Earn bonus miles with checked bag guarantees from Delta and Alaska
Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
U.S.-based airlines are constantly investing in their information technology infrastructure, from apps to websites and more. It’s now common to receive an automatic alert telling you what baggage carousel to head to when you arrive. Many airlines will even let you track your bag’s progress from check-in and loading to offloading at your destination. However, just about everyone who’s ever checked a bag has experienced at least one agonizingly long wait for their suitcase to show up at baggage claim.
Two U.S. airlines have policies that try to make the experience a little better. While they can’t guarantee that your bag will arrive in a timely fashion, Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines will both compensate you if it doesn’t. Listen up if you’re flying one of these carriers this summer: You could take home 2,500 bonus miles if your bags take longer than 20 minutes to come out.
Here’s how it works.
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Both Alaska and Delta offer a 20-minute guarantee: If your bags are not at the carousel within 20 minutes of your flight arrival time (see exceptions below), you’ll be entitled to 2,500 miles in compensation. Alaska also offers the option of a $25 discount code for use on future Alaska flights, but since TPG values Alaska miles at 1.8 cents each, you’d be much better off taking the 2,500 miles (worth $45).
Alaska deserves credit for this customer-friendly policy, which has been in place since 2010. Delta rolled out a one-month pilot program in 2015 but quickly made the policy permanent. Each airline has slightly different terms and conditions to be aware of, so let’s look at how those break down.
Related: How to avoid checked baggage fees on major domestic airlines
Delta Air Lines
From a pure process standpoint, Delta’s guarantee is a bit simpler than Alaska’s.
For starters, you can submit the claim online; all you need are your travel details, including your confirmation number. If your bags are late coming out — and Delta’s app can tell you — you’ll visit the claim submission page, enter your information within three days of your flight’s arrival and click “Submit.” If approved, the bonus miles could take up to two weeks to post — though, as you’ll see below, it may be much faster.
As with any perk like this, there’s bound to be some fine print, so here’s what else you need to know about Delta’s 20-minute baggage guarantee:
- It’s only valid on paid flights within the 50 United States and Puerto Rico that are marketed 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.
- Multiple requests for different flights or directions of travel must be submitted separately.
- Oversize items, overweight bags and special items (such as strollers and sports equipment) are not included.
- The time is measured from when Delta opens the door to when 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.
- SkyMiles number must be included on the reservation to be eligible.
- Bonus miles do not count toward status qualification.
- Not valid for those traveling on employee passes of Delta or another airline.
How does this work in practice? TPG editor Andrew Kunesh has used the guarantee twice and found the claim submission process simple and painless. The haul is worth $35.25 based on TPG’s most recent valuations, which is a solid return for just a few minutes of your time.
Related: Your complete guide to the Delta SkyMiles program
Alaska’s process is a bit different. For starters, there’s no online submission process. You must speak to an Alaska baggage agent at the airport within two hours of your flight’s arrival to submit a claim. You also aren’t obligated to select the miles, as a $25 nontransferable voucher (redeemable at AlaskaAir.com) is also an option. If you do select the miles, however, they should post within three days.
You can view the full terms online, but here are the additional things you need to know to take advantage of Alaska’s baggage guarantee:
- Baggage service guarantee is valid on flights operated by Alaska Airlines (flights 0001-1999), Horizon Air (flights 2000-2999) and SkyWest (flights 3300-3499), except for international flights requiring customs clearance and flights between Anchorage and Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
- Offer is not valid for checked items delivered to the odd size/oversize baggage claim area (e.g., checked pets, golf clubs, skis, surfboards, assistive devices, firearms).
- Offer is not valid for non-revenue space-available travelers, including Alaska Airlines employees and dependents, guest pass travelers and employees of other airlines traveling on industry discounted tickets.
- Alaska Airlines reserves the right to suspend the baggage service guarantee in the event of airport baggage system malfunction, severe weather or other conditions out of the airlines’ control that prohibits timely baggage delivery.
- One baggage service guarantee voucher per qualified passenger per flight for one or more checked bags.
Related: Your complete guide to the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program
On the surface, these sound like win-win policies, and they truly are. Either you wait for less than 20 minutes or you walk away with at least $35 worth of airline miles. However, there are a few important reminders so you don’t miss out on compensation:
Start with free bags
The miles you’d receive are generally worth enough to cover a first checked bag fee. However, there are many ways to avoid checked bag fees. If you’re flying either Alaska or Delta (or both) this summer, the best option is to pick up a cobranded credit card before your trip. Here's a couple of options with Alaska and Delta:
- Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card: Cardholders plus up to six other guests on the same reservation can check a bag for free on Alaska-operated flights. The card also comes with a limited time sign-up bonus where you can earn a $100 statement credit, 50,000 bonus miles and Alaska's Famous Companion Fare; from $122 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) with this offer. To qualify, make $2,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.
- Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card: Cardholders plus up to eight other guests on the same reservation can check a bag for free on Delta-operated flights. The card also offers a welcome offer of 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first six months of card membership.
Make sure everyone has an account number
The next thing to do is make sure that everyone you are traveling with signs up for the applicable loyalty program (Alaska Mileage Plan or Delta SkyMiles). Delta’s policy explicitly says that your SkyMiles number must be associated with the reservation to use the guarantee.
While Alaska’s doesn’t, it would be quite hard to try to claim 2,500 miles for an account that doesn’t exist! In fact, a reader learned a similar lesson the hard way when he tried to get his travel companion compensation for a broken toilet — a mistake that wound up costing his friend 30,000 points.
You’re then able to utilize the final strategy …
Check one bag per passenger
If you’re an elite traveler, you may be entitled to multiple free checked bags and assume that it’s easiest to have them both under your name. However, that will prevent your fellow passengers from invoking either carrier’s bag guarantee, since both of them limit the compensation to one offer per passenger. Checking two bags under a single person's name would net your travel party a total of 2,500 miles, even if both bags are later than 20 minutes. Checking each one under an individual passenger would double that amount.
Related: 18 credit cards that get you free checked bags
Start a timer
Delta's and Alaska's policies are based on "20 minutes from when the aircraft door opens". You should start a timer or stopwatch on your phone or watch to be sure you know exactly when 20 minutes is up. If the bags are not rolling out onto the carousel by that point, you know you're eligible for the free miles or voucher. Take the guesswork out of it by simply starting a timer as soon as you see the aircraft door open up.
Checked bags continue to be a booming business for airlines, with U.S.-based carriers collecting almost $5 billion in fees in 2018. But with these guarantees, Delta and Alaska are essentially offering you a refund in the form of miles if your bags take longer than 20 minutes to arrive. Not only are these policies great for travelers (and a serious incentive to check your bag if you can do so for free), but having a clear goal like this makes it easier for airline employees to provide top-rate service when they know they’re working against the clock.
If your checked bags on Delta or Alaska take more than 20 minutes to hit the carousel at baggage claim this summer, be sure to submit a claim. You’ll likely find yourself 2,500 miles richer as a result.
Updated on 4/5/23.