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Family travel can be challenging for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that airlines have complicated rules for booking award travel with infants and children. New parents might think that just because your baby doesn’t need his or her own seat that they get to fly for free. Think again. While this is still mostly the case for domestic travel, the story changes dramatically if you’re crossing borders and oceans. In fact, many airlines have strict rules and steep fees related to traveling with a small child, even if you’re on an award ticket yourself.

Which airlines are infant-friendly and which ones will cost you a fortune to bring your little one? Let’s take a look at the best programs for booking award travel when you’ve got an infant or lap child in tow.

In This Post

The Basics

Flying for the first time
Even if you’re flying with a lap child, you’ll still have to pay something.  (Photo by Granger Wootz / Getty Images)

While policies and fees vary from airline to airline, there are two rules of thumb that are generally true across the board if you’re taking a child with you while traveling on an award ticket.

  1. Most airlines define an infant or lap child as one who is under 24 months of age. Once your child hits two years old, he or she will need his or her own ticket.
  2. If you are traveling internationally with an infant or lap child, airlines will usually charge you 10% of the fare for the cabin in which the accompanying adult is traveling, plus taxes and fees.

There’s a lot to unpack here. First, to be clear, your child must be traveling with a ticketed adult (though it’s hard to imagine an instance where this wouldn’t be the case), regardless of whether that adult is on a paid or award ticket.

Second, the child must be ticketed in the same cabin as the adult, so no buying or redeeming an award ticket for first class for yourself and just purchasing a coach ticket for your child.

Finally, while 10% of a paid fare doesn’t sound like much, if your ticket is in business or first class, that can add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars. For example, if the ticket you redeem miles for normally costs $8,000, you’ll end up paying $800 for your child to travel. In your lap.

Some airlines will let you redeem 10% of the miles an adult award ticket would cost, but in that case, an accompanying adult must also be traveling on an award ticket.

International Infant Award Travel Fees

Mother and baby looking out airplane window
(Photo by Marc Romanelli via Getty Images)

The table below contains the airlines whose mileage programs you’re most likely to use, thanks to their extensive route networks and number of transfer and other airline partners.

The fees noted are those for international travel when the accompanying adult is on an award ticket. Fare means paid fare, mileage means award mileage. The link on each airline name should take you to the specific webpage outlining that airline’s infant travel policies and fees.

Aeroplan/Air Canada Amex, SPG Star Alliance Economy: $50 or 5,000 miles

Premium Economy: $75 or 7,500 miles

Business: $100 or 10,000 miles

First: $125 or 12,500 miles

Air France/KLM Flying Blue Amex, Chase, Citi, SPG SkyTeam 10% of adult fare plus taxes/fees. Only for Air France/KLM flights.
Alaska Airlines SPG None, many partners Taxes and fees on own international flights. Cannot issue infant awards on partners.
All Nippon Airways (ANA) Amex, SPG Star Alliance, many other partners 10% of adult fare plus taxes/fees
American Airlines SPG Oneworld 10% of adult fare plus taxes and fees
Asiana SPG Star Alliance 10% of adult mileage plus taxes/fees
Avianca Citi, SPG Star Alliance Taxes and fees only
British Airways Amex, Chase, SPG Oneworld 10% of adult mileage plus taxes/fees
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles Citi, SPG Oneworld 25% (for US) or 10% (for non-US) of adult fare plus taxes/fees
Delta Air Lines Amex, SPG SkyTeam 10% of adult fare plus taxes/fees
Emirates Amex, SPG None, many partners Economy: 10% of adult mileage plus taxes/fees

Business/First: 10% of adult paid fare plus taxes/fees

Etihad Amex, Citi, SPG None, many partners 10% of adult fare plus international taxes and fees
Hawaiian Airlines Amex, SPG None, many partners 10% of adult fare plus international taxes/fees
Iberia Amex, Chase, SPG Oneworld 10% of adult fare plus international taxes/fees
Japan Airlines SPG Oneworld, many other partners 10% of adult fare plus international taxes and fees
JetBlue Amex, Citi None, several partners Just taxes, usually around $12
Korean Air Chase, SPG SkyTeam 10% of adult award plus taxes/fees
Miles & More (Lufthansa) SPG Star Alliance Just taxes and fuel surcharges
Singapore Airlines Amex, Chase, Citi, SPG Star Alliance, many other partners 10% of adult fare plus taxes/fees
Southwest Airlines Chase None Taxes and fees on international legs
United Airlines Chase, SPG (2:1) Star Alliance Taxes/fees only to Canada & Mexico; 10% of adult fare plus taxes/fees internationally.
Virgin Atlantic Amex, Chase, Citi, SPG None, many partners including Delta Economy: 1,000 miles per sector plus taxes/fees

Premium Economy: 2,000 miles per sector plus taxes/fees

Upper Class: 5,000 miles per sector plus taxes/fees

As the table shows, the most common case is that an airline will charge you 10% of an adult fare in the cabin you’re flying, plus taxes and fees (though there are a lot of anecdotes of airlines only charging 10% of a coach ticket even when the family is flying in a premium cabin). This doesn’t sound like much, but remember, there are also high taxes/surcharges when flying many different carriers to certain destinations, especially in Europe.

Top Programs to Consider

You’ll notice that some programs have much more generous rules than others. Here are a couple to keep in mind:

Those charging just taxes and fees. Several airlines fall into this category, where you’re only responsible for paying the taxes and fees normally associated with a ticket, but not the fare or award mileage. Among them are Avianca Lifemiles, JetBlue TrueBlue, Southwest Rapid Rewards and Miles & More, which is the mileage program of several airlines including Lufthansa and SWISS.

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 co-pays are dirt cheap considering premium international tickets can cost thousands of dollars, or hundreds of thousands of miles.

If you redeem miles, you’re only getting a rate of 1 cent apiece, but that could still be worth it considering that Aeroplan is a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, so it’s easy to transfer points into your account. Air Canada and Aeroplan are splitting in 2020, so rates after that are likely to change.

Asiana. This Korean carrier’s mileage program is often overlooked, but it issues co-branded credit cards in the US and boasts some amazing award ticket redemption values, including infant awards, which cost just 10% of adult awards.

British AirwaysThough we often groan about the sky-high taxes and carrier 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 two, you pay just 10% of the miles you’d need for an adult ticket, which is a bargain.

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 both SPG and Chase Ultimate Rewards, and will charge just 10% of the miles needed for an adult award.

Virgin AtlanticThe UK carrier recently revised its infant award rules and now charges flat mileage rates of 1,000-5,000 miles per sector, plus taxes and fees, depending on the class of service.

The cost of a Virgin Atlantic adult award.

What’s more, you can even book infant awards online along with adult awards, and the taxes and fees are a fraction of those on adult awards.

Versus the infant award. Notice the lower taxes and fees as well.
The cost of an online infant award with Virgin Atlantic. Notice the lower taxes and fees as well.

Programs to Avoid

There are a few programs that stand out either for the exorbitant fares and fees, or the difficulty of booking infant awards.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. While Alaska’s mileage program is among the best in the US thanks to fantastic earning and redemption rates, the program is pretty much useless for booking infant awards on partners. To do so, you must contact the partner airline directly, and the infant ticket will be subject to that airline’s own rules and fees.

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. There are some great values for booking adult awards using Cathay Pacific Asia Miles (or at least there are until the program’s latest changes take effect on June 22), but when it comes to booking an accompanying lap child, the program will charge you a whopping 25% of a full adult fare for flights to/from the US, and 10% for non-US international flights, plus taxes and fees.

Flying Blue. A final program you should probably avoid is the joint Flying Blue system of Air France and KLM. While the program has the benefit of being a transfer partner of all four major points transferable programs here in the US, the program will only issue infant award tickets on Air France or KLM metal (meaning flights the two carriers actually operate), but not connecting flights, making it hard to book awards and keep them on the same reservation.

Tips for Booking

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:

  1. Your destination matters. As mentioned above, domestic travel is generally free — including to places like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands — while international travel is a whole other animal.
  1. Call in to book. Virgin Atlantic is the only airline on the list that makes it easy to book infant tickets online. In general, you must call the airline’s reservation line to book an infant ticket. It’s 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.
  1. If something sounds wrong, it probably is. Many phone booking agents have no experience booking infant awards, and even if they do, they might still have the wrong information. Make sure you have your airline’s policy on hand before calling in so you can question any numbers that might seem out of the ballpark.
  1. Birthdays and age restrictions. Infants and lap children must be under two years old. That means if your child turns two while traveling, any ticket for travel after their birthday cannot be an infant or lap child ticket and will be subject to other rules.
  1. Child-to-adult ratios. Airlines also have strict rules about how many lap children can travel with an adult. The ratio is usually two children per adult. However, only one of those children can be a lap child, while the other must have their own seat. Familiarize yourself with the airline’s rules before booking.
  1. Get the bulkhead. Airlines often hold aside bulkhead seats for families with infants. It never hurts to ask if they can do so for your family when booking.
  1. Baggage fees. While we’d never call a child “baggage” here at TPG, the good news is that traveling with an infant might entitle you to additional checked bags. Look at your airline’s infant information page to find out if you can bring along extra bags.
  1. Don’t forget the documents. Your child will need his or her own documentation for international travel, so be sure you have his or her travel documents in order before booking.

Bottom Line

Like all family travel, traveling with infants can get complicated. Each airline and frequent flyer program has its own rules about mileage requirements, taxes and fees, so how you book your tickets can make a huge difference to your bottom line. Before reserving your own ticket, be sure to call the airline directly to ask exactly how much you can expect to pay for your infant’s ticket, then consider all your options when it comes to mileage programs so that you end up spending the lowest amount of miles and money to bring your bundle of joy with you.

Featured image by Marc Romanelli / Getty Images.

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