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With so many ways to earn and redeem miles at a great value, family travel in first or business class is a realistic goals for many families in the miles and points hobby. Though it may be a “splurge” to travel up front with kids in tow (though not always a big a splurge as you think), it’s certainly a unique and memorable travel experience. Let’s also not forget the obvious: It’s a great way to arrive at a destination well-rested so that the entire family can start the trip off on the right foot!
While “Do Kids Belong in Business Class” will always be a topic of discussion (believe it or not, some carriers already have age-restrictions and kid-free zones within a particular cabin), you probably stumbled across this post because maybe at least some part of your aspirational family travel goals include a more comfortable ride on a long-haul flight. Or perhaps you’ve already reached the point where you saved enough miles and points to finally treat your family to a well-deserved special trip.
Whatever your reasons for wanting to travel in style, here are some of my favorite tips for traveling in first and business class with younger kids in tow.
1. Make Sure Your Kids are Emotionally Ready
I cannot stress this enough. Let’s first establish the universal cardinal rule that parents are 100% responsible for their kids’ behavior in public settings — flying or not. Kids aside, I also believe that flying long haul in first or business class isn’t merely “transportation.” Let’s be honest: You (and others around you) understand that for the extra miles you redeem (or money you pay), you are paying a premium for comfort — or even for a bit of luxury.
Having a premium flight experience wrecked by disruptive passengers of any age surely will put a damper on the trip. With that being said, I encourage parents to continue traveling with their kids. But, if your child does not know how to behave properly on a plane, or if they’re at that age where he or she is not emotionally ready from a developmental standpoint (infant and toddler behavior tends to be the most unpredictable), then maybe it’s best to save your miles for seats up front for a later trip.
You as a parent know your kids better than anyone else, so I can’t really say there’s a magical age, but there will most likely come a time where you will just know your child can likely remain on his or her best behavior for the entire duration of the flight.
I recently reached this milestone when I flew for almost 24 hours straight with my 3- and 4-year-old kids between Newark to Singapore (via Tokyo) — entirely in economy. After successfully preparing, flying and exceeding the expectations I had set on such a long trek, I became much more confident about long-haul family travel and knew that my two frequent flyers were ready to handle the behavioral expectations that come with sitting in the front.
It wasn’t long after that trip that I found four semi-last minute award seats from Newark to Frankfurt (via Brussels) for 55,000 Aeroplan miles each and booked without hesitation. (Learn how to book award flights with Air Canada Aeroplan.)
2. Get Them Hyped and Set Expectations
As a frequent flyer myself, I’m lucky in the sense that my children genuinely love to travel. Even so, I still get my children excited about the overall experience every time we travel — long before we even have our boarding passes in hand. Maybe my own points excitement is contagious, but I find it to be a cute way to honor the fun and joy that comes along with it all.
Economy or not, I remind my kids how amazing flying is and how they are lucky to be able to take such cool trips around the world at such a young age. At the same time, set strict behavioral expectations (aka flight time is quiet time) beforehand.
3. Book or Link Reservations Together
With proper planning (and knowing the patterns of how carriers release award space), it’s not uncommon to find enough business class awards for the entire family. I mean, it won’t always happen with fixed travel dates and destinations, but it is possible with flexibility and persistence.
When traveling in business or first class with young children, it’s unlikely that the child would have the miles needed in his or her own accounts unless they have had lots of paid travel under their belts, er, diapers. So, if possible, try to secure all of the passengers on the same reservation — it’s even better if the traveling adult booking the reservation has elite status. This can help in many ways, including with changes, cancellations and prioritized assistance in the event of delays, cancellations and misconnections.
If you have enough miles in one program to book the entire family in one shot, go for it; however, it’s not uncommon to have to use miles in different alliance programs to piece everything together, resulting in separate reservations.
If that’s the case, be sure to contact the operating airline so that they can link the reservations together beforehand to reduce headaches during the case of irregular operations. If it comes down to having to book a child on a separate reservation, it will likely have to be done over the phone as tickets for minors without an adult on the reservation often require special handling. This process is generally simple as long as the traveling adult is also booked on the same flight, but can’t always be done online.
4. Strategically Choose Your Seats
Once your seats are booked, I’d immediately select your seats to ensure everyone is seated together — or at least one parent is seated with the child. Though preschoolers and above are often “mature enough” to know how to behave properly — they can be really picky and set in their ways sometimes, especially if they start to get tired.
For instance, both of my kids love window seats, and our recent United flight had a 2-2-2 configuration up front. Rather than sit horizontally across in the same row, I decided a better choice would be to sit two in one row and two directly behind to ensure both kids had their window seats without any unwanted fighting over seats before takeoff. (Be aware that some airlines charge for seating assignments on international flights — even for award flights in business class.)
Separating the kids and designating one kid per adult also helps with sibling rivalry and fighting over snacks, activities, etc. I’d certainly recommend choosing a seating arrangement that makes sense for the preferences of your family, keeping in mind the layout of business or first class. Some seating arrangements, such as the QSuites, are better for families with young kids than others. In fact, some very private first class seats wouldn’t work well for young children at all.
5. Visit the Lounge Beforehand
While many credit cards (such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Citi Prestige Card or The Platinum Card® from American Express) grant certain types of lounge access as a card member benefit, long-haul international business and first class tickets usually include lounge access, regardless of your status with the carrier or alliance.
Visiting the lounge before the flight is not only a great way for parents (and kids) to enjoy the flight experience from start to finish, but it allows your child a relaxing place to kick back before the flight, eat a bite before boarding and perhaps even enjoy some time in the designated family/playroom beforehand. For instance, Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal in Frankfurt has a children’s area with toys and places to cozy up, without disrupting other passengers.
On my family’s recent trip to Brussels in United Polaris business class, we are so glad we were able to enjoy a full sit-down meal in the new Polaris Lounge at Newark before boarding the flight. Little did we know, we had a three-hour mechanical delay awaiting us before takeoff. Having the kids board with full bellies really did contribute to them being such good sports about our unfortunate circumstances!
All that said, do allow time for them to stretch their legs somewhere in the airport if the lounge does not have a family room. Getting some energy out before asking little ones sitting still for hours is very important!
6. Bring Entertainment
A great thing about traveling in the front of the plane with kids is that you can (usually) count on having at least somewhat quality entertainment on demand — especially on long-haul flights. Most carriers have plenty of options for kids and families, but as I mentioned earlier, preschoolers tend to be more likely to be bummed if their favorite show of the week is not an option.
With that being said, it’s probably best to bring an iPad loaded with some of their favorite shows, movies and games, just to be on the safe side — along with other non-electronic activities as well such as workbooks and mess-free coloring books. Check out our tips to keep kids entertained on flights without tablets.
7. Pack Backup Snacks and Meals
While adults might be all about the caviar and Champagne, the inflight menu in first or business class isn’t quite designed with the preschooler’s palate in mind. With that being said, it’s a good idea to pack some backup food and snacks that you know your child will enjoy. I’d say that it’s actually pretty critical to bring an overload of snacks to pick on throughout the flight in case your child refuses to eat (or is asleep) during meal service.
Having an extra stash of food is not only a good idea if your child finds the inflight meals to be unappetizing, but can be a lifesaver in the event of a long mechanical or tarmac delay. Adults may be able to deal with hunger (or hanger) for some time, but young children may not be able to handle that scenario as well.
Additionally, know that you can typically request a child’s meal before the flight, but don’t count on a specialized child meal being loaded into first or business class for your kid if you didn’t request it at least 1 – 2 days in advance.
8. Remind Your Kids That The Flight Is Special
Last, but certainly not least, I urge parents to remind young children that having the opportunity to fly in business or first class truly is special and most certainly not the “norm” for most people. Flying and traveling abroad is still a privilege in itself as less than half of Americans even have a passport — so keep that in mind, too.
I remember the first time I ever had the opportunity to fly in first class was when I was 24, and that was only between Newark and Nassau, Bahamas, on United. Looking back now, that wasn’t even really that big of a deal, yet I remember how much I cherished and appreciated that experience … before knowing what was yet to come thanks to miles and points!
Traveling with kids is so rewarding no matter how you do it, but I must say that traveling in business class as a family is something I will continue to look forward to on trips to come. It isn’t always the most relaxing experience for the parents, as Mommy Points experienced when flying business class with two little kids, but it is still a very nice way to get where you want to be. That said, you may notice that getting your kids ready to fly with you in business class isn’t all that different from getting them ready to fly in any seat.
Have you traveled in business or first class with your kids? If so, feel free to share your tips and experiences below.
If you need a little help figuring out how to get your family in the good seats using miles and points, check out these articles:
- Best Business Class Seats to Book Using Ultimate Rewards
- Best Business Class Flights to Book Using American AAdvantage Miles
- Best Ways to Fly to Asia Using Miles
- Best Programs for Booking Emirates Awards
- Best Ways to Cross the Atlantic Using Miles
- Booking First Class Awards to Europe
- Top 6 Ways to Fly to Business Class to South America
- Top 9 Ways to Fly Business Class to Africa Using Miles
Featured image by Eric Rosen
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