woman in hotel with ESA dog

Emotional Support Animals in Hotels: Can You Be Charged Extra?

Traveling with your furry (or feathery, or scaly) emotional support companion can sometimes feel like navigating a minefield of policies and regulations. You’re all packed up, ready to hit the road, and then you hit a snag: can hotels actually charge you extra for bringing along your emotional support animal? It’s a question that’s as important as remembering to pack your toothbrush, especially when your companion is key to your well-being.

Let’s face it, nobody likes unexpected fees, especially when they’re for something as essential as your emotional support animal. You’re already dealing with the stress of travel; the last thing you need is a surprise charge on your bill. So, before you book your next getaway, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of hotel policies on emotional support animals

Emotional Support Animals and Their Legal Status

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) differ significantly from service animals, and this distinction has a huge impact on their legal status, especially in places like hotels. While service animals perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities, ESAs provide comfort and emotional support. These animals don’t require special training, which influences how laws apply to them.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals enjoy a wide range of protections that ESAs do not. This includes access to public spaces and accommodations where pets might not typically be allowed. However, the ADA’s protections do not cover ESAs, meaning private businesses, including hotels, can legally choose whether to accommodate them.

The Air Carrier Access Act previously recognized ESAs, allowing them to fly in the cabin with their owners. Yet, recent changes have tightened these regulations, focusing more on service animals, and leaving ESAs with fewer legal protections in air travel. This shift underscores the changing landscape of ESA recognition and their accommodations.

Some state laws offer protections for ESAs, so it’s key to research local regulations before traveling. States can enact their policies regarding ESAs, potentially offering more rights than federal law. However, with no unified federal mandate for ESAs in public accommodations, hotels are not legally bound to accept them without charges.

Hotels often have policies in place for pets and may extend these to ESAs. Typically, these policies involve additional fees or deposits to cover potential damages. Since hotels aren’t required by federal law to accommodate ESAs for free, checking a hotel’s policy before booking becomes essential. Transparent communication with the hotel about your ESA can sometimes lead to accommodations being made, but it’s not a guarantee.

The ADA and Hotel Policies on Animals

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) plays a key role in shaping hotel policies regarding animals, specifically distinguishing between service animals and emotional support animals (ESAs). Under the ADA, hotels must accommodate guests with service animals at no extra charge, recognizing these animals as essential aids for individuals with disabilities. These regulations underline that service animals, defined primarily as dogs (and in some cases, miniature horses) trained to perform specific tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, cannot be refused access to public areas, including hotel lobbies, rooms, and facilities open to other guests.

Conversely, the ADA does not extend the same provisions to emotional support animals. Unlike service animals, ESAs are not trained for specific tasks relating to a disability. Instead, they provide comfort through their presence. Since the ADA’s definition does not cover ESAs, hotels are not legally obligated to accommodate them under the same terms. This leaves room for hotels to establish their own policies regarding ESAs, which often involve additional charges.

It’s a good idea to check a hotel’s pet policy before booking your stay, as these policies can vary widely from one establishment to another. Some hotels may allow ESAs but impose pet fees or have specific requirements regarding the size, number, and type of animals allowed. Other hotels might offer pet-friendly accommodations for ESAs, though these could come with restrictions on access to certain areas within the hotel.

Can Hotels Charge for Emotional Support Animals?

Absolutely, hotels can and often do charge for emotional support animals (ESAs), primarily because the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t cover these animals in the same way it does service animals. Unlike service animals, which are recognized for their specific training to perform tasks for individuals with disabilities, ESAs are considered pets for legal and accommodation purposes. This distinction allows hotels the freedom to apply pet fees to guests with ESAs.

When planning a stay, it’s important to note that hotel policies regarding ESAs can vary significantly. Some establishments may welcome ESAs without additional charges, particularly if they have a pet-friendly policy. Others might impose fees, which cover potential extra cleaning or damage risks associated with animal guests. These charges vary widely from hotel to hotel and could be applied per night, per stay, or as a refundable deposit, assuming no damage occurs.

To avoid surprises, it’s key to research and contact the hotel you’re considering before booking. Ask about their ESA policy specifically, as “pet-friendly” doesn’t automatically mean “ESA-friendly.” Inquire about any fees, deposits, and the documentation they may require, such as letters from a healthcare provider. Some hotels might also have specific rules about the animal’s size, breed, or the areas of the hotel they can access.

Guest Responsibilities When Bringing Emotional Support Animals to Hotels

When bringing your emotional support animal (ESA) to a hotel, you’ve got a few responsibilities to ensure a smooth stay for everyone involved. Hotels may have different policies, but common expectations exist across the board.

Inform the Hotel in Advance

First up, always let the hotel know you’re bringing an ESA. This heads-up allows them to accommodate you accordingly, whether that means assigning a more suitable room or ensuring staff are aware of your companion’s presence.

Provide Documentation If Requested

Some hotels might ask for documentation regarding your ESA. While not always required, having these documents on hand can simplify the check-in process. Documentation could be a letter from a healthcare provider detailing the need for your ESA.

Adhere to Pet Policies

Even though your ESA isn’t considered a pet in the traditional sense, hotels may still require you to follow their pet policies. This could involve restrictions on where ESAs are allowed within the hotel or specific rules about noise and behavior.

Manage Your ESA

It’s super important to manage your ESA’s behavior during your stay. This means keeping them under control in public areas, being mindful of noise, and cleaning up after them. You’ll also want to ensure your animal doesn’t disturb other guests.

Cover Any Damages

If your ESA causes any damage to the hotel room or property, be prepared to cover the costs. While it’s something no one wants to think about, it’s a standard practice for any damages incurred during a hotel stay.

Respect Non-Pet-Friendly Areas

Some parts of the hotel, like the pool or specific restaurants, might be off-limits to ESAs. Respecting these restrictions ensures a positive experience for all guests and keeps your stay within the hotel’s guidelines.


Navigating hotel stays with your emotional support animal doesn’t have to be daunting. While it’s clear that ESAs don’t enjoy the same legal protections as service animals under the ADA, being informed and prepared can make all the difference. By understanding the varying hotel policies and planning accordingly, you can mitigate potential charges and ensure a comfortable stay for both you and your ESA. With the right approach, traveling with your emotional support animal can be a smooth and enjoyable experience.