Flying with Children: Award Travel and Upgrades

Flying business class on a long-haul flights may be the difference between a somewhat enjoyable ride over the ocean or misery, particularly if you are stuck with bad seats in economy. We flew on KLM and Delta last summer to France and we were stuck in the middle seats next to the bathroom there and back.

Not good.

Those are the flights where you literally count each painful minute until the plane lands, only to subsequently arrive shattered.

Flying with babies or toddlers in business class may create more stress if and when crying starts, so I’m not sure that is a must, but it is joyous with school age kids and up given on-demand videos and seats that truly recline, not to mention room for stuff without feeling cramped. Our transatlantic flight yesterday was from Switzerland and we managed to get the three of us in business class using a mix of the American Express companion program and award miles.

The award miles experience was horrible. We bought an upgradeable ticket for considerably more money than the lowest available fare but were unable to actually confirm the upgrade would happen on the return flight until we were at the gate and the agent decided, that no, our 7-year-old shouldn’t sit in coach — alone — for 11 hours. Of course, one of us would have moved to the coach middle seat (this is where you mention how long and painful labor was to ensure you win the husband v. wife negotiation), but still, it is very aggravating to pay the premium for an upgradeable fare and then not get the upgrade.

The details are long and boring, but suffice to say using miles for award travel is complicated. Every airline has different rules around how and when miles can be used. We spent hours on the phone from Switzerland calling to confirm the upgrade; Luftansa wouldn’t let go of the seats for miles even though there were 8 seats open in business class less than 24 hours before departure (they did offer us an fee-based upgrade for $10,000). Gee, thanks. I practically kissed the gate agent when she gave us a courtesy upgrade during the boarding process.

Lesson learned.  Hope is not a strategy when it comes to award seats opening up for popular routes.

Wendy Perrin to the rescue. She just published a report of the Top 10 Ways to Maximize Your Miles. There are invaluable tidbits in here from experienced travelers that have used award miles successfully. There are a number of mentions of talking to a live agent about the options. I agree, although the airlines don’t want you to call them, it may be essential to make award travel work.

That said, I’ve bookmarked Expert Flyer and I’m excited to see if this is a tool that works and helps take the pain away. Flyer Talk sounds like another good resource for information. Regardless, Wendy’s informative series is a must read.

Relevant Links:

Interview with Wendy Perrin

Flying overseas with babies

Entertaining kids on planes

Family travel Europe – tips for trips with young children

Ciao Bambino recommended Europe family hotels

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