Hotels' best friends

Upscale hotels are becoming more pet-friendly as it brings customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth advertising. Some add fees and tack on cleaning charges when pets misbehave, and others restrict certain breeds and sizes of dogs. (Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants)

When you travel with a 70-pound husky, even one named Frank Sinatra, you might not expect first-class treatment from the hotels where you stay. Yet that's just what Frank and his owners, Suzanne and Chris Garber of Northern Liberties, experienced last year on a three-week, 31-state road trip.

From the eco-chic Element Denver Park Meadows in Lone Tree, Colo., to the presidential suite at the Sheraton Music City Hotel in Nashville, Frank was received as a welcome guest. Some hoteliers even presented the strikingly fluffy pooch with dog treats and other perks, free.

The Garbers' Husky was accustomed to going with them when they traveled by car. "We took him because he's part of our family," Suzanne Garber says. "He got excited about staying in a hotel."

Gone are the days when traveling with your pet, especially a large dog, meant sneaking through a hotel side door, hoping the desk clerk was too hungover to notice, or finding accommodations only in the sketchier breed of motels, where rooms have linoleum floors instead of carpeting. Now, hotels, especially those on the higher end, are declaring themselves pet-friendly and extending a white-glove greeting to four-legged guests.

Upscale and luxury hotels are discovering that marketing to pet owners pays off in customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth advertising that's worth more than a handful of treats. In the American Hotel and Lodging Association's 2014 lodging survey, 80 percent of luxury hotels and 66 percent of "upper upscale" hotels surveyed allowed pets. For luxury accommodations, that's nearly the same percentage (79 percent) as reported by economy hotels.

At fancier places, pet-friendliness may be determined by the individual property more than by the hotel company or chain management. Some limit size, such as the Pierre in New York City, part of Taj Hotels, which accepts only pets weighing less than 15 pounds. By contrast, the Taj Boston accepts dogs up to 80 pounds, and allows two per room.

There may be breed restrictions, as well. The Hotel del Coronado in San Diego does not allow pit bulls or pit bull mixes, Dobermans, Rottweilers, chows or chow mixes for insurance reasons, says spokeswoman Sara Baumann. The historic beachfront resort also requires that pets weigh 40 pounds or less.

One upscale hotel company accepts any type of pet at all of its locations, with no pet fee. Kimpton, part of InterContinental Hotels Group, boldly invites guests at its 59 boutique hotels to "bring your furry, feathery, or scaly family member" of any size, weight, or breed.

Pets staying at Kimpton hotels, including the Hotel Monaco near Independence Hall and the Hotel Palomar near Rittenhouse Square, are offered food, water bowls, and loaner beds. They're even welcome to join their owners at complimentary wine receptions.

To fee or not to fee?

Many hotels charge extra for pets. Fees usually are levied per night or per pet for each night of the stay. Loews Hotels charge $45 per night for up to two pets in a room. At the Loews Don CeSar in St. Pete Beach, Fla., that fee includes an arrival amenity kit, says Jeff Abbaticchio, director of public relations. Each kit contains a pet mat, bowl, treats, identification tag, cleanup bags, and list of local parks and veterinarians.

Some hotels have one-time charges, such as the $100 cleaning fee for guests checking in with a pet at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin, Texas, or the $150 pet fee at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Fla. The Hotel del Coronado has designated rooms for guests with pets, some with access to lawns. Keeping pets in certain rooms also helps guests who have allergies by limiting their exposure to dander, fur, and allergens. The hotel adds a $125 charge to deep-clean rooms pets have occupied.

Depending on the property and policies, cleaning a room after a pet stays there may take more staff time, justifying an added fee.

Charging extra for pets, though, can push a hotel right off a traveler's itinerary. "I wouldn't pay a deposit or fee," says Suzanne Garber. "Why should I pay $50 or $100 for my dog, who treats a hotel room better than some human beings do?"

The economy chain Motel 6 has long allowed pets to stay for no fee. Red Roof Inn and La Quinta Inns & Suites also allow pets, no charge, at all locations.

Whether they have fees or not, hotels may require guests to fill out a liability waiver and agree to pay a cleaning or repair fee if their pets misbehave. Some even state that pets must not be left unattended. Dogs left alone may bark incessantly and the noise can ruin other guests' stays. Cats, too, have disruptive and sometimes destructive ways of registering displeasure at being left behind. The Fairmont San Francisco reinforces its no-unattended-pets rule with a $250 added charge if a pet is found alone in a room.

Hotels to forever homes

Finding hotels for both pets and people has become a certifiable travel industry niche. This summer, Trivago, a hotel-search service, ran a TV commercial starring a winsome Chihuahua named Lucky, touting the company's ability to locate places that accept pets. Websites such as gopetfriendly.com and tripswithpets.com also provide guidance. For the Garbers' multistate trip, Suzanne Garber relied on bringfido.com.

Perhaps the strongest sign of upscale hotels marketing to pet owners is the trend of add-on amenities for four-legged guests. These indulgent offerings, such as dog massages, carry extra charges. The Loews Don CeSar has gourmet room service for pets, featuring the "bow wow" (chopped beef tenderloin, scrambled eggs, and brown rice, $19) and "cat's meow" (fresh filet of salmon, $17). The hotel also lets pet guests dine at its outdoor restaurant, from a special menu that includes desserts such as "pumpkin pup cakes" ($7).

Other hotels have programs aimed at guests' presumed soft spot for less-fortunate creatures, with packages containing pet treats, toys, and bedding for the guest's pet, plus a donation to an animal charity.

The Aloft Downtown in Asheville, N.C., takes that do-good interest even further. The hotel, which has a rooftop dog walk and charges no pet fee, also houses a shelter dog wearing an "Adopt Me" vest. A local rescue group screens prospective owners.

As each lucky dog finds a new home, another dons the vest and moves in to the hotel, temporarily. Since the program began in August 2014, 37 dogs have found permanent places to lay their heads.

What could be more pet-friendly?