Great Improvement: United Now Caps Infant Fares On Award Tickets At $250

Bringing a child under two with you in your lap when you travel on international award tickets just got a whole lot cheaper in some cases.

United recently made a change to their award ticket policies that’s a real improvement and ahead of other U.S. frequent flyer programs – and oddly they haven’t even announced it. Live and Let’s Fly noticed the change in United policy on booking award travel for infants.

Infants traveling without a seat between the U.S. and Canada, or from Mexico to the U.S. or Canada, only pay taxes on the ticket. Infants traveling without a seat to other international destinations, including Guam, are required to have purchased an infant ticket and are subject to infant fares between $20 and $250 plus taxes depending on area of travel and cabin of service.

Domestic travel with an infant in lap is free. It’s not free to bring a baby with you internationally, even when they’re in your seat.

When you buy a ticket for international travel, the standard charge for an infant is 10% of the paid adult fare. On a roundtrip first class international ticket that can get expensive. A $20,000 airline ticket means a $2000 infant fare.

Some international frequent flyer programs make accommodations for award travel with an infant. Qantas for instance just charges basic taxes. Air Canada charges 40 Canadian dollars. Air France KLM’s Flying Blue charges 10% of the equivalent paid fare plus taxes but doesn’t add fuel surcharges to this.

Domestic U.S. airlines haven’t been as friendly. United, American and Delta haven’t offered special infant awards, so it’s been 10% of the corresponding fare. Alaska Airlines stopped issuing infant tickets for international award travel altogether.

United though now has a sliding scale, which they haven’t published details on yet. The charge runs $20 – $250 plus taxes “depending on area of travel and cabin of service.” We know though that the most you’ll pay for an infant fare with them now is $250 plus tax, so the maximum amount is much lower than it used to be.

Sometimes you can book an international award ticket using miles from a U.S. program like American AAdvantage and get the partner to issue the infant award for less than the U.S. carrier would charge. For instance I’ve had Qantas issue infant tickets against an AAdvantage award, costing me less than $20 in taxes rather than paying 10% of the fare.

One of the most frustrating parts of travel is dealing with infant fares. The amounts quoted seem to vary all the time, depending on whom you speak with (hang up, call back!) and that’s when you get someone who knows how to issue the infant ticket properly to begin with. Offering flat-rate pricing is a nice relief, though it would help for United to actually publish the chart of their new pricing.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The ignorance of agents on infant fares is undoubtedly due to the confusing nature of the infant fare structure and the infrequency of booking such fares.
    I do agree that charging 10% of published fares can feel expensive for bringing an infant into first class. But maybe that’s not a bad idea — especially when the traveler is an award traveler. I think the vast majority of other travelers in the cabin would prefer if the airline discouraged such travel. It’s a judgment call on whose convenience should be paramount. I’ve brought infants with me into first class on award tickets and I appreciated any courtesies extended, but I tend to think the preferences of the paying first class customers should prevail.

  2. @amazinglarry then it’s just as well that you hopefully have blessed the world with being the full stop in your genetic lineage, an ignominious end to a unremarkable life. Loser.

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