Traveling with your pet amid COVID-19 restrictions

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According to Time, humans and pets have been bonded for at least 14,000 years, citing physical evidence of the human-dog connection. A 2015 Harris Poll study found that nearly all pet owners (95%) view their pets as family members. Our pets provide love and comfort, especially during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. It makes sense we’d want to travel with our pets, especially in uncertain times riddled with travel restrictions.

But traveling with pets today is more complicated. Travel alone places risks on pet owners, as seen by stories of travelers being separated from pets for months at a time. Reuters reports more than 1,000 pets are currently stranded worldwide by border closures and flight cancellations. In May 2020, ABC News reported that one woman trying to move back to Australia with her pets had spent more than $40,000 on travel and living expenses due to being stranded in the U.S. because of pet flight restrictions.

Traveling with pets by air these days can be tough, depending on the type of pet you have and where you’re going, but there are travel options with pets available. This guide provides an updated status on where airlines currently stand on pet travel and how to use a travel credit card to make the most of traveling with a pet, so you can successfully get to your final destination together.

Flying with a pet comes with certain restrictions depending on the airline. (Image by Stock)

Flying with your pet

Typically, flyers have two options for traveling with pets: carrying the pet on the plane or checking the pet as cargo. There are some restrictions on types of pets that can travel on board, including dog breeds. For example, airlines like Delta never allow pit bull dog breeds as carry-on dogs on planes. Some airlines are more pet-friendly than others.

When pets are allowed as carry-ons, most policies only allow small dogs, cats, and potentially rabbits, guinea pigs and household birds. On the plane, a pet must be kept in a ventilated pet carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.

If a pet has met Service and Support Animal Travel guidelines, the animal may be allowed to sit on the passenger’s lap or sit on the floor space below a passenger’s seat. There are no size limits on service dogs, but Service Dog Registration of America recommends contacting the airline if you’ll be flying with one so the airline can make appropriate accommodations. While there’s typically a charge for carry-on pets, there is generally no charge for service and support animals.

A pet counts as one carry-on item. If a pet doesn’t fit in a carrier for a carry-on item, the pet will not be allowed on the plane and must be shipped as cargo, but not all airlines allow pet travel as cargo. There are usually minimum age requirements for pets traveling on board or as cargo as well, which is around eight to 10 weeks old.

Currently, there are more restrictions for pets as cargo due to the pandemic. Reuters reports major airlines like United suspended pet cargo programs because they no longer made financial sense or could be done safely during the pandemic. Instead of shipping pets, airlines can make more money shipping other types of non-animal cargo.

Already, many airlines don’t allow pet cargo travel because of the dangers and horror stories that have accompanied pet cargo travel, since it’s a riskier form of pet transport compared to carry-on pet travel. It’s unknown when — or if — airlines that have suspended pet cargo travel will reinstate it. Presumably, without a coronavirus vaccine, pet travel by cargo is suspended indefinitely.

Pets shipped as cargo must get separate flight bookings. Pets may be shipped on different flights to the same destination and must be picked up at the airline’s cargo station.

For pet safety, some pets will not be transported as cargo to hot destinations in the summer, like Phoenix or Las Vegas. Some airlines, like American Airlines, don’t allow cargo pets that have been sedated.

If you want to fly with a pet, it might be wise to work with a travel adviser, since flights that allow pets are more difficult to come by these days. If your reservation gets changed, you’ll have to wait until the next flight that allows an animal.

If you fly with your pet as cargo or as a carry-on, look into the airline policies as early as possible. There may be restrictions on how early you can book a flight for your pet, as well as evolving restrictions due to COVID-19. The following pet travel policies were accurate as of July 2020.

AirlineCarry-on petsChecked petsDetails
American AirlinesYesNo Checked pet service is suspended. Carry-on pets and service and emotional support animals are allowed in the cabin if they meet requirements.
Delta AirlinesYesNo Carry-on and service and support animals are permitted, but Delta Cargo has temporarily embargoed all pet shipments.
United AirlinesYesNo All PetSafe and military cargo pet transportation has been suspended until further notice.
Southwest AirlinesYesNo Southwest Airlines only carries pets in cabins. They are not permitted as checked baggage.
Alaska AirlinesYesYes Dogs and cats in baggage and cargo compartments must be at least eight weeks of age and weaned. Pets allowed in passenger cabins include dogs, cats, rabbits and household birds.
Spirit AirlinesYesNo Spirit Airlines allows domestic dogs, domestic cats, small household birds and small domestic rabbits on the aircraft. Pets and pet carriers are subject to inspection and approval by Spirit Airlines.
Hawaiian AirlinesYesYes Hawaiian Airlines allows transport of dogs, cats and household birds, but currently only allows service animals in cabins.
Frontier AirlinesYesNo Domesticated dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits and small household birds may be carried on domestic flights. The travel container must be large enough for the pet to lie down in a natural position, stand and turn around in.
JetBlue AirlinesYesNoSmall cats and dogs can travel in cabin in a pet carrier that fits under the seat in front of you.

How to use your credit card to travel with your pet

Traveling by air with your pet requires fees. You can expect fees of around $100 to $175 each way to travel with a pet in the cabin. For pets traveling as checked baggage or cargo, fees can rise to around $225 each way.

You’ll also have to invest in an approved pet carrier, which can cost upwards of $80. You’ll also have to make sure pets are up to date on vaccines, which can mean vet expenses.

If you’re going to travel with your pet, you might as well reap some benefits for your purchases. A credit card can give you travel rewards for making pet travel purchases since purchases made with airlines usually qualify for bonus points on travel spend. To maximize your earning you want to be looking for a credit card that earns bonus points on general travel purchases. You might also be interested in using a cash rewards credit card to get cash back for pet travel.

If you hold the right airline credit card, you may not be able to get your pet fees covered, but many cards give you a free checked bag when flying.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers 2x points for every travel purchase, including pet travel fees (as long as the purchase is made directly with an airline or an OTA like Expedia or Priceline), which you can use when booking future travel. Points are worth 25% more when redeeming through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. The card also has no foreign transaction fees and includes trip cancellation/interruption insurance to protect your trip purchase.

If you’re more interested in cash-back rewards, the Citi® Double Cash Card earns you 2% cash back on all purchases (1% when you buy, plus 1% as you pay). You can put the money you earn toward covering your pet travel costs. The information for the Citi Double Cash Card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

To maximize your credit card rewards when booking travel with a pet, consider your needs and how you want to be rewarded. You may be able to save on costs by booking airfare with points, whether that’s transferring your points directly to an airline or booking through a credit card’s travel rewards portal. With travel restrictions continually changing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be interested in a card that offers trip reimbursement in case something out of the ordinary occurs.

Alternative options to flying with your pet amid COVID-19

If you’re not able to fly with your pet, but you need to get somewhere, there are other ways to travel with your furry or feathery friend if air travel isn’t feasible.

Traveling with your pet by car

(Image by Emerson Peters / Unsplash)

Consider taking a road trip with your pet. The best way to ensure safety while on the road is to put the pet in a well-ventilated carrier or crate, or to attach the pet by a safety harness to the seatbelt. Get your pet used to the carrier at home before the trip, so they’re not as anxious once you’re on the road. You can also go on short drives before your big trip to get them used to spending time in the car in a carrier or with a safety harness.

When you’re driving with a pet in a carrier, ensure the crate is secured in the back seat so it doesn’t move around. Make sure your pet is wearing a collar with current tags. It’s best to have your pet microchipped as well.

You’ll need to have rabies vaccination records for crossing over state lines with your pet. Some states may require this proof at interstate crossings.

Take plenty of pit stops so your pet can go to the bathroom and walk around. Bring your own water and pet bowl for your animal to drink from, in case there’s not a water source close by or the pet is hesitant to drink from an unfamiliar water source.

If you’re traveling with a pet by rental car, be aware of the pet travel policies. Typically, car renters are responsible for any damage the pet causes to the car. To avoid cleaning charges, you’ll need to return the rental vehicle clean and free of pet hair.

Traveling with your pet by ship

There aren’t many cruise lines that allow pet travel for pets other than service dogs. When pets are allowed on cruise lines, they’ll typically be confined to a kennel, not a private cabin.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people defer travel on cruise ships worldwide because of the spread of coronavirus, issuing a Level 3 Travel Health Notice for cruise ship travel. Passengers who do travel by ship are requested to quarantine for 14 days after returning.

If you do take the risk of traveling by ship with your pet, the Humane Society of the United States recommends checking on your pet frequently in the kennel to make sure it’s protected from the elements.

There may be some small boat lines that allow pet travel. Enquire about specific policies before booking.

Traveling with your pet by train

Train travel with a pet may be a more viable and comfortable alternative than flying.  Amtrak allows dogs and cats up to 20 pounds to travel on trips up to seven hours on most routes. Pets must be in an approved pet carrier and must be able to sit and lie down without touching the sides of the carrier. The pet carrier counts as a piece of carry-on luggage.

Amtrak also allows service animals to travel on board. Service animals must sit under the passenger’s seat at the passenger’s feet. Pet owners are expected to feed and exercise their pets at train stops.

The Humane Society of the United States reports some smaller U.S. railroad companies may permit animals on board as well. These include Alaska Railroad and the Connecticut CT Rail Shore Line East. Generally, non-service animals must be able to fit in small carriers at the passenger’s feet to be permitted on board.

Although no specific pet restrictions are noted, it’s a good idea to review Amtrak’s latest COVID-19 policies before booking.

The bottom line

If you have to travel during COVID-19, it’s understandable to want to bring your pet along. Pets are such a meaningful source of joy during stressful times. It makes sense to want to be close to them, especially as travel restrictions evolve. Being separated from your pet because of travel cancellations would be heartbreaking. Plus, it can get expensive figuring out how to reunite.

Avoid complications with pet travel by carefully researching pet travel policies with your preferred mode of transportation. It can help to work with a travel adviser, so you have backup plans in place in case plans fall through.

Ensure your pet is up to date on all immunizations before you travel and that you have the proper paperwork to show vaccination proof available on your trip. Get your pet used to travel beforehand by exposing them to elements like a pet carrier and rides in the car. Always prioritize your pet’s safety and carefully consider the value of travel and how it will affect your pet before you book. With proper preparation, it’s possible to plan a trip with your pet during COVID-19.

Nicki Escudero is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, she covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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