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Lost luggage can put a damper on your trip, so today TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele offers tips on how to make sure your bags stay with you.
As long as airlines have carried bags, they have lost them. And while there’s little you can do once you’ve surrendered your luggage, there are actually many useful steps you can take beforehand to help prevent your bags from being lost in the first place. In this post I’ll look at effective ways to keep your bag from being lost, and discuss what you should do in the unfortunate (but almost inevitable) event that it happens.
Of course, instead of just making it easier to find your lost luggage, you’d rather take some steps to avoid losing altogether. Here are a few proven techniques to help avoid lost luggage, and to minimize the hassle when it does happen:
1. Assume your luggage will be lost
Many people go into a panic when they find that their luggage is missing. What will they do without their car keys, medications, warm clothing, etc? The chances of having your bag go missing may not be large, but you should always assume that it can happen. And when you pack, do so with that exact possibility in mind. That means you shouldn’t check anything that can’t be replaced, or that you won’t be reimbursed for when it goes missing. For example, every airline contract of carriage absolves them from liability for lost jewelry, electronics, art work, and even furs.
Furthermore, you should include in your carry-on bags anything essential that you’ll need at your destination in case your checked bag is delayed or lost. That means carrying on some warm clothing if you’re flying to a cold weather destination, or perhaps a bathing suit if you’re going to the beach. Either way, think about what your backup plan will be if your bag doesn’t arrive with you, and pack your carry-on accordingly. If you’re on a domestic trip to a major city, anything you need should be close at hand, so your backup plan can be as simple as purchasing replacement items at a local department store. However, if your destination is a small, remote island, you probably need to bring more in your carry-on.
Another strategy for couples and families traveling with multiple checked bags is to cross pack a little bit. This means that no individual should have all of his or her belongings in a single bag. That way if one bag is lost, you can all share the misery a little instead of one person suffering a lot.
2. Prepare your bag for the journey
First, make sure your bag is labeled with at least two forms of identification. I use two baggage tags, and have a sticker or two with my contact information affixed to the outside of the bag. It’s also important to remove any old airline baggage tags, as you don’t want your bag to be accidentally re-routed to your previous destination (it can happen). It’s also smart to put some identification inside the bag as well, such as a business card.
Another good idea is to snap a few pictures of your bag with your mobile phone, so you have something to show baggage agents to help them identify it, should it go missing. This also helps to establish its replacement value should it become lost. And of course, if your bag has a generic appearance, try to add a colorful ribbon or a unique bumper sticker so that it won’t be mistaken for another. I once saw a bag with big letters written next to the handle stating “This is not your bag!” It’s not subtle, but it does the trick.
Once you’re in line to check your bag, make sure to stow or remove any excess handles or straps, as they can get caught in the machinery and possibly contribute to your bag being damaged or lost. Before surrendering your bag, double check that the airline’s baggage tag is correct. Airline check-in agents could affix someone else’s label to your bag, or tag your luggage to the wrong city on your itinerary. My father once had his bag tagged to London, which was only an overnight stopover on the way to his destination. Without examining the tag, he had no way to know that it would be on a carousel in Heathrow, rather than at his final stop.
3. Get to the baggage claim area quickly
There’s always the possibility that your bag could be purposely stolen from the baggage carousel, but more commonly, similar bags are taken on accident. To ensure this doesn’t happen, I like to quickly proceed to baggage claim and watch for my bag coming off the belt.
4. Consider a luggage tracking device. There’s a new generation of luggage tracking devices you can use to locate your bag in real time. While this might not actually prevent your bag from being lost, at least it can help you recover your stuff once it’s gone. At the very least, you won’t have to wait for all the bags to come off the carousel if you already know yours isn’t among them. A luggage tracker will also enable you to tell the airline exactly where your bag is, so that it can be retrieved more easily. For more on these options, read my review of two popular devices.
What to do when your bag is missing
1. Immediately file a claim. When your bag is lost, the most important thing is to file a claim with the airline’s baggage service office before leaving the airport. If for any reason the airline’s baggage office isn’t open, then you need to document that fact by taking a picture of it, and then call the airline before leaving the airport. Remember, the claim process has not begun until you have a written copy of the claim that includes both a claim number and a telephone number to follow up.
If your bag is not found, you will then have a deadline (often 30 days) in which to file a claim for reimbursement.
2. Get reimbursed from your credit card. Most travel rewards credit cards include some kind of insurance for lost or delayed baggage, but you have to meet the terms. Most credit cards only offer this coverage when you use your card to pay for your tickets, which can exclude award travel. However, there is one major exception. With Chase cards, there’s a provision that specifically includes award travel so long as “all of the miles or Rewards points were accumulated from a Rewards program sponsored by Chase Bank.”
As with the airlines, claims for lost or delayed baggage have to be filed within the time frame specified in the card’s statement of benefits. For example, Chase cards give you 20 days to file a claim.
3. Demand any bag fees back. According to DOT rules, airlines must refund any bag fees paid if your bags are permanently lost. Although strictly speaking this rule doesn’t apply if your bag is eventually returned, I think you have a pretty strong case if your bag doesn’t arrive on the same flight, and it can’t hurt to ask.
What are your tips for preventing lost luggage?