Costs add up for Fido or Tabby when pet owners travel

Wed Dec 18, 2013 2:02pm EST

Dan McManus and his service dog Shadow hang glide together outside Salt Lake City, Utah, July 22, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

Dan McManus and his service dog Shadow hang glide together outside Salt Lake City, Utah, July 22, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Urquhart

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(Reuters) - Whether or not you take your pet with you on vacation, it will likely be expensive.

So what is the best choice for the estimated 144 million dogs and cats (not to mention all the fish, birds, snakes and others) as their owners travel over the winter holidays?

Here are some important points to consider:

TAKE THEM WITH YOU

About 28 percent of domestic travelers took a pet with them on at least one trip in 2012, according to a survey by TNS market research firm.

Flying with a pet is no easy task. Bigger animals must travel as cargo or checked baggage. Smaller animals - typically under 20 pounds - are permitted in the cabin by some airlines if the pet's carrier fits beneath a seat.

You will need to have a health certificate showing the pet's vaccinations are up to date.

Check with the airline on their pet travel policies because they vary widely by carrier. Delta Air Lines, for instance, has temperature restrictions on when an animal can be placed in the cargo hold to avoid transporting pets when it is extremely hot or cold.

Plus, you will have to pay airfare, and costs vary. Southwest Airlines charges $75 to bring a pet carrier on board - the price will rise to $95 on January 15. JetBlue Airways charges $100 per trip. Both only allow small pets in cabins.

American Airlines charges $125 each way to bring a pet carrier on a domestic flight and $175 if the carrier is checked as baggage. Delta also charges $125 to bring a pet into the cabin, but charges $200 to check a pet.

Driving, when possible, can be the cheaper choice for travelers with pets. It is important to have proof of current vaccinations when crossing state lines, but otherwise the issues for drivers mainly involve the distraction of the pet in the car and regular bathroom breaks.

WHERE TO STAY

About 61 percent of hotels accept pets, and just under half of those charge an additional fee to have them stay in your room, according to data compiled by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. The American Automobile Association PetBook lists 14,000 establishments across the United States that accept pets for overnight stays. You can also find hotel chains, such as the boutique chain Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, that are unabashedly pet friendly.

Fees can be steep - up to $50 a night - and hotels typically will have weight restrictions, making it important to do some advance work.

If you're on a trip that involves sightseeing, visiting a theme park or going anywhere where animals are not welcome, you will have the added expense of needing some kind of day care.

Some hotels, like Kimpton, will help pet owners by arranging dog walking and finding attractions that allow pets.

At Disney World, for example, your pet is allowed as far as the front gate, where Best Friends Pet Care operates both overnight and daycare services. Rates start at $34 for day care, and $41 to $89 for an overnight stay.

PET SITTING

If you do not have the option of asking a trusted friend or relative to come to your home or take in your pet, hiring a pet sitter can add up.

The average cost of a pet sitting visit is $17.75 for 30 minutes, but varies widely depending on the number of animals, location and any complications - like caring for a sick animal, according to Pet Sitters International, a trade group.

A daily visit might suffice for a cat, but those with dogs or other pets that require additional care are likely looking at daily charges in excess of $70.

To find a pet sitter, veterinarians can sometimes provide recommendations. You can also check with professional groups such as the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters or Pet Sitters International. Ask a prospective pet sitter whether they have insurance and bonding and speak to others who have used their services.

Another option: DogVacay, a Santa Monica, California-based outfit that matches pet owners with sitters who board animals in their homes. Prices are set by the sitters - the average is $28 a night, but can be as high as $50 a night.

The selling point, the company says, is that you get what you would expect at a kennel, but with the personal attention and care of being in a real home.

Sitters are vetted by the company and must have insurance. The company says it has more than 10,000 "hosts" who have had "hundreds of thousands" of dog overnight stays. (Follow us @ReutersMoney or here; Editing by Lauren Young and Grant McCool)

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