Don’t check your bag until you read this — 7 tips to help keep an airline from losing your luggage
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Perhaps you’ve seen the images already: warehouses full of checked luggage. Airport check-in areas packed with bags that haven’t been processed. Baggage mountains that resemble the Rockies in their staggering scope.
Waylaid checked luggage has become a key piece of this summer’s travel woes affecting airlines and airports (though realistically, things weren’t so great pre-Memorial Day, either).
According to the Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Reports, seven out of every 1,000 bags handled were marked as lost baggage in the first quarter of 2022. That number jumps to nine bags per 1,000 if you’re flying American Airlines.
When we first brought up this topic at a recent TPG staff meeting there was only one solution that made sense: Don’t check your bags.
While that’s solid advice, there are obviously times when traveling with only a carry on just isn’t possible. This is especially true if you’re taking a long vacation, carrying gear for specialty trips or are heading to events with dressy clothes that you prefer not to end up looking like a crushed bag of chips.
For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
So we reassessed. Instead of trying to figure out what to do once the airline loses your luggage, we looked into what travelers can do to reduce the chance their checked luggage will goes astray in the first place.
An important note, though: Never check anything that you can’t live without. This includes car keys, glasses or medicine. Also, leave your most precious items at home to avoid possible heartbreak.
With that, here are our tips:
Prep your bag in advance
Take a few minutes before you head to the airport to remove all existing labels and tags from your previous trips. We’re talking destination bag tags as well as those little bar code stickers that get put on your suitcase.
You don’t want to have any confusion about where your bag is headed on your current trip, so make sure all of those old codes are gone.
Then put your name and contact information pretty much everywhere. Add a baggage tag on the outside with your name and phone number, plus one inside in case that one falls off or gets lost.
TPG senior editor Benét Wilson also slips her business cards into the pockets of her bags. Additionally, executive editor Scott Mayerowitz recommends printing out your boarding pass and putting it inside your suitcase for extra validation.
Several TPGers, myself included, photograph both the outside of the checked suitcase and the inside with its contents for future identification purposes.
Get to the airport early
Want your bag to arrive when you do? Do not be the person checking your bag as the doors to your flight close. Yes, they may say you can check a bag up to 30 minutes before departure. However, if there’s a way to push back early and your bag is late, they’re not going to wait for it.
But don’t check your bag too early
To clarify, we’re not talking about problems checking a bag in the three hours pre-departure that the airlines currently recommend (and a benchmark that you should follow for international flights).
This is more of an issue of showing up four to six hours pre-departure to check in, says TPG senior writer Katie Genter. That’s when, she says, luggage might go into a holding area instead of sorted into the area for your flight, adding an unintended in-airport layover for your baggage that could lead to issues.
Keep an eye on the printer
When it comes time to check your bag, keep an eye on the tags that are printing.
Does it have the right airport and code? Your correct name and frequent flyer number? (This is helpful to keep track of your bags on airline apps.) Is the barcode clear or smudged? (If it doesn’t look crisp, have them print it again.) If you qualify for elite and priority tags, make sure they’re added to your bags as well.
Watch your bag go on its way
After you’ve confirmed that the agent correctly tagged your bag, don’t walk away quite yet. Stay and watch to make sure your luggage is put on the conveyor belt or added to the checked bags cart (this is important for curb checking where available, too).
Add an electronic tag and follow on the app
This is a great time to utilize technology. TPGers are big fans of Apple AirTags to keep an eye on the progress of their suitcases.
There are a number of other trackers on the market, too, including LugLoc and Trakdot. They all have some minor operating differences. However, ultimately all allow you to keep track of your luggage via Bluetooth or GSM tracking technology on your phone.
I also recommend downloading your carrier’s app since most of the large airlines now offer digital luggage receipts and bag tracking within their apps .
Hold on to your receipts
Finally, hold on to those baggage receipts the agent hands you. If something does awry, you’ll need them as proof. It will also help you get compensation from the airline for any issues.
For additional advice on mishandled, lost or damaged baggage, check out these TPG stories:
- What to do when your luggage is delayed or lost by an airline
- What to do if an airline damages your luggage
- Carry-on vs. checked bags: Which is the better choice?
- What it’s really like to use Apple’s new AirTags to track your luggage
- Which credit cards cover baggage delays?
Featured photo by Jonas Walzberg/Picture Alliance/Getty Images.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card account anniversary. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy Bonus Points after spending $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 8/31/22.
- 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy™ program.
- 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
- 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
- Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) at a participating hotel. Certain hotels have resort fees.
- Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
- Terms apply.
- See Rates & Fees