What it’s really like to use Apple’s new AirTags to track your luggage
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I have a bad habit of losing things.
I often find I’ve misplaced my phone or some other easy-to-lose item (keys, for example) when I need them the most. This usually happens at home or, even worse, in hotel rooms.
It’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved the Find My iPhone feature in iCloud that lets you ping your phone from another device. I also use my Apple Watch to ping my phone (sometimes as frequently as once a week or more) when it inevitably disappears somewhere around the house.
That’s why I’ve tried Bluetooth trackers such as Tile in the past. But I found their apps to be clunky and not super useful given their limited network.
So, I was ecstatic when Apple introduced AirTags at a virtual press event earlier this year. It was all my forgetful self ever wanted in a tracking device. I immediately ordered a four-pack of AirTags right after they went on sale, and have used them on a number of trips to track my luggage, keys and suitcase.
Here’s what it’s actually like to use AirTags on the road.
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Apple’s first tracking device
For some background, AirTag is Apple’s new Bluetooth tracking device. You can attach the device to anything you own and it will passively keep track of its location whenever it pings a nearby Apple device. This can happen with your iPhone or someone else’s iPhone or iPad — There’s no cellular or GPS chip in the AirTag itself.
This works well because of the sheer number of iOS devices out there. So, if you lose your keys on the subway, chances are someone else with an iPhone will be nearby. If your keys are attached to an AirTag, it will ping their location off that iPhone and report the location back to you. No personal data is transmitted in the process.
You can view the location of your AirTags in the Find My app alongside your iOS devices. Each AirTag has a small internal speaker so you can use sound to locate your devices at home, just like using Find My iPhone to play a sound on your phone.
Plus, when you’re close to one of your AirTags, there’s a “Find Nearby” feature you can use to guide you to your AirTag. This is helpful when looking for something lost at home or in a hotel room. It will tell you approximately how close (or far) you are and in what direction you need to walk.
Other NFC-enabled devices can scan your AirTags and see your contact information, too. Think of it as a digital luggage tag. If you lose something, you can mark it as lost in Apple’s Find My app. If someone finds your AirTag, they can simply hold it close to their NFC-enabled device and they’ll get a copy of your contact information.
Marking an AirTag as lost also prevents someone from registering your AirTag with their Apple ID, and you’ll get a notification when someone finds your AirTag and scans it with their mobile device.
Perhaps the best part about AirTags is the price: You can buy one for $29 or a four-pack for $99. The four-pack is the best deal as it’s effectively a buy three, get one free bargain.
Plus, there’s no monthly data fee or data plan to worry about. Instead, you simply leverage the huge network of iOS devices already out in the world to find your lost items. You don’t have to charge your AirTags either since they’re powered by a replaceable coin-cell battery, which should last for roughly a year. You can replace these batteries with standard coin-cell batteries you can buy at your local convenience shop or hardware store.
AirTag design and accessories
AirTags have a super simple design — like a white button you’d see on a stylish winter jacket. The main issue with the design, however, is that there’s no keyring or lanyard attachment, so you’ll probably need accessories.
Apple has its own line of AirTag accessories, including keychains (keyrings) and luggage tags (called loops) you can buy from your local Apple Store. Apple even partnered with Hermès to make ultra-luxurious holders.
Unfortunately, these accessories aren’t cheap. Silicone Apple Loops start at $29 and leather keyrings start at $35. There are some third-party accessories out there as well, but you’ll want to stick with high-quality ones so you don’t lose an AirTag if it’s mounted to the side of your bag (more on that soon).
My experience using AirTags when traveling
I’ve gone on a handful of trips with my AirTags. I always keep one mounted to my backpack, another to my keys and a third to my suitcase. I haven’t lost any of these items yet, but it’s great to have constant access to their location wherever I am in the world.
I am also on #TeamCheckedBags, so having an AirTag on my Away suitcase is great in the event my bags get lost or delayed in transit. Chances are, they’ll ping off of an iOS device at some point, so I can help the airline locate my bag if necessary.
Funny enough, I did happen to lose an AirTag off the side of my backpack on a recent trip to Mexico. I bought a two-pack of cheap AirTags holders from Amazon for just over $12. Unfortunately, the AirTag fell out of the holder somewhere at Oaxaca (OAX) airport.
Its location was pinged back to me for a couple of days before I disabled lost mode and removed it from my Apple account. I can live without one of my four AirTags, and I can’t imagine the cost of having someone go out of their way to ship it back to me in New York (it’s probably more affordable to pay for a $29 replacement).
Of course, I could keep my AirTag inside my backpack and still get good Bluetooth range. But if I actually lose my bag, I’d have a lower chance of being reunited with it as the person who finds my property wouldn’t be able to easily scan my AirTag for my contact info.
That said, this mishap proved to me that AirTags — and the massive network of iOS devices — definitely work for finding lost items. I was able to track my AirTag and see that it was sitting somewhere at Oaxaca airport for a couple of days with no movement. If this happened somewhere closer to home, I would’ve been able to easily retrieve the AirTag.
At $29 per AirTag, it’s easily one of Apple’s most affordable devices. Plus, it can save you a lot of money, too.
Apple’s competiton — mostly Tile — has had a similar product on the market for years now, but they simply don’t have Apple’s huge network of iOS devices that can help you find your lost items. The chance of your lost backpack being next to an iPhone is much higher than a smartphone running the Tile app.
Plus, let’s be honest: Being able to ping your easy-to-lose items (keys, headphones, a small bag) is a huge relief. This has already helped me find my keys a couple of times in my apartment — invaluable when you need to leave your house in a hurry to catch a flight.
Feature photo by Andrew Kunesh / The Points Guy
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