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How do airlines determine how expensive a pet plane ticket is?

Cabin vs. Cargo
Dogs with short snouts -- like pugs -- can have trouble breathing in cargo holds if the temperature is too high.
Dogs with short snouts -- like pugs -- can have trouble breathing in cargo holds if the temperature is too high.
Mark Coffey/istockphoto

­Each airline has its own fees for pet transportation. U.S. airlines that allow pets to travel in the pl­ane's cabin charge fees ranging from $69 to more than $175 for a one-way ticket on a domestic flight. The distance traveled doesn't matter -- the pet ticket price is the same for a trip between New York and California as it is to fly between two a­irports in the same state. There's one big catch -- the pet owner must fly with the pet.

While the range for pet ticket prices is fairly wide, most of the airlines charge between $100 and $150 for each flight. Part of the reason for this is that it's what the market will bear -- people determined to take their pets with them are willing to pay the price. But there may be other factors as well.

One factor might be that the relatively high price most airlines charge tends to limit the number of people who bring pets on board a flight. Most airlines place a strict limit on the number of pets that can travel in the plane's cabin. Several will only allow one or two animals per flight. A higher pet ticket price reduces the chance of multiple pet owners trying to book trips on the same flight.

­One reason airlines might want to limit the presence of pets is to reduce the possibility of conflicts between customers. Even a well-behaved pet can cause problems on a flight. For instance, a­ customer with allergies may complain if someone with a pet sits near them. Airlines have to balance the needs of the pet owner with the needs of other customers.

Some airlines offer passengers the option to check their pet with the rest of their baggage. And yes, the cargo section of the plane is pressurized just like the cabin. But in order to follow federal guidelines, U.S. airlines won't transport animals under certain conditions. If the temperature of the cargo hold will fall too low (below 45 degrees Fahrenheit or 7.2 degrees Celsius, by federal law) or rise too high during the flight, airlines won't transport pets. Airlines will refuse to carry an animal if conditions put the pet's health at risk.

There's a much wider range of prices for cargo shipping than in-cabin travel. Prices for cargo pet tickets range from $100 to more than $1,000. Some airlines have a sliding scale of rates that are based either upon the weight of the animal or the size of the animal's crate or cage. Others have a flat rate that applies to animals of any size or weight. And some airlines won't transport animals in the cargo hold at all. If you plan on taking your pet on a trip, you should call ahead and compare prices among several airlines.

To learn more about traveling with your pet, take a look at the links on the next page.