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US-based airlines are constantly investing in their IT 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, and many airlines will even let you track the progress of your bag 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.

As we gear up for the busy summer travel season, two US airlines are continuing their 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 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.

In This Post

The Basics

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 (domestic flights only for Delta), 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 $37.50).

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 though, so let’s take a look at how those break down:

Delta Air Lines

Photo by Patrick T. Fallon
If the Delta ground crew can’t get your bags to the carousel within 20 minutes, you could be 2,500 miles richer this summer. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/The Points Guy)

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 simply 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 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.
  • SkyMiles number must be included on the reservation to be eligible

How does this work in practice? Well TPG Editor Nick Ewen experienced it first-hand in 2017 and was very pleased. Not only was the claim submission process simple and painless, but the 2,500 bonus miles actually posted before the miles from the flight itself! The haul is worth $30 based on TPG’s most recent valuations, which is a solid return for just a few minutes of your time.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines - Kelowna Airport Sunrise (Photo by Darren Murph / TPG)
Both Alaska- and Horizon-operated flights are eligible for the 20-minute bag guarantee. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)

Alaska’s process is a bit different. For starters, there’s no online submission process. To submit a claim, you must speak to an Alaska baggage agent at the airport within two hours of your flight’s arrival. 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 in order 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), with the exception of international flights requiring customs clearance, and flights between Anchorage and Dutch Harbor.
  • Offer is not valid for checked items delivered to the oddsize/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 prohibit timely baggage delivery.
  • One baggage service guarantee voucher per qualified passenger, per flight, for one or more checked bags.

Important Reminders

(Photo by Eric Helgas / The Points Guy)
A card like the Gold Delta Amex can get you a free checked bag, making this guarantee even more valuable. (Photo by Eric Helgas / The Points Guy)

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 $30 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:

  • Alaska Airlines Visa Signature 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 sign-up bonus of 40,000 bonus miles plus Alaska’s Companion Fare from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from just $22) after you make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account.
  • Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express: Cardholders plus up to eight other guests on the same reservation can check a bag for free on Delta-operated flights. The card is also offering a welcome bonus of 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Additionally, earn a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.

Make sure everyone has an account number

The next thing to do is make sure that everyone with whom you are traveling 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, and while Alaska’s doesn’t, it would be quite hard to try to claim 2,500 miles into 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 per passenger. Checking two bags under a single person would net your travel party a total of 2,500 miles, even if both are later than 20 minutes. Checking each one under an individual passenger would double that amount.

Bottom Line

Checked bags continue to be a booming business for airlines, with US-based carriers collecting almost $5 billion in fees in 2018. Delta and Alaska even boosted their fees last fall, but with these guarantees, they’re 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.

Featured image by Brian A. Jackson/Getty Images

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