Don't be fooled by a 'pet-friendly' hotel — it'll almost always cost you
For travelers with pets, trip planning doesn't just include booking flights, finding places to stay and reserving rental cars — there's also the added task of figuring out what to do with your furry baby while you're on the road.
Do you find a place to board your dog or cat? Is there a neighbor who can watch your four-legged friend at your house? Or, do you bring your furry companion along on the trip?
It's this last option that may sound appealing, particularly for trips within driving distance of your home. You'll not only avoid the headache of making arrangements for your pet, but you'll also enjoy the thrill of finding a hotel that labels itself a "dog-friendly" property — especially when it gives you a chance to earn points in a popular loyalty program.
There's only one problem: These spots may be friendly to your pet, but bringing them along will not be friendly to your wallet.
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Last month, a major hotel brand (Homewood Suites, part of the Hilton Honors portfolio) announced that 100% of its properties in the U.S. and Canada are now pet-friendly. As part of this announcement, Hilton cited research showing that close to 23 million Americans added furry friends to their families during the last two years, with nearly two-thirds of those with pets expressing an interest in taking their animal companions with them on a trip.
In fact, the statement accompanying the news highlights that Homewood Suites is the third Hilton brand to hit this milestone, as all Home2 Suites and Canopy properties are currently pet-friendly. All Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn and Tru properties in the U.S. and Canada are set to join the list by April of this year.
Unfortunately, what's missing from the announcement is the fact that bringing your pet isn't free.
For stays of up to four nights, you'll need to pay a one-time, nonrefundable fee of up to $75. For stays lasting five or more nights, that price climbs to $125. Now, it's worth noting that this fee does cover online support through a new partnership with Mars Petcare, which the statement describes as follows:
"The service includes on-demand articles with tips including what to pack and how to settle in as well as chat features, both online and via phone, where Mars Petcare experts can answer any pet-related concerns throughout the trip."
We even tried testing this service with our English Pointer, Winston, at a property in Port St. Lucie, Florida, shortly after the announcement was made. Unfortunately, the service wasn't yet live, so we were left paying the nightly pet fee ($50 at this particular location).
It's admirable to see a brand institute a new standard that all locations will be pet-friendly while also adding (what appears to be) additional value for guests.
However, at this particular Homewood Suites property, the only pet-focused amenities offered during the stay were the treat jar at the front desk and the conveniently located dispenser of dog waste bags just outside the back door.
We had a nice stay, but there wasn't much tangible value from the $50 we spent.
Then there are properties like The Ben (part of Marriott's Autograph Collection) in West Palm Beach, Florida. I booked a midweek stay for me and my wife when we had an evening event in early February, and I had that moment of excitement when I saw the "pet-friendly" designation on its website. But then, the ugly truth was presented.
For the privilege of bringing your pet (with a maximum weight of 50 pounds), you'd have to fork over a nonrefundable fee of $145 per stay.
It's even worse across the state at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa. This Bonita Springs property allows one dog up to 50 pounds (or two with a combined weight of no more than 75 pounds), yet it charges a fee of $175 per stay up to six nights. Plus, there's an additional $175 deep-cleaning fee for stays lasting a week or longer.
I understand that pets create the potential for damage to a hotel room, but how can a property say that it's truly "friendly" to pets when they charge an exorbitant fee?
I could get behind a refundable deposit. Heck, charge me $500 in case Winston decides to have a bowel movement on the carpet or tear apart a pillow.
But when we check out and the room is still in pristine condition, refund it. It'll not only allow us to enjoy some time away from home with our pooch; it'll make us that much more likely to come back and stay again.
This is not to say that all of the supposed "pet-friendly" hotels offer nothing in return for a pet fee. Animal guests at The Confidante Miami Beach (part of Hyatt's Unbound Collection) enjoy "branded pet gear, local popsicles for pups ... [and] the use of a luxurious bed from Paw.com throughout their stay" for a fee of $100 for stays up to six nights.
There's only one brand, however, that truly welcomes furry travelers: Kimpton Hotels, which sits under the IHG Rewards umbrella. Every single Kimpton property is 100% pet-friendly.
And this isn't just lip service.
Check out the brand's website devoted to how welcoming they are with pets. There are no size or weight limits, and you won't pay any fees (not even a deposit). The properties will even provide beds, bowls, courtesy waste bags and a door hanger for your room, letting guests and staff members know that your pet is in the room.
Even the brand's famous nightly wine hour is pet-friendly.
This has led us to frequent the Vero Beach Hotel & Spa over the last several years. The staff there is absolutely outstanding whenever we visit with Winston. He gets lots of love and too many treats to count. In fact, on one trip, a hotel employee, Adam, even took him for a short walk when we arrived and were overwhelmed with unloading the car and dealing with a fitful toddler.
When we took our first significant trip during the pandemic — a road trip to North Carolina in July 2020 — we specifically booked the Kimpton in Savannah, Georgia, (twice!) knowing that it would be a truly pet-friendly stop on our way to and from our final destination.
In short, Kimpton has set the bar of what it means to be truly pet-friendly incredibly high. As of now, no other mainstream brand has matched it.
(That said, an honorable mention goes to La Quinta, part of Wyndham Rewards, though the devil is in the details. Select locations have a weight limit and "an optional pet fee may be charged at check-in," which can add up to $20 per night or a maximum of $40 per stay to your bill.)
I applaud the Homewood Suites brand on its push to be more welcoming to guests traveling with pets, but even with the added services that are set to roll out to all properties, it still falls well short of the standard-bearer.
It's time for more hotels to follow Kimpton's lead and offer true pet-friendly accommodations for travelers — or, at the very least, shift to refundable deposits.