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Flying With Kids: Infant Flight Awards

It’s been a while since I’ve written a “Flying with Kids” post given that not many of us with kids were doing a lot of overseas travel. Now, as travel restrictions are being lifted and vaccines for children are on the verge of being rolled out, some of us may soon be back in the air with them.

According to statistics in Ontario, we’re seeing a bit of a pandemic baby boom, so some of you may very well find yourselves wondering about infant flight award redemptions.

Although some airlines offer discounts on cash fares for children, this is generally not the case for award tickets. Thus, flight awards for older children are pretty straightforward. If they’re over the age of two, you’ll be redeeming the same amount of miles or points for them as you would for an adult.

If you’re travelling with a child under the age of two, the situation is quite different, and in fact, he or she may be able to fly almost for free. In this post we’ll take a look at how different award programs price infant award tickets, and some additional considerations.

In This Post

The Basics

Let’s start with the definition of an infant in the aviation world. For most airlines, an infant is any child under the age of two at the time of departure.

If your child happens to turn two between flights during your trip, then they will no longer be considered an infant for the remaining segments of the itinerary that occur after their second birthday and will require a seat. In fact, some airlines will even consider them a child for the entire booking, thus requiring you to redeem a full award ticket for your child.

If you find yourself in this situation, it may be better to book two separate one-way bookings so that you are priced at the infant fare on departure, and a child or full fare on return. Some airlines will manually price the outbound flight as an infant and the inbound as a child in these situations.

Seating Options with Infants

When travelling on an airplane with an infant, you have one of two options:

  • Infants can occupy their own seat, where in most cases they will be charged the full adult award fare (although there are exceptions, like with Emirates). If they occupy their own seat, they will require you to bring along a car seat or an approved child aviation restraint system.
  • Infants can also remain a lap infant, where they are seated in the lap of an adult. Some airlines provide a lap belt extension for the infant to use. If your infant is young and small enough, airlines may be able to provide bassinets for use in designated bulkhead seats.

For the purposes of this post, we will be looking specifically at travelling with a lap infant.

The Cost

In general, airlines have adopted one of five approaches for charging lap infants:

  • No fare
  • A percentage of the adult revenue fare
  • A percentage of the standard award fare
  • A fixed revenue fare
  • A fixed award fare

Keep in mind that most airlines will still charge the applicable taxes, fees and charges on top of the aforementioned fares (even in cases where no fare is charged), so take that into consideration when looking at the overall cost for your infant.

Other General Caveats

  • Booking: Some airlines allow booking online, while other require you to call in.
  • Minimum age of infant: With a few exceptions, most airlines require infants to be a minimum of one week old before they can fly.
  • Adult to infant ratio: Most airlines only allow one lap infant per adult. If you have additional children, they’ll be required to have tickets for their own seats.
  • Minimum age of adult: Be sure to check the age threshold to be considered an adult, as it varies by airline. Some allow as young as the age of 12, up to the age of 18.
  • Domestic / international / partner flights: Some airlines have differing policies for domestic and international itineraries, and also those on their own routes and partner routes. I have tried to list most of these differences in the chart below, but be sure to check with the airline program for the most up-to-date information before booking.
  • Boarding pass: Generally speaking, infants will need a paper boarding pass, so you will have to visit the airline’s kiosk at the airport for this (i.e. online check-in not available).

Lap Infant Charges for Popular Airline Programs for Canadians

Program / Airline

Cost

Booking

No fare

Online

Domestic (including to the US): No fare

International: CAD $25 or 2,500 Aeroplan points per direction of travel

1-800-361-5373

Domestic (including to/from Canada and Mexico): No fare

International: USD $20 to $250 per direction of travel, depending on destination and class of travel

Online

No fare if travel is solely on Alaska Airlines

Cannot book lap infants on international partner award tickets; rather, infants must book a standard award ticket for their own seat

1-800-252-7522

10% of adult revenue fare

(may not be able to book lap infants on all international partner award tickets)

Domestic: online

International: 1-800-433-7300

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

As per an an agent, it is roughly:

25% the adult revenue fare for flights to/from US

10% the adult revenue fare for non-US flights

Cannot book lap infants on partner award tickets; rather, call to add their name on the booking and then contact the partner airline to purchase an infant ticket, if it’s permitted by the partner airline

1-877-631-6283

British Airways Avios

10% of flight award mileage + 10% of taxes and fees for long-haul flights, or 10£ for short-haul flights

Unique to British Airways, if your child turns 2 during your trip, they will provide an assigned seat on the return flight for no additional charge

Online

Iberia Plus Avios

10% of adult revenue fare

1-800-772-4642

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

10% of adult revenue fare

1-800-742-3333

Domestic: No fare (infants defined as less than 3 years of age, only on domestic flights)

International: 10% of flight award mileage

1-844-728-0647

Domestic: No fare (infants defined as less than 3 years of age, only on domestic flights)

International: 10% of adult revenue fare

1-800-525-3663

10% of flight award mileage for economy

10% of adult revenue fare for business or First Class

Economy: online

Business / First: 1-800-777-3999

1,000 points in economy

2,000 points in premium economy

5,000 points in business

Online

Strategic Booking

As you can see from the chart above, it will cost you a lot less to fly with some airlines and programs compared to others. WestJet, Aeroplan, and United MileagePlus come out on top with no or low fixed fares for infants, even for redemptions in premium cabins. 

If you’re looking to book in a premium cabin, you’ll likely want to avoid programs that charge a percentage of the revenue fare. Considering a one-way international business class ticket can cost you several thousand dollars or more, an infant ticket could cost you several hundred dollars. 

Lastly, don’t forget to compare the infant fares on a particular airline across different programs within an alliance. For example, if I wanted to book a business fare ticket on Japan Airlines, I could book directly with Japan Airlines and pay 10% of the revenue fare for an infant, or I can book it through British Airways Avios and only pay 10% of the miles cost. In the example below, I would rather pay the miles. 

Note the $400 cost for the infant when booking through Japan Airlines (10% of the adult revenue fare), compared to the cost of 10,125 Avios when booked through British Airways Executive Club. In this example, you’d get a value of just about 4 cents per Avios compared to the cash alternative.

Booking a Separate Seat

If you’re into maximizing your miles and points, you’ll probably opt to book a lap infant. However, there may be some circumstances where you want to fork out the points for an extra award redemption to have an extra seat. 

It all comes down to comfort. If you’re flying in economy, holding an infant for a few hours is manageable, but if you’re flying a long-haul flight, you may want to opt for a separate seat. This may be an important consideration if you’re travelling alone with an infant and there is no one that can help with the infant-holding.

The same logic applies if your infant is on the higher end of the growth curve or nearing two years of age. They won’t fit in any airline-approved bassinet so it’s going to be all on you. 

An active infant is also problematic, and an extra seat can give them a little more room to move around. Being able to bring a carseat where they can be buckled in for short periods may be a lifesaver not only for you, but those around you.

Keep in mind that most airlines will not allow car seats in business or First Class, so a lap infant is the only way to go in the premium cabins. However, given that these seats come with a lot more space and can even lie-flat, having a lap infant doesn’t seem all too bad. (In fact, for long-haul flights with a lap infant, my preference would be to fly in a premium cabin.)

Finally, if you’re travelling alone with more than one infant, most airlines require you to book a seat for the second infant anyway. 

Conclusion

Travelling with an infant can be challenging, but at the same time, it can amount to some great savings if you’re prepared to travel with them as a lap infant. Rather than paying for an extra standard award redemption, it’ll either be free or cost you a fraction of the price of the adult revenue fare, whether you pay with money or miles. 

Don’t forget to compare the cost between different airlines and programs for your flights, as an infant ticket will cost less with some programs than others. Hopefully the chart above can serve as a quick reference to help jumpstart your travels with the little one!

Amy Tung

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