How to Get Lost Luggage Back

This post was unfortunately inspired by Jay’s recent trip to Italy. After 10 days out of the country, he arrived at our home airport only to discover that his checked bag missed the flight. What a welcome home gift, right? Since this was our first experience with lost luggage, we wanted to share what steps you should take if it happens to you and what we learned from this ordeal.


Steps to Get Back Your Lost Luggage:

Step 1 – You’re waiting at the baggage claim and suddenly realize everyone else on your plane has already picked up their bags and gone home. Don’t panic yet!

Step 2 – Panic!! Just kidding, find the nearest airport employee and find out where you need to go to speak with a representative from your airline. Just be aware of your location and don’t leave the area unless absolutely necessary because you might not be able to get back in. Some international baggage claims have extra security and will not allow you back even if you need to talk to an employee.

Step 3 – Explain your situation to the airline employee and give them your checked bag ticket (the small piece of paper typically attached to your boarding pass when you check your bag). File a lost luggage report and ensure you receive a claim/reference number and the airline’s baggage location website. If they can’t find your luggage at the airport, you’ll have to leave. If you are at your destination, see Step 3.a. If you are on your way home, see Step 3.b.

Step 3.a. – Since you’re obviously stuck with no clothes, you’ll need to evaluate your options for a clothing stipend. You can start by asking the airline representative, but since your bag is just delayed at this point, the airline will most likely offer you nothing. At most, you may get a “good will gesture” but it’s not guaranteed. Your best bet is the credit card that was used to book the flight. Call or go online to find that company’s delayed baggage insurance policy (it can also be found in that massive booklet of information you received when you signed up but we all know that gets thrown out right away). The delayed baggage coverage is typically either a per day stipend or a lump sum.

Step 3.b – Go home, complain to whoever will listen and open a bottle of wine to make yourself feel better 🙂

Step 4 – Check your email for updates regarding the status of your claim. They should send you regular updates (United sent an email every six hours).

Step 5 – Wait. You can also check the airline’s baggage locator website for up to date information.

Step 6 – Your baggage has been located! At this point you should receive an email from to find out when it will be delivered to you. This is a legitimate company (and not a spam email like we first thought) that works directly with the airlines to deliver your luggage to your house.

You will be asked where the luggage should be left at your house and whether or not you would like to sign for it when it is delivered. Jay chose not to sign for it and it was delivered in the middle of the night. Not a big deal, but might depend on your neighborhood. However, that option may also get it delivered faster.

(Hopefully won’t be needed) Step 7 – If your baggage is declared lost (typically at least 45 days after you file a claim), research your airline’s lost luggage policy. Airlines may provide reimbursement for each item included in your bag. However, expensive items may not be covered unless you can provide a receipt for the purchase. For example, United requires a receipt for any one item over $100 and will only reimburse up to a total of $3,500.

Luckily, Jay’s bag was located and delivered within two days! However, we’ve read other stories online where it took over 30 days for international trips. Clearly there are a lot of factors involved, but don’t get discouraged if it takes more than a week and know your reimbursement options before your trip.

What We Learned:

  • Keep that luggage claim ticket (small piece of paper) that they give you when you check your bag. This is vital to starting the search for your baggage.
  • Be smart about packing your carry-on. Include a change of clothes, medication, cell phone charger, etc.
  • Know your credit card policy before you leave. Depending on the credit card used to book the flight, you may be entitled to clothing stipends if your luggage is delayed on the way to your destination (known as “delayed bag insurance”).
  • Remember (or take a picture of) the color, brand name and any distinctive features of your luggage. This may help the location process if this information is provided on the lost luggage report.
  • Declare expensive items – Airlines may only reimburse you for lost luggage up to a certain amount unless you declare expensive items at check-in. For example with United, if you have an item worth more than $3,500 in your checked bag, be sure to declare it when you check in. United requires that declared item receipt in order to go above their $3,500 total reimbursement limit.

Have you ever had an airline lose your luggage? Tell us about your experience and anything you learned along the way.

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