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Luggage Tracking Devices: LugLoc, TrakDot, Okoban & More

by on August 13, 2014 · 17 comments

in TPG Contributors, Travel Apps, Travel Gear, Travel Industry

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Today TPG Contributor Jason Steele delves into the world of luggage tracking technology, exploring options for keeping an eye on your bags even when your airline doesn’t.

There’s a sinking feeling you get when you’ve watched all the checked luggage emerge from the baggage carousel, and one of your bags is not among them. Your fellow passengers have already made their way to ground transportation, and you stand there in disbelief watching a few remaining bags bags run laps around the conveyor before it shuts down. Putting a temporary hold on your trip, you shuffle off to file a missing baggage report, and wonder if you’ll ever see you bag again.

If you travel often, it’s not a question of if this will ever happen to you, but when. Thankfully, there are some third party tools you can use to help reunite you with your bags, rather than having to place your hopes with the company that lost them in the first place.

Luggage tracking tools

We are constantly connected to each other by cellular networks, and in many cases, those networks have even penetrated the developing world to a greater degree than in industrialized countries. In the last year, two companies have begun offering small tracking devices that utilize these GSM cellular networks (not GPS) to alert travelers to the location of their luggage. Although the underlying technologies are the same, the devices and services offered are substantially different.

LugLoc
This is a slim device that sells for $59.99 each or slightly less when multiple units are purchased. Travelers first charge the device using a mini-USB port much like those found on many mobile phones. Customers then register their device online or through the company’s mobile app, and purchase individual traces at prices that range from $3 for a single trace to $30 for 30 traces. The idea is that travelers will only need to use a trace when their bag fails to arrive.

LugLoc is small, rechargeable, and features a simple on/off switch.

LugLoc is small, rechargeable, and features a simple on/off switch.

My experiences
I charged up my LugLoc device and their app quickly located my bag in my neighborhood, although it placed it a few blocks from my house. So clearly, these services are of more use telling you where in the world your bag is, rather than finding it within an airport.

About 10 days after I charged it up, I received an automated email telling me that the device was down to a 10% charge, which is far less than the 40 days of battery life that the company estimates. Nevertheless, I had failed to turn it off at my destination, and it was easy enough to recharge the device using the chargers I had with me for my mobile devices. LugLoc says that battery life varies depending on many factors, much like it does with mobile phones that use the same technology. Furthermore, they’re also planning to revise their web site and mobile app in the next few weeks (at the moment, tracking requests are only available through their mobile apps, not their website).

TrakDot
The TracDot device is a bit smaller but thicker than LugLoc, and it takes two AA sized standard batteries. It also has just a single button and indicator light, which serves as its on/off switch. It sells for $49.99 and includes unlimited tracking for the first year, and $19.99 per year afterwards. Like LugLoc, you register the device and insert it in your luggage. In addition to their mobile apps, you can also see a history of the device’s location using their website.

Trakdot is also very small, but uses 2 AA sized batteries and has a single button and light.

Trakdot is also very small, but uses 2 AA sized batteries and has a single button and light.

My experiences
The device worked for me at home, and registered its location at the Chicago O’Hare airport when I changed planes there, but it was never tracked at my final destination in Italy. When I returned, their support concluded my unit was defective and was sending me a new one, but not in time for me to test it further. Like the LugLoc unit, I also found that the TrakDot batteries were draining faster than estimated, but in this case, the company recommends only replacing them with disposable Duracell alkaline batteries, not rechargeable lithium.

Conclusions

Personally, I like the LugLoc device better than the TrakDot, due to its rechargeable battery, on/off switch, and multiple status lights. On the other hand, I prefer the TrakDot pricing plan (which includes unlimited tracking for a single price) as well as their website, although LugLoc will have a new site shortly.

The LugLoc pricing model seems to be designed around those who travel infrequently or just prefer to pay for the service only when their bag goes missing. On the other hand, TrakDot users have the advantage of always knowing if their luggage made it on the plane as soon as it lands, rather than paying a fee every time they want to know where their luggage is. Fortunately, the LugLoc representative I spoke with indicated that they may offer different pricing options in the future, and both companies seem to be trying to find the best pricing model for these new products.

At this time, I would recommend choosing the pricing model that best fits your travel needs, while I do give the LugLoc device an edge in usability.

Okoban luggage tags

Okoban was developed in Japan, and is now available worldwide to track lost items and return them to their owners. Companies sell tags and stickers with unique Okoban ID codes, which travelers register at the Okoban site. When lost bags are found, people can go to the Okoban site and report them found, which facilitates the items being returned to their owners. Okoban is also part of the SITA/IATA WorldTracer program, which is a global system that the airlines use for tracking lost luggage.

Okoban is worldwide system for tracking luggage and other lost possessions.

Okoban is worldwide system for tracking luggage and other lost possessions.

This system reminds me of the now defunct TrackItBack program, which some will remember fondly from when US Airways once offered enough miles for purchasing it that it was essentially a way to buy miles at a great price. Okoban differs from TrackItBack in that it is a standard clearinghouse system used by dozens of companies, rather than just a single proprietary program. In addition, the Okoban system does not feature any type of finder’s reward program, which was a feature of the old TrackItBack program.

Tips for avoiding lost luggage, and dealing with it when it happens.

Of course, rather than just helping you find your lost luggage, you would probably rather take some steps to avoid losing it in the first place. Here are a few proven techniques to help avoid lost luggage, and to minimize the hassle when it does happen:

1. Pack like your luggage will be lost. That means don’t pack anything that the airlines won’t reimburse you for (medications, keys, electronics, jewelry, etc), and carry on enough to ensure that you can carry on with your trip for a day or two if your bag goes missing.

2. Remove old tags. Despite the presence of bar codes, a lot of the baggage handling process relies on handlers visually reading your bag tags and routing your bags by hand. If you have your old tags on, your bag could easily be mis-routed.

3. Always tag your bags with multiple forms of ID. Identification tags have a way of being dislodged from your luggage, and it’s prudent to have at least one backup. I like to use a standard luggage tag along with an address label, and perhaps a business card inside the luggage as well.

4. Take pictures of your bags. The first thing you’ll be asked when you file a missing baggage report is for a description of your bags. Rather than work from memory, snap a picture with your smartphone before you leave. Finally, having pictures of your bag and its contents can help you to obtain compensation from the airlines and any credit cards you may have used to charge your flights, as most offer some form of lost luggage compensation.

Always make sure your bag is properly tagged and is tagged several copies of your contact information.

Always make sure your bag is properly tagged, and include several copies of your contact information. (Image courtesy of ShutterStock)

5. Double check the airline baggage tag. Airline check-in agents have been known to add the wrong bag. For example, if you have a long layover en route to your final destination, an agent may accidentally tag it to your stop instead of your final destination. You have a moment to catch these mistakes before your bags are put on the belt, but only if you pay attention.

6. If your luggage is lost or damaged, immediately file a claim. A common problem is that travelers don’t file luggage claims in a timely manner. If there is a problem with your luggage, always get something in writing from the baggage service office before you leave the airport. If the office is closed, as it often is with late arriving flights, be sure to document that it was closed (take a picture), and call the airline for instructions before leaving the airport.

7. Demand any bag fees back. The only thing worse than having an airline lose your bag is paying for the privilege. If you checked in on time and your bag didn’t make the flight, make sure to request reimbursement for any bag fees you paid.

8. Get reimbursed from your credit card. Most reward credit cards include some kind of insurance for lost or delayed baggage, but you have to meet their terms. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred includes $3,000 of lost luggage coverage, per insured person, and must be filed within 20 days of the loss. Unfortunately, this type of coverage is only applicable when cardholders pay for their tickets with their cards, which excludes award travel.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Matthew K

    I think one piece of lost bag insurance that’s worth noting is that with most credit cards, you’ll only receive reimbursement if the bag is permanently “lost”, rather than just delayed for a period of 24-48 hours.

    TPG, would be great if you could compare different credit card insurance options for delayed bags, as that is much more common, and my experience with several cards has been poor.

  • wesmaniam

    I have had the tracdot since new. The batteries last about 24 hours in my experience and the tracdot reports its location only about 60% of the time in my experience. I just flew to italy last week. It reported its location at the plane change in Frankfurt but not when we landed in Rome. On the return it reported from Toronto and SFO. I like the LugLoc method of finding location. I would prefer to be able to query it as needed to see where the bag is instead of relying on the tracdot to sometimes report it as it sees fit.

  • Andres williamas

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  • Scott

    I have Okoban metal luggage tags and stickers on my passport. But I have never lost either. I’d like to hear the experiences of those who use Okoban and have had to report something as lost. Do you get it back?

  • cotoneloc

    I’m surprised that these are not regulated like other two way communication devices.

  • Daniel

    What if you pay the taxes/fees for an award flight with a Chase SP? Will they lost baggage protection cover you?

  • Voice of Reason

    Are there any credit cards or points/miles programs that offer baggage insurance when you book an award flight?

  • http://www.jasonsteele.com/ Jason Steele

    Both devices comply with all FAA and FCC regulations. They are essentially cell phone chips that turn themselves off during flight.

  • http://www.jasonsteele.com/ Jason Steele

    Actually Chase will apply baggage delay and loss coverage when all the miles or reward points were accumulated from a rewards program sponsored by chase or its affiliates. So it appears that you could apply this coverage to a UA or SWA award or any other award flight you used Ultimate Rewards points for.

  • cotoneloc

    How do they do that? Timer? Air pressure?

  • http://www.jasonsteele.com/ Jason Steele

    Speed

  • cotoneloc

    Very cool…Thanks for the info!

  • Kent C

    On check in if you miss or can’t get a good look at the tag they put on your luggage make sure to look at the baggage receipts/stickers they staple or include with your ticket envelope, make sure the destination is correct and COUNT them. Our family had 5 items to check in, but before walking away I counted 4 baggage stickers. Told lady, she said no way. She counted, quickly ran to my childs car seat which WAS tagged but tagged with the prior customers destination of Australia. We were going to Hawaii. She was obviously embarassed and fixed the situation. The blogger is right. You have just a few moments to make sure your bags are tagged and tagged correctly. I would assume the vast majority of bags are lost because of wrong tags not because of theft so you can reduce your risk substantially just by paying attention to the agent and what they are doing. By the way I don’t travel a lot but I’ve caught 2 other agents mistagging my bags in the past as well. Haven’t lost a bag yet, knock on wood.

  • Marlene

    Assuming bags are lost because of incorrect tags would be inaccurate. On my way back from India through Paris on an $8,000 business class ticket with a priority marked correctly tagged bag and an 8 hour layover in Paris, my bag went to Lima instead of Detroit. Mishandling is the culprit in many cases. I got my bag back four days later, but only because I followed up with Air France A LOT. Doubt anything here would have been reliable enough to help. And yes, my bag was still correctly tagged and marked priority when it finally made its way back to me.

  • http://www.lmfao.sssr/ Willie The Shake Speare

    I know the exact reason why bags are lost or mis-handled:

    - 100% airlines fault, 100% of the time.

  • Kiwi

    I travel for a living over 100 flights a year, the new version of trakdot works well. With +95% of the time telling me when I land that my luggage is also on the plane.
    The original one did not work very well, so they sent me a new one free of charge. They have now offered me lifetime tracking for about $30.
    It does go though batteries in about a week, so I just carry spare AA batteries, when you land it will either message your cell phone or send you an email or both. With a battery status given in the message, so you know when to replace them. I also notice that when I get close to cell sites at airports it will also message you, as I have forgotten to turn it off while driving to other airports. I recommend this.

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