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What To Do If Your Baggage is Delayed, Lost, or Damaged

You might think I’m joking if I told you that you can get up to $3,800 if your baggage is delayed, but I’m not! Unfortunately, I know this from true personal experience. I really wished I knew what I know now today because it would have caused a lot less stress during my earlier years of traveling. Oh, and if you think the airlines will tell you about this reimbursement benefit, they definitely won’t! So, everyone better read this blog post carefully so you’ll be prepared if this ever happens to you.

I can’t tell you how many times my bags have been delayed. Almost at least once a year my bag has either been lost or delayed. Not sure if anyone else has the same luck that I do but I don’t think this is normal. Well, my experience will be your gain. I’m going to concentrate on two specific occasions when my bags were delayed: a domestic flight to Salt Lake City and an international flight to Switzerland. On both occasions, we were able to get reimbursed for expenses with almost no questions asked.

 

How Much Can I Receive if My Baggage is Delayed or Lost?

First, it will depend on whether you have taken a U.S. domestic flight or an international flight. In 2022, if you’ve taken a domestic flight, you can receive up to $3,800 from the airlines. If you’ve taken an international flight, you can receive up to approximately $1,780 (depending on the exchange rate). I know it’s kind of weird to actually receive more compensation for a domestic flight than an international flight but that is how to rules are currently set up.

Second, it is still up to the airline to review the items you purchased and to determine if this was reasonable or not. Just because you have this amount of amount doesn’t mean you have the right to go on a shopping spree. You still have to prove the items you bought were necessary and related to the trip you were taking. If the airline reviews your purchases and deems them reasonable, then they will cut you a check for the amount you spent.

 

Why Am I Allowed to Receive This Amount?

Apparently, it’s rare that baggage is delayed, damaged, or lost (lucky me) but if it is, there are specific regulations set in place to protect the passenger depending on if you fly domestic or international.

Domestic Flights

If you fly domestically, you are covered under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) regulations. DOT’s regulations require that airlines compensate passengers if their baggage is ever lost, damaged, or delayed. DOT has set the maximum liability amount to $3,800 although airlines may choose to pay more if they want to. That means even if your bag is delayed, you are entitled to $3,800.

International Flights

For international flights, you are covered under a treaty called the Montreal Convention of 1999, specifically Article 22, Paragraph 2. The maximum liability has been revised once in 2009 and in another time in 2019. The current maximum liability now sits at 1,288 Special Drawing Rights (SDR).

Montreal Convention 1999 Original limits
(SDRs)
Revised limits (SDRs)
as of
December 30, 2009
Revised limits (SDRs)
as of  
December 28, 2019
Article 22 (2) – Baggage loss, damage, or delay 1,000 1,131 1,288

Special Drawing Rights is a special type of monetary unit defined by the International Monetary Fund. SDRs have their own conversion rates to each country’s specific currency.

1 SDR (XDR) = 1.399 USD

1 SDR (XDR) = 1.235 Euro

So, depending on the current exchange rate, 1,288 SDRs can equate to $1,800 if we were to calculate it in today’s U.S. exchange rate. The exchange rate always changes to make sure you calculate it on xe.com first to see how much you are entitled to.

 

How To Make Sure You Get Compensated

There are steps that you need to take to make sure you get compensated as quickly as possible. Make sure you don’t skip these steps, otherwise, the airlines won’t refund you for your expenses.

  1. File Report: First and foremost, the moment your baggage is delayed, damaged, or lost, file a report with the airlines. This report that they give you will be your proof that your bag is missing or damaged. This will give you a case reference number also so you can always refer back to this when checking up on the status of your bag. Do this immediately. Do not leave the airport without doing this first.
  2. Keep Receipts: Make sure you ask for a receipt at every place you make a purchase. I always take a picture of the receipt and then keep the physical copy somewhere safe.
  3. Submit Receipts for Reimbursements: The airline will ask you for proof of your purchases. You will most likely also have to fill out a document describing the item and why it was necessary for you to buy it.

 

Why Don’t Airlines Tell You About This?

In my personal experience, airlines have never told me about the compensation I get when my baggage is delayed. I completely understand why they don’t because the passenger is actually entitled to a lot of money. All airlines ever tell you is that they are willing to reimburse you for “reasonable expenses.” Emphasis on “reasonable.” I’ve specifically asked them how much I can spend and they never tell me. All they keep saying is whatever is “reasonable.” So, this makes me think that corporate is definitely making them say this and are instructed not to give out an actual dollar amount. Well, I’m here today to give you that dollar amount.

What About The Travel Insurance Through My Credit Cards?

I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and I use it for all of my travel purchases because it provides pretty good overall travel insurance but nothing like what is stated in the DOT regulations or the Montreal Convention in regards to your baggage. For Chase, if your bag is delayed for more than 6 hours, Chase will reimburse you up to $100/day for five days for a max of $500. Now knowing what I know, I don’t think I would deal with getting reimbursed from my credit card again when I know I can get reimbursed from the airline instead. Especially, for items that I know will cost more than $100/day.

 

Personal Experience When My Baggage Is Delayed

I’ll be talking about two personal experiences I had when my bags were delayed on a domestic flight and on an international flight. This is why I know the U.S. DOT regulations and the Montreal Convention really well. In the grand scheme of things, I considered myself lucky that my bags were only delayed and were not lost or damaged. Although, my bags did get lost once and I did not know about these protections at that time so, I never got compensated.

Domestic Flight (Salt Lake City)

This happened probably four years ago when my boyfriend (at the time) and I were flying to Salt Lake City for a snowboarding trip. We flew on Alaska Airlines and when we got to our destination, both our snowboard bags weren’t there. This was really disappointing since we were only there from Friday to Sunday so we didn’t have much time.

Alaska told us that we were allowed to purchase whatever was necessary and that was a “reasonable” amount. I asked them how much is “reasonable” and they couldn’t give me an answer. I told them that all of our snowboarding clothes were in there and there’s no place that rents that kind of stuff. The only things that were rentable were snowboards, boots, and helmets. The agent said that if we had to buy new clothes then we had to buy new clothes.

So, the next morning, we spent half the day running around trying to buy new snowboarding clothes and renting all of our gear. Even though this sounds like a fun experience, it was actually pretty stressful since we wasted already half a day and we’re rushing as fast as we could to get on the mountain. Our stuff finally came in that night so at least we had our gear for the last day of our trip.

We kept all of our receipts and submitted them to Alaska. We bought the cheapest clothing and accessories we could find and still spent around $1,200. We even returned one of the items because we thought it was too much! In the end, Alaska didn’t even question it and wrote me a check right then and there at the airport on our way back home. Not sure if everybody has this experience, but this is why I love Alaska. Their customer service does not even compare to any other airline.

International Flight (Switzerland)

This time our baggage was delayed on our trip to Switzerland. Again, this was another snowboarding-related incident. We landed in Zurich and waited for our bags forever until we finally decided that it wasn’t going to come. This trip was even more stressful since we weren’t staying in one place. We were hopping from city to city for the next couple of days so we had to tell the airlines to forward our delayed bag to our next big destination so who knows if it was going to get there or not.

Does anyone want to guess what was in that delayed bag? Yep, it was our snowboarding clothes once again. This time we didn’t bring our snowboards with us since it would have been a hassle to travel with them internationally but we brought all of our snowboarding clothes from home. By now, we’ve had time to read the Montreal Convention doc thoroughly so we knew we had about $1,500 to safely spend (this was back in 2018).

So, we had to again, spend half a day shopping for snowboarding clothes and EVERYTHING in Switzerland is expensive. We tried to buy the cheapest possible stuff and were still scared we were going to go over. In the end, we submitted all the receipts to the airline by email and eventually got a check for the amount we spent which was around $1,400 I believe. We were surprised that both times, we weren’t questioned at all and know it was probably due to the DOT’s regulations and the Montreal Convention 1999.

 

Conclusion

If your baggage is delayed, lost, or damaged, at least now you have some peace of mind that there are protections in place to help the passenger. I wish someone would have told me this a long time ago when Vuelo Airlines completely lost my luggage on a one-hour flight to Barcelona. It would have saved me so much stress and tears on my vacation if I knew this was in place. Instead, I was trying to ration the $100/day I got from my Chase Reserve credit card and it wasn’t fun, but now I know better. Hopefully, this blog post will help you in your future travels, and Happy New Year to all my wonderful readers!

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