Planning family travel can be complicated … and expensive.

There is the cost of booking multiple tickets and hotel rooms, finding seats together on the plane and double-checking baggage and carry-on restrictions, among other details. But one surprise expense new parents may not expect is that you sometimes have to pay extra to hold your infant or small child in your lap while you fly.

Those new to flying with 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 could be wrong. And once you start flying internationally with that little one, the cost can range from minuscule to massive.

When traveling with children on your lap internationally on award tickets, you may end up having to spend a big chunk of cash even if your baby isn’t getting a separate seat (and, since it’s safer, you may want to consider booking a separate seat for your baby anyway). To put it another way, if you don’t know the rules, traveling with your infant can end up costing you thousands of miles — or thousands of dollars. And, sadly, 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 a major expense on your next family trip.

Related: Your guide to flying with kids of every age

Lap infant basics

While airline policies and fees vary, there are rules that are generally true if you’re traveling with a lap child.


Safety considerations

When booking a flight and planning to hold your child on your lap, safety should always be a consideration.

Since passengers are generally required to wear seat belts for takeoff and landing — along with raising their tray tables and putting their seats in the upright position — holding on to an infant who’s otherwise unsecured may seem counterintuitive.

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The practice is permitted because studies and analyses show that even with increased risks of not being secured to a seat, flying with a lap infant is still statistically safer than driving by a wide margin.

Still, it’s less ideal than booking a seat for a child and bringing a Federal Aviation Administration-compliant car seat aboard. The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended discontinuing the practice, and flight attendant unions have called for airlines to rescind lap infant policies.

While the actual risk is remote, it’s worth considering ahead of your trip, particularly given recent turbulence events.

Related: 11 safety features in aircraft cabins that you may not know exist

Age requirements

Most airlines define an infant or lap child as one who is under 24 months of age and is flying without their own seat. Note that babies don’t have to be lap infants — you can choose to buy them their own seat. In fact, as they grow from infant to baby to toddler, there is some real wisdom in that approach. But regardless, once that child hits 2 years old, he or she will need their own seat.

Tickets required

Even if flying for free domestically, your baby will need a boarding pass that says “lap infant” on it.


You will also have to provide basic identity information for your child, such as their name, date of birth and gender. It is a good idea to bring a birth certificate — even if they clearly look under age 2. In fact, some airlines, like Southwest Airlines, are known for requiring proof the baby is under 2.

Domestic vs. international

U.S. airlines will let you bring an infant along for free when flying domestically. However, as soon as you cross international borders, the rules change, and you can often expect to pay something for bringing your little bundle of joy.

Award tickets and fees

If you are traveling internationally with an infant or a lap child, airlines often charge 10% of the fare paid by the accompanying adult, plus taxes and fees.

The infant must be traveling with a ticketed adult, whether the adult is traveling in a paid seat or an award seat. Also, 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.


Related: Flying with a lap infant? Here’s what you need to know

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 business-class ticket to Europe that would normally cost $6,000, you would 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 rather than paying cash, but an accompanying adult must also be traveling on an award ticket. 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 discuss the important ones below, along with tips to remember when booking.

Related: Your ultimate guide on how to search award availability for the major airlines

International infant award travel fees

Things can change, so always double-check before going forward with your carrier of choice. The table below lists the airlines with the mileage programs you’re most likely to use, thanks to their extensive route networks and the number of transfer and airline partners they have.

The fees noted are for international travel when the accompanying adult is on an award ticket. Before traveling, we always recommend calling or chatting online with the airline prior to flying with your lap child to understand and confirm the out-of-pocket cost you will be expected to pay for a specific route.

Airline Transfer partners Alliance Rules
Air Canada American Express, Bilt, Capital One, Chase and Marriott Star Alliance 25 Canadian dollars or 2,500 points
Air France and KLM Amex, Bilt, Brex, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo and Marriott SkyTeam 10% of adult fare, plus full taxes and fees (La Premiere cabin has specific fares and conditions)
Alaska Airlines Bilt and Marriott Oneworld Taxes and fees on Alaska’s international flights; full fare on partners
All Nippon Airways Amex and Marriott Star Alliance, plus many other partners 10% of adult miles or fare, plus taxes and fees
American Airlines Marriott Oneworld 10% of adult fare, plus taxes and fees
Asiana Airlines Marriott Star Alliance 10% of adult mileage, plus taxes and fees
British Airways Amex, Capital One, Chase, Wells Fargo and Marriott Oneworld 10% of adult mileage, plus taxes and fees
Cathay Pacific Amex, Bilt, Brex, Capital One, Citi and Marriott Oneworld Can vary — up to 25% of adult fare, plus taxes and fees
Delta Air Lines Amex and Marriott SkyTeam 10% of adult fare, plus taxes and fees
Emirates Amex, Bilt, Brex, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Marriott None, but there are many partners Economy: 10% of adult mileage, plus taxes and fees

Business and first class: 10% of adult-paid fare, plus taxes and fees

Etihad Airways Amex, Capital One, Citi and Marriott None, but there are many partners 10% of adult fare, plus taxes and fees
Hawaiian Airlines Amex, Bilt and Marriott None, but there are many partners 10% of adult fare, plus international taxes and fees
Iberia Amex, Chase, Wells Fargo and Marriott Oneworld 10% of adult fare, plus international taxes and fees
Japan Airlines Marriott Oneworld, plus many other partners 10% of adult fare, plus taxes and fees
JetBlue Amex, Chase and Citi None, but there are several partners Nominal infant fee when flying from an international destination to the U.S. (with the exception of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands)
Korean Air Marriott SkyTeam 10% of adult mileage, plus taxes and fees
Lufthansa None Star Alliance 10% of the adult fare, plus taxes and fees
Singapore Airlines Amex, Brex, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Marriott Star Alliance, plus many other partners 10% to 25% of adult fare, plus taxes and fees
Southwest Airlines Chase and Marriott None Taxes and fees on international legs
United Airlines Bilt, Chase and Marriott Star Alliance Ticket needed; partial fare charge based on the international destination
Virgin Atlantic Amex, Bilt, Chase, Citi and Marriott SkyTeam Economy: 1,000 points one-way, plus taxes and fees

Premium economy: 2,000 points one-way, plus taxes and fees

Upper Class: 5,000 points one-way, plus taxes and fees

Top programs to consider

As the table above shows, most airlines 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 going adult cash fare, plus taxes and fees for the cabin in which you are flying. While 10% might not sound like much, remember that there can be high taxes and surcharges that vary by carrier and destination (especially in Europe), so paying 10% of the cost of a first- or business-class seat can be a significant amount.

Some programs have more generous rules than others regarding 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: For just CA$25 or 2,500 points, a lap infant can fly with you. Those cash copays are dirt cheap considering surcharges on premium international tickets can cost thousands of dollars.


Additionally, Air Canada Aeroplan is a transfer partner of most flexible rewards programs, such as American Express Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy, Capital One and Chase Ultimate Rewards. This makes transferring points into your account incredibly easy.

Best of all, you can now book your lap infant online using the same process as booking an adult ticket. Book your lap infant online and pay just 2,500 points for your infant.

Related: How to redeem Aeroplan points for maximum value

Asiana Club

The mileage program for Korean carrier Asiana is often overlooked, but it offers some amazing award ticket redemption values, including on infant awards. These cost just 10% of adult awards.

British Airways Executive Club

Though we often groan about the taxes and surcharges on British Airways awards to and from the United Kingdom, one area where the airline’s Avios program shines is 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, the airline will provide an assigned seat on the return flight at no additional charge. You can also book lap infant awards online, which is still somewhat unusual.

Related: British Airways Executive Club: Guide to Avios, elite status and transfer partners

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club revised its infant award rules a few years ago and now charges flat mileage rates of 1,000 to 5,000 points 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.

Similar to British Airways, if your child turns 2 years old during the trip, you can still book a lap seat, and the child will receive his or her own seat on the return flight.

Programs to avoid

A few programs stand out, either because of their exorbitant fares and fees or because of their difficulty when booking.


Air France-KLM Flying Blue

While Flying Blue has the benefit of being a transfer partner of all six major transferable programs in the U.S., 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 Airlines Mileage Plan is among the best in the U.S. thanks to fantastic earning and redemption rates, you’ll be charged an adult fare for a lap infant when reserving through Alaska Airlines for its partner flights.

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 30% of a full adult fare. (It sometimes charges 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.

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.


Your destination matters

As mentioned above, domestic travel (including to places like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) for lap infants is generally free, while international travel is a very different situation and usually requires you to pay in either money or miles, plus cover any applicable taxes or fees.

Related: 43 real-world family travel tips that actually work

Call 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 cost you a wad of cash.


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 whack. You also may have to hang up and try again if you get an agent who is misinformed.

For a multiflight itinerary with mixed carriers, call each airline

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 it shows a lap infant ticket added to the Korean Air leg.

Birthdays and age restrictions

Infants and lap children must be under 2 years old. That means if your child turns 2 while traveling (other than on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, as mentioned above), that child will no longer qualify for lap travel and will require an individual seat as well as be subject to other rules.

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. There are also rules on the number of lap infants per row due to the number of oxygen masks available in each row. If you are an adult traveling solo with more than one child under the age of 2, that additional child must have a seat. Familiarize yourself with the airline’s rules before booking.


Get the bulkhead

Airlines often hold back bulkhead seats for families with infants, as this is often where the bassinets are located on some internationally configured planes. When booking, it never hurts to ask if the agent can reserve these seats for your family. If they try to upsell you, push back and see if the airline can assign them for free due to the bassinet. Keep in mind, though, that seat assignments aren’t always free, even for families with little kids.

Baggage fees

While we’d never refer to a child as baggage, the good news is that traveling with an infant might give you an extra baggage allowance on some airlines. Check your airline’s infant information page for details.


Your child will need his or her own travel documents (like a passport) for international travel, so be sure you have your forms in order before booking. You’ll also want to bring your child’s birth certificate or another form of identification to prove that your baby is, in fact, under 2 — even if it’s obvious.

Related: When and how to renew your passport, according to the State Department

Bottom line

Traveling with infants can be complex, especially when you start getting into the realm of lap infant tickets on international itineraries. Each airline (and frequent flyer program) has its own rules about infant fares, mileage requirements and 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, weigh the pros and cons of getting your child his or her own seat.

Before purchasing your own ticket, consider calling your airline directly to ask exactly how much you can expect to pay for your infant’s ticket. Then, weigh all your options so that you spend the overall fewest number of miles and as little money as possible to bring your little one along for the ride.

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