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We’ve already established that travel doesn’t have to stop once you have a baby — and it shouldn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, either. Most of the time, I rely on using points and miles when traveling abroad as a family, but not all loyalty programs are created equal, so it can be tricky when it comes to choosing the right program when you add a lap child into the mix. Though it’s true that lap infants under the age of two can travel free of charge domestically, every airline has its own formula in determining the ticketing fees you’ll incur when traveling with a lap infant on an international award ticket.

In general, there are three methods that airlines use to calculate the cost of a lap infant:

  1. A flat fee is charged in either miles or cash (or there’s no fee at all, you just pay the taxes and fees)
  2. You’ll be charged 10% of the miles redeemed for the adult ticket + taxes and fees
  3. You’ll be charged 10% of the current selling price of the base fare + taxes and fees

Many airlines — especially the ones based in the US — will charge 10% of the paid fare for a lap child, even on an international award ticket, which means a redemption of a first-class flight with a selling price of $10,000 would result in an infant fare of $1,000 plus taxes and fees! That can be a pretty expensive (and often avoidable) surprise that may put a damper on your upcoming trip with your little one.

Thankfully, with the proper award-redemption strategy, you can easily minimize these fees and keep costs down. Over the years, I’ve identified what I like to call “lap-infant sweet spots” by choosing to book with award programs that have generous and flexible lap-infant policies. Allow me to share some of my favorites to book award tickets with when I travel internationally with my daughter.

Image by the author.
Image by the author.

British Airways: Avios

British Airways is part of the Oneworld alliance, and you can use their miles (Avios) to fly on dozens of partner airlines including American Airlines, AirBerlin and Cathay Pacific, among others. If you use your Avios to take advantage of great distance-based domestic redemptions on American Airlines (such as New York to Miami for 7,500 Avios each way), though, make sure you’re careful not to search for your award ticket (including your lap infant) through the British Airways website because it will automatically charge you 10% more in miles — even on domestic bookings when infants fly for free.

Instead, do this: If you’re traveling to the US or Canada, simply book an adult ticket and have the child added later by calling American Airlines, or even at the check-in counter. It will be free of charge for domestic flights anyway and only a few extra dollars on flights to Canada, a much better value than paying a completely unnecessary 10% more in miles. If you’re booking an award ticket outside the US or Canada, however, do make sure to include the lap child at the time of booking. British Airways is generous, and only charges 10% more in miles redeemed — not 10% of the full-ticket price in dollars.

Air Canada: Aeroplan

For Star Alliance award bookings — including travel on Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines or Singapore Airlines, among others — consider booking using Aeroplan miles if your lap child is coming along for the ride, since you can choose to pay a flat-fee co-pay in miles or cash based on your ticket’s class of service:

• Economy: 5,000 Aeroplan miles or $50
• Premium economy: 7,500 Aeroplan miles or $75
• Business: 10,000 Aeroplan miles or $100
• First class: 12,500 Aeroplan miles or $125

As you can see, flying with a lap child is a steal with Aeroplan, and I’d choose to pay the fee in cash rather than use the additional miles. If Aeroplan’s reputation regarding hefty surcharges on award tickets scares you away, it may be refreshing to know that the following Star Alliance carriers aren’t subject to fuel surcharges when you book through the program — Air China, Brussels, EgyptAir, Ethiopian, EVA Air, SAS, Singapore, Swiss, Turkish, United and LOT — though there may be nominal surcharges.

JetBlue: TrueBlue

Many people tend to overlook JetBlue as an international airline, but aside from being the leading carrier to the Caribbean, the carrier is super family-friendly in more ways than one — we love that we can family-pool our points, for instance. While JetBlue’s infant policy states all lap infants need their own ticket, what’s really great is the fact that it doesn’t charge an additional fee or extra miles for lap infants traveling on award tickets.

This is a great policy because you can add your lap child right at booking or at the last minute at the check-in counter without having to worry about paying inflated fees. The only fee requirement for the infant ticket is a small amount of mandatory taxes. In my experience, traveling with my lap child internationally to Caribbean islands (such as our recent family trip to Aruba in Mint) has never cost us more than $50.

Southwest: Rapid Rewards

Like JetBlue, Southwest is expanding internationally, with brand new routes to the Caribbean and Mexico — I’m especially looking forward to its upcoming Grand Cayman route from Fort Lauderdale. Also like JetBlue, Southwest has a policy where infants can fly free of charge, even internationally, as long as they don’t occupy a seat. On international flights, the lap child is subject to the applicable taxes on the ticket, which can be paid over the phone prior to the trip or at check-in.

In general, I consider Southwest to be a great airline for traveling families. In addition to the free checked bags, what I really love about this carrier is its unique open-seating boarding process and how families traveling with a child under the age of six can board before boarding group B is called to ensure everybody stays together. As an added bonus, if the flight isn’t full, you’ll probably end up with an empty middle seat (aka. an extra seat), which means everyone can be comfortable when you’re traveling with a baby. And after you’ve fully taken advantage of the child’s lap-infant days, you can decide if going for the Southwest Companion Pass works for your family, so you can continue allowing the little one to travel “for free” even beyond the age of two.

Image by the author.
Image by the author.

But What About the Others?

Of course there are dozens of other award programs to consider, including some that offer fantastic redemption opportunities that look good on paper. But let’s be realistic: When availability is so sparse that it’s almost impossible to book and becomes pretty much unattainable in my eyes, it would be silly for me to recommend something to others that I haven’t been able to do myself. One example that comes to mind is using Etihad Guest miles to fly from the US to Europe in business class for under 37,000 miles round trip. That redemption seems enticing enough, right? What’s even better is that Etihad only charges 10% of the award price for a lap infant to travel on Brussels Airlines — but good luck finding availability!

Bottom Line

Traveling abroad with children under the age of two and embracing the lap-infant days while it’s essentially “free” to do so is a great way for little ones to get a head start on seeing the world. Plus, doing your homework and choosing loyalty programs that can you the save the most money makes it a better trip, especially since you can use those savings for future memories instead. Now that’s a win-win.

Which awards have you booked with your lap child recently? Share your experience with us, below.

Angelina Aucello covers family travel for TPG and writes the popular blog, Angelina Travels. Follow along with all her travel adventures on Twitter and Instagram.

Featured image courtesy of Marc Romanelli via Getty Images.

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