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Travel

Traveling With Tots

If you're taking to the skies this summer with an infant or toddler, a little preparation can go a long way toward saving you money -- and your sanity.

Planning to fly with an infant or toddler this summer? While it's no secret that traveling with a young one in tow can be quite a challenge, with the right preparation and a little knowledge of airline policies, you'll be well equipped for a smoother flight.

Angela Greiling Keane of Washington, D.C., a frequent traveler with her daughter Taylor, who turns 2 in July. Mother and daughter have flown eight round-trip flights to Kentucky, Florida, Minnesota and the Bahamas. When Taylor was a young infant, Angela held her on her lap for free, as allowed by most airlines. But on recent flights, as Taylor has gotten bigger and more active, Angela and her husband Matt Keane have bought Taylor her own seat. "We value the non-screaming kid," explains Angela.

Most airlines let a child younger than 2 years old travel free on an adult's lap. This option can be a good way to save money on short jaunts with younger infants who will probably eat or sleep or want to be held the entire flight anyway. But on longer flights -- or on any-length trip with an older infant or toddler -- you may want to spring for a separate seat for your child. The obvious reason: you'll be more comfortable when your child is not on your lap. Your sanity may be worth the price of that extra ticket.

But just as importantly, when you buy a seat for your infant, airlines will allow you to pack your baby paraphernalia and other items in two more checked bags, plus a carry-on item. Airlines generally don't allow a carry-on allowance for babies who travel in your lap, unless you pay additional baggage fees of up to $75. (Of course, a saintly flight attendant may look the other way if he or she sees you carrying a diaper bag or similar item.)

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Get a bargain

Fares for children under age 2 are generally half the cost of regular-price adult fares. But it pays to comparison shop for bargains on adult fares first, says Nancy Dunnan, editor of the newsletter Travel Smart. "Buying an adult fare for your infant may be cheaper than the infant fares on certain flights," she says. For example, when Angela recently booked flights on Southwest Airlines, she saw that advanced-purchase fares were less expensive than infant fares, which recently ranged from $49 to $129 one-way.

Many times, the major airlines will charge half fare while discount carriers won't offer a discount at all. If a major airline and a discount carrier both fly your route, compare the total cost of flying your family on each airline before purchasing. You may find it is cheaper to buy three seats on a major carrier with one of them a discounted infant fare than three seats on a discount carrier, if the discount airlines do not offer cheap seats for the youngest travelers.

To book infant fares, visit the airline's Web site or an online travel agency and look for the option of picking a "child" or "infant" fare when searching. Note some airlines may require that you book such fare through their phone reservation systems, instead of online. Buy as early as possible, too. The airline may require you book infant fares at least a week in advance, says Dunnan.

An added bonus to buying your child a seat is that it's potentially safer. The Federal Aviation Administration urges parents to seat their child in a child restraint system (CRS), such as a car seat, but it does not require it. Children may gain additional protection from turbulence or a crash when such a seat restrains them. For infants roughtly 6 months old or younger, ask the airline about reserving a seat with a free bassinet (typically available on international flights). Infants weighing less than 20 pounds should use a rear-facing CRS.

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Airline child policies

Knowing ahead of time what to expect can make all the difference between a pleasant flight and a nightmare in the skies. Get the info you need about the airlines and their policies on infant fares and travel before you book your tickets:

Airtran
Alaska/Horizon
Aloha
American
Continental
Delta
Frontier
JetBlue
Midwest
Southwest
United
US Airways