For longer that I’ve written this blog, I have been a part of the travel rewards community. Collecting frequent flyer miles and other travel loyalty points is daily part of my financial and travel planning. Miles and points save my family thousands each year on travel and enable us to travel much more often and occasionally much more luxuriously on our budget.
I realize that not everyone is quite as geeky as I am when it comes to miles. There is a learning curve and it’s one more thing to manage. Nevertheless, I must admit that my mind is a little blown when I hear about families who travel regularly who leave tons of easy free travel for their family on the table – specifically when it comes to their kids.
Every few months, I am reminded in a conversation that most parents either a) don’t know that their kids are eligible for frequent flyer accounts or b) if they do, just haven’t gotten around to enrolling their kids yet. Many others opt not to collect miles for their kids because they believe their kids don’t fly often enough to avoid expiration problems. Believe it or not, there are quite a few travel bloggers even who fall into these fallacies!
So, I’m here to educate and motivate the less geeky among you. Time to get with the program when it comes to frequent flyer miles and your offspring! Here’s what you need to know about getting and maintaining frequent flyer accounts for kids. (Spoiler alert: it’s easier than ever.)
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Are Kids Even Eligible for Frequent Flyer Accounts? Yes!
First things first: every major US airline allows minors of any age to accrue miles in a frequent flyer account, as long as they are traveling on their own ticket. So as soon as you buy a seat for your child, you should get an account opened in the child’s name.
My now 8 year old son has had a Southwest Rapid Rewards account since he was 4 months old, when we opted buy a seat for him on a long cross-country flight rather than carry him as a lap baby. His flying on Southwest has really added up over the years, earning multiple free flights. Over the years, he and his sister have joined the airline programs on United, American, JetBlue, Alaska, and Delta as well.
Related: Complete Guide for Flying Southwest Airlines with Kids
Since most of our family’s travel has been domestic, the kids haven’t joined any international airline programs yet (although my husband and I have had numerous accounts with these airlines ourselves). But many foreign carriers allow kids to join as well. The few that don’t allow mileage accrual for kids is perhaps where some of the misinformation comes from about kids being able to have their own accounts.
Finally, some airlines actually have innovative frequent flyer programs that are flexible and targeted to families. British Airways, for example, offers a “Household Account” option that lets family members easily combine points. US airline JetBlue also has a family pooling option of its own. Be sure to check out my guide to flying JetBlue with kids for all the tips on using it. Even ultra low cost carrier Frontier offers a version of family pooling
No, It Doesn’t Take Much Time to Open Frequent Flyer Accounts for Kids
A refrain I often hear is that “I’ve just not had the time to get around to opening accounts for my kids.” Given how easy it (mostly) is to open frequent flyer accounts these days online, don’t let that be an excuse.
Opening a frequent flyer account for a child with most airlines takes all of about 3-5 minutes. I was originally inspired to write this post when I was booking flights for a trip on American Airlines and realized my son didn’t yet have an AAdvantage account. While I was filling in the flight reservation data, I popped open another browser window and signed him up for AAdvantage in minutes.
I could have waited and added the account number to the reservation later, but it’s actually often more time consuming to do that. Best to get the frequent flyer account before you even book a flight for the child! But even if you have already booked a flight without a frequent flyer number for the child, you can always open an account and add it to the reservation before you fly or at the airport.
The major outlier that takes a little more time to set up is Alaska Airlines. Alaska allows you to open a Mileage Plan account for your child but not to have online access to it if the child is under 13. You need to call their call center to get an account opened. Their call center is easily the best of the US airlines and hold times are very short, so you should be able to get an Alaska account in under 15 minutes if you call at the right time.
(Editor’s Note: There are some reports that a couple of other airlines may require an extra step now due to strengthened privacy laws for minors. Leave your recent experiences in the comments, please!)
It’s Easy To Keep Your Child’s Miles Active
The final excuse I often hear from family travelers for not getting mileage account for their kids is that they don’t travel enough. They assume that their children’s miles will just expire before they accrue enough for a free flight.
No Expiration Date Airlines
While miles used to expire quickly in the frequent flyer programs of old, that is increasingly no longer true. Most US airlines no longer have expiration dates on their miles at all (kudos to Delta who gets credit for starting this trend with SkyMiles).
The US airlines that have no expiration date policies on their frequent flyer miles as of early 2022 now include:
- Delta Airlines SkyMiles
- JetBlue trueBlue
- Southwest Rapid Rewards
- United MileagePlus
American Airlines expires miles after 18 months of no activity but this rule doesn’t apply to anyone under age 21. So while you’ll have to watch your own accounts, you won’t have to worry about your kids’ miles expiring.
So, even if you and your kids are infrequent travelers, it’s worth taking the couple of minutes to open an account when you fly one of these airlines.
How to Keep Accounts with Expiration Dates Active
For the few airlines that remain that do have expiration dates (I’m looking at you Alaska and American for adults at least!), keeping accounts active requires a couple of extra steps. Even so, it’s truly easier than ever to keep these airline accounts active.
All it takes is a nominal redemption or earning transaction. One mile in or one mile out will do it. You can easily earn miles now through various social media promotions that airlines sometimes run, through renting a car and linking your airline frequent flyer number, through some hotel stays, through having an airline’s credit card, or through using an airline dining program or shopping portal. You can also redeem miles through programs like exchanging for a magazine subscription or even just buying music download.
Afraid you’ll miss the expiration date in time to do one of these simple redemptions or miles-earning transactions? There’s an app for that. The best way to track mileage expiration dates is through a site called Award Wallet. Plug all your login data for each airline (for every family member) into the tool and it tracks expiration dates for you, even sending e-mail reminders as deadlines approach. I track over 25 different airline mileage programs (not to mention 16 more hotel and other loyalty point programs) for my extended family with this tool with minimal effort. For a regular family tracking just two or three different programs for their household, it should be a breeze.
(Note that American Airlines recently blocked AwardWallet from tracking its mileage program, so it is the annoying outlier in the miles and points tracking world. And with the least generous 18 month expiration policy, it’s the only one you might want to set a calendar reminder for if you don’t fly often. Hopefully that customer-unfriendly policy will be reversed soon!)
When and Why Should You Wait on Frequent Flyer Accounts?
For the most part, I say don’t wait to get mileage accounts for your kids. If you think there is a good chance you will want to book a flight on a certain airline this year, go ahead and get accounts for everyone in your family now when you have a free moment.
But every rule has an exception, and there is one instance in which you might want to wait. Occasionally, Southwest Airlines has refer-a-friend bonuses. I watch for those and have used those opportunities to send a refer-a-friend invitation to my child so that both the child’s account and mine get bonus points. I’m not aware of any US airline other than Southwest having a similar promotion in the last several years, so go ahead and get those accounts if you are likely to fly the others. But you may want to hold out on Southwest and wait for a promo if you don’t have any definite plans to fly Southwest in the near term.
Frequent Flyer Account Links
Have I convinced you to dive in with mileage earning for your kids? Here are the links for several major US and international carriers so you can easily cross this off your to do list today.
- American AAdvantage
- British Airways Executive Club (Avios)
- Delta SkyMiles
- Frontier Miles
- JetBlue TrueBlue
- Lufthansa Miles & More
- Southwest Rapid Rewards
- United MileagePlus
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan (call: 1-800-252-7522 for enrolling kids under 13)
Even More Frequent Flyer Mile Tips
Check out these related articles for more tips for frequent flyer miles and points:
- Mistakes You Might be Making with Frequent Flyer Miles
- Best Credit Cards for Family Travel
- Frequent Flyer Miles Meets Family Travel
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Sunday 12th of February 2023
Can you write a post about how to actually use the kids frequent flyer miles? My kids have many miles with United. Curiously, if I go to book them a ticket under their frequent flyer mile accounts I would have to select that they are an unaccompanied minor, and pay $150. When they are traveling with their parents but there is no way to verify this in the online checkout portal. How do you recommend using the kids miles efficiently? Thanks.
Friday 31st of January 2020
I'm new to all of this, do rapid rewards and airline miles mean the same thing? We are flying southwest, so do I get all the rapid rewards on my account from each ticket purchased? Or do I need to sign everyone up individually so that they get rapid rewards or airline miles. We are a family of 5, Myself my Husband our three kids, ages 12, 7, and 2.
Friday 3rd of May 2019
I just enrolled my 5 year old for United Mileage Plus account online without any problems at all.
Friday 12th of April 2019
Is it possible to have my child's SkyMiles flow into my account?
Sunday 21st of April 2019
Unfortunately not. Some airlines allow family pooling but Delta is not one of them.
Monday 4th of March 2019
Thanks for sharing! That's new! Never had to do with our kids. Will update the post accordingly.