5 steps to curb holiday pet debt

Pet-related expenses can add up during the holidays, especially if you’re traveling

Kelly Dilworth
Personal finance writer
Specializing in new trends in credit

5 tips to curb holiday pet debt

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If you’re planning to include your furriest family members on your holiday shopping list this year, cash back credit cards and shopping discounts can help you save.   

According to a recent survey from PwC, pet parents expect to spend an average of $67 on holiday gifts for their four-legged best friends.

Twenty- and 30-somethings with pets in the home are planning to be even more generous: The average millennial, for example, expects to spend at least $141. Meanwhile, well-heeled millennials who earn more than $70,000 a year plan to plunk down an average of $183. 

But pet-related expenses can add up quickly during the holidays – especially if you travel. In addition to stocking stuffers and carefully wrapped rawhides, many pet parents also spend hundreds of dollars a year on overnight boarders or airline pet fares. 

To avoid an unwelcome bout of pet debt in the new year, it’s wise to be strategic with your spending. Here are five tips for cutting the cost of holiday pet care – without shortchanging your pawsome best friends: 

Use high-earning cash back cards to shave the cost of holiday gifts 

One of the easiest ways to give yourself a discount on pet gifts is to use a high-earning cash back card on all your pet-related purchases. There aren’t very many credit cards that cater specifically to pet parents. 

The American Kennel Club Visa is a rare exception, offering 3 points for every dollar you spend at pet stores and veterinary offices. But if you’re really serious about saving money on pet gifts, you’ll probably save more money anyway using a general cash back card that awards at least 5 percent cash back. 

The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa card, for example, is a great pick since Amazon offers a huge selection of pet merchandise. You can use the card to order pet food off of Amazon and earn 5 percent back for every purchase. 

Other cash back cards such as the Chase Freedom card and the Discover it® Cash Back card can also help you save money over the holidays – especially if you’re a member of a wholesale club, such as Costco or Sam’s. 

The Discover it® Cash Back card, for example, is currently offering 5 percent cash back in the fourth quarter for Amazon.com and wholesale club purchases (on up to $1,500 in purchases, after you activate). 

Meanwhile, Chase Freedom is giving holiday shoppers 5 percent cash back at wholesale clubs, department stores and any time you use Chase Pay through Dec. 31. If you don’t mind paying a $95 annual fee, you could also earn a substantial amount back using the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which awards 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets, up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1 percent thereafter. 

See related: 5 tips for saving money on pet costs 

Maximize your savings with sign-up bonuses and rebates 

If you apply for a new card, you may also be able to score a relatively quick cash infusion in order to help pay back any pet-related charges. The Chase Freedom card, for example, offers a $150 sign-up bonus after you spend $500 in the first three months, while the Blue Cash Preferred card from AmEx awards $200 as long as you spend at least $1,000 in the first three months. 

Depending on where you shop, you can pair those savings with additional cash back earnings by using rebate websites, such as EbatesIbotta or TopCashback

Save up to 15 percent or more using discounted gift cards 

If you don’t want a new credit card or prefer not to charge your purchases, consider funding your holiday shopping with a discounted gift card instead. Websites such as RaiseGift Card Granny and Card Cash sell gift cards from the pet supply giants, Petco and PetsMart, as well as some smaller pet supply companies. 

Many of these gift cards are discounted by as much as 10 to 15 percent or more, giving you an automatic markdown before you even step in the door. You can also purchase gift cards for general merchandise retailers that sell pet stuff, such as Target and Walmart. 

Scour social media for special holiday-related deals 

In addition to signing up for a pet store’s loyalty program, you may also be able to gain special access to sales and other discount programs by following a store’s social media account. Don’t just limit yourself to big box pet stores, either. By following an independent store’s Facebook page or Twitter feed, you’ll be able to quickly see what specials it has going on without visiting the store regularly. 

It’s also a good idea to look for websites that specialize in pet gear, such as ChewyCoupaw or Pawsome Doggie. Smaller e-retailers are eager for new customers, and so they may be especially generous with their promotions during the holidays. 

See related: 3 ways credit can help ease the costs of pet ownership 

Shop around before you fly or board your pet 

One of the biggest holiday expenses that many pet parents face is the cost of boarding their pets – or taking them along – when they travel. Unless you have friends or family willing to take in your pets for free, you probably won’t be able to avoid this expense entirely. But you may be able to limit it by shopping around. 

For example, before you book a flight based on the fare you pay for your seat, check the airline’s pet policy. Most big airlines, such as United, Delta, American Airlines and Jet Blue charge a flat $125 each way when your pet flies in the cabin. But some regional airlines are much cheaper. For example: 

  • Frontier Airlines only charges $75 per pet, potentially saving you up to $50. 
  • Southwest Airlines charges $95. 
  • Hawaiian Airlines charges just $35 if you fly within Hawaii. Otherwise, a flight with your pet in tow will cost you $175. 
  • Alaska Airlines charges $100 per pet, while Spirit Airlines charges $125. 

If you can’t take your pet with you, you’ll also want to shop around before you settle on a boarder. Nightly boarding charges can vary widely, especially if you live in a pricey urban area. You may be able to get a better deal by hiring an individual sitter. You can connect with sitters in your area by downloading specially designed pet parent apps, such as ScritchSpot or Rover.

Bottom line: Your pets deserve the best, but it’s not worth going into debt for some gifts that may not even last into the next season. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t afford a fancy holiday gift. Your pets will almost certainly be happiest just having some one-on-one time with you as you celebrate the holiday season. 


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Updated: 12-19-2018