The Worst Airline Fee – and How to Avoid It

Photo (cc) by Mr. T in DC

I review dozens of credit card offers each week to find the best deals. Check out more on our credit card page.

If you’re looking for bad news about airline fees, there’s no shortage. From increased charges for both checked bags and carry-ons, to parents being forced to pay a fee to sit next to their children, airlines seem to be tripping over themselves to sock it to their customers at every opportunity.

But if you think you have seen it all, I know of one fee that makes those others seem minor…

The “international lap child fee”

Imagine you’re traveling with your child, who’s under 2 years old. You and your significant other have bought a ticket, or perhaps you’ve redeemed a mileage award. If you’re flying domestically, you really have no expenses associated with carrying your baby on your lap.

Now imagine that you decide to make a quick hop over to the Bahamas. At this point, most airlines will require you to pay 10 percent of a full-fare ticket just so you can travel with your baby on your lap. Delta, United, US Airways, and American all have some form of this policy.

What’s wrong with that?

While 10 percent doesn’t sound like much, it can be a lot. First, consider that it’s 10 percent of an unrestricted ticket, which is their highest possible fare. This can be several times the price of a discounted, advance-purchased fare.

Next, consider what happens when you take my previous advice and redeem your miles for a business-class award. In many cases, an unrestricted, full-fare ticket in business class can cost $5,000 to $10,000 – so 10 percent of that can cost more than a coach seat!

Finally, remember that with most fees, the airline is actually providing you with some sort of service. With the international lap child fee, the airline offers you nothing – except the right to hold your child on your lap.

Your credit card to the rescue

How can your credit card save you from paying up to $1,000 to carry your child across the ocean? The key is to leverage flexible reward systems used by one of the three credit card reward programs that let you travel in style

  1. American Express Membership Rewards
  2. The Starwood Hotels Preferred Guest Card
  3. The Sapphire Preferred Card from Chase with Ultimate Rewards

These cards all earn points in flexible rewards programs that can be converted to miles with several different airlines – some of which have better international lap child policies than others.

For example, I’m considering flying to Europe with my newborn daughter next year. I could transfer my points from the Starwood Preferred Guest Card to US Airways and pay the lap child fee. Or I could transfer the points to Air Canada’s program, which applies only a $50 charge to issue a lap child ticket for an international flight.

In another example, I can use points from my British Airways card, because the airline charges 10 percent of the miles required for an award adult ticket, rather than 10 percent of the dollars needed to purchase their most expensive ticket. Therefore, I can save hundreds of dollars by using British Airways miles for a flight on their partner American Airlines.

By using flexible rewards rather than being locked into one system, you can even avoid international lap child charges altogether. For instance, United exempts Canadian destinations from lap child charges – while Delta, US Airways, and American do not. Finally, consider transferring points to miles with discount carriers such as Alaska, JetBlue, Airtran/Southwest, Virgin America, and Frontier. These carriers don’t charge any international lap child fees.

Airlines show no mercy when it comes to gouging young parents with outrageous fees. As a savvy credit card user, it’s time to fight back.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
7 Surprising Advantages of Downsizing as a Retiree
7 Surprising Advantages of Downsizing as a Retiree

Downsizing your home offers many benefits, including some you may not have anticipated.

9 Forgotten Frugal Strategies — and How to Resurrect Them
9 Forgotten Frugal Strategies — and How to Resurrect Them

These time-tested methods can help us live smarter today.

9 Items Under $25 That Will Keep Your House Clean
9 Items Under $25 That Will Keep Your House Clean

We’ve rounded up some of the best products for cleaning your bathroom, kitchen and every other room.

7 Surprising Benefits of Staying Fit in Retirement
7 Surprising Benefits of Staying Fit in Retirement

Improving your overall physical health is just one reason to stay active after 50.

If My Spouse Dies, Can I Get Her Social Security?
If My Spouse Dies, Can I Get Her Social Security?

If a spouse dies, will the survivor collect the other’s share in addition to his or her own?

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership
How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership

The warehouse club often has some of the cheapest gas in town. Here’s how you can get it as a nonmember.

10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home
10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home

If you like to keep things simple, avoid these purchases.

A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today
A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today

A few steps can keep your phone from ringing when a spammer calls.

This Company Makes the Best Tires in America
This Company Makes the Best Tires in America

Driver satisfaction with tires is at an all-time high, but one brand stands out.

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

This iconic dinnerware is prized for everyday use as well as reselling for profit.

This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance
This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance

One type of pain is especially associated with cognitive decline.

Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?
Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?

Knowing when to claim can help you maximize benefits.

Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs
Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs

Don’t let these health care expenses catch you off guard in retirement.

8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon
8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon

The giant retailer shines when it comes to these things, from basics to hard-to-find specialty goods.

Beware This Hidden Ingredient in Rotisserie Chicken
Beware This Hidden Ingredient in Rotisserie Chicken

Something foul may lurk in those delicious, ready-to-eat birds.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

Prices Are Soaring on These 7 Items
Prices Are Soaring on These 7 Items

Some surprise price jumps are making life more difficult for consumers.

5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food
5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food

Anyone can take advantage of these resources.

5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees
5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees

All of these states are located in the same region of the nation.

7 Big Purchases You Should Never Make
7 Big Purchases You Should Never Make

Sometimes a big-ticket purchase is nothing more than a big waste of money.

6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home
6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home

Stashing money around the house is anything but harmless.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic
5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic

Sometimes the brand-name version is clearly superior.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.