Seeking Playground Justice: Why Premium Cabin Travel is Best for Families

Mommy Points kicks off her “keeping it real week” by arguing that families have to stretch their miles across more people so premium cabin travel may be unrealistic or undesirable.

And of course it’s mathematically true that more award seats cost more miles. But I think that ignores a good part of the picture. And of course the last thing you want is to add the stress of coach travel onto the already stressful family travel experience.

It may sound funny for me to talk about family travel. I do not have children. So feel free to write this post off as insensitivity on someone who ‘just can’t understand the plight faced by families’. Hopefully it’s not just a rant, but useful advice, and I do think I’ve gained some perspective by working with countless clients through my award booking service and developing a sense for their preferences and for the tradeoffs that they face.

Ultimately you should redeem your points for what you value, and not everyone feels like extra room, a better sleep on long flights, or fewer hassles is worth any extra points or money. They would turn down a $50 buy up offer if their airline was going to let them move from coach to business class on a flight from New York to Tokyo. Those folks should redeem for coach, and that’s fine if it works for them.

But I’m going to suggest that it isn’t such an iron-clad case that families are relegated to the back of the plane based on sheer logic and numbers.

  1. You don’t save that many miles flying coach most of the time (leaving aside the few weeks of the year that US Airways discounts coach awards to Europe when no one wants to go). A standard coach roundtrip may be 60,000 miles and business class 90,000 or 100,000. A program like British Airways, that charges 2x coach for business class and 3x for first class may be an exception, but most US programs offer premium cabin awards that are a downright value.

  2. Don’t be just a one-earner household. I once said at Frequent Traveler University that the best thing about being married is twice the mileage-earning opportunity.
    • Even if you’re a one-income household, federal rules make it possible to use joint income to obtain separate credit card accounts again. If there’s extended family not really in the points game, they can get credit cards and earn points and let you use them or transfer them to your accounts. What a great Christmas/Birthday gift for everyone in the family!
    • Get accounts for your kids too, that way you can better take advantage of promotions. When US Airways offered its Grand Slam (big bonuses for transactions with its partners) I played the game for more accounts than just my own. When there are cheap purchase miles opportunities I might max out under my own account and the accounts of others as well.

  3. You may not need to use miles for all tickets in the family. If the kids are old enough to travel alone, consider buying coach tickets for them and redeeming premium tickets for yourselves (parents). The kids’ tickets are a great use of proprietary bank points, if you had a big signup bonus from Capital One or the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® those aren’t great for business class tickets but they work well for coach. Or consider buying your own ticket (for the elite qualifying miles) and upgrading, while redeeming for family.

  4. If you’re a coach traveler, miles may not make sense for you. If you earn most of your points through credit card spend and plan to redeem for coach travel, consider a cash back card instead and just use the cash to buy whatever tickets you wish instead of scrounging for award space. You want non-stop flights probably traveling with kids rather than circuitous connections. And you want peak travel dates to coincide with school schedules that can be hard to get on points anyway.

  5. Drop the kids off with grandparents if you can. Save those points for premium cabin travel when it’s just two of you.

I recognize that not everyone of these strategies will work for everyone, that not every family can afford to buy even a couple of coach tickets. That’s why I’m making multiple points, to offer a useful perspective to as many as possible.

And I’m suggesting that using cash where cash is the better return than miles can make sense as a way to stretch points which may make more sense than purposing miles for less valuable uses — at least, again, if your family can afford to travel with miles covering part of the cost and cash covering part of the cost of your trip.

Miles have the greatest leverage for premium cabin international awards. Not everyone values those, and it’s true that more premium cabin awards cost more miles. But families don’t need to give up on that, they just have to plan more carefully. Just as more tickets cost more miles, more people means more opportunities to earn miles.

The goal remains the same, as a family you have to play on multiple chess boards at a time — not just resigning (and laying down your king at the feet of the mileage programs).

Family award redemption can be more complicated. This much is true, finding three or four seats is harder than two which is harder than one. But:

  • Premium cabin awards can be easier to get than coach. This varies by route, but more people have enough miles for coach and there’s more demand for coach seats. Earning more miles and seeking the better return of a premium cabin can open up redemption possibilities.
  • Breaking the group up can be a useful strategy for some, flying say 1 parent with a child and the other alone or with another child in the case of a family of four, or two family members in one cabin and two in another can make it easier to get the award you want — in this way premium cabin redemptions for two passengers can make it easier to get the award, even though those two passengers are spending more miles than if the redemption was for all coach.
  • Premium cabin awards are a better deal than spending double miles or more for ‘standard’ awards, when saver awards aren’t available.
  • Plan carefully and know which routes have the best availability, like Vienna sometimes and Brussels often does within the Star Alliance for transatlantic travel, like many Asiana flights offer, like that Cathay Pacific offers (at least 3 business class seats on many routes) six to eleven months in advance, or that many LAN flights out of Miami have space for the whole family.

In many ways, the conveniences of business class are more imperative for families than for just two passengers.

Remember that business class is going to get you an extra free baggage allowance, it gets you meals you don’t have to pay for, lounges that often have space to entertain kids, and more space to stretch out as well as a better rest from keeping those kids entertained (and not bother other passengers) on long haul flights.

Or how about flying with a kid under two? The extra space in business class is orders of magnitude better than sitting upright with a lap infant in coach. Of course most programs charge extra for lap infants traveling internationally. Non-US frequent flyer programs are generally more reasonable here than US ones.

  • Most US airlines charge 10% of what the ticket price of the award would be (some will base it off of full fare like Delta, others lowest fare the rate desk can muster) for a lap infant.
  • Asiana charges 10% of the miles, British Airways 10% of the miles plus taxes and fuel surcharges.
  • Lufthansa charges only taxes and fees for infants and offers a children’s award at 25% mileage cost on flights in the Lufthansa Group.

If you’re redeeming for a family of four (two parents, a child, and a lap infant) consider for instance using American miles for two passengers and British Airways points for the third, and attaching the lap infant to the reservation issued with BA’s currency.

Focusing on earning more miles, on earning the right miles, and that’ll yield a better return than conserving miles.

So….. insensitive, out-of-touch rant or do I have a point here?


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About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Hi Gary, great perspective. I have couple of questions:

    1. What are the costs for award redemption of children aged 2-11 years in the legacy USA programs?
    2. Is it worth the hassle splitting a child+infant in BA points and parents in AA points for OneWorld redemption?

  2. Seriously?

    “the kids are old enough to travel alone, consider buying coach tickets for them and redeeming premium tickets for yourselves (parents)”

    I love it when kids come up and visit with their parents! Not. No US airline is going to enforce the movement between cabins when there are precious children involved.

  3. Gary, your insights and knowledge about this game is so much above jokers like Mommy Points. While that post might have inspired some thoughts of your own, referencing these clowns is not a good way to differentiate your blog from the rest.

  4. Gary I think you have a pretty good perspective on it, though frankly both you and MommyPoints are right and it really depends on individual circumstances. We have done the whole range of awards with the kids, from quick coach flights to Orlando to go Disney/Universal through to the more elaborate trips to Seychelles/Mauritius/Maldives using the up-front cabins. I max out promos for all of us so my kids have had Delta Business Debit Cards in the past, US Grand Slam was great etc. The really hard part about travelling as a family is finding award space. While Lucky will talk about being able to get 1 seat on Lufthansa F class if you book within 7 days of flying, that clearly is not viable when you want to take a family along. So on trips we’ve had to split between coach and first class (we’ll do coach if it’s a shorter flight but I wouldn’t put my kids in coach for a 15 hour flight unless we really had to) or even go on separate flights and meet up at destination, which is less than ideal. Also booking hotel rooms becomes a challenge particularly in Europe where rooms are small with just one bed. But it’s all very do-able

  5. We just flew in UA BusinessFirst to Europe and BA First back from Europe with our two four-year-olds, and it worked great. One tip I haven’t really seen any bloggers mention for family award travel is splitting the trip into two one-ways. It’s easier to earn enough miles on one airline for half the trip and another airline for the other half than it is to earn all the miles for four RT tickets. We each had the two Citi AA cards (thanks, old two-browser trick) and the Sapphire Preferred/United MileagePlus combo, which got us four tickets on the same planes each time. (The idea of having a family with small kids fly on different planes seems too logistically daunting to me to try.)

    And because both of us had been earning miles for our own accounts (topped off with some UR points for United), neither of us had the entire amount of miles for four one-way tickets. So we each booked one-ways for one parent and one kid, after having checked repeatedly up to the minute before to confirm that there were indeed four available award seats on that flight–both of us just clicking the booking button at the same time. It worked fine. We’re on two separate itineraries, technically, but that didn’t cause us any trouble.

    And the benefits you get with a premium cabin are pretty awesome–no waiting in line at immigration, lounge access with snacks/meals and cleaner restrooms, free checked luggage so you can have more available hands in the airport, etc. We’d never flown in a premium cabin before, but this made it something we actually looked forward to. I’d have dreaded the idea of 10 hours in economy with tired kids.

  6. Gary, your insights and knowledge about this game is so much above jokers like Mommy Points. While that post might have inspired some thoughts of your own, referencing these clowns is not a good way to differentiate your blog from the rest!

  7. I don’t think you say anything that falls into the category of insensitivity (like “leave the little monsters at home”).

    But the basic math is this: A two parent family with two children already has their earning ability cut in half (each parent has to earn for two seats, not one). Premium awards are close to double economy awards. Sure, that’s a comparative bargain if you compare the paid fares but it’s still double.

    Therefore two parent / two children families are hard-pressed to come up with the miles needed for multiple trips per year. Two international trips would be 800,000 miles or more per year. While I understand that there are people who easily earn-and-burn that many miles each year (by flying a lot and having very high reimbursable expenses) most people aren’t in that position. I’m not. If I were, of course I’d choose the front of the plane. But if given a choice between flying in front once every two years or flying economy once or twice per year I’ll choose the later.

  8. Coach with smaller kids is actually not all that bad, we have plenty of room to spread out. Sure beats sitting next to a broad-shouldered person!

  9. We do both, coach and first. Always coach domestically but usually business or first internationally. Recently went to Dublin, coach there and BA first return (with a free one way flight to Mexico this winter). I like to include coach so my kids don’t begin to feel entitled. We will split into two groups, 1 parent 1 child in each, if necessary but usually seats open up and we are able to switch so that we are all together. We have been known to pick vacation spots based on availability…..very few places we won’t go!

  10. I think the debate is a good one. I’m just happy someone is finally writing about it. Except for mommy points, basically the entire blogosphere in this area is focused on getting that SQ suite, with two fancy layovers, etc. Mommy points is really hitting a vast untapped number of us that I wish got more coverage on your blog, the points guy, Lucky’s site, etc.

    Since getting into the mileage game, I’ve been using my miles for the most part to accumulate for travel with a family of four. Even just looking at the redemption side, I can think of so many untapped subjects where mommy points is carrying all the water. For example, I’ve found that if you’re limited on dates (which, given school schedules, families often are), you really need to look hard right at 11 months, notwithstanding the conventional wisdom that this is not always when seats open up. I just finished booking our summer 2014 trip, and I did so exactly at 11 months (plus a few days) for both the outbound and inbound. For people like me, focusing in programs and miles that permit one-way redemptions is a necessity, since I often can wait until my return opens to book my outbound. I’d also love to see some blog attention comparing the various options that generally have 4 seats open — like a comparison of TXL to NYC on AB versus DUB to ORD on IE. Etc. Actually, maybe I should start my own blog!

  11. I’ve been on both sides of this over the years. When miles were hard to get and award levels were fairly stable, I’d fly coach so as not to run out of miles for future family trips. Now with huge credit card bonuses and ever-accelerating devaluation, I’ve switched to a tactic of spending as many miles as I can whenever I can.

    Ask Hilton members how much sense it makes to hoard points for a trip more than 2 years in the future…

  12. I personally would never turn down an offer to upgrade on a flight from New York to Tokyo for 50 bucks. You would have to be crazy not to! I will probably redeem miles for my husband and one of the kids to fly business on red eye to Europe. So we will do it half and half. That way we can switch and both get some rest. But it does depend on how many miles you have. Some people simply have no choice, but fly economy.

  13. I agree with Larry on this. It wasn’t easy to earn enough miles for my family of five, considering I am the only one applying credit cards every few month (hubby doesn’t like the idea!). I ALWAYS book my trip 11 months out — booked Christmas/NY trip to Mainland China & HK in January in biz and first class, and since finding 5 seats together on Cathay wasn’t easy, I had to split the family, which this time works for our schedule. Like Larry, I just finished booking for summer 2014 trip. Next January I will be looking for flights to Mexico as I already have my resorts booked for two weeks over Christmas 2014. In my mind though i am already thinking about 2015! Family travel involved much more advance planning in order to keep the cost low, if not free!

  14. I just booked business class awards for our family of four to Australia for next winter. It was worth it to us to have beds for the long flights. In the end, it was cheaper for me to buy miles (through the US Airways 100% bonus) for our babe than pay the 10% fare. We are excited about our first flights in business!

  15. Recently managed to book for my wife and I and our 4 children from Orlando to London, return Munich to Orlando, for next June, with a “free one way” from Edmonton to Orlando at New Years, just about entirely in business class (TATL flights are US envoy suites and United business class). It took pretty much every trick I have learned from every blogger to find 6 business class seats together, and a total of 10 segments, but we are spending 600,000 points/miles and about $1500 (and three phone calls to United!) for a $94000 ticket. Only have one of us earning miles but these miles have almost all been earned in the last 8 months. Still watching for more direct routes but can certainly live with what we have.
    First time any of us will travel in int’l business and the first time I have put together anything more complicated than a straight domestic return ticket, but it all came together relatively easily, so I really do think that, at least if you are traveling on *A, that it is possible, even for larger families at peak times.
    Realistically, we could not likely take the time for a trip like this more often than every couple of years, and I can earn 800K to 1M miles per year, so business class over coach was a pretty easy choice for us.

  16. One-kid family here. Banked a ton of AA miles through the late, lamented BankDirect bonanza. Redeemed all of em (more than 2 years worth) and them some for business class to Asia in March. At that distance, with that jet lag, you want the kiddo to sleep well. (And the grownups too, especially if vacation time is precious and you want to hit the ground running upon arrival.) Availability wasn’t too much of a problem on Cathay 4-5 months out for 3 of the 4 legs; we had to move the trip up a day or two to get out of JFK and separated 2 and 1 on different JAL flights on the last flight home. Still enraged by the 10% lap fee (about $500) we paid to take the kiddo to Italy up front when she was a baby. Scott McCartney wrote a great story about that fee a while back, but I can’t find it just now. But I’m with Gary here, if you can rack up these kinds of balances.

  17. Gary – spot on. We have three kids and have seen the world for free. We can’t normally “afford” 5 business class tickets in terms of miles/points (and it’s rare to find 5 available ones in any case), but we often split reservations into 2/3 or 1/4 between cabins, and it’s way easier to find 5 tickets across two cabins rather than one. We’ll also use proprietary “throwaway” points for a ticket or two for otherwise cheap coach flights and pay for the rest; we’ll sometimes buy a ticket or two for mid-priced itineraries and redeem for the rest and so on.

    We tend to book high season and otherwise expensive flights to coincide with vacations, so for routes with limited inventory and high demand (think Israel during the summer at $1600+ coach), we’re willing to split up by cabin or even by flight; we’ll use multiple programs to redeem. I’ll keep an eye out for potential inventory even before “my” dates become available just to get a sense of what’s out there and who is releasing seats and when, and then as soon as I see availability, I grab it. Even if it’s one way – I’ll figure out how to get back when that opens up.

    Avios are a good value for short haul relatively expensive coach flights (NYC-Bermuda, for example) and some long haul flights if you can avoid fuel surcharges. Almost any airline miles work for high-cost, high-demand routes, even in coach, like NYC-TLV, again, only if you can avoid fuel surcharges. The key is to have a number of options going in (combinations of Amex MR, Chase, Starwood are useful) and to keep expectations realistic.

    There are good values to be had in coach and it’s often worth redeeming some seats for business if only to get lounge access and to keep the five of us on a single flight.

  18. What Larry in NY said: It’s hard to scrounge up pts. for a family of 5 when you don’t travel for work, don’t have a business to charge expenses, or a blog w/ credit card links. Each mile/point is precious. Of course, I don’t redeem for airfare or hotels unless I’m getting at least 2% per mile/pt. While you obviously get more buck for the mile in premium classes, we don’t have enough miles/pts. to do that for 5 people.

  19. I think it just depends. It depends on how fast you accumulate points, the timing, the number of people, the routes, etc.

    I flew IAD-PEK in Econ+ United nonstop. Would first class or biz have been better. Obviously. But we were six people and we’re not splitting up as our kids were young. We just flew nonstop from BWI-LHR and we flew in Y. Guess what….we survived! I got on the plane and closed my eyes and went to sleep. People can be very spoiled and say “I can’t fly in coach”. We’ll, I look in the cabin and there are many people that do fly in coach. They just suck it up.

    If you have tons of points and can reload and can get your tickets and have plenty, then duh, no one would say that first isn’t better. It’s like trying to say that BK is better than Ruth’s Chris. Obviously not, but BK is much less.

    While this posting surely gets a lot of comments, the answer is that it just depends.

  20. Gary, I enjoy reading your blog and have learned a lot from it.

    You value first class flights, fancy chain hotels and suite upgrades, and first class airline food. Things I really don’t care about… and that’s ok. Everyone has different styles, tastes, and priorities. Personally, I’m comfortable enough in coach and would rather take a greater number of award flights with my miles.

    Not everyone has the time and inclination to open credit cards accounts for every family member and to go out and manufacture spending. I think your perspective on that is distorted by your level of extreme interest in the game. For a family of 4, it’s much easier for the average consumer to accrue points for award travel in coach. Most air passengers travel in coach and live to talk about it! It’s ok … really.

    As for insensitivity … I really didn’t see too much of that in your post. Though the suggestion to put the kids in coach while the parents sit up front … please. If people value first class travel more than being together with their family, I would suggest that they have some serious thinking to do.

  21. Exactly what LarryInNYC said. Gary, you say “A standard coach roundtrip may be 60,000 miles and business class 90,000 or 100,000…but most US programs offer premium cabin awards that are a downright value.”

    Sure, I get the value argument, but let’s say I’ve got two kids, that’s spending an extra 120,000 miles on a trip to fly up front. That’s roughly an entire years worth of points earned through flying, or a couple years worth of points based on credit card spend.

    No way is it worth it to spend those extra points just for 8, 10, 12 hours of your life.

  22. “It just depends” is often equated to the issue of Y vs J/F being a matter of opinion rather than math. I’ve redeemed for both the front and back of the plane, but either way, was always getting more than 2cpm. Don’t know why people love to proclaim that using miles saved them cash when they squander them on tickets they should actually have indeed paid cash for. It’s ok if you’re poor and miles are the only way to get to your destination, or if you can’t find availability, but otherwise you should just follow the arithmetic.

  23. Great analysis, Gary, mommy points has got,it all wrong. We fly often with our kids (now 7 & 4) and since the youngest turned 2 we generally fly in F for longer trips if we can score free or cheap upgrades. This eliminates the fight over who gets the window seat and prevents other disputes by putting parents in between. The extra legroom keeps the younger one from kicking the seat (normally a rarity anyway) and just being able to board first and get them settled with videos makes the whole experience less stressful.

    As I normally fly internationalC/F for business travel i have more e-upgrades than I can ever use so it makes me very happy when I can use them to upgrade my family on a cheap coach ticket. But we have also used otherwise worthless Alaska miles to upgrade those cheap flights to Hawaii (or simply paid $100 UFC at gate). Also saves on checked bag fees where you don’t have elite status.

    We occasionally fly WN so we don’t upgrade those flights but the kids can tolerate economy for an hour or two. WN is surprisingly child-unfriendly – no milk, no IFE, no,food for sale – the legacy carriers do a much better job of catering to younger flyers.

  24. We just finished a 2 week trip to Brussels, Paris, Barcelona and Madrid for my extended family of 10. There are 7 adults, but most of them do not have an interest in the game. We burned 542,500 Delta miles and 180,000 US Airways miles for the economy tickets. I used everything that I could think of, except manufactured spending to get the miles that we had. Getting another 400,000 miles for this trip for business class would not have been possible, even with manufactured spending.

    We also spent 1.2 million CC points, 3 Radisson certificates, 1 IHG Visa certificate, 35,000 IHG points and 35,000 SPG points. We used 56,000 Wyndham points to convert to USAirways.. I also spent 35,000 MR points converted to Delta miles, bought 3,000 Delta miles for $60 and bought 16,000 US Airways miles for approx $300.

    Of the 54 hotel rooms consumed, we paid for 14 rooms outright and used points+cash for 2 rooms.

    Between planning for the miles & points and planning the actual trip, it took me almost a year and a half.

    While the large family trip will not happen again, everyone still has points leftover so that they all can do another trip – even if it is in economy.

  25. I totally agree that if you have the points or miles and can find the availability to make it work than a premium cabin experience on a longer trip will usually be the best choice. That is how my family does it, but we currently have a smaller family so it is easier.

    I think that once your family grows to a point where it is hard for the parents to earn enough for 4, 5, or more people to fly in premium cabins you need to get smarter about when to suck it up and fly coach. East Coast – Europe is a good example of a flight where maybe it is tolerable if you can have time to rest on arrival. Or, take fewer trips but take the ones you have in premium cabins and make them longer and utilize stopovers, open jaws, transiting different regions, etc.

    Basically, there is no one answer for all families, but I think that sometimes coach is the right answer and that isn’t something to feel bad about.

    Hobo, ha ha. No, I would not do that in F. Prices for us to get to grandparents in ICT used to be super high so miles were sometimes a good deal, but Southwest has driven down the price from Houston so we can often use cash now. 😉

  26. @Boraxo
    “otherwise worthless Alaska miles” – you’re kidding, right? you don’t like to shower on a plane?

  27. @Boraxo: You say that Gary is correct, but then describe your own situation in which you use upgrade instruments, not miles, to get the family into premium seats. I don’t know anyone who says economy is _preferable_ to business, only people who say that business isn’t worth doing fewer trips. Your situation does not seem to me to be directly relevant to the question at hand.

    As for the windows / kicking issues — that’s easy to handle in economy by taking seats that are two-behind-two instead of four in a row. That way you have two window seats, you can split of up the kids if necessary (or have them together and the parents separately), and you can make sure that your kids are kicking only you and not someone else. Single-child families can do two-behind-one to get the same benefits.

  28. Glad to see Gary move into the family travel blogging space!

    I have flown international with my kids in coach and on regional trips in business and coach. Depending on the age of your child(ren) and how independent/quiet your child is, business class just doesn’t work. I would rather fly coach than stick my 3 or 5 year old kid in one of Cathay Pacific’s old coffin (herringbone) business class seats. Also, when you are flying with little ones in coach, you get more space since they barely fill up more than 50% of the seat…

    Now, fast forward a few years, and I am I currently debating whether it is “worth” buying 30k US miles per ticket to “upgrade” to business class… I’m not rich and I don’t want to spoil my kids, but it is tempting.

  29. Menashe said: “it’s way easier to find 5 tickets across two cabins rather than one”

    FWIW, I encountered an odd situation recently. LH had 2 coach seats and 2 F seats for Mileage Plus award redemption. (I forget whether J was shown as available.) It turned out that only 2 seats total were available on the flight. Once I booked the 2 F seats, the coach seats were no longer offered.

    An extraordinarily helpful LH counter agent arranged the following work-around: I booked a coach award seat for a different date, then the counter agent moved its date to match the flight with the 2 F seats. I had never seen that particular trick before.

  30. Family of 4 that flies trans-Pacific at least twice a year- some years 3 or 4 times. I’ve been able to get about half the flights on miles (~6-8 RT redemptions a year burning 400K- 500K miles, mostly accumulated through 2x credit card bonuses- thanks, Gary!).

    With RT flights in economy running $1500, that’s $9-$12K saved, and we simply wouldn’t be able to afford the trips otherwise. So although business or first would be better value per mile, flying in economy enables us to see our families twice as much as otherwise.

    I would definitely echo some of the other advice about getting one way redemptions to get the 4 seats together. I also look to see whether it’s cheaper to buy flights in Asia or US, and then use a one way redemption to kick off the cheaper round trip purchase.

    I would add the warning- don’t fly your kids business/first, unless you are sure that you will continue this going forwards (or unless you don’t travel much). Sure, a brief moment of comfort for 24 hours or so, but then you suffer through 2-3 years of “why aren’t we in the front of the plane!” as you board and typically walk through the nicer seats- definitely not worth it!

    I also don’t think your idea of the parents flying business/first and the children flying in the back would work. Think about it- would you stick your wife in the back? It would make the whole vacation hell!

    On the other hand, we have had a few flights recently where one spouse goes with the kids first, and the other following, and I’ve upgraded to business/first class for the following spouse. Its affordable, and what the kids don’t know won’t hurt them! That way the trailing spouse can carry the heavy two bags.

  31. The chance to go premium is honestly what got me in this game. Last summer I did everything wrong, burning up 220,000 miles, some residual, some CC bonus and the rest earned at $1 a point, for two standard award coach seats for a 15 hour trip to Europe. We paid for the other two seats. My seven year old was so uncomfortable and tired he cried for two hours on the way there–he slept one hour that night–he generally never cries. He also threw up twice on the flight back, and he never usually does that either. The airlines have done everything they can to make economy miserable, and in my view they have succeeded!

    For years we have traveled economy on six hour flights to my home in economy and never had an issue with it. For flights that length I would book coach without thinking twice. But I have to say I was really taken aback by how much of a difference those extra nine hours in coach made. Some kids tolerate it much better than others – my daughter did a lot better than my son. He said he was going to start a blog about how terrible United is!

    So now my goal is to generate points for premium seats specifically on long haul flights. We really can’t travel abroad more than once a year, and are fortunate enough to be able to generate enough points to do it (and don’t need the miles for domestic travel). We are actually holding four coach seats at the saver level to Europe for next summer, and the second we generate the miles I will see if we can replace them with business. We just did our first AOR, I bought a long-needed mixer at Kohls for 15x UR points, and am planning to get a wedding gift at FTD.com to get those 30x AA miles. I am officially obsessed. Thank you for your great post and a very helpful blog.

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