Eli Orzessek has passed the mantle of Ask Away to Eleanor Barker, who has an embarrassing airport story that might qualify as a cautionary tale.

I've got to admit that my first Ask Away column comes from a mistake of my own. While in Sydney Airport during what I thought was a layover but really was a stop-and-for-Pete's-sake-go-get-your-bags-over I sat in the bleak international transfer area as I tried to find a single person who could tell me what I desperately needed to know (that I had gone to the wrong part of the airport).

Finding a friendly face was hard, so by the time this idiot left Australia for Abu Dhabi, my bags were heading home to New Zealand.

Seasoned travellers, I see your rolling eyes and you're right to roll them — your girl was not well acquainted with the difference between a layover and a stopover. Optimistically, I reckon what I learned could help someone else someday, especially if you use loyalty programmes. If not, please enjoy your feelings of superiority as I explain.

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The aviation industry has its own language and many terms are regularly misunderstood in less punishing ways by travellers who are not me — such as the difference between a direct and non-stop flight. Non-stop is what it says on the packet; direct flights involve stops. On a direct flight it is unlikely you will need to step outside your plane before your final destination, but you will wait for other passengers to come and go.

I got into trouble with layovers versus stopovers. A layover indicates that there is an established connection between your flights — i.e. you don't have to rely on psychic airlines to magically transfer your bags. This could include a stop as short as 30 minutes (depending upon the airport) or up to 23 hours and 59 minutes on international flights.

The nuances come into play when travellers decide to redeem their "miles". Most airlines manage their reward programmes based upon distance, so it may mean a layover will cost you more money than a direct flight, but savvy frequent flyers often build in extended or even overnight stops. As long as they leave within 24 hours to their final destination, thereby avoiding a stopover, they don't get charged additional miles.

Airline crew use this term slightly differently. For them, a layover means an overnight stay while a connection refers to a shorter stop, just to make it a little more confusing. While it's fine to use the term layover when you really mean connection, you should know (I should know!) the difference between a stopover and layover. A stopover can be a layover, but it can also be a much longer stop — often a second destination on part of a multi-stop itinerary. If travelling domestically, a stopover typically qualifies as anything that lasts longer than four hours.

Send your queries by email to askaway@nzherald.co.nz