Pets to get frequent flyer rewards

Last updated 09:16 04/07/2013
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Our love of travelling with Pooch or Puss has led to one of Australia's leading airlines offering, wait for it ... frequent flyer points for high-flying cats and dogs.

Virgin Australia Velocity members can earn points when they travel with their pet.

Celebrity vet Dr Chris Brown says it shows that pets are flying more.

"Our pets are having a bigger role to play in our lives so it's probably further recognition of that," he said.

More people are holidaying with pets, he said, moving interstate with them and even flying them for specialist medical care.

"More and more we see them as being fully-fledged family members as opposed to the dog or the cat that used to just hang out in the backyard and we'd feed it table scraps," Dr Brown said.

Virgin Australia is the first Australian airline to award points to pets, in a move that will surely please four-legged fiends.

The announcement was made at Virgin's Sydney Domestic Airport check-in counter, where cats and dogs donned purple stewards' scarves.           

Nearly 30,000 pets travel domestically with Virgin Australia every year, and Velocity Frequent Flyer CEO Neil Thompson said pet points was the next step in the airline's family focus.

"Sometimes it's the simplest things that really strike a chord with members," he said.

So how does it work? When you book the flight for your pet, you provide your Velocity membership number and then that flight will earn you 300 points, regardless of where in Australia your pet is flying.

The program only applies to dogs (all breeds) and cats, as there is a different registration process for other travelling pets deemed more exotic.

The popularity of going on holidays with pets has been steadily rising in the industry and many tourism operators have reacted to this by switching to pet-friendly accommodation.

More "pet resorts" are opening and many hotels now offer pet packages.

Palazzo Versace on the Gold Coast offers the "Palazzo Pooch Package" for "Very Important Pooches".

"Equipped with a canine couture designer pet bed and Versace crystal food and water bowls, your Superior Pet Room will provide the ultimate indulgent getaway in true Versace style," reads the hotel's website.

A pet-sitting service is also available if you want to pop out to a restaurant that isn't as welcoming of your furry family member.

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Sydney pet owner Garry Dryburgh travels up to four times a year with his poodle and Shetland sheepdog to attend domestic dog shows.

He thinks frequent flyer points for pets is a great idea.

"When kennelling is so expensive and so difficult, and there's more pet-friendly accommodation, it's great to take your pet away on a holiday with you," Dryburgh said.

His advice to other pet owners: "Don't worry about it. Dogs are fine. They've got their own personal space in the aircraft."

Dr Brown, who's flown with his nine-year-old kelpie Rusty, has has tips for reducing a pet's stress when travelling.

Put your pet in the back of a car at night and go for a drive for half an hour, Dr Brown suggested. Take note of how your pet responds to not being able to see what's happening outside.

If they're fine, they'll likely cope well on a flight too, he said. If they're not, they can be given medication to help them relax, and it's worth getting them used to small trips, he said.

There are a couple of reasons Dr Brown thinks so many travellers holiday with their pets, one being that animal lovers worry about how their pets will be without them.

A lot of pets and owners suffer from separation anxiety, said Dr Brown, and they don't want to be leaving their pets back at home.

"They see their pets as being as important as other family members so they can't see why they shouldn't be holidaying with us," he added.

"I laugh now when I'm at work and I see the names that people call pets and that's probably the best indication of all, the fact that they're now family members."

No longer do dogs and cats share names like Spot, Rover and Scruffy. Now, they're given human names, like Chloe, Max or even an indulgent Moet or Coco.

- AAP

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