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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here: Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
Airlines have been raking in fees from checked bags over the last few years, adding up to a whopping $4.1 billion in 2016 alone. For many travelers, checking bags amounts to added hassle to an already stressful traveling experience, and it’s especially frustrating when you have to wait at baggage claim for what seems like an eternity after a long flight. Fortunately, some airlines have started guaranteeing baggage arrival within a set amount of time, and today I want to share my experience invoking one such guarantee on my most recent flight with Delta.
This policy was first implemented back in 2015 for a test period of just over a month, but it was extended indefinitely shortly thereafter. The policy is very straightforward: If your bags don’t arrive at baggage claim within 20 minutes of arrival after a domestic flight, you’re eligible for 2,500 bonus SkyMiles. This bonus is worth $30 based on TPG’s most recent valuations, so if you’ve paid to check a bag (which costs $25), this guarantee essentially offers a refund of that fee in the form of SkyMiles.
Of course, any policy like this does come with several restrictions. You can read all of them on the claim submission page, but here’s an overview:
- You must submit the claim no more than 3 days after your flight’s arrival.
- It’s only valid on paid flights within the 50 United States and Puerto Rico that are marketing and operated by Delta and Delta Connection (though codeshare flights are eligible if the last flight of the itinerary is marketed and operated by Delta).
- You’re only allowed one request for each direction of travel, regardless of how many bags you check.
- Oversize items, overweight bags and special items are not included.
- The time is measured from the moment Delta opens the door to the moment the bag is delivered to baggage claim.
- Delta can suspend the guarantee for events out of its control, including baggage system malfunction and severe weather.
- The bonus miles could take up to 2 weeks to post, though as you’ll see below, it may be much faster.
The carrier did add a new baggage-tracking feature to its app back in October 2016, so this ideally provides transparency for the status of your bag from the moment it leaves your hands to the moment it appears on the belt at baggage claim. If more than 20 minutes elapses from the arrival of your flight at the gate to the arrival of your bags, you may have a claim for 2,500 SkyMiles.
My Recent Experience
Last month, my wife, my daughter (Evy) and I were traveling back from a family trip to Banff and Glacier National Park on Delta, with a one-stop itinerary from Kalispell (FCA) to Orlando (MCO) via Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP). We were gone for over a week and thus checked two bags plus Evy’s travel car seat, and since I no longer hold Delta Medallion status, we forked over $50 for the privilege.
We had an easy connection in Minneapolis and actually landed early in Orlando, a nice way to wrap up the vacation:
Despite us having seats near the back of the plane and taking what seemed like an eternity to deplane, our bags were not there when we got to baggage claim, and it appeared that everyone else on the flight was in the same boat. After roughly 30 minutes, the belt finally started up, and I watched carefully for our bags to appear. The first one appeared at 5:40pm, 33 minutes after our arrival, and our second bag and car seat both came through at 5:42pm, 35 minutes late. While slightly annoyed at the mild inconvenience, I was also excited to test out Delta’s guarantee. How much would I need to fight to earn the 2,500 miles?
As soon as we retrieved our car and got on the road, I pulled out my hotspot, booted up my computer and launched Delta’s baggage guarantee site. From that page, I entered in the required information and then clicked Submit:
As I waited for the next page to load, I was expecting a confirmation message indicating that Delta would review my request and post the miles within 2 weeks, per the terms and conditions of the bag guarantee. Instead, I was greeted with the following:
Less than an hour after retrieving my bag from baggage claim and filling out the online form, I was being told that the claim had been immediately approved. Incredulous, I quickly jumped over to my account activity, and sure enough, there they were:
What’s especially incredible is that these miles actually posted before those from the flight itself!
Since my wife had also checked a bag, I went ahead and submitted a second claim with her SkyMiles information and received the same confirmation message. The miles also posted to her account immediately.
Interested to see if the system truly tracked things by passenger, I decided to see if I could score a third haul of 2,500 miles for my daughter, who didn’t have any checked baggage associated with her name. Immediately after clicking Submit, I received the following message:
This is an important distinction to note, as a passenger is only entitled to the bonus miles if there is a bag associated with his or her name. In addition, the 2,500 miles are per passenger, not per bag. As a result, if you’re traveling with friends or family members, it’s best to have each person check his or her bag independently, as each one will have a claim if the bags are late in arriving.
How to Get Free Bags on Delta
One of the most interesting things about this policy is that it applies to all passengers, not just those who pay to check a bag. You can avoid these fees in a number of ways. For example, if you hold Medallion status you’re allowed to bring at least one bag for free on all Delta-operated flights, and if you’re traveling in first class or Delta One, your allowance is even higher (check out Delta’s checked baggage page for full details). You can also enjoy free checked bags by applying for one of Delta’s co-branded credit cards, including the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, which waives the first checked bag fee for you and up to 8 travel companions on the same reservation. In all of these cases, you should still be eligible for the 2,500 bonus miles, as long as you meet the terms and conditions specified above.
Checking bags can be an additional hassle when you take to the skies, as it can increase your time at the airport both at the front and back end of a flight. It’s also risky when you consider the significant inconvenience of an airline mishandling your luggage. That’s why it was great to see Delta follow Alaska’s lead in instituting a 20-minute baggage guarantee a couple of years ago. Based on my recent experience, the process is incredibly easy, as both my wife and I are now 2,500 SkyMiles richer after just a few seconds of work.
There’s no debating that the SkyMiles program has its problems, but this is one area where it shines. If you have an upcoming trip on Delta that includes checked bags, be sure to keep an eye on how long it takes for your bags to arrive. Your next vacation could be closer than you realize.
What are your experiences with Delta’s baggage guarantee?
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