Tips for minimizing the impact of a lost bag

Losing a bag is one of passengers’ worst nightmares. My parents just recently had one of their bags lost by Air France while connecting at Charles DeGaulle on their way to a cruise out of Barcelona, and the bag never made it before they had to catch their cruise. Not only is it frustrating that an airline loses your personal items that you so carefully packed, but it leaves you to improvise for the rest of your trip and can ruin your vacation. While losing your luggage is not always within your control, there are a few things that you can do to either mitigate the impact of a lost bag or avoid losing it in the first place:

Whenever possible, just carry-on: This is not always practical if you’re on an extended trip, but my rule of thumb when going on anything less than 7-10 days, depending on the destination, is to just take carry-on. This will save you on bag fees, it allows you to check-in online and bypass the ticket counter, walk out of the plane and get out of the airport at your destination, and it keeps your luggage with you at all times. Sometimes it’s cheaper to wash a few items by hand at your hotel or even drycleaning than paying $30-$50 for a bag on each of your segments.

Try to minimize connections whenever possible: On the flight above, my parents were flying MIA-JFK-CDG-BCN. That’s 3 different flights and 4 different bag handlings. Apparently, that was too much to ask out of Delta and Air France, and the bag got left behind at CDG. The more connections, the more likely your bag is to be left behind.

Keep your essential items with you: If you must check your bag, always take a small carry-on with the things that you absolutely cannot lose. These can include medication, eyeglasses, a change of clothes (crucial if you lose your bag), your cell phone charger, camera, passport and other important documents, a book to read, and perhaps your small children too if you’ve grown fond of them. Never put anything you absolutely can’t lose in your checked bag.

Take a picture of your bag: After you’re done packing, take a picture of the contents of your bag, and the bag itself. This will allow agents to see what the bag looks like, and will make it easier to file a claim for reimbursement of the items if they are lost.

Amex is your best friend: When it comes to purchase protection, Amex is second to none. If you have a dispute and the airline refuses to make it right, you can simply dispute any transactions with Amex, and for the most part, there are no questions asked. So if you find yourself without a bag and need to buy clothes, personal and other items at your destination, try to pay with your Amex whenever possible. Keep all receipts. If you need to buy articles for your immediate needs, be reasonable. Don’t buy a $5,000 suit and expect to get reimbursed for it. Different airlines have different policies, so check your airline’s lost bag policy and maximum liability limits before flying with them. There are certain items that are also excluded, such as jewelry, money, etc., so never pack those items in your checked bag.

Spread out luggage: If you’re traveling with a partner, whenever possible, spread out your items and divide them if you have multiple bags. My parents checked two bags, but only one of them made it. Thankfully, they had their clothes combined between their bags, so at least they both had something to work with as opposed one of them having all their clothes while the other not having any.

Retrieve your bag as soon as possible: When you land, don’t waste time. As soon as you get off the plane, head to the bag carousel and wait for your bag. I prefer actually going to the beginning of the carousel so I can see each bag as it comes out. This avoids someone grabbing my bag by mistake, and if someone takes your bag at that point, the airline is not liable, and you will have to deal with the police instead of with the airline.

Clearly mark your bag: Make sure your name, address and other contact info is clearly visible and legible and your luggage tag is firmly attached. If possible, put the same info in a large piece of paper or another tag and place that same info inside your bag, in case your outside tag gets detached.

Buy travel insurance if possible: If you must pack valuables in your bag, consider purchasing travel insurance to recoup any losses that the airline won’t cover. I personally do not use this option since I seldom pack anything that I can’t part ways with if my bag is lost. So in the end, you must decide for yourself if the convenience and peace of mind of travel insurance is worth the cost to you.

If you travel enough, chances are at some point your bag will get lost or delayed. The most important thing is to try to make the best of it and never pack anything that you are so attached to that it will ruin your vacation. I also don’t have a significantly expensive bag that someone might be tempted to swipe or open to look for valuables. Mistakes happen, and for the most part most airline employees are trying to do the right thing and get both you and your bag to your destination, but when those mistakes happen, it is better to be prepared for them and know how to handle them on the spot.

We’d love to hear any other tips you can contribute to other readers, so feel free to share them below.

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