Planning Award Travel With a Lap Infant

Mar 22, 2018

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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 have to pay for putting your infant or lap 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.

The result: Traveling with your infant can end up costing you thousands of miles — or worse —  thousands of dollars if you don’t know the rules. (And sadly, when the cost is hundreds or thousands of dollars, 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.

In This Post

Comfortable babies make for happy babies. Cheaper lap-infant fees make for happy parents. Image courtesy of Marc Romanelli via Getty Images.
Comfortable babies make for happy babies. Cheaper lap-infant fees make for happy parents. (Image courtesy of Marc Romanelli / Getty Images)

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 ticket.

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 a TPG link explaining requirements for lap infants:

Domestic versus international: US 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 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 would normally cost $6,000, you 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.

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

International Infant Award Travel Fees

The table below lists the airlines whose 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 name will take you to the specific webpage outlining that airline’s infant travel policies and fees.

Aeroplan/Air Canada Amex, Marriott 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, Marriott SkyTeam
  • 10% of adult fare, plus full taxes/fees. Only for Air France/KLM flights
Alaska Airlines Marriott None, many partners
All Nippon Airways (ANA) Amex, Marriott Star Alliance, many other partners
  • 10% of adult miles or fare, plus taxes/fees
American Airlines Marriott Oneworld
  • 10% of adult fare, plus taxes and fees
Asiana Marriott Star Alliance
  • 10% of adult fare or mileage, plus taxes/fees
British Airways Amex, Chase, Marriott Oneworld
  • 10% of adult mileage, plus taxes/fees
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles Citi, Marriott Oneworld
  • Can vary from 10% – 25%, plus taxes/fees
Delta Air Lines Amex, Marriott SkyTeam
  • 10% of adult fare, plus taxes/fees
Emirates Amex, Marriott None, many partners
  • Economy: 10% of adult mileage, plus taxes/fees
  • Business/First: 10% of adult paid fare, plus taxes/fees
Etihad Amex, Citi, Marriott None, many partners
  • 10% of adult fare, plus international taxes and fees
Hawaiian Airlines Amex, Marriott None, many partners
  • 10% of adult fare, plus international taxes/fees
Iberia Amex, Chase, Marriott Oneworld
  • 10% of adult fare, plus international taxes/fees
Japan Airlines Marriott Oneworld, many other partners
  • 10% of adult fare, plus taxes and fees
JetBlue Amex, Chase, Citi, Marriott None, several partners
  • Just taxes, usually around $12
Korean Air Marriott SkyTeam
  • 10% of adult mileage, plus taxes/fees
Lufthansa Miles & More Marriott Star Alliance
  • Taxes/fees
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Amex, Chase, Citi, Marriott 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, Marriott Star Alliance
  • Taxes/fees only to Canada. 10% of adult fare, plus taxes/fees internationally beyond Canada
Virgin Atlantic Amex, 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
  • First Class (partners): 7,000 miles, plus taxes/fees

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.

You might notice that 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 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.

Air Canada Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner tail (Photo courtesy of Air Canada)
Air Canada Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner tail (Photo courtesy of Air Canada)

Asiana: This Korean carrier’s mileage program is often overlooked, but it issues cobranded credit cards in the US 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, they will provide an assigned seat on the return at no additional charge. Plus, you 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 flat mileage rates of 1,000–7,000 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 US, 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 US, 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 they 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. However, they sometimes charge 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.

(Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

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.

  1. Your destination matters: As mentioned above, domestic travel is generally free (including places like Puerto Rico and the US 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Birthdays and age restrictions: Infants and lap children must be under 2 years old. That means if your child turns 2 while traveling, 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.
  6. 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. Additional lap infants must have his/her own seat. Familiarize yourself with the airline’s rules before booking.
  7. Get the bulkhead: Airlines often hold aside 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 for them, push back and see if they can give them to you for free.
  8. Baggage fees: While we’d never refer to a child as baggage, the good news is, traveling with an infant might entitle you to additional bags on some airlines. Look at your airline’s infant information page to find out if you can bring along extra bags.
  9. 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.
(Photo by Dangubic / Getty Images)

Bottom Line

Like all family trips, traveling with infants can be complex — honestly, really complex in some situations. 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.

The airline and program with which you book your tickets can make a huge difference to your bottom line and time invested in booking the trip. 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: 

Featured image by Dangubic / Getty Images.

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