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11 lessons I learned flying long-haul business class with my toddler

July 7 2022
13 min read
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Some travel experiences are worth the splurge (such as using miles to fly in Emirates first class and spending a long weekend at Alila Ventana Big Sur using points). Now that I have successfully completed a 31-hour itinerary from Los Angeles to Bali, Indonesia, with my daughter along for the journey, I can say with absolute certainty that redeeming miles for business-class seats when flying with a toddler is absolutely worth it.

When our daughter, Indah, was younger and not yet so mobile, we survived flying to Cape Town from Los Angeles in economy ... barely. I think Indah, and thus my husband and I, slept four total hours on the way there.

But mobility makes all the difference. We knew for this trip — a one-way since we were actually moving to Bali — we badly needed lie-flat beds and far more personal space for sporadic play sessions, not to mention our belongings.

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So, I transferred 190,000 points from my stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards to my Singapore KrisFlyer account and took the plunge on an itinerary from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Narita International Airport (NRT), Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) and finally Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS) that cost 95,000 points per adult instead of the paid fare of around $3,600 per person.

While I can’t promise you business class with your toddler will equal leisurely meals and a full night's sleep, I still highly recommend it — so much so that, at this point, the idea of flying overseas in economy with Indah racing around the cabin feels almost impossible. Nevertheless, we’re about to do it next month.

If you've decided to opt for premium seats with your little one, here are my best tips for making a long-haul business-class flight with your small child as smooth as possible, from start to finish.

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(Photo by Kathryn Romeyn/The Points Guy)

Do your homework on fees

While lap infants (younger than 24 months) generally fly free on domestic U.S. flights, you can expect to be charged 10% of the adult fare for the child you're flying with (for the same cabin, so 10% of the economy fare if you're flying coach, or 10% of the business-class fare if you're upfront, which can add up quickly), plus taxes and fees, for international trips on many carriers.

As I found, depending on the airline’s website capability, adding that lap infant can be a major headache or super easy. I found things fairly convoluted when booking our trip on Singapore Airlines, partly because I had to wait several days for my Chase points to transfer to KrisFlyer and couldn’t take care of it all in one go on the phone when I reserved our award seats.

Singapore Airlines was experiencing major call volume issues back in March when I made the booking — thanks, COVID-19 — so once I did have our adult awards confirmed, I still had to call a separate awards specialist to purchase Indah's lap infant ticket.

That proved challenging, to say the least. After several stressful days of sitting on hold for more than an hour before being connected to someone who could not help and being promised that someone would call me soon, I finally was able to secure Indah’s ticket for $389.30. That included the $364 fare and $25.30 in taxes.

If you have options with carriers, spend some time studying up on what each will charge you, since some frequent flyer programs let you use points or miles for an infant ticket, too. If your chosen carrier requires paid fares for infant tickets, make sure you budget time to navigate a potentially confusing process when it comes time to add your babe to the booking.

Research your child's baggage allowance

(Photo by Kathryn Romeyn/The Points Guy)

Another person means another luggage allowance, right? Not necessarily.

On Singapore Airlines, Indah's infant ticket included one full-weight checked bag, plus one stroller or travel crib-like item and one car seat. We opted to use our stroller to cart our carry-ons around the airport and then gate-check it, which worked well for us.

If you’re in need of more space, I’ve heard of people using a travel cover when checking their car seat or stroller so they can fill it with a bunch of extra baby stuff.

Be mindful of your toddler’s sleep times when picking flights and layovers

Once you get on that plane, your little one’s (and your) sleep rhythms are going to get off-kilter. There’s no way around it.

When choosing a departure time, give some thought as to whether you’ll have to keep your child up extra late or wake them in the middle of the night to head to the airport, and consider the time you’re landing at your destination.

(Photo by Kathryn Romeyn/The Points Guy)

My preference is to arrive during the day so Indah is up for at least a few hours before bedtime in that new place. We reached Bali around lunchtime and put Indah to bed early around 5 p.m. Much to our relief, she slept through the night. It was practically a miracle.

Still, don’t put too much energy into concocting an entire inflight sleep plan because there's a high probability of failure. Even in a business-class seat (and we had an extra seat across the aisle that the flight attendant kindly made up as a bed for Indah), your toddler may just see it as a place to party and play.

Before having a baby, I always chose the itinerary with the fewest stops, naturally. But on this trip, we were actually grateful for the brief refueling stop in Tokyo that broke up what would have been a 17-hour nonstop flight from LA to Singapore. It turned out to be a nice chance to stretch our legs and have a momentary respite from being in an airplane, however comfortable we had been on board.

If you have a long layover somewhere, as we did for eight hours in Singapore, consider budgeting for an airport hotel. We loved the ease of the hourly Aerotel, which is located airside at Singapore Changi Airport. The property even provided a crib for free.

Choose the right seats

Different airlines and different aircraft, of course, have different seat configurations, and they’re not all equal when it comes to traveling as a family.

We flew the long-haul portion of our trip on a Boeing 777-300ER and were assigned the two center bulkhead seats at the front of the business-class cabin, but Indah was too big for a bassinet. The manual divider wall between them came in handy when we took turns sleeping, though the rest of the time Indah treated the seats like a personal jungle gym. The seat arrangement was wonderful, too, because when we were upright, the wraparound bench at the foot of the seat was a place for Indah to sit. In lie-flat mode, we could both fit comfortably on the bed.

(Photo by Kathryn Romeyn/The Points Guy)

Being right beside the galley came with both positives and negatives. While we were closer to the noise and light in that space, overall I think it benefited us because we could easily get anything we needed and the flight attendants were close at hand to play peekaboo with our toddler.

On our short hop to Bali from Singapore, we were on a Boeing 787. Our seats were connected by a space Indah could actually walk through, which was very fun for her — but less so for us.

I’d recommend comparing a few aircraft layouts on sites like SeatGuru and giving some thought to where you think will be best for you to sit. If you like darker, quieter conditions when you sleep, try to pick seats away from the galley.

Take advantage of the divider between seats and swap toddler duty

As previously mentioned, our center seats actually had a privacy divider that could be raised or lowered. That ended up being a huge plus for us.

By putting the divider up, we found one adult got to sleep while the other wrangled the baby.

On Singapore Airlines, we were told we could order our meals at whatever time we liked, which was another big advantage. We hadn’t even thought of it, but the flight attendant suggested holding my first meal until my husband finished eating his, which we thought was brilliant.

(Photo by Kathryn Romeyn/The Points Guy)

It briefly gave each of us back a bit of the enjoyment of having a hot, multicourse, white-tablecloth meal in business class ... while the other one was on baby duty. The same strategy worked pretty well for catching some zzz's, too, though a toddler will probably always know where to find you when they want mama.

Not every airline will accommodate you like this, so think about which ones provide on-demand meals, like Qatar Airways, and whether you can opt for one of those instead of a carrier that just offers conventional mealtime service.

Go for an airline that’s kid-friendly

One of the elements of our experience that actually surprised me the most was just how kid-friendly our flight attendants were, especially since they had a cabin full of premium flyers who had paid top dollar to sit in business class.

They treated Indah like the biggest VIP of all, giving her a new plush toy on both of our long-haul Singapore Airlines flights and offering her water in a colorful child-size paper cup with a straw.

The flight attendants were overwhelmingly sweet to her. They not only went out of their way to help make our trip easier, but they even played with Indah throughout the flight. If they got tired of our requests or trips to the galley to just hang out so she could move around, they never showed it at all.

(Photo by Kathryn Romeyn/The Points Guy)

TPG’s guide to the most family-friendly airlines is worth perusing so you can be sure to choose one known for valuing its littlest passengers. For example, when we flew KLM during a prior trip, Indah received an activity pack with crayons and other little trinkets to pass the time. Emirates is especially known for being kid-friendly, offering amenities like inflight formula and organic baby meals, airport strollers and more than 130 channels dedicated to children’s content.

Save some room in your carry-on for snacks

You can literally never have too many snacks or pouches to fill a young one’s growing belly midair. Flying in business class may mean delicious food for the adults, but the choices are not as robust for a lap infant.

We’ve always loved Cerebelly’s pouches and Smart Bars for meals since I know they’re packed with nutritional value. Plain Cheerios were also little miracle workers on this flight, as Indah ate them so slowly, one by one off the extra-clean bench we disinfected several times, that we must have passed a couple of hours this way.

(Photo by Kathryn Romeyn/The Points Guy)

Bring a spill-proof water bottle for your toddler

Extra water and milk, if they drink it, are musts, especially for helping equalize babies' ears during takeoff and landing. As a result, having a bottle or straw cup that doesn’t leak is imperative.

I’d forgotten a separate milk cup, but fortunately, our flight attendants stepped in with a cute paper cup with a straw. The potential for spillage caused us a fair bit of stress, though. Had we been better with our packing, we could have had one less thing to worry about.

Carry toys, but also think creatively

Some of the things that kept Indah’s attention the longest were the most mundane non-toys (baby wipes, an eye mask and toiletry pouches). A balloon-style toy made of a blown-up rubber glove, a flashing light and a marker that one of the flight attendants made her was a big hit, too.

Of course, typical toys and books are helpful as well, but don’t offer up everything at the start of the flight. Save some tricks for those desperate last couple of hours.

(Photo by Kathryn Romeyn/The Points Guy)

Have some comforts from home with you for bedtime

If you're sharing a lie-flat seat with your toddler, know that you'll have a better shot of putting them to bed on one end of the seat while you use the other part. To make the process go as smoothly as possible, be sure to bring all the bedtime essentials, such as a sleep sack, a bedtime book and a stuffed animal.

We recreated Indah’s whole nighttime routine on the plane, starting with putting her in jammies and ending with the song I always sing. While it didn’t work the first time, she did eventually doze off, cuddling a lot with the animals she collected along the journey, including a super-soft puppy from the Fairmont Century Plaza (where we stayed right before the flight) and Sven the reindeer from "Frozen" (which Singapore Airlines was kind enough to gift us).

(Photo by Kathryn Romeyn/The Points Guy)

Pack some patience

Even with cushy airline amenities and most of the comforts of home, there’s one more element that goes a long way in enjoying the trip: patience. Yes, business class is the ideal way to fly a long distance with a toddler, but it’s still exhausting, so mental preparation is key.

Give yourself some grace, and know it won’t go perfectly. Also remember that most other passengers and flight attendants, as we experienced, are overwhelmingly kind and likely familiar with the challenges you’re facing.

Getting to share the joy of travel with Indah has been priceless, as each trip brings new stories we’ll be telling forever. We would have never been able to make these memories if it wasn’t for having points and miles.

Featured photo by (Photo by Kathryn Romeyn/The Points Guy)
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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6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
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  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
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  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees