Infant Award Travel - A Cautionary Tale

Infant Award Travel - A Cautionary Tale

I get a lot of questions because of this blog and when people reach out, I try my best to help them.  When longtime readers and supporters of the blog, Lorraine and John reached out with a problem, I was especially keen to help … if I could.

Lorraine and John have been what you would call ideal students of Travel Hacking.  They dove headfirst into the game and have accumulated a massive cache of points based on the information they gleaned from this blog.  With that information and the points accumulated, they were able to redeem for a mini-RTW trip earlier this year and have now cashed in for a trip to the South Pacific (New Zealand and Australia).  They redeemed their Alaska Airlines Miles for a trip using partner airline Cathay Pacific, one of the best airlines in the world!  Everything was great until they tried to add their daughter to the booking.

Infant Fees

This is a topic that I haven’t covered at all simply because my daughter is past the age where I needed to worry about getting her onto an award itinerary where she wasn’t paying full freight.  It was an oversight that I wished I had written about to save a select group some hassle but hindsight is 20/20 so I’ll do my best now to bring the issue to light.

For those that aren’t familiar, most airlines will charge an infant fee when traveling on both a revenue ticket and an award ticket but some airlines are much friendlier to the situation than others.  As a Canadian, I would expect that most people will be leveraging the Aeroplan program in order to fund their award travel and it turns out that their fees are minuscule compared to others.

In Aeroplan’s case, I would always advocate for paying the dollar amount rather than the Aeroplan points unless you happen to be inundated with points that you can’t get rid of.  I would encourage most people to save the points for their next redemption.

While it’s a bummer that infants aren’t 100% free to begin with, I can live with paying $100 to bring a kid along in Business Class.

Lorraine and John’s Situation

Lorraine and John used their Alaska Airlines Miles that they accumulated through their MBNA World Elite MasterCard in order to redeem for two tickets in Business Class with Cathay Pacific.  I maintain that this is one of the best redemptions out there in the award market as you are able to fly from North America to either New Zealand or Australia for 60,000 miles each way with minimal taxes … in BUSINESS CLASS!  First Class is only an additional 20,000 miles!  That’s a crazy redemption that is much cheaper than any other partner for Cathay.  If you’re looking for details on how to do this yourself, I would point you in the direction of my series entitled Booking Alaska Airlines Partner Awards.

Cathay Pacific award bookings using Alaska Miles are very economically priced and easy to achieve but both Lorraine and John didn’t anticipate having to shell out big bucks to get their daughter (infant < 2 years old) onto the flight.  This is easy to understand because after about 20 minutes of searching Cathay Pacific’s terms and conditions, I could not locate the clause that deals with infant fees when booking award travel.

There are however many resources in the blogosphere that indicated that Cathay Pacific charges 10% of the adult fare if departing from anywhere except the United States and 25% for flights from the United States!

10% sucks but 25% … that’s crazy.

When I pulled up Lorraine and John’s itinerary, the cost for an adult fare topped $14,000!  But that was based on the lowest discounted fare class that was available on Saturday.  As we did not have access to Cathay specific rules around which fare class they would use to calculate the fees, we were left guessing until Monday as the office that dealt with these issues was not open on the weekend.

What made this even more troublesome was that their outbound flight (with Cathay) was going to leave from Chicago.  Their full routing for their award is YYC-YVR-ORD-HKG-AKL and the return was MEL-HKG-YVR.

So was Cathay going to place the 10% levy or the 25% levy … because it would make a significant difference in the amount they would pay.  You could make the argument either way because while the outbound originates in Calgary (YYC), they would be flying Alaska Airlines metal to Chicago and then onto Cathay’s metal from Chicago.

So does Cathay base their decision on the full award or just the portion that is on their own planes?

Lucky … I Guess?

When Lorraine called Cathay Pacific on Monday morning, she was advised that they would be charging her 10% of the fare but they ended up paying ~$1,600 CAD.  I was told that originally Cathay wanted to charge over $3,000 USD but that pricing was based on a segment by segment search.  Lorraine was shrewd enough to suggest to the agent that she should be charging based on a round-trip itinerary, which reduced the overall cost of the ticket and thus the fee.

Interestingly, Lorraine specifically remembered that the agent asked where the routing started and stopped from, presumably to understand whether to charge 10% or 25% as the fee.  Lucily the routing started and stopped in Canada so they were only assessed a 10% charge.

Ultimately, both John and Lorraine looked at this in an optimistic way saying that they were happy it wasn’t 25% and that they were still very excited to fly on Cathay.

Canadian Centric Look at Infant Fees

Here in Canada, our airlines love kids and don’t charge an arm and a leg to fly with them on award redemptions.  Aeroplan has very reasonable fees as noted earlier and WestJet, Canada’s other major carrier is even more generous:

If you are looking for a full itemization of major airlines and their infant fees, I would point you in the direction of the blog One Mile at a Time and Lucky’s post about the subject.  A word of warning, the post is 3 years old but airlines tend not to change these types of policies but always double check before you use the information as the gospel truth.

Conclusion

Traveling with my daughter when she was an infant was one of my fondest memories as a father and it’s an experience that I highly recommend any new parent undertake.  That being said, you should be aware that there can often times be additional fees that you may not have counted on so make sure you are informed on the matter.

 

 


Also published on Medium.

2 Comments
  1. are the prices that Cathay charge based on ITA Matrix ? And what happens if there is a price drop? You think there might be grounds for a refund after the fact?

    I’ve done my award booking YVR-HKG and HKG-YVR but haven’t called in about adding my infant yet so just curious.

    1. Hey Marcus,

      I wasn’t on the call so I am unsure what they based everything on but based on what I saw, it was pretty close to the lowest revenue rate but I would definitely go in armed with information rather than hope that Cathay finds you the lowest rate to base the infant rate on.

      I would find the lowest rate possible, call in and hope that Cathay quotes me a lower price that I found. In the event they tried to charge me more, I would point out the rate that I found and push them to give me the lower rate.

      Hope that helps.

      Cheers
      Jayce

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