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File a Delayed Baggage Report

If your bags aren't on the conveyor belt when you arrive, file a report with the airline before you leave the airport.

  • Insist that the airline fill out a form and give you a copy, even if they say the bag will be on the next flight.
  • Get the name of the person who filled out the form and a phone number for follow up.
  • Confirm that the airline will deliver the bag to you without charge when it's found.

Some airlines will give you money to purchase a few necessities. If they don't provide you with cash, ask what types of articles are reimbursable and keep all receipts.

If a suitcase arrives damaged, the airline will usually pay for repairs. If an item can't be fixed, they will negotiate to pay you its depreciated value. The same is true for belongings packed inside. However, airlines may refuse to pay for damage if it was caused by your failure to pack something properly rather than the airline's handling.

Submit a Second Detailed Report

If your bag is declared officially lost, you will have to submit a second, more detailed form within a time period set by the airline. The information on the form is used to estimate the value of your lost belongings. Airlines can limit their liability for delayed, lost and damaged baggage, however, they must prominently display a sign that explains the limit. According to the Office of Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement, the maximum an airline pays on lost bags and their contents is limited to $3,300 per passenger on domestic flights, and $1,131 per passenger for checked baggage on international flights. The Travel Insider offers more information on maximum liability, including special rates that change on a daily basis.

If the airline's offer doesn't fully cover your loss, check your homeowner's or renter's insurance to see if it covers losses away from home. Some credit card companies and travel agencies also offer optional or even automatic supplemental baggage coverage.

On those trips when you know you're carrying more than the liability limits, you may want to ask about purchasing "excess valuation" from the airline when you check in. Of course, there is no guarantee the airline will sell you this protection. The airline may refuse, especially if the item is valuable or breakable.

Airline Fees

Many airlines charge extra fees for checked baggage and some charge for carry-ons. Others charge for advance seat assignments, meals, unaccompanied minors, and other services. The Department of Transportation has ruled that an airline must prominently disclose all mandatory taxes and fees on their website. The airline must also refund baggage fees if it loses your baggage.
In addition, airlines are required to include all government taxes and fees in the advertised price. However, air carriers may still charge optional fees not included in the standard price. Each airline’s fee schedule is different, so check with the airline before you head to the airport. For more information, contact the Department of Transportation.

Keep in mind—using frequent flyer points does not necessarily mean you are exempt from additional fees. When booking a flight using frequent flyer points, airlines may still charge you a booking fee.