Note from Hint Mama: By the time my daughter turns 2 years old, she’ll have been on more than two dozen airplane flights, including our upcoming toddlermoon. But my husband and I have yet to pay for a plane fare for our daughter – she has been a free lap baby on every flight. While I thought we were being frugal by not buying our daughter her own ticket, I recently learned from family travel expert Leslie Neeland Harvey that we have been missing out on racking up frequent flyer miles for our little one. Leslie, who blogs at Trips With Tykes, is a new Hint Mama contributor. Read her first hint – on why to sign your child up for a frequent flyer account – below.
Parents who travel know how important it is to stretch your family travel budget. One way you can do this is by taking advantage of airline frequent flyer miles.
You have probably acquired frequent flyer accounts for yourself over the years, but have you done so for your infant or toddler? Today’s hint is to do so, as kids can earn valuable airline miles as soon as you buy a seat for them on a flight, because U.S. airlines allow children to have their own frequent flyer accounts. (Note: not all international ones do, but you can sometimes take advantage of household accounts for kids, as with British Airways Avios).
Many parents assume that minors can’t have frequent flyer accounts, or that accounts for their kids are not worth the effort. They think it takes a lot of time and effort to sign up for and track accounts. The reality is, as The Points Guy recently pointed out, there’s generally no minimum age for frequent flyer accounts. In addition, the signup process takes only a few minutes for most airlines, and tracking accounts is easier than ever with modern technological tools.
Here’s how to streamline the frequent flyer account tracking process:
- Set up an email account for each child that can be used to receive monthly frequent flyer statements. If you already use gmail, you can easily add new accounts in a minute or two.
- Sign your child up on the airline’s Web site with some very basic personal information. (Note: A few programs, such as Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, will require that you call to set up a frequent flyer account for a minor, but the process is painless.)
- Record the frequent flyer account number and password in your tracking system. You can track the whole family’s frequent flyer numbers using a simple spreadsheet saved on your home computer or in a secure cloud location like Dropbox. Better yet – use an online tracking tool like AwardWallet to manage all the accounts in your household.
Meanwhile, some parents forego the process of obtaining frequent flyer numbers for their children because they think their families travel too infrequently to be able to acquire and use miles before they expire. I’ve certainly lost miles to expiration at earlier stages of my travel life. But this need not be the case in 2014.
First, if you fly Delta Airlines, you’re in luck. Delta moved all of its SkyMiles to a “no expiration date” policy several years ago. Most other domestic airlines have 18-month expiration policies. But you can still keep your miles active for minimal effort with the many choices that are now offered for spending or earning miles. Many airlines have shopping portals where you can buy a magazine subscription or a digital download of a song for a nominal number of miles. Hint Mama herself has even used miles to buy her little one that perfect (albeit expensive) toy.
In addition, a number of airlines run occasional promotions (especially on social media), where you can earn a few hundred points for a few minutes of your time. Any activity, no matter how small, will keep your child’s miles (and yours too) active for a new 18-month period.
A few final considerations when signing your children up for frequent flyer accounts:
- Take advantage of referral promotions. Some airlines run promotions where you can “refer a friend” and earn miles yourself. The newly-referred account often earns signup bonuses as well. When you see a promotion advertised, this is the time to refer your children from your own account, even if you have no immediate plans to fly the airline in question.
- If you are on the fence about buying your baby a seat, the frequent flyer benefit is a reason to splurge. We all know that the safest place for a baby on a plane is in a car seat. Yet, most parents (myself included sometimes) fly with babies as lap infants to save money. Frequent flyer miles at least offer a little bonus for those of you making the better safety choice — buying an infant airline seat. Hopefully that is some solace when the credit card bill comes!
The bottom line: Traveling families that don’t have frequent flyer accounts for their kids are leaving money on the table. It may take years for your child to earn enough miles for a flight, but it will feel so good to board a plane years from now knowing that your child’s ticket was free.
Share your experiences with frequent flyer accounts for your kids, as well as your tips for tracking and maintain such accounts, below.
Leslie Neeland Harvey is an attorney in San Francisco and mom of two kids, ages 5 and almost 1. She blogs about the joys and challenges of family travel at Trips With Tykes. Visiting scattered family in Alabama, North Carolina, and Connecticut, she and her husband find themselves flying with kids many times a year. Her philosophy: Good planning can make family travel really fun, even if it still involves the occasional in-flight tantrum or battle with TSA agents about shelf-stable milk (it’s allowed, folks!). Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.