Our luggage was stolen in Hawaii — here’s how we negotiated a resolution with the hotel
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Sometimes vacations do not go as planned. Years ago, for our 10th wedding anniversary, we splurged on a Hawaii vacation. We were just miles and points beginners at that point so we paid cash -- a hefty sum at that -- for flights and a weeklong Hawaiian cruise capped off with a post-voyage stay at a luxury hotel on Oahu.
Everything during the cruise was fantastic -- from our suite aboard the ship with its own private Jacuzzi on the balcony to a perfect table at the Feast at Lele luau on Maui to an incredible sunset Champagne cruise along Kauai's famed Napali Coast.
Everything was perfect until our post-cruise hotel stay when the property we were staying at gave our luggage to someone else -- someone who turned out to be a thief. We were out thousands of dollars' worth of laptop computers, camera gear, car keys, our favorite clothes and brand-new luggage. Not to mention all the photos of our incredible anniversary trip were gone.
Here's how we were made whole after the loss without having trip insurance or a credit card offering travel protections. If you're ever in a similar situation, try these tactics to reach a resolution with your hotel.
How did a thief get our luggage?
Before I offer some tips for dealing with this sort of nightmare scenario, let me explain a bit more about how our luggage was stolen at the hotel.
We arrived slightly after official check-in but our room was not quite yet ready -- the housekeeper was just finishing up. We had prebooked a catamaran cruise from the hotel's beach, which was about to begin in 15 or 20 minutes. We just wanted to get to the room to drop off our things. The check-in clerk said that wouldn't work but we could give our luggage to the porter who would take it to our room in just a few minutes; the bags would be waiting for us after our activity. OK. That sounded reasonable and we agreed.
Afterward, we swung by the check-in desk, got our key and headed to the room. When we got there, our bags were nowhere to be found. We called down to the desk and the clerk we dealt with sounded very confused. She didn't quite believe that our bags weren't in the room and asked us to check again. Um. Nope. No bags in the room. She said she'd check with the porter and call right back. Five minutes went by. Then 10. Then 20. I called the desk again and that's when we were invited to come to reception to talk with the manager.
When we arrived at the front desk, we were escorted to the manager's office and were informed that the porter "accidentally" put our bags on a shuttle going to the airport. OK. Not the end of the world. But, the hotel was not able to get in contact with the driver and as the hours went on, it was clear: Our luggage was gone.
Spoiler alert: Just buy trip insurance
While you'll see that things worked out for us in the end, it was stressful and took some maneuvering with hotel management and corporate to get them to cover our losses. We were lucky they did as they were not legally obligated to do so. Depending on where you're traveling when a theft occurs, you'll have to deal with different laws and possible language barriers.
Buying an affordable trip insurance policy and/or using a credit card with travel protections is the smartest way to avoid any problems. If your bags are stolen, a call to the insurance agency to kick-start the claim process is all you'll need to do. After our Oahu experience, we made the purchase of trip insurance a normal part of our vacation planning.
But, we also use credit cards now that offer a variety of benefits like travel insurance. Look to cards like Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express if you're looking for a card with built-in travel protections.
Learn more about trip insurance by reading these posts:
- The best travel insurance policies and providers
- When to buy travel insurance versus when to rely on credit card protections
- Is credit card travel insurance sufficient on its own?
- Why I buy travel insurance
Be proactive and demand action
If you find yourself in a situation like we did -- having our belongings stolen at a hotel -- and don't have any trip insurance, you can try the steps we took to get restitution.
As we sat in the hotel manager's office, the details we were told just didn't add up:
- How did our luggage get from a cart in the lobby back to the porte-cochere?
- If our bags were "accidentally" put on an airport shuttle, why couldn't the hotel get in touch with the driver? Everyone has a cellphone.
- Once the driver arrived at the airport and the bags weren't claimed by any of the passengers, why hadn't he called the hotel to alert them of the slip-up?
We didn't have much time to solve this problem since we were flying home in mere hours. We had to be our own advocates and pressed for more information. We demanded to talk to the head of security and see the surveillance video from the front of the hotel. At this point, the head of security called the police but we got the distinct impression this was for the hotel's benefit more than ours.
Feeling victimized is stressful but stay calm
Being the victim of theft is upsetting -- whether someone lifted your wallet, grabbed your smartphone or took all of your luggage. It's easy to feel overwhelmed, get angry and raise your voice. None of those things will help solve the problem. When you feel your blood pressure rising and some expletives on your tongue, take a deep breath.
The hotel will naturally try to protect itself in a situation in which you've been victimized. The hotel manager's best interest and yours may be at odds. But, people generally want to help and no hotel wants bad publicity after an incident. The hotel has a big incentive to solve your problem.
Explain what you need
If you find yourself in a situation like this, speak your concerns clearly to the manager and/or head of security. My husband and I were missing our laptops, thousands of dollars of pro camera gear and more. We made it clear that we would hold the hotel responsible to make us whole on that front.
But, our immediate concern was: "What are we going to wear on the plane as we head home?" All we had were the clothes we were wearing (T-shirts and shorts over swimsuits) and, luckily, our wallets. But, we were flying back to the East Coast where temperatures were a chilly 40 degrees. We needed warmer clothes. We asked for a credit in the hotel boutique so we could get appropriate outfits. The manager declined (likely because the boutique wasn't directly managed by the hotel) but he sent his assistant to the mall to pick up some hoodies and jeans for us at Macy's.
Consult your packing list
One thing that was on our side was the fact that I had a very detailed list of everything that was in our luggage. That's because I'm an obsessive list-maker and I write down everything I want to pack and then check it off the list if it makes it into the suitcase. When our suitcases were stolen, I called home and asked our dog sitter to fax me the list. Since this was a special trip, we had purchased plenty of new things -- from clothes to a camera lens to the suitcases themselves. I had all those receipts, which would come in handy later when we filed a claim with the hotel's insurance company.
A packing list and receipts for anything new will be useful if you have to make a claim on any trip insurance policy you purchased.
Related: 6 things I do before every trip
File a police report
If your loss was significant, or you aren't confident you'll be able to amicably resolve the issue directly with the hotel, file a police report as soon as you can. We filed a police report while we were still on Oahu and it helped to go home with the name of an actual person we could contact later throughout the investigation.
Take your complaint up with corporate
We knew we'd have to stand our ground in this situation when the hotel went ahead and charged us for the stay upon checkout. Yes, they really did. So, I stood at the front desk and made the clerk listen to me as I called American Express to contest said charge. The Amex rep couldn't quite believe that the hotel had the gall to charge us due to what had transpired and I couldn't either.
As soon as we got home, we escalated our issue with the hotel's corporate office. I emailed a short but detailed description of the problem and the resolution we were looking for (replacement cost of what was stolen). I also left voicemail messages for key individuals including the regional manager (the names of whom I found on LinkedIn) as well as the vice president of public relations.
File any insurance claim promptly
Within a day of our complaint to corporate, I received a call from a rep from the hotel's insurance agency and he provided me with the forms we'd need to fill out. I listed everything that was stolen -- from the suitcases to the clothes inside to the camera gear and laptops.
I can bet that the insurance agent had never seen such a complete insurance claim that was backed up by receipts for just about every item. It pays to be organized.
We were reimbursed for everything that was stolen. The check was several thousands of dollars.
Follow-up with the police
Even though we were made whole from our loss by the hotel's insurance company, we still wanted the police to track down the thief. We actually found the shuttle bus driver trying to sell our camera gear and laptops on eBay. With the seller's eBay profile, we were able to find some of his social media profiles, pictures of him and even his mother's address. We provided that information to the Oahu police and they were able to track the individual down and apprehend him. All we wanted was the chip from our camera so we could have our anniversary vacation memories but that was not to be.
If you're the victim of a crime at a hotel and you feel the property is culpable for the situation, be your own advocate. Demand to talk with the hotel manager or security officer. If you are given the brush-off, reach out to corporate. If the brand has a Twitter presence, send a direct message asking for help. Call the police and get them involved. Stay calm throughout and if you carefully lay out your point of view, it's possible you might be made whole after a hotel theft without having trip insurance or a credit card that offers travel protections.