There’s a lot to consider when you travel with your family, like where to stay, what to do and how to find chicken fingers around the globe if you have a little in the ‘pickiest eater phase’ that some kids just can’t seem to avoid to matter how many foods you expose them to when they’re young. Another top concern: how to budget and save money when you’re flying with the whole family.
But while we can’t help that much with the picky eaters, we do have good news when it comes to ways to save on airfare for kids. Multiple airlines offer discounts and even free seats (really) for kids flying with adults — and no, we’re not just talking about lap infants.
We even found discounts for young adults flying on their own, too. Here’s how to make your family’s trips a bit lighter on your wallet in the U.S., Europe and farther abroad with these discounts for kid’s airfare.
Airlines that let kids fly for free
Before we get too far into discount child fares, let’s talk about the best price of all — free.
While it’s pretty much standard that those under two years old don’t have to purchase a seat to fly if they will fly as a lap infant (though beware of some high fees if flying in international premium seats with a lap infant), some airlines let kids fly for free even after they are turn two years old.
Some of these deals are time-sensitive and come and go; however, it’s still worth checking with the airlines that offer deals since they often have other discounts or will offer these free tickets at another time. Note that there are generally caveats and terms to all of these, but the deals do exist.
Act fast for this first one: Aegean currently has a Kids Fly Free deal that is bookable through Feb. 12 for travel March 1 through Oct. 31. This means tickets are 100% free for all kids and infants traveling with just one adult. (So yes, if you have two or three kids, they’d all travel with just one parent for free.)
There are some caveats, one of which is that the deal doesn’t work with codeshare flights, which is what is offered if flying from North America. However, we’ve seen this work from many destinations in Europe if you are hopping over from there to Greece.
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Another deal to book now: Free children’s tickets for kids 2 to 11 on Scandinavian Airlines, which currently has a Europe-only kids-fly-free promotion where you only pay taxes and fees for children (not a fuel charge or base fare).
This deal is currently good for “winter and spring” travel, according to the SAS website. However, there are no hard dates provided, and travel must be to/from Scandinavia to SAS destinations in Europe or within Scandinavia. If you miss this one, note the Scandinavian gives a 25% discount for children on an ongoing basis.
The only airline that consistently allows kids to come aboard without paying (with a long list of caveats) is Frontier Airlines. Its Kids Fly Free program lets kids up to 14 years old fly for free when accompanying a paid adult on a reservation.
Only select travel dates qualify, and you’ll need one $60-per-year Frontier Discount Den membership per family — good for up to nine people (plus a one-time $40 enrollment fee). Still, if you can make the dates work (often middle-of-the-week dates) the program can save a family hundreds of dollars on domestic U.S. airfare pretty quickly.
It’s worth noting that British Airways, Qatar Airways and Air Tahiti Nui have all offered kids-fly-free promotions in the past, but we haven’t seen any in a while. However, It never hurts to do a good old-fashioned Google search before booking an airline ticket to see if any promotions are available. And, of course, if you have the Southwest Companion Pass, your BOGO plus one can be your little one 365 days a year.
Save money on airline tickets for kids
Child airfare discounts are not always well published because they are often ticket-dependent and hold many exclusions. However, some deals on our radar are easy to spot and use.
United Airlines lets older ‘kids’ share in the discounts since those young adult travelers between the ages of 18 and 23 are eligible for discounts that start at 5%, but are sometimes much more than that, depending on the route. Note that these discounts are only available on the United app.
Singapore Airlines has a 25% discount in economy class for kids but not for premium economy or business class. Several international airlines such as Air France, Emirates, LATAM and Qatar Airways offer child fares on select routes and fares. And a few North American airlines, including Hawaiian Airlines and Air Canada, have discounted tickets on select international flights. (Many of these fares are listed as “75% of the adult fare,” so a 25% discount.)
Always be sure you are entering your child as a “child” when searching for tickets on an airline’s website, as that should trigger the discount if it is available online.
One of the easiest ways families can save money on domestic air travel with small children is by having a child fly as a “lap infant.” There is debate about the safety of this practice, but most parents appreciate the savings — and small children often just want to be in their parent’s arms anyway. To qualify as a lap infant, your child must be under 2 years old. The day they turn 2, that free ticket goes out the window.
Most international flights allow children under 2 to fly as lap children, but with one big difference — it’s usually not 100% free. Typically, if you’re flying on a revenue ticket, you must pay the taxes and fees for your lap infant plus, in some cases, 10% of the fare.
If you are traveling with a lap infant to somewhere relatively close, like Mexico or the Caribbean, consider JetBlue, Southwest or Alaska. Those airlines don’t charge a percentage of the adult fare for lap infants flying internationally — just taxes.
Discounted child award tickets
If you are flying on miles, it’s also good to know that some airlines give award ticket discounts to children.
Among the best discounts for children’s award flights is Air France-KLM’s “Flying Blue Family” program, which includes a series of features designed to make it easier for families to fly, including a 25% discount on award tickets for children ages 2 to 11 when traveling with a parent.
On previously mentioned SAS, if you book its special “EuroBonus Trip” points category, children 2 to 11 get 50% off the point price; children under age 2 get 100% off (so yes, a free points ticket). You’ll still be responsible for paying taxes and fees.
For UK travel, an APD discount for kids
Sometimes an international child ticket costs less than an adult ticket simply because the taxes or fees may be reduced for children.
In the United Kingdom, children under 2 are not charged Air Passenger Duty, a U.K. government tax on flights departing the U.K. for both U.K. and non-U.K. citizens alike. Children under the age of 16 flying in economy are also not charged APD. However, children 2 to 16 in higher classes of seats (such as premium economy and business) will be charged the APD tax.
On a round-trip flight from Boston to London in economy on British Airways, you can spot the $102.02 savings for booking a child ticket. This is due to the reduction in ADP.
Note: If you want to avoid APD for your whole family, you can always fly into the U.K. but depart from somewhere near the U.K. (like Paris) to avoid the fee completely.
How to search for child fares
If you’re booking a special fare sale, be sure to check if there’s a special code you need to enter or a separate web page you need to book through. Otherwise, for airlines that offer discounts year-round, simply look up the flights you want based on time, price and stops for your total family size, being sure to denote how many kids are in your group and their ages during the search process.
Do this by checking the airline’s site directly or potentially picking up the phone and calling the airline to inquire about child discounts.
Will my child earn airline miles?
First, be sure to sign your child up for airline frequent flyer programs as soon as they’re going to fly for the first time. They can start earning miles as soon as you pay anything for their ticket.
For the few distance-based frequent flyer programs that are left, a child ticket would generally earn the same miles as an adult cash ticket despite its lower cost. However, distance-based programs are becoming increasingly rare. Most U.S.-based airlines’ mileage is based on the price paid for the ticket, not the distance flown. So, in those cases, a child fare could earn fewer miles based on the amount of the discount if one was given. (Here are frequent flyer programs that allow families to pool miles together to earn awards faster.)
Getting a discount when traveling as a family is always a welcome treat, especially if you can swing a free seat for your little ones. Before you book your next family trip, it’s worth running some searches on line to see if you can save a little on your child’s airfare.