Planning award travel with a lap infant
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with updated policies and information from the airlines. It was originally published on March 23, 2019.
Planning family travel can be complicated. There is the expense of booking multiple tickets and hotel rooms, finding seats together on the plane, double-checking baggage and carry-on restrictions, and more. But one surprise expense may be that you sometimes have to pay for putting your infant or small child in your lap.
Those new to lap infants might think you don’t need a separate ticket for a baby who doesn’t require a separate seat on the airplane. But you’d be wrong. There are sometimes requirements and fees for lap children traveling with adults on award tickets that vary from regular paid fares — and the rules are completely different for international versus domestic travel. In some rare cases, it is actually impossible to book a lap infant at all.
If you don’t know the rules, traveling with your infant can end up costing you thousands of miles — or worse — thousands of dollars. (And sadly, lap infant tickets don’t earn miles.)
Here are the basics of traveling with an infant or lap child, the policies of various airlines, and what you can do to avoid major expenses on your next family trip:
Lap infant basics
While airline policies and fees vary, there are rules that are generally true across the board if you’re traveling with a lap child.
Age requirements: Most airlines define an infant or lap child as one who is under 24 months of age. Once that baby hits 2 years old, he or she will need a seat.
Tickets required: Even if flying for free domestically, your baby will need a paper boarding pass that says “lap infant” on it. The mobile ones don’t say lap infant and you will need to show the TSA the “lap infant” language. You will also have to provide basic identity information for your child, such as name, date of birth and gender. It might be a good idea to bring a birth certificate. Here’s more about documentation requirements when traveling with a lap infant.
Domestic versus international: U.S. airlines will let you bring along an infant for free when flying domestically. However, as soon as you cross international borders, the rules change and you can expect to pay something for your little bundle of joy.
Award tickets and fees: If you are traveling internationally with an infant or lap child, airlines usually will charge you 10% of the fare paid by the accompanying adult, plus taxes and fees.
Let’s focus on this last point, since there is a lot of information to digest. First, the infant must be traveling with a ticketed adult, whether the adult is traveling in a paid or an award seat.
Second, the child must be ticketed in the same cabin as the adult. You cannot buy or redeem an award ticket for first class for yourself and just purchase or redeem a coach ticket for your baby.
Finally, while 10% of a paid fare doesn’t sound like much, if your ticket is in business or first class, even a percentage of the paid fare can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. For example, if you redeem miles for a ticket that would normally cost $6,000, you would end up paying $600 for your child to travel … in your lap.
There are airlines that let you redeem 10% of the miles an adult award ticket would cost, but an accompanying adult must also be traveling on an award ticket and it also has to be in the same cabin.
As you might expect, there are plenty of scenarios where a specific airline has different or more generous policies, so we’ll get into the important ones below along with tips to remember for your bookings.
International infant award travel fees
The table below lists the airlines with the mileage programs you’re most likely to use thanks to their extensive route networks and the number of transfer and airline partners.
The fees noted are for international travel when the accompanying adult is on an award ticket. “Fare” means paid fare and “mileage” means award mileage. The link on each airline’s name will take you to the specific webpage outlining that airline’s infant travel policies and fees.
|Aeroplan/Air Canada||Amex, Marriott||Star Alliance||
|Air France/KLM Flying Blue||Amex, Chase, Citi, Marriott||SkyTeam||
|Alaska Airlines||Marriott||None, many partners||
|All Nippon Airways (ANA)||Amex, Marriott||Star Alliance, many other partners||
|British Airways||Amex, Chase, Marriott||Oneworld||
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||Citi, Marriott||Oneworld||
|Delta Air Lines||Amex, Marriott||SkyTeam||
|Emirates||Amex, Marriott||None, many partners||
|Etihad||Amex, Citi, Marriott||None, many partners||
|Hawaiian Airlines||Amex, Marriott||None, many partners||
|Iberia||Amex, Chase, Marriott||Oneworld||
|Japan Airlines||Marriott||Oneworld, many other partners||
|JetBlue||Amex, Chase, Citi, Marriott||None, several partners||
|Lufthansa Miles & More||Marriott||Star Alliance||
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||Amex, Chase, Citi, Marriott||Star Alliance, many other partners||
|United Airlines||Chase, Marriott||Star Alliance||
|Virgin Atlantic||Amex, Chase, Citi, Marriott||None, many partners including Delta||
Top programs to consider
As you can tell from the table above, most airlines will charge cash to bring a baby along internationally, whether you’re on a paid or an award ticket. The fee is usually 10% of the adult fare, plus taxes and fees for the cabin in which you are flying. While 10% might not sound like much, remember, there can be high taxes/surcharges that vary by carrier and destination, especially in Europe.
Some programs have more generous rules than others when it comes to booking infant tickets as awards instead of paid fares. With that in mind, here are a few programs to consider:
Air Canada Aeroplan: This has to be one of the best deals out there — just $50–$125 in cash or 5,000–12,500 miles, depending on the cabin of travel. Those cash copays are dirt cheap considering surcharges on premium international tickets can cost thousands of dollars.
If you redeem miles, you’re only getting a rate of 1 cent apiece, but that could still be worth it, considering that the Aeroplan program is a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy so it’s easy to transfer points into your account.
Asiana: This Korean carrier’s mileage program is often overlooked, but it issues co-branded credit cards in the U.S. and boasts some amazing award ticket redemption values, including on infant awards, which cost just 10% of adult awards.
British Airways: Though we often groan about the sky-high taxes and surcharges on British Airways awards to/from the UK, one area where the airline’s Avios program shines is for booking infant awards. For children under 2, you pay just 10% of the miles you’d need for an adult ticket, which is a bargain. If your child turns 2 on the journey, the airline will provide an assigned seat on the return flight at no additional charge. You also can book lap infant awards online, which is somewhat unusual.
Korean Air: Despite some booking difficulties, it’s worth looking into Korean Air’s infant awards, since its SkyPass program is a transfer partner of Marriott Bonvoy and will charge just 10% of the miles needed for an adult award.
Virgin Atlantic: The UK carrier recently revised its infant award rules and now charges a flat mileage rates of 1,000–5,000 miles per sector, plus taxes and fees depending on the class of service. What’s more, you can book infant awards online along with adult awards, and the taxes and fees are a fraction of those for adult awards.
Programs to avoid
Taking a look at the chart above, there are a few programs that stand out either for exorbitant fares and fees, or the difficulty of booking.
Air France/KLM Flying Blue: While Flying Blue has the benefit of being a transfer partner of all four major points transferable programs in the U.S., it will only issue infant tickets for Air France or KLM metal (meaning flights the two carriers operate). You have to book tickets on any connecting flights with partner airlines separately.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan: While Alaska’s mileage program is among the best in the U.S., thanks to fantastic earning and redemption rates, you cannot book infant tickets on partner airlines. Instead, you must contact the partner airline directly and the infant ticket will be subject to that airline’s own rules and fees — if it will issue one at all.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles: Booking adult awards using Cathay Pacific Asia Miles can be a good value. But when it comes to booking an accompanying lap child, the program will charge you up to 25% of a full adult fare. (It sometimes charges less, so you have to price it out to know for sure.) Either way, these charges can really add up if you hope to fly the airline’s stellar business or first class.
Tips for booking lap infants
Beyond simply estimating how much your mileage program of choice will charge you for an infant ticket, it’s important to keep a few other things in mind.
Your destination matters: As mentioned above, domestic travel for lap infants is generally free (including places like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands), while international travel is a very different situation and usually requires you to pay in either money or miles, plus any applicable taxes or fees.
Call in to book: A few airlines make it easy to book infant tickets online, but, in general, you must call the airline’s reservation line to book an infant ticket. It is recommended to do so as soon as you book your own ticket in order to avoid any surprises when it comes to mileage or money on the final ticket price. If you wait until the last minute, airfares are likely to go through the roof. Even if you’re paying only 10% of an adult fare, that might still be a wad of cash.
If something sounds wrong, it probably is: Many phone booking agents have minimal experience booking infant awards, and might have the wrong information. Make sure you have your airline’s policy and a current fare or mileage search on hand before calling so you can question any numbers that might seem out of the ballpark. You also may have to hang up and try again if you get an agent who is misinformed.
If you’re booking a multi-flight itinerary with mixed carriers, be sure to call each airline involved: To ensure that a lap infant ticket is associated with an adult ticket all the way through the journey, check with each operating airline. For example, if you purchase a Delta-marketed ticket with a Korean Air leg, call Delta and request your Korean Air confirmation number after you’ve added the lap infant ticket. Then, call Korean Air with that confirmation number and confirm that it shows a lap infant ticket added to the Korean Air leg.
Birthdays and age restrictions: Infants and lap children must be under two years old. That means if your child turns two while traveling (other than on British Airways, as mentioned above), any ticket for travel after his or her birthday will not qualify for infant or lap child travel, and will be subject to other rules.
Child-to-adult ratios: Airlines have strict rules about how many kids can travel with an adult. Typically, only one lap infant is permitted per adult, though the age threshold to be considered an adult may vary. If you are an adult traveling solo with more than one child under the age of two, that additional child must have a seat. Familiarize yourself with the airline’s rules before booking.
Get the bulkhead: Airlines often hold back bulkhead seats for families with infants, as this is often where the bassinets are located. It never hurts to ask if they can reserve these seats for your family when booking. If they try to upsell them, push back and see if they can give them to you for free.
Baggage fees: While we’d never refer to a child as baggage, the good news is that traveling with an infant might entitle you to additional bags on some airlines. Check your airline’s infant information page for details.
Documentation: Your child will need his or her own travel documents for international travel, so be sure you have your forms in order before booking. Here’s how to get a passport photo and passport for your baby.
Like all family trips, traveling with infants can be complex. Each airline (and frequent flyer program) has its own rules about infant fares, mileage requirements, taxes and fees. Some allow you to book award tickets for infants, while others require cash fares. Still others won’t allow you to book infant tickets at all if travel involves their partners. Before booking a lap infant ticket, it also makes sense to weigh the pros and cons of getting your child their own seat.
Before purchasing your own ticket, think about calling your airline directly to ask exactly how much you can expect to pay for your infant’s ticket. Then weigh all your options when it comes to mileage programs, so that you spend the fewest miles and the least money to bring your bundle of joy along for the ride.
Are you flying with your baby soon? Here’s some more advice:
- Flying with a baby checklist
- How to fly with breast milk in the United States
- The best airlines seats, suites, lactation rooms and lounges when breastfeeding
- Flying with babies and toddlers: 10 tips to make your life easier
- Getting ready for your child’s first flight: A survival guide
Featured image by Dangubic/Getty Images.
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