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Traveling with your pet could be costly

Can’t bear looking into the sad eyes of your furry friend when you walk out the door? It seems that many American pet owners can’t. According to
!, a pet travel website, nearly 36 million U.S. households per year bring their pet along on vacation.

The travel industry has responded to this trend, with most major American airlines offering pet options, many hotels allowing pets, and a great variety of other travel companies providing services for this niche market. Nevertheless, traveling with your animal can still be a complicated, expensive business.

We’ve put together some fundamental information you should know before taking your pet to ensure a safe, minimum-hassle journey, and to show you how doing so can take a bite out of your wallet.

Air travel with pets | Pet shippers
Other modes of travel | Pet-friendly accommodations

Air travel with pets

On most domestic flights, major U.S. carriers allow pets to travel in the cabin with you as carry-on, in cargo as checked baggage, or in cargo as shipping (when traveling unaccompanied). However, there are many rules to follow and it won’t be cheap. While prices may seem prohibitive, the cost goes towards special handling that ensures your pet’s safety and comfort. After all, your pet needs more careful attention than your duffle bag.

Pet travel to Hawaii and international destinations is regulated by even more strict, complicated policies that often involve quarantines, so you’ll probably want to avoid bringing your pal unless you’re relocating. For information about international pet regulations, visit

If you have a small pet, bringing it with you in the cabin as carry-on is your cheapest as well as safest option, although it can cost as much as $100 each way. Most of these airlines will allow dogs, cats, and household birds for a fee. Some carriers allow other types of small pets such as rabbits and hamsters, but reptiles and primates are usually forbidden. Carry-on pets must stay in a kennel that fits under the seat and allows the animal some movement. Also, most airlines require a health certificate from a vet stating your pet’s fitness for air travel.

We’ve put together a chart of basic rules for taking carry-on pets on the big U.S. airlines, including links to each airline’s official pet policies:

Airline Pets allowed O/W charge Weight limit Max. kennel size
America West dogs, cats, and birds $80 50 lbs 17″L x 16″W x 10″H
American dogs, cats, and birds $80 20 lbs 23″L x 13″W x 9″H
Continental dogs, cats, birds, and rabbits $80 40 lbs 22″L x 14″W x 9″H
Delta most small pets except reptiles, pigs, and primates $75 40 lbs 17″L x 12″W x 8″H
Northwest dogs, cats, and birds $80 15 lbs 17″L x 12.3″W x 8″H
Southwest none n/a n/a n/a
United dogs, cats, and birds $80 20 lbs 22″L x 14″W x 9″H
US Airways dogs, cats, and birds $100 20 lbs 21″L x 16″W x 10″H

The only exception to these rules is service animals, which by law must be allowed in the cabin of all U.S. airline carriers without charge. Kenneling is not required. However, service animals may be subject to the same quarantines as pets for international travel depending on where you’re going. You’ll need to investigate the country’s animal policies and consult the airline.

If your pet doesn’t meet carry-on standards or is traveling without you, it will have to fly in cargo. A pet travels as “checked baggage” when traveling with you, or as “shipping” if you cannot accompany it. In both cases, pets stay in kennels that are stowed in the plane’s cargo hold. Checking a pet can cost you $75 to $329 one-way, depending on the size of the animal, and shipping is even more expensive due to additional handling costs.

Pets earn miles:
When your pet flies as cargo on Continental with the PetPass program, you’ll earn one frequent flyer mile for every dollar spent towards shipping.

You may be worried that your pet will become overheated or injured in cargo. Although its complete safety cannot be guaranteed, accidents rarely occur and the airlines have taken steps to help make the journey as safe as possible.

To protect your pet from stress and overheating, most airlines will not take pets in cargo if the temperature could go over 85 F at any point during the flight.(Brachycephalic [pug-nosed] animals such as bulldogs and Persian cats are usually not allowed to travel if the temperature could go over 75 F.) Some go as far as instituting pet embargos during the summer. Low temperature restrictions, which vary by airline, apply as well. You’ll need to provide a health certificate stating the temperature range your pet is acclimated to. Also, most airlines discourage the use of tranquilizers and may refuse to board medicated animals.

Here’s some basic information on checking pets as baggage, and unaccompanied pet shipping services on the major U.S. airlines:

Airline Pets as checked baggage Embargo period O/W baggage charge Weight limit Unaccompanied shipping service
America West no n/a n/a n/a no
American yes May 15 to September 15 $80 100 lbs yes
Continental yes May 15 to September 15 $99 to $329 150 lbs yes
Delta yes May 15 to September 15 $75 to $155 100 lbs yes
Northwest yes June 1 to September 15 $139 to $299 150 lbs yes
Southwest no n/a n/a n/a no
United yes n/a $100 to $200 99 lbs yes
US Airways yes n/a $100 100 lbs yes

With all pet air travel, advance notification is required. Be sure to read all the rules carefully on the airline’s website. And, before you book a flight for yourself, call to make sure your pet can travel on a particular flight (as the number of pets allowed per flight is limited). For more information about pet air travel, including tips on preparing your pet for travel, visit the websites of the FAA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

If you’d prefer a bit of luxury for your pet or do not want to put it in cargo, a new company called Companion Air is due to begin first class flights for pets and their owners in the fall. Companion Air’s small aircraft have specially-designed interiors, including a “pet cabin” that can hold larger animals which would normally be relegated to cargo. Round-trip fares for one pet and one human start at $483 for the shortest route: New York City to Washington, D.C. You may be able to bring multiple animals on one fare if they are a small species, such as guinea pigs. This service is a lot more expensive than taking your pet in cargo with a big airline carrier, but the peace of mind that comes with having your pet in the cabin may be worth it to you.

Pet shippers

If you cannot travel with your pet, there are many companies that specialize in transportation for animals. These companies are essentially pet couriers, with some operating within a specific region, and others operating internationally. Services range from basic, like transferring a pet to and from the airport; to complex, like full service cross-continental shipping of an exotic zoo animal.

The vast majority of these companies do not have their own airplanes, so if your pet needs to be transported a great distance, it will likely travel in the cargo hold of a contracted commercial or freight airline. But, a good pet courier will take many precautions to ensure that your pet doesn’t get lost and stays safe.

The services offered by these companies are quite expensive. You’ll be paying high handling and ground transportation fees in addition to air cargo costs. Handling fees could amount to $200 or more for domestic travel, or $300 or more for international travel, which may or may not include fees for ground transport to and from the airport. Air cargo charges average from about $175 for a small pet to over $1,000 for a very large dog, one-way. And, the cost for kennels, vet examinations, import fees, and other expenses are extra. Added together, the costs for shipping your pet will likely be a lot more expensive than buying your own airfare and traveling with it.

For a list of pet transportation companies that meet national and international animal welfare standards, visit the websites for the Animal Transportation Association or the Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association.

Other modes of travel

Pets have fewer options when it comes to other modes of travel, particularly modes that tend to be cheaper than air travel. Amtrak, Peter Pan, and Greyhound only permit service animals onboard, and pets are not permitted on most major cruise lines because of quarantine problems. (Cunard’s QE2 accepts pets on a very limited basis.) Some ferry services, sightseeing boats, and charter companies may allow pets, but you’ll need to call and ask if they are permitted and if there is a fee, especially if you’re visiting an island or international destination.

The good news is that most rental car companies do allow pets to travel in their vehicles. Generally, there are no extra fees or rules unless your pet damages the vehicle or makes a mess. However, it’s a good idea to call the rental location to see if they have any special policies.

Pet-friendly accommodations

Thousands of hotels, inns, vacation rentals, and other types of accommodations in the U.S. welcome pets. The trick is finding out what locations are pet-friendly, and what their pet policies and fees are, which vary by property. You could be asked for a deposit of several hundred dollars that may or may not be refundable, and a daily pet charge of $10 or more could also apply. It’s difficult to categorize certain hotel chains as pet-friendly, since many properties are owned by individuals who set their own rules. (One notable exception is La Quinta, which has more than 350 pet-friendly locations and does not charge additional fees or deposits.)

Luckily, there are many websites that allow you to search for pet-friendly lodging and find out a particular property’s pet fees and rules. Some websites we recommend using include:

  • This site gives you access to tens of thousands of hotel listings for the U.S., Canada, Britain, and France; and provides other useful pet travel resources. Nifty search options allow you to view only properties that accept cats or large dogs, and find hotels along a specific route for road trips. There are also resources for finding pet-friendly beaches, parks, museums, restaurants, and other amenities in the region you are visiting.
  • ! This new site lists thousands of well-appointed accommodations that accept pets in the U.S., and will be adding more listings, including international hotels, in the coming months. Currently, you can search by state and view hotel listings that include color photos, property descriptions, pet policies and fees, and the available discounts.
  • You can search more than 18,000 pet-friendly locations in the U.S. by state and city on this website, and read brief descriptions and the pet policies of each hotel. In-depth descriptions and reviews, exclusive discounts, international listings, and other resources are available to members for an annual fee of $15.
  • Designed for travelers taking dogs, cats, horses, and other animals to show events, this website lists discounted accommodations for all pet owners in 43 U.S. cities and 30 international cities. Click on “Book Your Pet Friendly Hotel Now!” to view the specials.

While some of these pet sites list hotel discounts and packages, they might not have the best offers, so you’ll need to check on the individual hotel’s website or call to ensure the lowest rate. When booking a room, be sure to call the hotel and reconfirm its policies and fees. And, to ensure the hotel you stay at remains pet-friendly, clean up after your animal, don’t leave it alone in the room without permission, and avoid bringing it to public places like pools and dining areas in the hotel.

When you consider the cost of transporting your pet safely from point A to point B, there’s no better option than leaving your little friend at home with a trusted caretaker. If you must bring your pet along, driving yourself is often your cheapest and least stressful option, especially if you drive your own car. But, if you must, consider the money invested in a quality pet transportation service with high safety standards well spent. After all, isn’t your pet priceless?

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