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Truly Pet-Friendly Hotels: The Weekly Wish

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Many of you know that I’m the proud parent of a sweet, styling, jet-setting little Blue French Bulldog named Miles. He travels with me whenever it’s feasible, and I love having him along. TPG Contributor Nick Ewen is also a dog owner, and like me, he’s encountered some inhospitable policies from hotels that advertise themselves as pet-friendly. Today he targets those hotels in his series The Weekly Wish, and explains how they could do better.

I’m guessing that like TPG and I, many of you share the attitude that pets truly are family members. While Winston, my 50 pound English Pointer, will never ride under the seat in front of me like Miles has with TPG, my wife and I love taking him on road trips in our home state of Florida. However, I’ve found the notion of “pet-friendly” hotels to be a bit of a misnomer, especially when it comes to the multitude of fees that accompany a stay with your furry, four-legged friend. That brings me to today’s Weekly Wish: that so-called “pet-friendly” hotels would live up to their claims and adopt genuinely friendly policies when it comes to pets who travel.

If you want your pet to accompany you to a hotel, pull out your wallett! (And no, this is not Miles) Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
If you want your pet to join you at a hotel, it’ll cost you! (no, this isn’t Miles). Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Let’s begin with the inordinate (and inconsistent) fees charged by certain hotels when it comes to pets. An example that immediately comes to mind is the St. Regis Bal Harbour (which I’ll be visiting this coming week). They only allow dogs up to 25 pounds, and they charge a non-refundable deposit of $125 per stay PLUS a daily $25 cleaning fee. If Winston fell under the weight limit, our one-night stay would set us back a cool $150. That doesn’t make it seem like the hotel is “delighted to welcome pets” (which is a direct quote from their website).

For starters, the term “non-refundable deposit” really irks me. I’m sure many of you have rented houses or apartments before, and what happens to your deposit if you leave the apartment in good condition? That’s right, you get it back! The $125 here isn’t a deposit; it’s a fee, plain and simple. I can understand the need for a refundable deposit, but charging a fee for every stay plus a daily fee is no different than a hotel saying, “Our daily rate is $100 a night, but we also charge you $200 per stay.”

Winston clearly enjoys hotel living!
Winston clearly enjoys hotel living!

Another irksome aspect of this is what actually happens on property at these pet-friendly hotels. This past March I had to go to Key Largo for a weekend business trip (I know, I lead a rough life). Since it was drivable from home, my wife decided to come along, and we noticed that the Hilton Key Largo was a pet-friendly hotel. We decided the one-time fee of $50 was worthwhile, so Winston made the trip down with us. However, despite allowing dogs, we were informed of the following restrictions at check-in:

  • The dog wasn’t allowed to be left in the room unattended
  • The dog wasn’t allowed on the walking paths
  • The dog wasn’t allowed on the beach
  • The dog wasn’t allowed on the outdoor patio of the restaurant

Maybe I’m missing something here, but how exactly does that work? Do my wife and I have to eat breakfast in shifts? Are the walking paths through the woods somehow “protected” from other animals? Numerous other restaurants in Key Largo treated Winston like royalty, but that clearly wasn’t the case at the “pet-friendly” Hilton.

In both of these situations, restrictive policies and/or high fees resulted in lost revenue for the property. For this week at the St. Regis we decided to board Winston at our vet at home, since the fee was much less. At the Hilton, we wanted to have dinner at the restaurant one night, and the open air patio was basically empty. However, once we were told that Winston wasn’t welcome, we promptly left and spent over $100 at a nearby restaurant off-property that was delighted to have him (and our money).

Kimpton is an industry leader in providing truly pet-friendly lodging.
Kimpton is an industry leader in providing truly pet-friendly lodging.

These properties (and many others) could take a cue from Kimpton, a small collection of boutique hotels scattered across the country. Every one of their properties is pet friendly, and in their case, pet friendly means what it should. A complete overview of their pet policy is available here, but in a nutshell:

  1. No fees…at all
  2. Loaner beds, bowls, and mats for the room
  3. Listing of nearby pet-friendly establishments
  4. Pets welcome at the nightly complimentary wine reception

Now, I love any hotel with a complimentary evening reception, but bringing Winston to it? That’s what I call heaven.

Another chain that does right by our pets is La Quinta. Just like Kimpton, all of their properties welcome pets without fees. Their commonsense rules for pets include things like “clean up after your dog/cat” and “if your pet is bothering other guests, it can’t be left alone.” For complete details, visit this link.

BringFido.com is a great site you can use to find pet friendly hotels.
BringFido.com is a great site you can use to find pet-friendly hotels.

Another great resource for pet owners is the website Bring Fido, which allows you to search a specific area for hotels flagged as pet-friendly. This is actually how my wife and I came across the Hilton Key Largo. The site also does a great job at finding pet-friendly eating establishments, dog parks, and beaches. Bring Fido claims that each hotel’s pet policy is accurate and has been verified, and they even promise to cover any unexpected fees that result from visiting a hotel with charges that don’t match the published information online.

As you browse through Bring Fido, you’ll notice that many of the properties don’t belong to the large hotel chains. I’ve found that (for the most part) bed & breakfasts and smaller inns tend to be more tolerant of pets than the larger properties. While this can sometimes rule out using hotel points, remember that the miles earned on the Barclaycard Arrival and Arrival Plus can be applied to most travel expenses, so as long as the B&B/inn is classified as a lodging expense, you should be able to redeem your miles for statement credits to cover your stay.

There are two other parts of this Weekly Wish that I think would appeal to a large number of pet owners:

  1. Include pet fee waivers as an elite benefit. I don’t know about other pet owners out there, but if one of the leading hotel chains started waiving fees and deposits on pets for top tier elites, that would be a major positive in my book. Sure, it would only apply to a handful of stays every year, but I would love to at least have it as an option.
  2. Include pet damages as one of the areas of “coverage” provided on major credit cards. Aside from earning points & miles, most credit cards offer numerous types of coverage to protect cardholders, including purchase protection, travel insurance, car rental insurance, and extended warranties. It would be very interesting for a card like the American Express Platinum to start covering any fees incurred or deposits forfeited due to pet damages in a hotel room.

At the end of the day, many of us are pretty attached to our pets, and I wish that more hotels would make it easier to bring them. After all, I’ve seen many dogs and cats that are much better behaved than children! I can only imagine the outrage if hotels started charging these exorbitant fees for kids.

What experiences have you had bringing your pets to a hotel? Would more pet-friendly policies be enough to sway your business? For those who don’t like pets (nobody’s perfect), would pet-friendly policies drive you away? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!
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