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TPG contributor Jason Steele, a young father himself, fills us in on what you need to know when flying with your young children – the fees, the age restrictions, and what you can do to make the most of your points when planning your next family trip.
One the many challenges of welcoming a baby into your life is planning travel travel with them – either on paid or award tickets. While it is free and somewhat simple to bring an infant with you on a domestic award flight, it is a vastly different story when traveling internationally.
International Lap Child Basics
All persons, regardless of age, who are traveling internationally, must have a ticket and a passport, including babies. In fact, your baby’s passport will be valid for 5 years, long after his or her baby picture bears little resemblance to the kindergartner carrying it.
That means that at a minimum, an award ticket will require payment of government taxes and fees. Typically, airlines will charge the 10% of their highest, unrestricted fare for the ticket of a lap child plus full taxes and fees although some airlines claim to offer infant fares at 10% of the current price. In the case of business and first class travel, even a discounted infant ticket can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, just for the privilege of carrying your child on your lap.
Note that the child’s ticket must be in the same class of travel as at least one ticketed adult; you can’t redeem a first class award and pay 10% of an unrestricted coach ticket for the lap child. In some cases, airlines will offer to let you redeem for an award for the child at 10% of the miles required for an adult ticket, but one adult must also be traveling on an award ticket; you can’t redeem an infant award by itself to accompany a paid adult.
What is nearly as bad as these lap child fees is the fact than the airlines disclose these policies very poorly, if at all. It can be difficult or impossible to find this information on their web sites, and the airlines’ staff’s responses to inquiries on these matters is inconsistent at best and misleading at worst. For that reason, I would strongly advise parents to verify the fees that will be necessary book and pay for lap child tickets well before travel rather than attempt to accomplish this at check in where the agent helping you might not be completely versed in their airline’s lap child policy.
Comprehensive Infant Award Travel Chart
Below is a list of all the frequent flyer programs along with information on transfer partners such as Chase Ultimate Rewards points, American Express Membership Rewards points and Starwood Preferred Guest points.
|Airline||Transfer Partners||Alliance||International Lap Child Fee For Awards||Exceptions|
|Aero Mexico||American Express Membership Rewards||SkyTeam||$174 MXN within Mexico $35 to/from the United States, 10% to Asia, Europe, and South America|
|Air Berlin||Starwood||OneWorld||10% of “regular net fare”|
|American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood||Star Alliance||Economy Class – $50 or 5,000 Miles, Business Class – $100 or 10,000 Miles, First Class – $125 or 12,500 Miles|
|Air New Zealand||Starwood||Star Alliance||10% plus taxes and fees|
|Airtran||Chase Ultimate Rewards (Via Southwest)||none||Taxes and fees only|
|Alaska||American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood||none, (many partners)||Taxes and fees only|
|Alitalia||American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood||SkyTeam||10% of fare plus taxes and fees|
|10% of fare plus taxes and fees|
|ANA||American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood||Star Alliance||10% of fare plus taxes and fees|
|Asia Miles (Cathay and Dragonair)||American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood||OneWorld||25% of fare on flights from the USA||10% on non-US flights|
|Asiana||Starwood||Star Alliance||10% of the mileage|
|British Airways||American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starwood||OneWorld||10% of the mileage plus taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges|
|China Eastern||Starwood||SkyTeam||10% of Full Fare|
|China Southern||Starwood||SkyTeam||10% of fare plus taxes and fees|
|Delta||American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood||SkyTeam||10% of Full Fare|
|El Al||American Express Membership Rewards||none||10% of fare plus taxes and fees|
|Emirates||Starwood||none, some partners||10% of miles in economy only||10% of fare in business and first. 75% of fare if occupying a seat.|
|Etihad||Starwood||none, many partners||10% of fare plus taxes and fees||Follows partner award rules i.e 10% of miles for Asiana awards|
|Flying Blue||American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood||SkyTeam||10% of lowest fare||Partner airline awards for infants must be booked with partner at their rate|
|American Express Membership Rewards||none||Taxes and fees only|
|Hawaiian||American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood||none (many partners)||10% of fare plus taxes and fees|
|Iberia||American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Reward (via British Airways) Starwood||OneWorld||10% of fare plus taxes and fees|
|OneWorld||10% of fare plus taxes and fees|
|JetBlue||American Express Membership Rewards||none, (some partners)||Taxes and fees only|
|King Club (Kingfisher)||Starwood
|Oneworld (Future), some partners||10% of fare for infant or 50% of miles for children under 12||Follows partner award rules|
|Chase Ultimate Rewards||SkyTeam||10%, or partner award rules|
|Lan||Starwood||OneWorld||10% of fare only with paying adult, otherwise full km for award.|
|Miles and More||Starwood||Star Alliance||“Infants (under two years old) can travel with you free of charge as long as they do not occupy a seat. When infants are transported, the taxes and charges which arise can be invoiced separately in accordance with subparagraph 1.5.1” (Taxes, fees, and fuel)|
|Qatar||Starwood||none, several parnters||10% if miles, only in economy, only on Qatar operated flights|
|Singapore||American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood||Star Alliance||10% of full fare|
|Thai||Starwood||Star Alliance||10% of full fare|
|United||Starwood, Chase Ultimate Rewards||Star Alliance||“10% of the lowest applicable adult fare”||Only taxes to Canada|
|US Airways||American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood||Star Alliance||10% of fare plus taxes and fees|
|VARIG Smiles (GOL)||Starwood||none, some partners||10% of fare plus taxes and fees||Follows partner award rules|
|Virgin America||American Express Membership Rewards
|none||Taxes and fees only|
|Virgin Atlantic||American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood
|none||1,500 Miles for Upper Class, 750 miles for Premium Econ., 200 miles for Econ.|
You can also download the chart for yourself here: Lap Child Award Chart.
The best values are from Alaska, Airtran, JetBlue, Virgin American and Frontier, which do not charge any infant fares. The Miles and More program operated by Lufthansa, Austrian, and Swiss is alone among the major international programs in that it does not charge infant fares on awards. However, their considerable fuel surcharges can more than make up for any savings.
Virgin Atlantic charges a relatively minor number of miles, while British Airways charges 10% of the normal award, plus taxes and fees and fuel surcharges, meaning an infant lap ticket can be almost as costly as just buying another coach ticket.
Emirates and Qatar also charge 10% of the miles required, but restrict infant awards to economy class. Air Canada is a great value in that it charges a relatively small flat fee of cash or miles, depending on the class (up to 12,500 miles or $125 for first class), and if you redeem Aeroplan miles for travel on certain Star Alliance partners, it is possible to redeem the award without any infant fees or fuel surcharges. These fuel-surcharge-free partners currently include Aegean, Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca/TACA, Brussels, Copa, Croatia, EgyptAir, Ethiopian, SAS, Singapore, South African, Swiss, TAM, Turkish, United, and USAirways.
Asia Miles (Cathay and Dragonair) is a poor program for infant awards as it charges 25% of the adult fare when originating in the United States. LAN Airlines may be the worst of all since it doesn’t offer lap infant awards and will charge the full amount of Lanpass Kilometers whether or not a seat is used. Furthermore, it will only allow paying passengers to purchase a lap infant fare for 10% of the adult fare.
Tips for Booking Awards and Traveling with a Lap Child
- Plan ahead. The easiest way to avoid lap child fees is to choose your destination wisely. Consider U.S. territories in the Caribbean such the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico. In this way, you can save both passport fees and lap child fees that would be required to visit neighboring foreign islands. If you must travel internationally, choose your airline carefully. For instance, Spirit Airlines does not charge lap child fees and they serve destinations in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and even some South American destinations.
- Get the right answer. In most cases, infant tickets must be purchased over the phone, yet many representatives will not know how to do this correctly. If you think you are being charged incorrectly, ask for a supervisor or politely hang up and call again.
- Be aware of age restrictions. Your child must be under two years of age on the date that round trip travel concludes in order to fly as a lap child. So if your child turns two during the trip, he or she must have a seat. In that case, you can book two one-way awards and have the child fly at least a portion of the trip as a lap child.
- Limitations. Airlines require at least one passenger over the age of 18 for each lap child.
- Amenities. Airlines will often reserve bulkhead seats with bassinets for parents carrying an infant. Make sure to enquire about this option. Also, be sure to request a children’s meal if available.
- Seating. Enquire at the gate as to whether or not the flight is full. If not, request to be placed next to an empty seat if your child is not using the bassinet. You are not allowed to sit in an exit row with an infant. Let’s just say that it is much easier to find an empty seat on Southwest since passengers would have to kick your toddler out of his or her seat once occupied. Just place the child in the middle seat between the parents, and it probably won’t happen unless the flight is full.
- Baggage allowance. All airlines will allow parents to check a child seat and gate check a stroller for no charge. Many airlines that offer an adult checked bag on international flights will offer an additional free bag for infants as well. Check with your carrier before departure and print out any documentation to avoid difficulty at check in.
- Seat restraints. If you choose to use a child seat, it must be FAA approved and you must purchase a seat to guarantee space. Many airlines will allow your child to use an unoccupied seat when available.
- Consider CARES. The CARES Harness folds up and can be used by children over 1 year old between 22 and 44 pounds. I have had positive experiences with this device.
- Always carry documentation. Even though you do not legally need any ticket or documentation to carry a lap child on a domestic flight, some airlines will require proof of age (and falsely blame FAA regulations). American Airlines lists this requirement on its web page and Southwest once demanded written proof that my 6-month-old was under two years of age. A birth certificate, passport, or immunization record is acceptable for domestic travel.
Have any of you recently booked award or paid lap child tickets? What was your experience like?
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