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Avoid spending hundreds of dollars to fly holding your baby, tips for lap infant award travel

March 27, 2022
17 min read
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Editor's Note

TPG founder Brian Kelly is a Bilt advisor and investor.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated with current policies and information.

Planning family travel can be complicated ... and expensive.

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 new parents may not be expecting is that you sometimes have to pay extra to hold your infant or small child in your lap while you fly.

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Those new to flying with "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. And once you start flying internationally with that little one, the cost can range from minuscule to massive.

When traveling with lap children internationally on award tickets you may end up having to spend a big chunk of cash even if your baby isn't getting its own seat. To put it another way, 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 a major expense on your next family trip.

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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 and is flying without their own seat. Note that babies don't have to be lap infants -- you can choose to buy them their own seat. In fact, as they grow from infant to baby and toddler, there is some real wisdom in that approach. But regardless, once that child hits 2 years old, he or she will have to have their own 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 necessarily 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 is a good idea to bring a birth certificate — even if they clearly look under 2. In fact, some airlines, like Southwest, are known for requiring proof the baby is under 2 even if they clearly look like an infant.

Related: Documents needed when flying with a lap child

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 often expect to pay something for bringing your little bundle of joy.

(Photo by Images by Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images)

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.

Related: Flying with a lap child — here's what you need to know

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 business class ticket to Europe 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, rather than paying cash. 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.

Mother holding a baby girl at the airport, pointing at the airplanes
(Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

International infant award travel fees

While things can change, so always double-check before going forward with your carrier of choice, 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 going paid fare with cash and “mileage” means award mileage. The link on each airline’s name will take you to its specific webpage outlining that airline’s infant travel policies and fees so you can double-check nothing has changed.

Airline/ProgramTransfer partnersAllianceRules
Aeroplan/Air CanadaAmex, Bilt, Capital One, Chase, Marriott.Star Alliance.$25 CAD or 2,500 miles.
Air France/KLM Flying BlueAmex, Bilt, Brex, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Marriott.SkyTeam.10% of adult fare, plus full taxes/fees. Only for Air France/KLM flights.
Alaska AirlinesMarriott.Oneworld.Taxes and fees on Alaska’s international flights. Cannot issue infant awards on partners.
All Nippon Airways (ANA)Amex, Marriott.Star Alliance, many other partners.10% of adult miles or fare, plus taxes/fees.
American AirlinesBilt, Marriott.Oneworld.10% of adult fare, plus taxes and fees.
AsianaMarriott.Star Alliance.10% of adult mileage, plus taxes/fees.
British AirwaysAmex, Capital One, Chase, Marriott.Oneworld.10% of adult mileage, plus taxes/fees.
Cathay Pacific Asia MilesAmex, Bilt, Brex, Capital One, Citi, Marriott.Oneworld.Can vary from 10% – 25% of adult fare, plus taxes/fees.
Delta Air LinesAmex, Marriott.SkyTeam.10% of adult fare, plus taxes/fees.
EmiratesAmex, Bilt, Brex, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Marriott.None, many partners.Economy: 10% of adult mileage, plus taxes/fees.

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

EtihadAmex, Capital One, Citi, Marriott.None, many partners.10% of adult fare, plus international taxes and fees.
Hawaiian AirlinesAmex, Bilt, Marriott.None, many partners.10% of adult fare, plus international taxes/fees.
IberiaAmex, Chase, Marriott.Oneworld.10% of adult fare, plus international taxes/fees.
Japan AirlinesMarriott.Oneworld, many other partners.10% of adult fare, plus taxes and fees.
JetBlueAmex, Chase, Citi.American Airlines, several partners.Just taxes, usually around $17.
Korean AirMarriott.SkyTeam.10% of adult mileage, plus taxes/fees.
Lufthansa Miles & MoreNone.Star Alliance.Taxes/fees.
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyerAmex, Brex, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Marriott.Star Alliance, many other partners.10% of adult fare, plus taxes/fees.
Southwest AirlinesChase, Marriott.None.Taxes and fees on international legs.
United AirlinesBilt, Chase, Marriott.Star Alliance.Taxes/fees only to Canada.

10% of adult fare, plus taxes/fees internationally beyond Canada.

Capped at $250 on award tickets.

Virgin AtlanticAmex, Bilt, Chase, Citi, Marriott.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.

Editor's note: TPG founder Brian Kelly is a Bilt advisor and investor.

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 going adult cash 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) and 10% of first or business class can be a large number.

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 at just $25 CAD or 2,500 miles for a lap infant to fly with you. Those cash copays are dirt cheap considering surcharges on premium international tickets can cost thousands of dollars.

Additionally, the Aeroplan program is a transfer partner of most flexible reward programs such as American Express Membership Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy, Capital One and Chase Ultimate Rewards. This makes transferring points into your account incredibly easy.

And best of all, you can now book your lap infant online during the same process as booking an adult ticket.

Book your lap infant online and pay just 2,500 miles for your infant. (Screenshot from aeroplan.com)

Asiana

This Korean carrier’s mileage program is often overlooked, but it issues cobranded 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 and from the U.K., one area where the airline’s Avios program shines is 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 still somewhat unusual.

(Screenshot from britishairways.com)

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 revised its infant award rules a few years ago and now charges flat mileage rates of 1,000 to 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. Similar to British Airways, if your child turns 2 years old during the trip, you can still book a lap seat and the child will receive his or her own seat on the return flight.

Programs to avoid

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 five 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 cover any applicable taxes or fees.

Call 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 whack. You also may have to hang up and try again if you get an agent who is misinformed.

For a multi-flight itinerary with mixed carriers, call each airline

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 2 years old. That means if your child turns 2 while traveling (other than on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, as mentioned above), that child will no longer qualify for lap travel and will require an individual seat as well as 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. There are also rules on the number of lap infants per row, due to the oxygen masks. 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 on some internationally configured planes. It never hurts to ask if the agent can reserve these seats for your family when booking. If they try to upsell you, push back and see if the airline can assign them for free due to the bassinet. But at the end of the day, seat assignments aren't always free, even for families with little kids.

Baggage fees

While we’d never refer to a child as baggage, the good news is that traveling with an infant might give you an extra baggage allowance 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. You'll also want to bring your child's birth certificate or another form of identification to prove that your baby is, in fact, under 2 — even if it's obvious. Here’s how to get a passport photo and passport for your baby.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

Traveling with infants can be complex -- especially when you start getting into the realm of lap infant tickets on international itineraries. 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 makes sense to weigh the pros and cons of getting your child his or her 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 so that you spend the overall fewest number of miles and the least money to bring your little one along for the ride.

Are you flying with your baby soon? Here’s some more advice:

Additional reporting by Jennifer Yellin.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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