Lost Luggage: What to Do If an Airline Loses Your Bag

“Each airline has its own policy as to when a bag is officially considered lost,” NerdWallet’s travel expert Sara Rathner says. The Department of Transportation deems that by law “airlines are required to compensate passengers if their bags are damaged, delayed, or lost.” In order to ensure you get the maximum value, Rathner says to keep receipts for everything you buy while your bag is lost and also be ready to provide a breakdown for the value of everything in the lost lugagge.

If your luggage is lost during an outbound flight, it’s essential to contact your airline immediately, travel insurance company Seven Corners product specialist Angela Borden says. You don’t need to contact your insurance provider right away, but do be aware of what constitutes a baggage delay and what the benefit covers. “Most plans provide between $ 100 and $ 500, and some include a daily limit,” she says. “The benefit is intended to reimburse you for the purchase of replacement clothing and toiletries. You can buy the items immediately and then submit a claim to the insurance company when it’s convenient for you. “

If it gets to the point where your luggage is actually lost, then you’ll need to file a claim through your travel insurance (your credit card may also cover delayed or lost baggage). “Most plans include a baggage and personal effects benefit that reimburses you if your baggage and personal effects are lost, stolen, damaged, or destroyed during your trip or while checked with a common carrier (airline, cruise line, train, etc.), “Borden says. Claimed items without an original receipt may be reimbursed at a lower value, and the total coverage tends to run between $ 500 and $ 2,500, depending on the plan. But the good news is that it usually provides excess coverage, meaning it’s on top of other payments from other insurance or the airline.

Plan preventive measures

Much of what can help you reunite with your bag starts with prevention. SITA’s Head of Baggage Peter Drummond says to start by making your luggage distinctive on the outside. “One of the most common causes of bags getting lost is that they look just like someone else’s bag, and they get taken off the carousel in error,” he says, adding that if standout luggage isn’t your thing, perhaps opt for a ribbon or other label.

The focus shouldn’t just be on the outside, either. While trackers are helping people trace bags on their own, Drummond also suggests a few lower-tech tips. He says to pack a copy of your itinerary — including the address at the destination — inside in checked bag, in case tags get torn off. Another idea is to pack an item not typically found in most luggage. “If you have something unusual or unique in your bag, it’s much more likely to come up as a positive match to your lost bag report and be quickly returned to you,” he says. Items like a soft toy or an unusual piece of clothing are helpful because airlines can search the global database for that specific item.

Finally, a couple quick and easy steps can go a long way in tracing your bag. Drummond says to take photos of your bag, both open and closed, not just to use for tracing, but also for your insurance claim. And a simple, yet crucial, measure to take is to make sure the bag tag is on securely, especially when it’s a self-service station, and always take that receipt so you have the baggage number.

Multiple experts also warn not to book flights with a short layover or travel during busy times when you’re checking baggage — after all, if you have to sprint and dodge crowds to get to your next flight, your suitcase will have to as well.

While not checking a bag is — of course — the best solution, there are certain kinds of travel when you’ll need to. The stress of a bag not arriving the moment you do can seriously damper a trip, so take the time to properly prepare. A little work now can go a long way to make sure you’re not without your baggage for too long.

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