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TravelBooking award flights with kids' frequent-flyer miles

Booking award flights with kids’ frequent-flyer miles

My husband and I have always been passionate travelers. We’ve shared our love for exploring the world with our son, who, at just 5 years old, has already traveled to five continents. With his impressive collection of passport stamps has also come a significant number of frequent-flyer points and miles from the various airlines we’ve flown.

When we planned our latest family adventure to Scotland last month, it made sense to book his ticket using his own United MileagePlus miles rather than our own, based on our specific travel plans.

We booked our tickets in February. However, in March, United announced it was starting a family pooling program where groups of up to five members can link their United MileagePlus accounts to share and redeem miles. That’s all to say, we would have avoided the issues detailed below if we had booked a few weeks later.

Before family pooling became available through United MileagePlus, we thought securing his seat alongside ours would be a breeze. As we soon found out, booking his ticket with his own points ended up causing more complications than we anticipated. This is something families should be aware of when choosing an airline.

My child was flagged as an unaccompanied minor 

A United Airlines plane takes off at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on June 21, 2023. TAYFUN COSKUN/ANADOLU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES

Despite informing the airline via its online customer service chat feature that we were traveling as a family, when we tried to book separate tickets for each of us, it resulted in my son’s being flagged as an unaccompanied minor.

The airline’s system categorized him this way simply because his ticket was booked individually with his own miles. This created a string of inconveniences for us that took many hours and some extra spending to sort out.

Separate reservations, separate seats

Instead of grouping us as a family traveling together, the airline’s reservation system considered each of us individual passengers with separate reservations. This made it difficult to secure seats together, so we had to pay extra (about $50 each way) to ensure we’d be seated as a family. This was an unexpected expense.

Extra time at the airport

Since our son was flagged as an unaccompanied minor, we couldn’t check him in online as we usually do to avoid long waits at the airport. Instead, we had to allocate extra time to check him in at the ticket counter; we had to explain to an agent that he wasn’t traveling alone so the usual extra services (which can come at a cost) were not necessary.

Although we resolved the issue relatively smoothly at both Edinburgh Airport (EDI) and Newark Liberty International (EWR) airports due to shorter lines, it was still an inconvenience. During a busy travel season, these extra steps could easily add more stress to an already hectic travel day.

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In the future, taking advantage of United’s family pooling program should alleviate many of these problems.

For example, pooling our JetBlue TrueBlue points for a trip to Grenada allowed us to travel smoothly as a family and easily reduce the overall cost. Of course, we could have avoided these problems by using our own United miles for our son’s ticket. Still, there are benefits to your child garner their own mileage points, especially if you can pool them for travel.

Should you sign kids up for mileage programs?


Earning miles

Kids can earn points and miles on their own tickets, just like adults. These can accumulate quickly, especially if you fly a lot or spend a lot of money on tickets with revenue-based programs. You can use those miles to offset the cost of future flights, which means family travel becomes less expensive.

Even with the headache, if you’re traveling frequently with your kids, it’s worth signing them up for airline mileage programs early on. Here’s why.

Special offers for kids

Some airlines offer exclusive deals and promotions for younger travelers in their loyalty programs. For example, Air France-KLM’s “Flying Blue Family” program offers some of the best discounts for children’s award flights. This program includes several family-friendly features, such as a 25% discount on award tickets for children ages 2 to 11 when traveling with a parent.

Elite and lifetime status

Frequently flying kids can earn elite status just like adults. Not to mention, signing them up for programs and having them earn points early means they will also have a head start toward lifetime status with programs that still offer it.

Lifetime status basically offers travelers automatic elite status after they reach certain thresholds. By having more runway to hit those thresholds, kids will be well on their way toward those permanent benefits by the time they’re adults.

Take advantage of family pooling


Some frequent flyer programs go the extra mile by allowing family pooling. This feature makes it easier for families to link their accounts and reservations (and thus avoid the type of hassle my family encountered).

Pooling miles enables multiple family members to combine their mileage balances into a single loyalty pool; this can turn small, individual points into something potentially significant that can be redeemed toward award flights. For instance, five family members with 5,000 miles each might not have enough for individual redemptions. Together, though, their 25,000 miles could be enough for an award flight.

In recent years, more airlines have adopted family-friendly policies that make pooling easier. Some of the major U.S. airlines that offer family pooling include:

JetBlue TrueBlue

JetBlue allows members to pool TrueBlue points among up to seven friends or family members. A designated pool leader (who must be at least 21) manages the points, making it easier to combine and use them for family travel.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier offers family points pooling for up to eight people. However, this feature is only available if the pool leader has Frontier elite status or the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard®. A person can only be a member of one Frontier family pool at a time and must wait 90 days between switching pools. If you have a family, keep in mind that kids can fly free at select times on Frontier.

The information for the Frontier card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

United Airlines MileagePlus

As mentioned above, United recently introduced a pooling option, allowing up to five members to share and redeem miles in one account. There are no age restrictions, and families can combine balances to redeem their miles more easily than booking separate reservations.

International airlines

Internationally, many airlines also offer family pooling, including:

  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Air France-KLM
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Qatar Airways Privilege Club
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

Find the full list of airlines that offer pooling here.

Family pooling makes so much sense for travelers like us, where even our young son has accumulated his own robust roster of mileage accounts. The ability to pool points into one account allowed us to book as a family and sit together without the hassle of separate reservations or unaccompanied minor categorizations.

Bottom line

Traveling as a family should be about creating cherished memories, not jumping through hoops due to technical glitches. By understanding airline policies and leveraging programs like mileage pooling, families can avoid unnecessary complications and focus on the joy of travel.


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