My Luggage Didn’t Arrive. Now what? What To Do If Luggage Is Lost

Recently, we experienced lost luggage while traveling to New York City from Dallas. The airline eventually found our bag after 2 days but we had packed our essentials in the delayed luggage. What we found is that neither the airline workers in person nor ones over the phone were helpful in the process. We had to figure it out as we went, after calling the airline’s customer service multiple times.

We also checked online for information but found many sources to be lacking. So we wanted to put together a comprehensive guide on what you need to know when your luggage is lost or doesn’t show up at the baggage claim belt. We will cover the following:

  1. What to you do if your luggage doesn’t arrive
  2. How airlines handle delayed arrival of suitcases
  3. How to track your lost luggage status
  4. What expense you can be reimbursed for delayed luggage
  5. Where to submit your lost baggage reimbursement
  6. What to do if the airline reimbursement is less than actual expenses

What do you do if your luggage doesn’t arrive?

After waiting for all the luggage to pass several times and you still haven’t found your bag, go to your airline’s luggage office. Look for a sign for lost luggage. It is usually a small office with a counter or two. They are normally located on the same floor as the baggage claim.

If the line is too long and you’re in a rush to get to your destination, ask for the paper report. It is normally called a “Manual Baggage Report” for Southwest airlines but other airlines will have a similar form. You will fill out your contact information, this includes

  • Permanent mailing address
  • Temporary mailing address
  • Email
  • Phone number
  • Flight information
  • Baggage information.

Then hand in the form and make sure to grab a copy. The representative should have a File Number filled out for you. Make sure you receive a confirmation email within the next couple of hours with the airline’s Report Receipt. This is critical because it will have your claim number.

The claim number is a combination of letters and numbers, making up 13 characters. You will need this claim number whenever you speak with a representative, check the status of your luggage, and when you submit documents for reimbursement.

How airlines handle delayed arrival of suitcases

The first step is to create a baggage report. You will go to the airline’s luggage office as we mentioned. Once you follow the steps earlier and the airlines have your contact information, they will call you when they locate your luggage.

The airline will try to deliver your suitcase to the temporary address that you’ve filled out earlier. That could be at your air BnB, hotel, or at your friend’s house. They will give you a timeframe for your baggage delivery. You can opt for them to leave it at the front desk or in front of the house but the liability will be on you.

Alternatively, another option you have is to go back to the airport yourself and pick up your luggage for a small compensation. This amount is small so consider whether it will affect your trip.

How likely is it for your luggage to get lost?

Before you worry that your luggage may be lost, it was most likely mishandled and therefore, delayed. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the percentage of mishandled baggage is less than 0.5% for most airlines. Here is the most updated data for the Air Travel Consumer Report.

RankCarrierNumber of
Bags Enplaned
Number of
Bags Mishandled
of Bags Mishandled
1Allegiant Airlines412,5735530.13%
2Hawaiian Airlines406,9807540.19%
3Frontier Airlines783,3931,9720.25%
4Southwest Airlines8,934,35025,3570.28%
5United Airlines2,604,0717,7030.30%
6Endeavor Air1,067,1683,3770.32%
7Delta Air Lines4,922,11716,1300.33%
8Skywest Airlines2,211,5267,3720.33%
9Horizon Air468,7911,6280.35%
10Spirit Airlines1,078,9183,9360.36%
11PSA Airlines1,121,0854,4180.39%
12Alaska Airlines1,359,0695,4840.40%
13Republic Airways1,051,3554,5070.43%
14Jetblue Airways1,016,0074,5370.45%
15Mesa Airlines583,3212,8760.49%
16American Airlines4,976,44232,0410.64%
17Envoy Air800,2506,3310.79%
Source: DoT July 2021 Air Travel Consumer Report

Envoy Air and American Airlines are the only two airlines that have more than 0.5% of bags that were mishandled. However, the percentage is still less than 1%. That means it is very likely that your luggage will be found.

How to track your lost luggage status

If the airline finds your luggage, you will be given a link with where you can track the status of your luggage. You can also ask for the number of the dispatcher to see a closer timeframe of your luggage arrival.

Your luggage delivery could be delayed due to weather or if the route of your address is last on the list. Usually, the same luggage delivery company may be used for multiple airlines. In that case, there is a long list of delayed luggage that they may have to deliver first.

What expense can I be reimbursed for delayed luggage?

When it comes to reimbursement of your delayed luggage, you may be wondering what you are allowed to buy. If you’re traveling to a destination that is not your hometown, the airline will compensate you for the “reasonable expenses” that you may need.

If you are like us and you had checked in all your toiletries, personal clothes, including socks and underwear, these are considered reasonable expenses. What is considered reasonable may be different depending on your travel circumstances. So if you’re on a business trip and you need your suits, that would be a reasonable expense.

Make sure you keep all your receipts because you will need to submit these.

Airlines are required to compensate you for actual, verifiable expenses up to the maximum liability limit. How much is that? We will go over that next.

How much am I allowed to spend?

While some airlines like to cap your reasonable expenses to just $50 a day, by law they cannot limit you to a number. No matter what the luggage person tells you at the airport or over the phone, know your rights. Because according to the U.S. Department of Transportation,

Airlines are not allowed to set an arbitrary daily amount for interim expenses.  For example, an airline cannot have a policy that they will reimburse a passenger up to only $50 for each day that a passenger’s bag is delayed.

And the truth is, it costs way more for personal items. For example, if you bought a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, deodorant, face wash, body wash, hairbrush, razor, lotion, and contact solutions, that $50 is easily gone. Even if you bought travel-sized, some cities are simply too expensive. If you’re a female, the number of items can be even more with beauty and feminine products.

As mentioned earlier, airlines are required to compensate you for expenses subject to a maximum liability limit. Again, according to the DoT regulations, this amount is $3,800 for domestic flights.

Where do I submit my expenses?

Each airline will have a website where you will go to upload your receipts. Once you log on and you don’t see a place to upload anything, look for a tab for “Communication”. The airline may “close” your case when they deliver your luggage. So they may need to “open” it again for you to submit your expense.

That was the case with us. You have to actively go after your reimbursement. Write your message in the communication tab that you want to be able to upload your receipts. They can then open a “Claims Creation” or something similar.

You will fill out all your personal information again, as well as the flight and baggage information. Then, it will have a place for you to upload all your receipts. It can take up to 30 days from the day you submit this file for a result.

Delayed Baggage Compensation

Delayed baggage compensation will be offered for the amount that you submitted via a check. Southwest delayed baggage compensation also included an option for a voucher of greater monetary value than the amount claimed.

Southwest is known for excellent customer service so this was not a surprise. If you choose a voucher, keep in mind it may have an expiration a year after it is issued. So if you don’t foresee any travels soon, it may not make sense for you.

What to do if the airline reimbursement is less than my actual expenses?

In a rare case that the airline did not reimburse everything that you have spent, you can still try customer service. If they still won’t budge, don’t stress about it. Because certain credit cards will compensate you for delayed or lost luggage if you bought your ticket using that card.

We used our Southwest Priority Credit Card that covers up to $100 per day, up to 3 days for delayed luggage and up to $3,000 for lost luggage. We also often use our Chase Sapphire Preferred that covers up to $100 per day, up to 5 days for delayed luggage, and up to $3,000 for lost luggage.

They do have restrictions for what they will cover. Common items such as toiletries and clothing but may not include contact lenses, eyeglasses, hearing aids, or other documents.

Last Tips For When Your Luggage Is Lost

While trip interruptions caused by lost and delayed luggage can be frustrating, they can happen from time to time. In the extremely rare case that your luggage is lost and never found, you will be reimbursed for the value of the contents in your luggage, subject to a maximum liability limit of $3800 for domestic flights.

However, your possessions will be devalued when the airlines calculate how much your compensation will be. It is important to know what to do and what your rights are so that you can take the best actions for yourself.

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