lost suitcase at the airport
Travel Tips

What to Do If Your Luggage is Lost or Delayed



November 21, 2023

5 min read

Table of Contents

Travel is messy this summer, and that mess extends to luggage handling. In late June, photos began circulating of hundreds of suitcases stuck in transit at Heathrow airport. And the problem isn’t just there; airports all over are seeing similar issues due to staffing shortages and delayed flights.

If there was ever a time to go carryon only, this summer is it. If you absolutely have to check a bag, here’s what you need to know.

Track your checked bags

Every checked bag is tracked by the airline and scanned when it’s taken on and off each flight. Many airlines allow you to see the status of your bags in their apps, which can help give you peace of mind that your bag is on the flight with you—or at least give you insight into your bag’s location should it get delayed.

Another popular option is AirTags, which connect with your iPad, iPhone, Mac or Apple Watch so you can track the tag’s location.

Keep your receipts for items you purchase while your bag is lost

If your bag is lost or delayed, the first thing you need to do is file a report with the airline. If you buy anything to get you through the days without your luggage—from a new swimsuit to toothpaste—keep the receipts. You may need these to get reimbursed.

Know how much cash you're entitled to for a lost of delayed bag

According to the US Department of Transportation: “Airlines are required to compensate passengers for reasonable, verifiable, and actual incidental expenses that they may incur while their bags are delayed, subject to the maximum liability limits.” For example, Delta defines “reasonable” as $50 per day for the first five days, but says this is not a hard limit.

Airlines will consider your bag officially lost after a certain number of days, which could be as little as three or five, or as much as fourteen. Once the bag is declared lost, you’re entitled to more money (minus what you’ve already been paid for any immediate expenses).

For domestic flights, the maximum liability limit allowed by the regulation is $3,800, but airlines can set their own limit lower than that if they want. For example, United will reimburse you up to $1,500 without requiring any documentation, but if you want more—up to $3,500—you’ll need to provide receipts.

For international flights, the limit set by the regulation is $1,780, though airlines can pay more if they choose to. Assistive devices like wheelchairs and prosthetic devices have their own set of rules and higher limitation limits.

Check your credit card's delayed or lost luggage benefits

Many credit cards include travel protections in their benefits and may offer reimbursement for lost or delayed luggage. This coverage is generally meant to be used to supplement what’s provided by the airline, and of course, is subject to liability limits as well. To apply, the flight must have been booked with that credit card, so check your card’s specific conditions to find out what you can claim.

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Published November 21, 2023

Last updated December 21, 2023

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