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Travel 2006    

Road & rail


Millions of Americans still prefer to see the U.S.A. the old-fashioned way.

Traveling with pets is getting doggone easy

These days, lodgings of all size and price range cater to a new breed of VIP -- your very important pet.

Not long ago, traveling with your dog or cat was a little like being a bank robber on the run. Often as not, your choice was to inquire at the front desk and risk rejection or smuggle Fido in and risk detection. Few lodgings allowed pets, and those that did rarely had a star or diamond to their name, forcing you to choose between your comfort and your pet's.

Today, however, hoteliers from coast to coast are rolling out the red carpet for Rover and Fluffy as never before to attract well-heeled boomers, pet-loving businesspeople and families who wouldn't dream of leaving their canines or felines at home. And for good reason: "U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook," a study by the American Veterinary Medical Association, found that 53.8 percent of all U.S. households own at least one pet and 47 percent of those consider their pets to be family members.

"A lot of people view their pets as family. They enjoy taking their pets with them, just as they wouldn't leave a son or a daughter at home," says Sara Weis of the AAA. "Plus, there's the convenience of not being forced to make boarding or pet-sitting arrangements."

Pet travel is the hottest thing going in hospitality. The seventh edition of AAA's "Traveling With Your Pet," the "big book" of pet-friendly accommodations, grew by 23 percent from the previous edition and now lists more than 12,000 AAA-rated lodgings and campgrounds throughout North America.

Veteran pet travelers have long been aware of the more visible pet-friendly national hotel chains: Motel 6 on the budget end; Red Roof Inn and La Quinta for a step up in comfort.

But in recent years, high-end properties including the Ritz-Carlton and Loews, as well as cutting-edge urban boutiques such as Starwood's W Hotels and Kimpton's Monaco Hotels, have not only welcomed pets, they're pampering them with everything from plush pet robes to in-room massages.

Len Kain, who with his wife, Tara, started in 1998 as a resource for like-minded souls who don't want to leave their animals at home, says about half of all pet-friendly hotels charge pet fees of up to $25 per night. Some tack on an additional one-time cleaning fee of up to $25 as well. Extended-stay hotels such as Marriott Residence Inn and Homestead Studio Suites Hotels typically charge a potentially steep one-time fee of $50 to $150.

"If you stay one night, the $150 is outrageous," says Kain. "But if you stay a month, it's not a big deal."

Affordable pet-friendly chains such as Motel 6, Red Roof Inn and La Quinta aren't the only fee-free zones, however.Higher-end chains such as Loews and Kimpton don't charge for pets, either. Then again, some ultra-ritzy properties charge one-time fees of up to $250 for pets, albeit in rooms that may run $1,000 or more.

"You usually only have those really high fees at hotels that serve a clientele that frankly doesn't care," says Kain.

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