This is a guest post by Jason Steele.
Being a father complicates many of the things that I once took for granted, not the least of which is travel. Not only must I now find a way to pay for multiple tickets to our destination, but there is also the additional complication of managing the points and miles accrued. As both a traveling father serious collector of points and miles, here are some of my favorite tips on both earning and spending miles through family travel.
Tips for earning miles with children
- Kids can earn. When it comes to earning airline miles, children are not treated any differently than adults. So long as you are purchasing a seat for your little ones, you can open a frequent flier account in their name and ensure that they receive credit (traveling as a lap child, under two years old with no seat doesn’t count). Fly enough, and even a toddler can become an elite level frequent flier who is entitled to fee waivers and even seat upgrades!
- Manage accounts carefully. It is difficult enough keeping track all of the loyalty program accounts in my own name, and it is even harder to manage all of my family member’s accounts. The task would be almost impossible if it were not for web sites like Award Wallet or Mileage Manager. These services allow you to input your information and have the balances and expiration dates of all these programs displayed in one place.
- Earn flexible points. The real secret to earning lots of points and miles is to use a credit card that earns points that can then be transferred to airline or hotel programs. This is especially true when you are juggling accounts for multiple children. Programs like American Express Membership Rewards and Chase’s Ultimate Rewards will allow you to transfer your credit card points to airline miles in your children’s accounts. In this way, you can top off their accounts from a central reservoir of points in order have enough miles for the awards you need.
Tricks for using miles with children
- Never pay to transfer points or miles. It is a common misconception that the points and miles must be used for travel in the account holder’s name. Airlines perpetuate this myth by offering to transfer miles to other people’s accounts for a hefty fee. These fees are neither worthwhile nor necessary. In fact, you can issue an award from your account or your child’s for an award ticket with the name of anyone you choose.
- Use miles for children first. Often, I will need to use one frequent flier award with a paid ticket. In other instances I will redeem a companion award so that one ticket is paid and the other is not. In those types of situations, I always make sure that my seat is paid and my child’s seat is the free one. In this way, I will accrue the mileage and progress towards elite status. It only makes sense to consolidate miles in one account rather than spread them out, especially since the benefits of elite status are usually conferred upon all travelers listed in the same reservation.
- Avoid lap child fees. The biggest rip-off that airlines get away with is charging for a lap child on an international flight. These charges are often 10% of their highest fare and can total hundreds of dollars, just for the privilege of carrying your child on your lap. Sadly, this information is poorly disclosed and extremely hard to find. But recently, I had the opportunity to write a definitive guide to what airlines charge when traveling with a lap child using a frequent flier award. In short, there are ways to avoid these fees.
Like so many aspects of being a father, traveling with your kids is a labor of love. By making the effort to learn how to best earn and spend miles on behalf of your children, you can be the hero when it comes time for your family to travel for free.
Jason Steele is a freelance writer and an expert on travel and personal finance. He contributes to Card Wisdom and other top personal finance sites.