Baby on Board: How to Book Award Travel with a Lap Infant

Domestically, infants fly free on your lap until age 2… But internationally, it's a different story. Here’s what you need to know about booking award travel with your lap infant.
Last updated Jan 15, 2020 | By Erin Hurd
Baby and mother on airplane

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My husband and I love to travel, so when we had kids we made the decision to keep traveling with them — even though it’s not always the easiest feat. Our travel style has certainly changed, but we prioritize taking our kids on global adventures to explore the world. We took my daughter on her first trip to Mexico when she was four months old, and her first trip across the pond at eight months.

We learned quickly that the lap infant rules and fees can vary widely by airline and by route. We also learned the joys of the infant bassinet for long-haul flights to make the flight infinitely more comfortable for baby and for us. (You can reserve these for free on many international flights.)

When you’re booking award flights, the rules and fees for adding an infant get a little more complicated. Planning to fly with a baby (or toddler) can be stressful enough by itself, let alone when you’re trying to figure out airline fees and rules. In order to reduce your stress, we created this guide to help you navigate how to book award travel with a lap infant.

We’ll show your our top picks for domestic travel with an infant, plus, alternatives to the “Big Three” programs when you’re booking an international flight.

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How to book award travel with a lap infant

The first thing you need to know is that even when a baby is sitting on your lap, you still need a ticket for them. If you try to board a plane with an infant-in-arms that doesn’t have one, you’ll be swiftly sent to the counter to obtain a printed ticket.

In most cases, you’ll need to book your own ticket and then call the airline directly to book a ticket for your baby. Some airlines, like United, make it easy to add your lap infant to your online booking. But many airlines don’t offer this feature.

Twitter is another great resource I’ve found to easily add a lap infant domestically. Just shoot a message to your airline with your child’s information, and they’ll get the information added to your ticket without you having to pick up the phone. While this is great for free domestic tickets, you’ll usually need to speak to someone directly when paying international fees and taxes (more on that in a minute).

Or if you forget altogether, it’s easy to add your lap infant at the airport when you check in. If you’re flying domestically, it’s no big deal. But on an international ticket, adding your baby at check in can cause a spike in fees, so you’ll want to make sure you get your baby ticketed before your departure date. That’s because, in many cases, the fee will be based on a percentage of the full-fare ticket — and day-of departure tickets can be very expensive.

Always be sure to carry a copy of your baby’s birth certificate with you when flying with your lap infant domestically. Southwest is particularly strict about this rule and requires proof of exactly how old your baby is. I’ve had no problems showing a picture of the birth certificate on my phone so I don’t have to deal with carrying the paper. Internationally, of course, you’ll need to travel with a passport for your baby.

How much does it cost to travel with a lap infant?

If you’re flying domestically, the surprisingly pleasant answer is nothing! If your child is under 2 and will be sitting on your lap on a domestic flight, all airlines allow you to fly with your baby for free.

However, if you want a seat for your child, you must purchase a ticket. Some airlines, like Southwest, offer discounted tickets for infants if you want to buy a seat. But be sure to make sure that’s the cheapest option offered — sometimes their Wanna Get Away fares can be cheaper than the reduced infant rate.

If you’re flying internationally, though, the unfortunate answer is that your lap infant is not free.

You can expect to pay as much as 10% of a full-fare ticket when you’re flying with a baby on your lap.

While 10% may not sound like much, if you’re flying in a premium cabin, the fees can add up quickly. If you’ve used your miles to score a Business Class award ticket, you’ll most often have to pay 10% of the cash equivalent for your seat. That means that if your Business Class award seat to Asia would cost $10,000 in cash, you’ll pay $1,000 for your lap infant to join you.

3 ways to book lap infant tickets on international flights for less

Understanding how airline alliances work is important if you want to save on family travel. The three major alliances are Star Alliance, SkyTeam Alliance, and oneworld. Frequent travelers understand that these partnerships make earning and redeeming miles easy across many different carriers.

But many travelers don’t know why these alliances are important, or how to use them to maximize travel rewards. Sometimes, even if the airlines aren’t in the same alliance, they have a partner relationship that can help you save on family travel. We’ll get into this more below.

It’s also worth noting that the most well-known carriers in America are called “The Big Three”: United, Delta, and American. While you certainly can use their respective programs to fly with your lap infant, there are ways to pay less for the same ticket.

Instead of United, try Aeroplan

Booking through Air Canada’s Aeroplan program is among the best ways to book a lap infant ticket. While the more popular United program will charge you 10% of the cost of your ticket to add your baby, Aeroplan charges only a flat — and reasonable — fee. Through this program, you’ll pay only $50 when you’re flying with your baby in Economy Class — no matter how far you’re flying.

You can earn Aeroplan miles by transferring from American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One, Marriott Bonvoy, or by crediting any flight on a Star Alliance partner to your Aeroplan account.

That means that you can fly on United, but if you pay with Aeroplan miles for that flight, you’ll save a substantial amount when you add your lap infant.

Airline Lap infant policy Cost to travel with a lap infant on a domestic flight Cost to travel with a lap infant on an international flight
United Children under 2 can travel on their parent’s lap. Free, but you have to notify United that you’ll be traveling with your child either online or on the phone. 10% of adult fare, plus applicable taxes/fees. You can add your infant and pay the fees online or by calling United.
Aeroplan Children under 2 can travel on their parent’s lap. Free, but you have to call Aeroplan to add your child. Economy Class - $50 or 5,000 Aeroplan Miles

Premium Economy Class - $75 or 7,500 Aeroplan Miles

Business Class - $100 or 10,000 Aeroplan Miles

First Class - $125 or 12,500 Aeroplan Miles

Instead of Delta, try Virgin Atlantic

The Virgin Atlantic Flying Club program is a favorite for many savvy award travelers. This program charges substantially fewer miles to fly popular Delta routes, not just for adult award tickets but for lap infants as well.

Even though Virgin Atlantic is not a member of the SkyTeam Alliance like Delta, the two airlines have a partnership that allows you to earn and redeem miles on both.

If you book a flight with Virgin Atlantic on a cash fare and want to add a lap infant, you’ll have to pay a cash price equivalent to 10% of your fare — pretty standard practice. But, if you use Virgin Atlantic miles to book a reward ticket, you’ll be charged only a low flat rate in miles to add your baby. If you’re flying Economy Class, you’ll pay just 1,000 to add your child — no matter how long the flight is. If you fly in Premium Economy, you’ll pay a flat rate of 2,000, or 5,000 miles for their Upper Class cabin.

To earn Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles, you can transfer American Express Membership Reward, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou® Points, or use the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard.

Airline Lap infant policy Cost to travel with a lap infant on a domestic flight Cost to travel with a lap infant on an international flight
Delta Children under 2 can travel on their parent’s lap Free, but you have to call Delta and notify them that you’ll be traveling with your child. 10% of adult fare, plus applicable taxes/fees. You have to call Delta to notify them that you’ll be traveling with your child.
Virgin Atlantic Children under 2 can travel on their parent’s lap Free, but you have to call Virgin Atlantic and notify them that you’ll be traveling with your child. Cash price: 10% of adult fare, plus applicable taxes/fees.

Miles price:
Economy Class
- 1,000 miles

Premium Economy Class - 2,000 miles

Upper Class - 5,000 miles

Instead of American Airlines, try British Airways

Even though British Airways is notorious for its sky-high surcharges to and from London, their Avios miles are a great option for booking a oneworld Alliance flight with your infant. That’s because instead of the 10% lap infant fee you’ll pay on a cash ticket, when you book with British Airways Avios you’ll pay just 10% of the miles of the adult ticket.

That means if your award ticket costs 50,000 Avios, you’d pay just 5,000 Avios to add your infant. If you value Avios around 1.5 cents each, adding your baby would cost only the equivalent of $75. If that same seat award seat using American Airlines AAdvantage miles cost $5,000 cash, you’d pay 10% — or $500 — to add your baby.

Since British Airways has a distance-based award chart, you’ll pay more Avios for your award ticket the farther you fly. Do the math to ensure you’re not paying more in British Airways fuel surcharges than the infant savings are worth.

British Airways Avios are easy to earn since they are transfer partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, and often have transfer bonuses.

Airline Lap infant policy Cost to travel with a lap infant on a domestic flight Cost to travel with a lap infant on an international flight
American Airlines Children under 2 can travel on their parent’s lap Free, but you have to call Delta and notify them that you’ll be traveling with your child. 10% of adult fare, plus applicable taxes/fees. You have to call Delta to notify them that you’ll be traveling with your child.
British Airways Children under 2 can travel on their parent’s lap Free, but you have to call Virgin Atlantic and notify them that you’ll be traveling with your child. 10% of Avios paid on adult fare, plus applicable taxes/fees. You have to call British Airways to add your child and pay the fee.

How to book a bassinet for your baby on an international flight

Many airlines will provide a baby bassinet, also called a cot, free of charge on international flights. Since there is very limited availability — most aircraft only have 1-2 bassinets on board — there is no guarantee that you’ll be the lucky receiver.

When you call the airline to add your lap baby, inquire about the bassinet. The best way to try to reserve it is to ask early and often since they are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The limitations for bassinets vary by airline and by aircraft, but generally, your baby needs to be under 20 lbs and unable to pull themselves up unassisted. You’ll have to hold the baby during take off and landing as well as any times of turbulence.

In many cases, the designated seats to accommodate bassinets are in the bulkhead. And for some airlines, those are premium seats. I’ve been fortunate enough to score the bassinet several times when flying United with my Aeroplan miles. Each time, we were upgraded to Economy Plus seats at no extra charge so that we could use the bassinet.

The best airlines for lap infants

In this day and age, many more people travel with their babies — and that’s a great thing! Airlines are often pretty accommodating, and you’ll find many friendly flight attendants who are eager to help. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but in flying often with my two young children, I’ve encountered mostly friendly smiles.

One of the best U.S. airlines for infant travel is Southwest. That’s because thanks to their open seating policy, if the flight isn’t full, you’ll generally have no problem getting a seat for your baby — even if you didn’t buy them a ticket. Southwest also allows families with babies to board after the first “A” seating group.

And in addition to the international airlines we mentioned above, many other carriers are known to fawn over children. My kids have gotten goodie bags on Aer Lingus, treats and large coloring books on British Airways, and stuffed animals on Lufthansa. Etihad Airways even has a Flying Nanny on board to help take care of baby!

Bottom line on flying with a baby

Don’t be afraid to travel and take advantage of your baby flying for free — or at a deeply discounted rate — until their 2nd birthday. Ask about the amenities your airline of choice has to offer to make your journey easier, like pre-boarding privileges and bassinets.

When you’re flying with a baby on an international award ticket, make sure to look at cost-saving options like Virgin Atlantic, Aeroplan, and British Airways. And keep racking up those miles for when your child turns 2 and you’ll need to pay for a full-price ticket! It’ll happen sooner than you think!

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