Should Kids Have Frequent Flyer Accounts?

Filed Under: Family, Kids

Yesterday we announced that we’re looking to bring on another writer to our team, and the comments are full of thoughts and insights from readers. One of those was from Jim, who noted that he’d like to see more family content, and posed a few questions:

For example, I travel a lot for business, and 1-2x a year with family. Should I register my 2-year-old in an FF program? Some let you pool the points with family members. Is that the best strategy?

I thought that was a great question, and probably one that a lot of families have, so figured I’d go ahead and answer it now rather than making him wait until we get through the hiring and onboarding processes. 😉

Never leave miles on the table

At the end of the day, you can’t spend miles if you don’t earn them, so it’s always better to sign up for a program and earn the miles than to not.

This especially applies to kids and other family members that might travel less often — mileage earning is typically tied to the individual traveling, and it’s better to earn a handful miles for someone who only travels a few times a year than to miss out entirely.

There are also sometimes unexpected opportunities to earn miles, which you can’t take advantage of if you don’t have a frequent flyer account. When we went to Thailand a few years ago, our original flights were canceled, and we ended up getting rebooked in paid international first class. So my 5-year-old nephew ended up earning ~12,000 miles — nearly enough for a domestic economy ticket — and if he hadn’t been enrolled ahead of time we wouldn’t have been able to claim those miles.

Sweet dreams and mileage-earning in JAL First Class

So, short answer: sign everyone from Junior to Grandma up to earn miles on their next trip.

Choosing a frequent flyer program

Now, you don’t need to sign everyone up for every program in existence — that would get exhausting quickly. Given that most airlines have partnerships, you should be able to select just a few programs. Sure, the earnings rates might not be as optimized, but it will save a lot of hassle.

There are few things to think about when deciding which programs to credit miles to:

  • What airlines do they partner with (both for earning and redeeming miles)?
  • Do the miles expire, and can they be extended?
  • Can you easily add miles to the account?

As an example, Singapore KrisFlyer is a good default program for many adults in the US — they have good earnings rates across Star Alliance, a decent award chart, and they’re transfer partners of all the flexible points currencies. And we’ll often recommend moving points to Singapore if someone is closing a credit card account.

But KrisFlyer is a horrible program for rarely-traveling minors. The accumulated miles expire every three years, whether you have activity or not, and there isn’t an easy/cost-effective way to add miles to the account for someone who isn’t able to move points from another program.

So while they might not earn as many miles per trip, I’d prefer to have kids accumulate Star Alliance miles in United MileagePlus. United often sells miles for a reasonable rate, which is useful for topping off accounts if you get close to having enough for an award, and they also have a shopping portal.

Miles earned through shopping portals can be a great way to keep less-active accounts from expiring, or to build up the balances those who can’t leverage credit cards. My niece and nephew, for example, aren’t old enough for credit cards, but still have a couple of frequent flyer accounts, and shopping portals offer an easy way to build up their balances. This is especially true when the portals have big bonuses (particularly around Back To School time) — splitting your purchases across a few accounts can earn you thousands of extra miles.

So even if you consistently fly a certain carrier, be sure to look for partner programs with terms that will allow you to build balances over time for the kiddos, and have the option of adding miles from outside sources. Unless you want to take your kids mileage-running.

Family Pooling

A few programs, such as JetBlue and British Airways, allow families to combine their miles and then collectively redeem them. This is a great feature, but not necessarily your only option

Keep in mind that when it comes to redeeming miles, the account holder doesn’t necessarily need to be traveling on the award ticket. So even if a relative only travels every few years, those miles could still be used for other family members.

With family pooling, you can typically only redeem miles for people who are listed in the family account. Depending on the rates at which you earn and redeem miles, this can be more limiting than just having the miles in a separate accounts.

In general, I think the JetBlue program is great for families, and there aren’t any real downsides to signing up your crew.

Meanwhile, British Airways Avios are useful, and it only takes a handful to redeem for a short-haul flight, but I don’t know that it’s significantly better to earn Avios in a household account than to diversify your miles. There’s no reason why you can’t have one person credit to British Airways, one to Alaska Mileage Plan, and one to American AAdvantage. All three are partners, they all have shopping portals, they all sell miles, and (unless you commit to a BA household account), they all let you redeem miles for anyone.

There are pros and cons to all these programs, and every family will have different needs.

Keep track of the miles

Obviously, if you’re going to exert the effort to enroll everyone in programs, you’re going to want to maintain those accounts. I like to use AwardWallet to monitor accounts and expiration dates.

Having all the accounts in one place is helpful, and can make it easier to ensure you have enough account activity to keep any miles from expiring.

Bottom line

Since there’s no cost to enrolling children in frequent flyer programs (other than a few minutes of your time), I think you might as well setup the accounts.

It might take a few years for them to earn a meaningful amount of miles, but as long as you keep the account active, you’ll eventually have enough to do something with. So no reason not to!

Do your kids earn miles? Any other ways you’ve found to build up their balances?

  1. My oldest (6) is nearing his firt 100,000miles, and earned both United silver and Delta Silver in 2017. His younger brother has some catching up to do, but went to 4 other countries in his 4th year of life!
    I’ve found myself crediting them to all 3 legacy US carriers, and look forward to them becoming AVgeeks like myself!!!

  2. Yes, but I would go further. Once they get in high school or so, start showing them how you book tickets, use the airline apps, track the incoming flight, what to do in the event of IRROPs (MX and weather), the pros and cons of different airlines, and so on. By the time they got to college, and were flying home and other places on their own, they were able to manage their travel pretty well, which turned out to be particularly useful when they variously got stuck in ATL, DEN, and LAX, missed a connection, had a flight cancelled and so on. And one of mine became an expert at getting TOD upgrades when she was traveling with multiple suitcases that almost paid for themselves.

  3. If they behave and are quite in lounges and onboard no problem all.
    However NOISY KIDS AND THEIR PARENTS WHO DO NOTHING about it, should be KICKED OUT of lounges and business cabins Manu militari! Thankfully, I’ve never experienced this issue in First.

  4. Yes. And when they’re old enough (around 16) they should probably be an authorized user on a parent’s credit card.

  5. Lufthansa had (But I can’t find any information anymore) a certain junior club card you could sign your kids up to that will allow them to keep all their miles until they are 18. (+3 years when they turn 18 then they expire). A friend of mine was able to get a whopping 100k miles like that. (The reason I know this thing even existed) Me having been singed up for Swiss miles and more and not being in that club didn’t have that advantage. Having flown many many times in those 18 years (Neither I or my parents checked my account at that time, they lost the pin and It didn’t even have an email attached to it and when I got somewhat interested it was really really hard getting access to it again but that’s a different story). I did some digging and found that I would have had over 300k miles at the point of turning 18. That would have been enough to get myself a *A Business Class Around the World ticket that would cost a bit less than 10k. So do your kids a favor and not only sign them up, but also dig a bit more into the possibilities!

  6. First, thanks for addressing my question! I’d like to see more about family pooling, as I think that’s the easiest approach, when available. SAS used to have it, but they dropped it a year or two ago. That was great in that all our Star Alliance miles ended up in my account, and combined it was enough for a redemption within the expiry period, while alone it would not be.

    That’s our issue. For example, we’re taking a trip to Florida for spring break and the flights will earn no more than 1,000 miles, and most programs we can credit to have a 2-year expiration. My kids’ accounts if I create them, just won’t have enough activity or earnings to be useful before expiration so that’s why I sometimes wonder if it’s worth the hassle of keeping track of FF accounts for everyone in our family, instead of just mine.

    Maybe I should just have them earn the miles, then donate them to charity before expiration. Time for me to check out AwardWallet.

    Are there any other programs that offer pooling or non-expiry for children?

  7. Absolutely – must be done!
    Our oldest (4) is a BA gold card holder. Especially helpful when we buy ex-EU business fares and he gets the mileage bonuses typically reducing the prices we paid effectively by £200
    Number 2 (who is 2) will get a free seat in first on his next flight (His outbound on BA was before he turned 2) AND earn the miles for the flight!

  8. Hi Jim, if you’re interested in pooling your family miles, it’s worth a look at British Airways’ Executive Club. They do allow a household account that is able to accommodate several people.

    Assuming you’re based in Europe (as you mention SAS), it may be worth taking your business there ->

    Other than that I don’t really know of any other programmes. Happy to learn more, though !

  9. One thing I’ve noticed with setting up my kids FF account, at least on AA, is that I have had issues since my son and I have the same name (I’m Jr. and he’s the III). Can’t do it online and even phone customer service couldn’t do it. This also poses a problem with online check-in (system gets confused with multiple tickets with same name on same flight). I put his middle name in the record (and don’t for me), but that hasn’t fixed the problem. Again, at least on AA. So I’ve been leaving miles on the table for this one kid but not the other two. Frustrating. I assume I’m not the only person using the same name for multiple generations…

  10. For oneworld, Finnair Plus Junior miles do not expire until kid is 21yo. And earning rate is much better than AA even on AA own flights.

    Same thing for Star Alliance with Turkish Miles&Smiles Heroes miles do not expire until kid is 21yo. Turkish also allows family pooling, but you have to choose between pooling and no-expiration Heroes account.

    Still have to figure out good kids program in SkyTeam – any suggestions?

  11. @Alex

    As of recently Finnair changed their rules that miles expire after 18 months of inactivity, this policy will take effect March 31st 2018.

    Junior members miles will stay regardless of activity until their 18th and then starts the 18 month clock.

  12. Yes. I’m a million miler on AA thanks in part to Miles I racked up as a kid, not just on AA, but also on TWA, US Airways, and America West. (Ok, the kid miles were from TWA and AA.)

    And this harkens back to the comment about never leaving miles on the table. You never know when the airline you don’t fly often enough to earn status or travel is going to be merged into an airline you do travel with.

  13. Jetblue is a great option, We sent to Europe flying Emirates (me, Wife, 3 kids), the miles goes to Jetblue and then to the family pooling. Then use those miles and others in jetblue to redeem tickets (SJO-JFK).

  14. FF miles are addictive and so should be restricted to those over 18 or maybe 21 along with alcohol and tobacco.

  15. I’d also add the value of lifetime miles programs and mergers! As a kid, I flew mostly Continental, but switched to United once I moved to college. When the merger happened my legacy CO miles put me over the one million mark!

  16. Can’t say enough how much the answer to this question is yes! The hobby is an amazing thing to share with your kids! I got into the miles and points game at thirteen because I didn’t like how my parents were managing my frequent flyer account–while initially they were resistant, they started learning with me, and these days I’m their go-to for travel advice. It’s really great to be able to give them premium travel experiences on a college budget, and gifting them status cuts down on my holiday shopping every year. Invest in travel with your kids–this could be something you share far into the future.

  17. Great post Tiffany. I would like to see more instructional posts about which airlines to credit to within each alliance for maximum optimization.

  18. Why wouldn’t they have an account? My kids have almost 100,000 SkyMiles with Delta and although they are not worth much they never expire. Thus every year we travel on vacation they get some miles and it builds up in their account.

  19. Although of little use to most readers; both Qantas and virgin Australia offer family pooling.

    QF only offers free family transfers of points.

    VA has some cool features, you can set it so all of the kid’s or less travelling partner status credits roll up into one account so the whole family’s travel counts for status for travel be person. Pretty useful if one family member travels a lot.

    Less useful for US readers but the partners are interesting, including singapore, delta, Hong Kong Airlines, Etihad. You can even transfer miles to Krisflyer at an admittedly poor rate.

  20. Sign them up for everything. My twin four year old boys both have Alaska accounts because we live in the Seattle area. They were also signed up for Virgin America because there was a sign-up bonus offer. Then the merger happened. Alaska gave every Virgin America member 10,000 Alaska points. My family received 40,000 points just for having Virgin America accounts. With Alaska’s current promotion, 10,000 gets you to California or the mid-west.

  21. Yes, yes.
    Jet blue is very easy for family pooling; add that to amazon shopping through the Jet Blue portal and the flexibility of their program, that is a good one

  22. One problem is having points across accounts, and being able to actually book a child’s ticket in isolation. When you have a family of 5, and accounts/points for each, this comes up and can be a barrier to using the points. Usually has to be done over the phone, linking it to an already created adult’s itinerary, etc etc. However Alaska allows you to book a child’s ticket online as long as you have the confirmation number of the adult ticket for linking the reservation. No phones, no hassle, easy as booking any other award ticket on AS.
    Not sure if other carriers allow this

  23. Was a million miler with Northwest (NW). Traveled extensively with the family. Not so much now, as kids are grown. Established accounts when they were younger. NW is now Delta, and miles don’t expire. So, yes, “never leave miles on the table.”

  24. A very inexpensive way to keep kids miles from expiring is to sign them up for the airline dining program (United, AA, Delta, perhaps others?) and get a cup of coffee, slice of pizza or just a pastry at a participating establishment ( coffee shop, diner, pizza place, etc)

  25. If my boys had frequent flyer programmes, I would have paid for a total of about 3 flights. Last year my wife, my three boys and I went to 8 countries and we loved them. In 2017 we went to Britain, USA, France, Italy, Australia, Vietnam, the Seychelles and Japan.

    If they had frequent flyer programmes I would have renovated the kitchen last year.

  26. @Ben….I think that’s great. You should be proud of yourself for being a great parent. There is a lot of parents who don’t give their kids the time of day…let alone show them the world. I started my kids a AA account 10 years to late. Show them the world and how to do it with miles and points.

  27. Your analysis is a bit off. You go into details about various airlines, when it is not necessary, unless you are being paid to promote those airlines. The reason that children should have their own frequent flier account is quite simple, you are actually paying for the ticket/seat, so you are entitled to get the points. Keep in mind, that I would suggest you only go with one carrier per alliance group and only stick to those alliance groups that you use most. This way the children will earn miles when you fly. When considering redeeming, assuming you value all of the miles as a unit (e.g. you value your family’s miles together), I would suggest using his or her miles first because there is no credit card associated to keep it active. Remember that when redeeming:
    – Many good deals are offered on partner airlines if you plan in advance.
    – You can transfer your Chase points to another person’s airline account if they need a small boost for a redemption.

  28. @ Tiffany / Lucky – I did not see the article announcing that you will be taking on another writer/blogger for this website, but I saw it in beginning of this article. If I could say one suggestion, I think it is about perception. It is the blogger’s job to review various airlines and mileage programs, hotels and hotel rewards, airport lounges, credit cards, etc, but more consideration should be on “regular” people’s use and redemption.

  29. Thank you Tiffany for sharing such an interesting topic.
    First, let me introduce myself. I am Justin and I am very keen on collecting miles. I use Krisflyer and as a 14 year old, i have about 40k miles which i just spent.
    Interestingly, I introduced my parents to this rather than vice versa. My mother did not appreciate the art of collection, but my father did. My dad travels a lot and due to it being usually on business , he sits business class most of the time. However, he does not know about the redemption process. After telling him, we were able to get the full amount of miles he has flown which ended up being a lot of miles. Last year, my family managed to book a trip to Taiwan purely on miles for all 3 of us. This really allowed us to understand fully the benefit of miles and how it can really help to save costs.
    I think that parents should open FFP for their children so that they will be able to better appreciate this interesting art and they will understand how to maximize their rewards and understand how to save.

  30. That’s the joy of virgin Australia points, you can pool all of your family – from kids to cousins…….. all straight into your own account ( don’t even have to prove the “ family “ connection

  31. We have 4 kids, 11-15, all who have been Executive Platinum for 3+ years. From our perspective, it’s about time so more “family” focused stuff was done. Most business and first class fares have a minor fare which made it really easy to get them started. When you are paying 50-75% on an already heavily discounted fare, they earn enough points to make it cheaper than economy flights, especially when topped off with their status bonuses. This would help a lot of families if you did some articles showing this.

    We also don’t have to deal with any Unattended Minor stuff and their behavior is infinitely better than the ones in the back half. Not hard to keep a child happy when they have a big monitor and lay flat beds. We also make the trip part of the holiday and have gone to some amazing places (in the name of cheap fares). By the time they leave school, they will have a huge swag of points and be well on the way to lifetime status. Their interest in travel, points and finance (credit cards etc) is far ahead of many adults and they actively look for places to go and deals to do it. Their eyes have been opened to opportunities we could never have thought possible and our entire lives have been changed because of it.

  32. I got my sons United FF cards at the age of 6. Over the years they from time to time had silver or gold status. We also used the miles for upgrades. They are now 26 and each have a few hundred thousand miles that they use judiciously. One is especially good at managing his miles. Living in Japan travel around Japan is cheap on ANA using miles. Also within Asia on airlines like Thai and Asiana, which have good availability. So definitely worth getting FF cards for the kids.

  33. @Tiffany – great article. Only confirmed how important is to start children on miles and points as soon as you can.

    Not children, but was amazed to see how many of my colleagues don’t have frequent flyer account and they are flying frequently for work!

    @Iamhere – not sure you did, but once you read Tiffany’s very detailed and exact job description for the new writer/contributor position, you’ll completely understand what OMATT is all about and who they’d like to hire 🙂

  34. Yes, absolutely. That’s how you were able to fly first class as a teen on your first trip to Europe. You’re welcome

  35. My original thought when I started caring about the points was: why am *I* not getting any points for my kids travel when *I* selected the company and *I* paid for the trip? Being minors, children can not OWN anything (not even the points, they are not legally theirs), and are certainly not paying for anything (at least not in elementary school). I always found it odd that no air company considered pandering to parents (like they do for most othe kid-related stuff) by recognizing parents as masters of kids’ spend and rewarding parents for extra spend. Oh, wait, I forgot: for airlines I’m just a sheep to be skinned, as I have to travel in peak dates, pay the highest price and I’m bringing 20% of a body weight for 80% of price.

  36. I fly San Francisco to Taipei every year, as I used to live in the bay area and my family lives in Taiwan, and not I live in Taipei and I return every summer. Due to the frequent EVA Air flights I flew, I received my card at age 5. My sister may have received it at age 3.

  37. It’s a great idea. In my case, especially so, growing up as a third country child. The earnings from full paid first class tickets due to my parents’ occupation meant that I had no shortage of miles and that I earned premium status on multiple airlines at a young age.

  38. @ Tiffany / Lucky – If you are trying to have some more articles that focus on families which is not a bad idea, then you will need to talk about family-friendly activities and topics from time to time. The Points Guy recently had this article about museum sleepovers! While other sites similar to this one do not have many things to show family-friendly activities or topics, they do from time to time.

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