You know how the old saying goes, “nothing is certain, except death and taxes”…and lost luggage. If you’re a regular flyer, it’s possible the airline will lose or delay your luggage at some point. But there are a few easy things that you can do in advance to protect yourself before the airline loses your luggage.
An easy answer to this problem may be “don’t check luggage”. But some planes are too small for even carry-on luggage in the cabin. So your carry-on bag may get checked. Add a subsequent connection and that bag is as vulnerable to being lost as any other checked bag.
But don’t despair. The steps below are easy ways to reduce the negative impact and help protect yourself before the airline loses your luggage.
1. Book your travel using a travel credit card
Travel credit cards have unique travel-related perks. Some travel credit cards, like Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve, include the perk of baggage delay insurance and lost luggage reimbursement.
With baggage delay insurance, the credit card company will reimburse you for the essentials you had to buy while your luggage was delayed. Things like toiletries and clothes.
With lost luggage reimbursement, the credit card company will reimburse you up to a certain amount for your lost items.
For both lost and delayed luggage, the airline *should* cover the bulk of the reimbursement costs. The travel credit card will then reimburse you for the excess costs that the airline doesn’t cover.
When my luggage was delayed five days last year, the airline reimbursed me for about 85% of my costs. My travel credit card (Chase Sapphire Preferred) covered the rest.
By booking your travel with a credit card that has these perks, you reduce your financial impact if the airline loses or delays your luggage.
2. Pack essentials in your personal item
Since the possibility always exists that your carry-on luggage may get checked, make sure that your essentials are packed in your personal item.
This may include electronics, medication, a change of clothes (including extra underwear), a toothbrush, and toothpaste.
When the airline delayed my luggage for five days last year, I realized I did a terrible job of packing my personal item with essentials.
While the airline and my travel credit card reimbursed me for the essentials I bought while my luggage was delayed, it would have been more convenient to have those essentials with me. Instead, I had to spend some of my vacation time at the pharmacy, picking up soap. And I had to spend some of my free time back at home to submit a claim for reimbursement.
So I recommend that you protect yourself before the airline loses your luggage by packing essentials in your personal item.
3. Avoid short layovers
I’ve fallen for the trap of short layovers before. You *think* it’s ideal to have the shortest layover possible so that you can get to your destination earlier.
But running Home Alone-style through an airport trying to make a tight connection is zero fun (for you and for the people in your path).
Plus, there’s a good chance that your checked luggage won’t make that tight connection with you. Ground crews work hard, but unloading your luggage, carting it between gates, and reloading it onto the next plane can be a time-consuming process.
I prefer my layovers to be about two hours long for domestic flights and about three to four hours long when I’m flying between countries and have to go through customs.
This helps ensure that the ground crew has enough time to get my checked luggage over to the next plane.
While those short layovers can be tempting, I recommend avoiding them to help prevent the future headache of dealing with lost or delayed luggage.
4. Have as few connections as possible
The more connections you have, the more opportunities there are for your luggage to be lost or delayed.
I get it – sometimes you want to save a little money by booking that cheap flight with several layovers. But you can end up paying for it with frustration. Especially if it results in lost or delayed luggage.
Book as few connections as possible to reduce the number of times your luggage has to successfully make it on to another flight.
5. Double-check the bag tag
Gayle King once reported that she flew on a direct flight from Los Angeles to Mexico, but her luggage was somehow tagged (and flown) to New York.
Avoid Gayle’s fate and double-check your luggage tag to make sure that it has your name and has the correct destination airport.
If your luggage does become lost or delayed, the airline is relying on that bag tag to identify your luggage. If the name on the tag says someone else, your chances of getting that luggage returned to you drastically decrease.
Before you drop off your luggage with security, double-check the bag tag. It’ll help prevent lost or delayed luggage.
6. Save your copy of the bag tag
My luggage has been delayed twice in the last year. On both occasions, the first thing the airline asked for was my copy of the bag tag.
Luckily, I still had the bag tag with me on both occasions. But it’s easy to throw out the bag tag with your coffee cup as you get ready to go through security.
I find it helpful to have a designated spot in my bag for all my airline-related paperwork (bag tags, tickets, receipts, etc.). By forming the habit of putting all the paperwork in one place, my paperwork always ends up there, even when I’m tired and not paying close to attention.
Find a side pocket in your bag or travel wallet where you can put all this paperwork. It’ll save you from the future frustration that comes with losing important documents.
7. Make your luggage stand out
I have white, hard-case luggage. In most areas of the world, my luggage is distinctive. But in France, where my luggage is made, it’s a very common bag.
Because I thought my luggage was distinctive, I didn’t use any special tags or other markings to make it stand out. This was a mistake.
After three days in Paris waiting for the airline to send my luggage, they finally sent it. Only for it to be picked up by someone who thought it was their bag. Thankfully, that person brought it back to the airport. But it took another two days before I was reunited with my bag.
Don’t be like me. Make your luggage stand out in some way, no matter how distinctive you think it already is. I like these bright handle tags for identification. For added protection, you can try these luggage covers.
Please learn from my mistake. Making your luggage stand out is an easy way to help prevent it from being lost or delayed.
8. Update your luggage tag with current information
After someone mistakenly picked up my luggage in Paris (thinking it was their luggage), they were able to contact me directly using the information on my luggage tag.
They ended up returning my luggage to the airport, but it was great having that communication to know when it was returned so that I could go pick it up.
Make sure your luggage tag is updated with your current information (including your phone number) so that someone can easily contact you. If you’re uncomfortable including your street address, just include your phone number. This is one more way of making it as easy as possible to return your lost or delayed luggage to you.
I hope you never have to experience lost or delayed luggage. But just in case that experience is in your future, I hope you use these tips to reduce the negative impact and help protect yourself before the airline loses your luggage.