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Choosing the Best Airline for Young Families

My partner and I have two boys under two years of age.

Our boys splish splashing in a plastic tub outside


The older boy will be turning 2 in just over a month — and we are planning to be back in Australia at the time.

But for the return leg ticket to Philippines after his birthday, it begged the question — what airfare would we have to pay for him?

Most airlines offer children under 2 years old very low cost international flights (usually 10% of their parent’s adult fare) — as long as they don’t occupy a seat of their own.

But what happens if your child turns 2 midway through the trip?

We’d already done the flight before with a single child, and from our experience we were heavily leaning toward booking with Qantas again as the ‘savings’ on a budget carrier quickly start to shrink when you’ve got infants with you.

We flew to Melbourne in April 2016 on AirAsia with just a single infant — this involved a flight from Manila to Kuala Lumpur, where we needed to pay for an overnight hotel stay, before continuing on early the next morning for the second leg of the journey to Melbourne.

I don’t mind flying AirAsia if I’m travelling alone, as I quite like the airline — their aircraft are relatively modern and well-maintained and their staff are hospitable, as evidenced by their 9th straight win in the Skytrax “World’s Best Low-Cost Airlines” awards. For trips up to about 8 hours I reckon they’re excellent value.

But when you have kids, you start to appreciate the little extra conveniences of Qantas. Some obvious benefits are the slightly larger seats and marginally more leg room, and the way Qantas tries to hook you up with a front row seat at the bulkhead complete with a bassinet for babies up to 11kg weight. This alone makes your trip so much more enjoyable.

The staff also take fantastic care of you, helping you with warm water for bottles and pretty much anything you need assistance with. There are change tables in the toilets, and Qantas are basically well geared for families travelling with infants.

So when we flew back, we flew with Qantas from Brisbane to Hong Kong, and then continued with OneWorld partner airline Cathay Pacific from HK to Manila.

Qantas airplane parked at the airport gate

When you start factoring in all the free inclusions provided by premium airlines, the cost difference isn’t as big as it may at first seem: with budget airlines your baggage is an additional expense, as is your food; even drinking water is something you pay for. Before you know it, the difference in airfare is looking much slimmer.

Qantas also allow you an extra 10kg luggage allowance per infant, and you can check in items like strollers and car seats.

But what if your child turns 2 during the trip?

If you were undecided up to this point, this is where Qantas is a definite winner!

If you child turns 2 during a trip that is all booked on a single ticket, Qantas permits the child is to continue the remainder of the trip after their birthday as though effectively they were still an ‘infant’ (<2 years old). This can equate to hundreds of dollars saved.

Even other premium airlines like Brunei Airlines or Singapore airlines don’t offer that.

When we attempted to book the ticket online, the website couldn’t cope with this scenario, simply telling us that the child would be 2 for the return journey and therefore not allowing us to make the booking.

Qantas airplane on ground at airport

BUT if you have patience to ring Qantas on 13 13 13 (yes, there can be a horrendous queue — but they can automatically dial you back when you reach the front of the queue) you can book via their Reservations Centre.

Although Qantas tell you that bookings made over the phone will incur a fee, this is waived for situations like this because there’s simply no alternative.

You do also need to be careful to check with the consultant/operator about payment options — credit card payments attract a surcharge, whereas a BPAY does not. You can save yourself a fair few dollars, therefore, by paying with BPAY.

When I queried my operator he advised me incorrectly and it wasn’t until I received the invoice/receipt almost a week later that I identified the error. I had to firmly insist with their social media team that they were obliged to refund the credit card surcharge to me. They initially demurred, but when I requested that they listen to the voice recording of the conversation, they eventually conceded.

One final piece of advice — if you’re booking from overseas, wanting to fly into and then out of Australia, the Qantas website will normally make you book through the local office — in the case of the Philipppines, that’s the Manila office. And it might seem logical if you have to phone them that you would also call the Manila office.

But in my experience, the Manila representative office (a 3rd party sub-contractor) are an absolute nightmare to deal with and exhibit nowhere near the same competence or professionalism as the Australian call center. The Manila office will also charge you in Pesos, whereas the Australian office will charge you Australian Dollars — and for me, that equates to a saving of 3% because my Australian credit card provider charges 3% on any foreign currency transactions.

Final word of warning: IF something were to require you to cancel your return flight and then book a second ticket to continue your flight, you will need to pay for a seat for your 2 year old child — it’s no longer considered to be a continuation of the original trip which commenced before they’re 2nd birthday.