Answers to Reader Questions: Booking Travel for an Infant

I’m going to finish up the reader questions today and tomorrow. First up is a question on booking award travel, including infant fares. Megan and I started addressing wedding invitations tonight, but I hope this is something I won’t have to worry about any time soon!

jay: I’d like to use Ultimate Rewards points to fly to Europe in business or first class, probably from Washington, DC, to Spain. (1) Without any ANA miles, how would you recommend searching for Austrian business class availability? 

You should use United.com to search for Star Alliance award space. There is a risk of some phantom award availability (it shows up online but you can’t book it), a problem that apparently does not affect ANA, but it is not so great that you can’t work around it. Is there a particular reason for flying on Austrian? If you were willing to connect elsewhere in Europe you could fly any of several carriers.

(2) I think United Airlines would be the best program to use for booking my award. I read that they raised cancellation fees, but have they also raised award redeposit fees? 

I agree that United is the best choice to book this award using Ultimate Rewards points for travel with Austrian. If you can’t find space on Austrian, travel on United, Lufthansa, Swiss, Brussels, or any of several other carriers in Star Alliance. Cancellation fees are not a problem for award bookings, just the redeposit fees. Those have not changed and are still $150 per ticket.

Another option is to transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways Avios, and then from there transfer them again to Iberia Avios. Iberia is a Spanish carrier, and it does not impose fuel surcharges.

(3) Is it possible to book a lap infant on this award even though he is not born yet? If not, can I add the infant to the reservation later without a change fee? 

If you were traveling within the U.S. or Canada, there would be no issue as tickets are not required for lap infants under 2 years old (be sure to carry some kind of proof, like a copy of a birth certificate). But this is an international fare.

I called United to check their policies and was told that they would prefer you wait until after the child is born and you have a fixed date of birth. The agent did say that if you booked in advance and had to change the date of birth (or if you changed your mind and the infant stayed at home) then you could cancel the lap infant with no penalty and rebook at then-current rates. There is no change fee to the parent’s ticket when adding a lap infant later, so this is what I recommend unless you are traveling shortly after birth. The child must be at least a week old in any case.

(4) What is the cost of adding a lap infant, and does it vary by partner airline? I have read it is normally 10% of a full fare ticket, so is that based on the price at the time the award is booked or on a fixed amount?

The Points Guy wrote a good summary of infant fares last fall, which I’ll paraphrase here.

Most, but not all, airlines charge 10% of the most expensive and least restrictive fare in the ticketed cabin. This means if you are in first class on a discounted fare, you will need to pay 10% of the full F fare for your infant (not 10% of a full Y fare).

Award travel is trickier. Sometimes only 10% of the miles are required, and sometimes 10% of the cash price even if you are flying with miles. United requires that you pay 10% of the revenue (cash) fare when traveling as a lap child with a parent on an award ticket.

Infants traveling between the U.S. and Canada only pay taxes on the ticket. Infants traveling without a seat to other international destinations are charged 10% of the adult fare at the time of infant ticketing (it is usually less expensive to purchase the infant ticket in advance). Infants traveling on an adult’s lap on front cabin rewards or upgrades must pay 10% of the front cabin fare in applicable markets.

This still was not clear on exactly what fare they are using to calculate the 10%. I called United again and asked for clarification (hypothetical Scott Jr. is due in August, but we’re traveling in November). After checking with the rate desk, I was told that they use 10% of the cheapest available revenue fare in the ticketed cabin. This means if you are traveling on a business class award, they will look at the hypothetical cost of the cheapest business class revenue ticket and charge 10% of that. In my case, it would have been about $500 (10% of $5,000).

You have to book these tickets over the phone anyway, so you should definitely call the airline in advance to strategize and confirm these answers for your particular scenario before booking or looking for award space.

Scott created Travel Codex after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • Mommy Points

    Sadly the world of lap infants in international travel is very YMMV. From the same airline you will be told 10% of cheapest fare that cabin and 10% of full fare. Obviously if you don’t like what you are told, hang up and call back as the answers on this do change. In general, it is better to book the infant as soon as you can since the cheapest fare tends to get more expensive close-in to the trip. Another tricky situation can be if you upgrade to a premium cabin as 10% can start to get very expensive (think up to around $1,000 for the privilege of holding your infant).

    It can pay off to look at some of the foreign carriers for international travel involving lap infants. For example, if you want to fly Star Alliance, Aeroplan might be a good program to consider when booking a lap infant on an award since instead of 10% of fare you are paying a fixed price starting at $50 or 5,000 miles for economy up to $125 or 12,500 Miles for first class. Of course you have to be strategic about this since Aeroplan does charge fuel surcharges for some air carriers that can wipe out your lap infant savings. Same with British Airways who charges 10% miles on lap infant awards instead of 10% fare.

    I’ll also throw in that while flying as a lap child may work okay for a very young and snuggly infant, once your child is mobile it is very much worth considering getting them their own seat for everyone’s comfort.

  • Muerl

    Should you look at the chart for the Operating Carrier or the carrier your using miles from?

    I ask because when I spoke the AirNZ on the phone about a bassinet row for a UA award they said the buy the ticket from them.

    They ALSO mentioned that they will not ticket until the baby is born and they will not let you book a bassinet row until the baby was on the itinerary.

    On a not related note, can you book a skycouch with a lapchild and cary on a car seat?

    • Scottrick

      You should always contact the program from which you are using miles or purchasing your ticket when you have questions about pricing and issuing a ticket. They may buy the ticket from United, but you buy your ticket from them first.

      The policy on purchasing a ticket before vs. after the baby is born is an example of a key difference in policy that will vary a lot between carriers. As I said, United would prefer you book after since the date will almost certainly not be what you originally told them, but they also make it easy to issue changes.

      After ticketing, you should always then confirm with the operating carrier about special requirements like bassinets, meals, stroller policies, etc.

      I don’t see any particular reason why you can’t book a skycouch with a lap child, but remember that a skycouch costs about as much as just booking three seats. You are essentially reserving the entire row for yourself or however many people you have in your party.