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Saudia Stopover Program Guide: How To Get A Free Hotel & Transfer

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Immanuel Debeer | 14/04/2024

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Last year, Saudi Arabia opened up a stopover program for visits of up to 96 hours or 4 days with a free hotel and one-way transfer for passengers travelling on Saudia or Flynas.

While the cost of the visa is “free,” there is a SAR93 administration fee which works out to around AU$38, not exactly cheap for a country that’s looking to increase its tourism sector.

As you may be aware, Saudi Arabia is making a big push with its Vision 2030, which is a master plan of sorts to diversify the economy with a big focus on tourism.

Having never visited Saudi Arabia or flown with their national carrier Saudia (which recently announced a brand overhaul in line with Vision 2030), I decided to opt for a long layover on my way from Europe to Singapore in Jeddah to see what the stopover experience was like.

Tip: Saudia is part of Skyteam and they have some incredible business class deals from Europe to Asia and vice versa. You can easily find business class one-way fares for around $1600 or return from $2900. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are also fares for $1600 return if you depart from Tunis. While Saudia is a dry airline, you can learn more about my flight experience in my Saudia business class review.

How to book a Saudia stopover

In order to be eligible for a Saudi Arabia tourist visa on the Saudia stopover program you will need to meet the following criteria:

  • Eligible flights: Flights must depart and arrive in another country other than Saudi Arabia (ie. you can’t get this on domestic flights). All booking classes get access to the stopover program and you can make use of it on either a one way or a return ticket.
  • Eligibility and Visa Application: Passengers traveling on Saudia or Flynas can apply for a free Stopover Visa, allowing them to stay in Saudi Arabia for up to 96 hours (4 days). This visa can be applied for via the airlines’ booking platforms up to 90 days before travel​​​​. For the visa, you will also need a picture (headshot), for this I just used my phone and took a selfie against a white background.
  • Booking the Hotel: Once your flight is booked and the visa is obtained, you’re eligible for a complimentary one-night hotel stay. To make use of this, you should select the hotel through Saudia Holidays either during booking or from the manage my booking section on Saudia’s website (more on that below). Ensure this booking is made at least 48 hours before your flight departure to guarantee the accommodation​​​​.
  • Hotel Stay Conditions: Upon arrival at the hotel, present your boarding pass to avail of the free stay. Note that the availability of free accommodation depends on the hotel’s capacity at the time of booking. Also, the hotel’s own policies will apply in case of any changes or cancellations​

Once you find flights with a suitable connection time, go ahead and book them via Saudia’s website. Once paid, you’ll see a banner that directs you to Saudia Holidays. Technically you should be able to book your free hotel here, but in my experience, this wasn’t the case. I only got a working URL once I reached out to Saudia support via the online chat. The URL that does work for booking the free hotel stay is: https://holidaysbysaudia.com/en-US/dynamicflow/pnrbased

Once I received the correct link, I could book a hotel from a limited selection of options; all appeared rather poor, so I decided to book the hotel merely to use the free one-way transfer, opting instead to book my own hotel using Marriott Bonvoy Points.

 

Since my connecting flight was at 1:30 AM (a day later), I was looking for something that would give me the option for a late check out. As a Bonvoy Titanium member, I opted for The Assila, a Luxury Collection Hotel, which ended up being a great choice! It’s a beautifully appointed luxury hotel in a central location, and they granted me a 6 PM checkout and upgraded me to an enormous suite for my short stay.

For the free “hotel/transfer package,” I booked the Casablanca Hotel as this wasn’t too far away from The Assila.

Saudia Stopover Experience

On the day of my flight, I received a WhatsApp message from a representative in charge of getting tourists to their hotel on arrival. From what I could tell, the whole process isn’t quite as streamlined as, for example, the Emirates Dubai stopover package.

I was told to meet my representative at the Visit Saudi Arabia info booth upon clearing immigration. On the topic of immigration, the whole process was very fast and efficient; it’s very clear that Saudi Arabia is wanting to build a tourist-friendly and welcoming image.

Once through customs, I met my representative at the tourist booth who then walked me out to find some transportation. While competitors such as Emirates have a dedicated fleet of cars at the ready to shuttle transit passengers to their hotel, Saudia has a bit of work to do…

My first vehicle was one of the most beat-down shuttle buses I’ve seen in a while. Luckily my host found another option, which was a smaller minivan who drove me to the Casablanca hotel. From there it was a quick Uber ride to my hotel of choice!

What to do in Jeddah for 24 hours?

Let’s be honest here, Saudi Arabia has only been open to tourism for non-religious reasons since 2019 so we’re still at the “infancy stage” and while many paid influencers would love to have you believe places like Jeddah are the cultural centre of the universe, there’s still some way to go before that happens. Jeddah is your typical badly planned concrete jungle where every road appears to be a 3-way highway with little regard for pedestrians.

The easiest way to get around is by using a ride-share app like Uber. As I was there on a Saturday, it appeared a lot of places were closed.

Where to stay in Jeddah? As I mentioned above, I stayed at The Assila, which is part of the Marriott portfolio of hotels. I booked this hotel on points and I’m glad I decided to stay there; the property was excellent with a good breakfast spread, great service throughout, and all the amenities one might want.

There are other luxury hotels in the city but most appeared a bit dated from what I could tell.

For lunch, I headed out to Moonshel cafe, which has a very Bali vibe and does excellent açai bowls and coffee.

After my caffeine fix, I decided to go for a wander around Al Balad, which is the historical downtown of Jeddah.

It’s important to note that most businesses appear to be closed during the day, or at least this was the case on a Saturday. I’ve heard from locals that the evenings are when everyone comes outside and shops open; this makes sense considering the heat.

Al Balad is currently a huge construction zone. The Ministry of Culture appears to have bought out many, if not all, the old historical buildings and commenced a massive renovation project (in fact, it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) to restore them to their former glory.

You get to see snippets of the historical architecture with some buildings being over 500 years old.

I think once the renovation works are completed, Al Balad will be a huge drawcard for tourists and locals alike.

Being a tourist, I decided to tick off another tourist attraction which is regarded as “worth a visit,” namely the Jeddah Corniche.

The Jeddah Corniche is located on the complete opposite side of Al Balad, and it’s also where you find some of the big brand hotels such as Waldorf Astoria, Rosewood, Hilton etc. Essentially, it’s just a paved boardwalk by the ocean with some small, poorly planned (and dirty) beach areas no one seemed to use. The other thing I noticed was the huge number of rubbish bins along the walk, there’s literally a bin every 20-30 meters; quite the sight.

When I figured the Corniche wasn’t my cup of tea, I came to realise that Uber appears to be restricted in this area so I had to cross the road and book a ride from one of the major hotels instead.

Back at The Assila, I utilised my 6 PM checkout before heading upstairs to check out their Argentinian restaurant. This turned out to be one of the better places I’ve eaten in a while; the steak and side dishes were perfectly cooked and the location on the 17th floor provides a nice view over Jeddah at night.

By this time, I had spent just over 24 hours in Saudi Arabia and it was time to head back to the airport to continue my journey to Singapore with Saudia.

Overall, I had a great time checking out Jeddah for the day but I wouldn’t yet recommend it as a stopover location over Dubai, Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, or Abu Dhabi. Even though Saudi Arabia is changing at a rapid pace (for the better), there’s still some way to go before the stopover becomes a 5-star experience.

 

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Immanuel Debeer

Chief points nerd and travel hacker at Flight Hacks

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