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The Rules You Need To Know When Airlines Lose Your Luggage

It's more than you might think.

10/13/2017 06:25 EDT
Randy Risling via Getty Images

When an airline loses your luggage, it’s never fun. But smart travelers can end up collecting major cash after such instances if they follow the correct protocol.

You should know that on flights within the U.S., airlines are legally required to reimburse you up to $3,500 if your bags are lost, damaged or delayed in getting to you.

Yep, by law, you can collect up to $3,500 for items you had to buy as a result of your bag issue, even if the bag is delayed but eventually returned to you, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

What can I get reimbursed for?

Expenses must be both reasonable and documented: Almost all airlines require you to file a claim within a specific timeframe if your bag is delayed, damaged or lost and to document your related spending with receipts. If they think an expense wasn’t necessary ― say, you buy a $3,000 bracelet to wear during the two days that your bag is delayed ― they likely won’t reimburse you for it. Ditto if you purchase something much more valuable than what was actually inside your lost bag.

Things like emergency toiletries and replacement clothes, however, are reasonable, and you should know that you’re entitled to be paid back for them. You could even get reimbursed for a hair straightener or salon visit if there were hair tools in your missing bag, one airline spokesperson told HuffPost. You just need to know and follow your airline’s protocol for filing reimbursement claims. 

How do I get reimbursed?

Each airline has its own rules for how you should report a lost or delayed bag. American Airlines, for example, requires that passengers present an initial complaint to American before leaving the airport, then mail in a claim form within 45 days if they want compensation. Delta requires passengers to notify a representative, then fill out a form online. You can find your airline’s rules on its website or in its contract of carriage, a document that explains passenger rights. It’s helpful to check your contract of carriage if your bag goes missing, so you know what you’re entitled to.

The contract or rules may also list extra options to take advantage of. For example, United’s website says the airline will pay you $1,500 if your bag is delayed more than three days, no documentation required. (You can file an official claim to receive more, up to the legal $3,500 minimum.) And Delta’s site explains that if your bags aren’t returned within 12 hours, you can request a rebate for the fee you paid to check them. On American, you can claim more than $3,500 in overall compensation if you declare your items were more valuable and are willing to pay a small fee. It’s helpful to know these extra options exist so you can request your money if it isn’t offered to you. 

So what’s my game plan?

The DOT outlines some general best practices for what to do when your bag goes missing: Report your issue to airline personnel before you leave the airport, and get a copy of the report along with a phone number follow-ups. Discuss what types of items the airline might reimburse you for, and keep receipts for all expenses. If your bag is confirmed as missing, then file a claim accordingly. 

It’s also important to remember that airlines rarely lose luggage forever. But taking the above steps will ensure you reap the silver lining of a very annoying situation. 

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