Lost or delayed baggage: Here’s what to do

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Have you ever waited at the baggage claim to find out your checked bags didn’t make it on the plane? Or even worse, no one can even tell you where they are? It’s frustrating and be quite a hassle to deal with, especially if you’re on a shorter trip or packed a specific outfit for an event like a wedding.

If this happens to you, don’t worry, the world isn’t ending (even if it feels like it is!). There are steps you can take to aid in getting your bags back more quickly. And ways you can get reimbursed for any necessary out-of-pocket expe

nses you might incur due to your delayed or lost luggage. (Hint: Having a credit card that comes with baggage delay coverage helps.)

Here’s what you need to know.

(Photo by fizkes/Shutterstock)

How to report missing baggage

Here’s what you should do when you can’t locate your bag after a flight:

1.  Locate the appropriate baggage desk

You should report your delayed or missing bag with the airline that operated your final flight. The airline with which you took your final flight is responsible for your luggage. But note that if you happen to be flying into a small airport, there might not be separate baggage desks, but one contract agency that handles claims for multiple airlines. Again, just be sure to reference the carrier you flew the last leg of your flight with.

2.  File a report

Let the desk attendant know the situation and provide your copy of the bag tag that you received at check-in. The agent can use that to look up your information in the computer.

When you file the report be sure to include all of the information you can about your bag and your travel plans. You can include things like a detailed description of the luggage, including the color, material, etc. Also, be sure to provide your local address and contact info. And get some type of reference number before leaving the airport.

3.  Ask what the airline will cover

Each airline handles lost and delayed baggage claims a little differently. In fact, sometimes it can even depend on the agent you get. So be sure to always be courteous and patient, and it’s probably more likely you’ll end up with a favorable outcome.

When you file your delayed or lost luggage report, ask the agent what kind of compensation the airline can provide. I’ve been offered a loaner stroller and car seat before when my bags were delayed for 24 hours in the Hong Kong airport.

Regardless of what they can or can’t offer you in the moment, they should be able to explain the general guidelines, including whether or not you’re eligible for a refund of any checked baggage fees you paid.

What to do if your bag is lost or delayed

Stay calm and be polite

The most important tip I can give is to remain calm and courteous. This can get a long way when it comes to dealing with customer service representatives. Heck, they might even throw in an extra amenity kit from first class if they can tell you’re being reasonable about the situation.

Go shopping and keep receipts

Once you have a clear understanding of what kind of expenses will and won’t be reimbursed, head out to purchase those necessary items — and remember to keep your receipts!

Things like toiletries, over the counter medications, and underwear are usually deemed “necessary.” The airlines and credit card companies likely won’t reimburse you for things like a fancy new purse or high-end shoes.

Sure, if your luggage does end up being lost forever, and you had some more expensive items in your bag, you can file a claim to try and get your money back. But if you just need to hold yourself over for a day until your delayed luggage arrives, don’t go crazy with your purchases.

Continue to track your bag

It’s also worth trying to check your bag’s status on the airline’s app (if that’s an option). You may be able to see if you’re luggage is on the way. But if not, continue with filing your claim.

Escalate through other channels (if necessary)

If you’re having a hard time getting updates either online or through the local airport, consider reaching out to the airline through other channels. Contacting customer service through a social channel like Twitter can be incredibly effective. If you have elite status with the airline, it’s worth checking to see if they have a dedicated customer service team to help those with status. They may be able to speed things along.

As a last resort, if it has been 24+ hours without any updates,  you could file a claim with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). This will draw more attention to your case because airlines are constantly trying to keep these sorts of reports to a minimum.

Social media can be a great way to connect with an airline if something goes wrong. (Photo by Worawee Meepian/Shutterstock)

Submit a lost luggage claim

If it’s determined that your bag is truly lost (which usually happens after 14 to 21 days of it being missing), you can file a claim against the airline for lost (rather than delayed) luggage.  This usually allows for higher compensation because there are specific rules in place that govern the issue of lost luggage, like the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations.

You’ll need to submit an entirely new claim, given that the bag is lost as opposed to delayed. And most claim forms will ask you to list all the items that were in your bag, including purchase dates, and they’ll even ask for original purchase receipts if they’re available.

They’ll take this info and come determine the amount of compensation to which you’re entitled.

Airlines that compensate you for lost or delayed baggage

Here’s a look at the delayed baggage policies from each of the major U.S. airlines:


Allows the purchase of “essential and reasonable items you need while your baggage is missing.”


Allows reimbursement “for items you need immediately while away from home without your bags.”


Allows “reasonable expense reimbursement” of generally $50 per day for the first five days.


Allows “reimbursement for expenses” based on acceptable proof of claim.

Also note that both Alaska and Delta offer a baggage guarantee, wherein they’ll give you 2,500 miles if your bags aren’t delivered to the carousel within 20 minutes of arrival. So if you’re flying with either of those airlines be sure to file a baggage guarantee claim, too.

How to use credit card baggage delay coverage

You can get baggage delay coverage when you pay for your trip with cards like:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®
  • World of Hyatt Credit Card
  • Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
  • United℠ Explorer Card

In most cases, your bags must be delayed 6+ hours for the coverage to take effect. The exception is with certain Citi cards, which cover you after 3+ hours.

This coverage will only reimburse you up to a certain limit for necessary purchases, like a phone charger or toiletries, while you wait for your bags to arrive. So if you don’t make any purchases while waiting for your bags, you won’t get any benefit from this coverage.

I recommend reading your card’s terms & conditions to see what’s covered for bag delays.

Ways to reduce the chances of lost or delayed luggage

Pack light

One surefire way to make sure your bag is never delayed or lost is to avoid checking a bag. If you master the techniques of packing light, you’ll be able to just carry a carryon and will avoid the hassle of lost and delayed luggage altogether.

Avoid complicated itineraries

Sometimes this is easier said than done, but if you can take as few stops as possible along the way, you may decrease the odds of your bags getting lost.

You may be able to save a buck by piecing together legs on multiple carriers, but this complicates things when it comes to tracking your bags. And it makes it easier for one airline to blame the other if your luggage goes missing.

Keep certain items in your carry-on

It’s always wise to keep essentials in your carry on. Things like medicines and electronics need not be checked — you don’t want to risk those going missing. So even if you’re checking your luggage, plan to take a carry on with you so you can keep your essentials and valuables with you.

Bottom line

If you’re ever faced dealing with delayed or lost luggage, don’t fret. There are steps you can take to help get your belongings back. And other ways you can get reimbursed for any necessary expenses you may have.

Airlines have policies in place when it comes to delayed and lost luggage. You should be able to discuss with them the process and the compensation available to you. Plus, several credit cards come with baggage delay coverage. This can come in handy if you have to purchase essentials while waiting for your bags to arrive.

Have you ever had to deal with delayed or lost luggage? What was the outcome?

Meghan Hunter is an editor for Million Mile Secrets. She covers points, miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels and general travel. Her work has also appeared in The Points Guy.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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