If you’re a family on the go, having a lightweight car seat that you can easily switch between planes, trains and automobiles is a must for your next vacation. Instead of bringing your main car seat with you on this adventure — one that is most likely big and bulky and a pain to install — there are many travel car seats that are more compact and won’t break your back lugging them through an airport.
Fortunately, there’s a travel car seat that will fit every stage of life. And, most importantly, these car seats are still very comfortable, safe for your little ones and many are approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which means you can take them on an aircraft with you.
So, before you jet off on your next trip, here’s a list of car seats that will make your packing and travel experience significantly lighter.
Infant car seats for travel
If you’re traveling with an infant, the bucket car seat that you may use for your car and also snaps into your stroller will probably work for your next trip. But you’ll still want to make sure that the car seat is FAA-approved in order to take it on the plane. Here are some options.
Doona Infant Car Seat and Latch Base (starting at $549.99; amazon.com)
This two-in-one car seat and stroller combo is the easiest way to get around with an infant. It can be used as an infant car seat — which is perfect for getting in and out of taxis — or it can be converted into a stroller with the click of a button. No need to worry about two separate pieces of gear.
Unfortunately, though, the car seat is expensive and the lifespan is quite short. Since this baby item doesn’t turn into a convertible car seat, it’s more geared toward 1-year-olds or younger — maxing out when your child hits 32 inches tall or 35 pounds.
But with the car seat and stroller combo only weighing 16 pounds in total, this is as easy as it gets when it comes to traveling with your baby.
Evenflo LiteMax DLX Infant Car Seat ($162.49; amazon.com)
At just 8.7 pounds, the Evenflo LiteMax is light enough to allow you to carry your baby onto an airplane without needing to take them out of the car seat. Just keep them in the car seat the entire time and use the airplane straps to buckle the car seat right onto the airplane seat.
Convertible car seats for travel
As your child moves on from the infant bucket car seat, a convertible car seat is necessary to keep your child safe in a car. Some convertible car seats are forward-facing only, while others can be used in both directions. You’ll want to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines as to whether or not your child can sit forward-facing yet, as that might play into which car seat works best for your child while traveling.
And even though your child can sit upright in an airplane seat on their own, you might find that bringing a convertible car seat onto the airplane — for those up to 2 or 3 years old — will keep your child from moving all over the plane and allow them to nap easier. But before you bring your car seat on the airplane, you’ll want to make sure the seat is FAA-approved. For our list, we’ve only included FAA-approved convertible car seats.
Cosco Scenera Next Convertible Car Seat ($49.98; walmart.com)
As one of the most popular travel car seats because of its cost and weight (just 6.8 pounds), this car seat grows with your child, as it can be used rear- or forward-facing and offers five different height positions and three buckle locations. The cover is also removable, which allows you to throw it in the washing machine.
The one downside is that the car seat can only hold a child up to 40 pounds, which is slightly lower than some other convertible car seats on this list.
Cosco Apt 50 Convertible Car Seat ($69.99; amazon.com)
The Cosco Apt 50 Convertible Car Seat allows for the perfect fit with six height positions and three buckle locations. With built-in side impact protection, the car seat accommodates a child all the way up to 40 pounds rear-facing and 50 pounds forward-facing. The car seat also features two cup holders and a machine-washable pad.
Cosco Finale Dx 2-in-1 Combination Booster ($47.99, originally $59.99; amazon.com)
If you’re looking to purchase a car seat for your toddler, the Cosco Finale can be used as both a forward-facing car seat with a five-point harness or as a high-back booster. At just 17 inches wide and 9 pounds, transporting this car seat is incredibly easy and, in most cars, you can fit three in a row.
As a five-point harness car seat, the Cosco Finale is suited for children between 30 and 65 pounds and 32 and 49 inches tall. You can also use the LATCH system up until your child is 50 pounds. For a high-back booster, the weight limit for the child is between 40 and 100 pounds and the height is for those between 43 and 52 inches tall, though the high-back booster is not FAA-approved without the internal harness.
Baby Trend Trooper 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat ($99.99, originally $119.99; amazon.com)
At less than 15 pounds — slightly heavier than some of the others on this list — the Baby Trend Trooper 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat offers a few extra bells and whistles. There are three modes — rear-facing infant mode, rear-facing toddler mode and forward-facing toddler mode — to allow you to purchase one travel car seat to use for many years. It also can be used for a baby as small as 4 pounds and for older children as big as 65 pounds. It’s also very easy to get the perfect install with the rear-facing reclip flip foot and a bubble level indicator.
Evenflo SureRide DLX Convertible Car Seat ($104.99; amazon.com)
For taller children, the Evenflo SureRide is a great option as it can fit a child up to 54 inches. Similar to most others, it can be used both rear-facing or forward-facing. The car seat offers three layers of energy-absorbing foam protection, a fold-down cup holder and material that can be removed for washing.
Evenflo Tribute 5 Convertible Car Seat ($79.99; amazon.com)
Even though the Evenflo Tribute is lightweight and slim, the car seat offers side impact protection, an integrated body cushion for babies and a removable head pillow for older children. There are also four different shoulder strap positions and two buckle positions to help you adjust the car seat to fit your child as they grow.
Evenflo Sonus Convertible Car Seat ($77.49, originally $84.99; amazon.com)
The Evenflo Sonus can fit children from 5 pounds and 19 inches tall all the way up to 50 pounds and 50 inches. The car seat will also recline while in both the rear- and forward-facing positions, allowing your child to be positioned at the safest angle for their age.
The car seat offers air flow vents, two cup holders, five shoulder strap positions and an upfront harness adjuster.
Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible Car Seat ($99.99, originally $119.99; walmart.com)
If you’re looking for one car seat to fit the bill for at-home use and while on the go, the Safety 1st Guide 65 car seat is the perfect option. At a slightly heavier 14 pounds, it’s sturdy enough for everyday use, but still light enough to take on the go. It can also fit children up to 65 pounds forward-facing — 40 pounds rear-facing — which is perfect for growing kids.
There’s also an adjustable headrest, LATCH connector system and a removable cushion.
Cares Kids Fly Safe Airplane Harness ($75.99; amazon.com)
The Cares Kids Fly Safe Airplane Harness is a compact car seat alternative for air travel. Approved for kids 12 months and older — and between 22 and 44 pounds — it acts as a five-point harness so your kids are nicely strapped into their airplane seats.
Although a great option for air travel, the harness can’t be used as a car seat alternative in the car. If you need a car at your final destination, you’ll still have to pack a car seat or rent one.
Compact car seats for travel
If you’re no longer taking a car seat on the plane with you, but you’re instead looking for the most compact car seat for packing purposes, there are many options — whether it’s a five-point harness or just a simple booster.
Many of these car seats can be folded up, meaning you can store them in your luggage or even throw some of them in your backpack. They are compact, lightweight and slim to fit in all rental cars. Keep in mind that the FAA prohibits booster seats during ground movement, takeoff and landing, though they are not prohibited during the cruise. However, individual airlines may have their own policies that prohibit booster seats. For that reason, booster seats may be reserved for car usage when used in tandem with a three-point adult seat belt.
BubbleBum Inflatable Backless Booster Car Seat ($29.99, originally $32.99; amazon.com)
It doesn’t get much more compact than the BubbleBum. At just about 1 pound, this backless booster seat inflates with your own few breaths in less than a minute. When not in use, the booster deflates into a small tote bag that can be thrown right into your purse.
The BubbleBum can be used for children between 40 and 100 pounds. It’s not FAA-approved, but could make sense in a rental car when used with a three-point adult seat belt.
Hiccapop UberBoost Inflatable Booster Car Seat ($29.57, originally $39.99; amazon.com)
A similar concept to the BubbleBum, the booster car seat inflates within seconds with your own breath and, when not in use, can deflate into the provided travel bag. Also at just 1 pound, there’s a large area to sit on and a non-skid base on the bottom.
This booster seat is for children between 40 and 110 pounds — the highest weight limit of any travel car seats on the list. It is not FAA-approved and must be used in tandem with a three-point adult seat belt in the car.
WAYB Pico Forward-Facing Car Seat ($330; nordstrom.com)
This innovative five-point harness car seat is made from a cool, breathable mesh. At just 8 pounds, the WAYB Pico folds up into a small travel bag, which can be worn as a backpack or packed in your luggage.
The seat can be installed via a seat belt or LATCH system, but only offers a forward-facing design. This car seat is for children 2 years or older, weighing between 22 and 50 pounds.
Although as one of the more expensive car seats on the list, it’s truly a great investment for those traveling often, as it’s also FAA-approved.
Mifold Grab-and-Go Car Booster Seat ($29.99, originally $34.99; amazon.com)
The Mifold booster weighs less than 2 pounds and can be folded in half to fit in any bag or luggage you have. Unlike traditional boosters, this one doesn’t raise the child up higher; instead, it moves the seat belt down to fit across the chest at the right point.
While this is an easy on-the-go booster, your child won’t like sitting in it for long car rides due to the hard plastic shell. Keep in mind, too, that it’s not FAA-approved and must be used in tandem with a three-point adult seat belt while in the car.
Mifold Hifold Fit and Fold Booster ($129.99; amazon.com)
If you’re looking for a high-back booster that can also fold into a compact 13.5-inch square 10 inches high, then the relatively new Mifold Hifold is a great option. With this car seat, you can throw it into the car or even an overhead bin on the airplane.
The Hifold is one of the most adjustable options out there, with three seat widths, three body widths, three head widths and nine different height settings. So regardless of your kid’s size, you can find a setting that fits them like a glove. The booster is for kids ages 4 and up, at least 40 inches tall and 40 pounds. It’s not FAA-approved and is classified as a booster seat, meaning it must be used in tandem with an adult three-point seat belt in the car.
Maximizing your travel car seat purchase
When purchasing your new travel car seat, make sure to use the best credit card to both protect your purchase and maximize the points you earn, which can then turn into free travel — and more opportunities to use your travel-ready car seat.
While most car seats offer some sort of manufacturer’s warranty, your credit card can potentially extend your warranty another year while also offering purchase protection if something were to happen to your car seat within the first few months.
For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve will extend your warranty another year if the item purchased comes with a warranty of three years or less. Additionally, if your car seat becomes damaged or stolen within the first 120 days, you’ll also be covered. With both benefits, you’ll be covered up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per year.
Then, for maximizing the points and miles earned from your travel car seat purchase, there are many options. If you’re purchasing your car seat through Amazon, Target or Walmart, the Citi® Double Cash Card will earn you 2% cash back — 1% when you make a purchase, and another 1% when you pay your statement. Or, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ or Discover it® Cash Back could potentially earn you 5% cash back — if any of those stores are listed as a bonus merchant during the respective quarter.
For department store purchases, such as purchasing a car seat at Nordstrom, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is your best bet. With this card, you’ll earn 2% cash back at select US department stores (as well as US gas stations).
For all other stores, such as a boutique baby store, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® will earn you 1.5% cash back, but if paired with a premium Chase Ultimate Rewards-earning card, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can instead transfer the points earned to partner loyalty programs where points are worth 2 cents apiece — effectively giving you 3% cash back on your car seat purchase.
Looking for a travel credit card? Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best travel credit cards of 2021.