Traveling has always come with complications, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it more challenging than ever. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.
The short answer: yes. If you’re a cost-conscious traveler and the loyalty program for the airline you’re flying doesn’t let points expire, it’s a no-brainer. (We’ll get to the caveats later.)
“The major benefit of getting children frequent-flier accounts at a young age is that they can accrue miles toward free travel,” said Leslie Harvey, founder of the family travel blog Trips With Tykes. “Even if families travel infrequently, these miles will slowly add up to something more significant over time.”
For most loyalty programs, it doesn’t matter who paid for the ticket; you can only earn miles if you’re the one doing the flying. Not signing your child up, Harvey puts it, “is simply leaving money on the table.”
As far as when to sign up, Harvey recommends parents do it as soon as they’re considering buying a seat for their child. That’s usually once they’re no longer eligible to fly for free in your lap — around 2 years old.
Carrie Bradley, editor of Flying With a Baby, says the earlier the better. Some airlines have an age minimum for their programs, while others will enroll a newborn if you buy the child a seat of their own. They’re not eligible for earning miles if they fly in your lap.
Konrad Waliszewski, CEO and co-founder of TripScout, a travel planning and entertainment platform, regrets not signing his kids up as soon as they were eligible. “It was just really easy and very underrated,” he said, adding that it’s been an effortless way to help reduce the cost of travel for his family. “Most families don’t do it, and they should.”
Is it a hassle to join? It can depend on the airline. The only extra step Waliszewski encountered was having to sign his kids up for their own email address. “But that takes 10 seconds with Gmail,” he says. The process with other airlines felt simple, just like he was signing himself up.
I signed up my 3-year-old niece for a Delta Air Lines SkyMiles account as an experiment. The process took me less than four minutes with spotty plane WiFi.
While Waliszewski always signs up for a loyalty program of an airline he’s flying, he’s more discerning with his kids who fly less often. “It’s more hassle than it’s worth to track them since they won’t accrue enough to matter,” Waliszewski said.
Instead, Waliszewski’s kids have accounts with the airlines their family takes most frequently and that are part of a larger alliance. For example, with American Airlines’ membership, his kids can earn and redeem miles when flying the airline or its Oneworld partner airlines, including British Airways, Qatar and Alaska.
But be warned: Some airline frequent-flier programs (like American’s AAdvantage) have miles expire after a period of inactivity, “so it may require a little legwork to keep miles active on the few airlines with this requirement if you don’t fly them often,” Harvey said. Because it may take a long time for your kids to accumulate enough miles for a flight, that can be particularly annoying.
Others carriers — including JetBlue, Delta and United — have mileage that never expires, so “even if families travel infrequently, these miles will slowly add up to something more significant over time,” Harvey said.
Once you’ve signed up, Harvey says parents need an organized system to keep the log-ins and passwords secure and accessible. “It’s easy to lose track when you are tracking multiple people in multiple airline programs,” she says. Her suggestion is to use services such as 1Password, LastPass or AwardWallet.
If you’re still not convinced whether it’s worth signing up, Waliszewski says the benefits go beyond cost saving. “It’s also something that gets my kids excited about to know they are working their way up to a free flight,” he says.
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