Airline Secrets: How Much is Your Delayed Baggage Worth?

Landing in a city without your bags can mean extra costs to replace your items. But according to airline fine print, you may be entitled to up to $3,800 to cover purchases.


Nicolle Monico
Updated 30 November 2021
Airline Secrets: How Much is Your Delayed Baggage Worth?
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Sections on this page
  1. Compensation For Delayed Baggage
  2. What to Do If Your Baggage is Delayed or Lost
  3. Airport Responsibility For Missing Baggage
  4. What to Do After Your Luggage is Retrieved
  5. Best Practices For Checked Baggage
  6. Domestic Contracts of Carriage By Airline
  7. Frequently Asked Questions

This year, 692,884 bags were mishandled by U.S. airlines from January 2021 to June 2021, according to data collected from 16 airlines by Luggage Hero. With a rise of almost 200,000 bags lost, damaged, or delayed from the previous year, Americans are at an increased risk of having their luggage mishandled in the coming year.

Landing in a different city without your stuff can not only be frustrating, but may be financially difficult when replacing those items. And though airlines have measures in place for such mishaps, many won’t tell you how much you could potentially get for a missing bag.

Find out how much your compensation for delayed baggage could be and what steps you’ll need to take to receive your reimbursement.

Compensation For Delayed Baggage

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation mandated new airline passenger protections stating that all domestic airlines must reimburse customers for any “reasonable expenses” following delayed luggage.

Since then, airlines have offered compensation for such reasons, citing around $25-$50 a day for lost, delayed, or damaged baggage stated within their contract of carriage. However, what many travelers don’t realize is that they can actually receive up to $3,800 in compensation for mishandled bags.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you’ll get that much or are automatically entitled to it. This is where “reasonable expenses” come into play.

compensation for delayed baggage

Commonly Covered Expenses

Airlines are only required to cover what you will have to purchase due to not having your suitcase. This may include:

  •  Toiletries
  •  Makeup
  •  Clothing
  •  Work attire (clothing and shoes)
  •  Medications
  •  Certain electronics (cell phone and laptop chargers)
  •  Wheelchairs, mobility aids and/or assistive devices (no limit on liability for repair or replacement)
  •  Gear for sports-related travel (e.g., running shoes, biking gear, bathing suit for a triathlon)

Keep in mind, an airline doesn’t owe you the full value of everything in your bag. If you had Gucci sunglasses or a Prada clutch in your luggage, you aren't entitled to a spending allowance that would cover those items.

Since a person can buy sunglasses and a clutch at any retailer for much less, you'll only be given a reasonable amount to cover those expenses.

That being said, if you’re in need of a suit for work or an event and the only stores in the area are high-end, you may be entitled to higher compensation since you’re not expected to run around hunting down the best deal.

compensation for delayed luggage

Expenses Typically Not Covered

Other items typically not covered and not included in your spending allowance include:

  •  Cameras, videos and photographic equipment
  •  Cash, currency
  •  Jewelry, watches
  •  Electronic equipment/devices
  •  Computers and related components
  •  Optical devices including eyeglasses and contacts
  •  Dental and orthodontic devices or equipment
  •  Furs, including coats, gloves, hats
  •  Game trophies, antlers, and pelts

Most airlines’ contracts of carriage also exempt compensation for things like antiques, art, rare books, cameras, collectibles, documents, and irreplaceable or perishable items. Generally, airlines are also not liable for loss, delay or damage of baggage following a security search conducted by any local, state, or federal agency.

Excess Coverage Liability

If you have a lot of expensive items in your luggage, it’s a good idea to declare their value during check-in (additional charges may apply). You may be entitled to greater compensation if your baggage goes missing and you let the airline know before you took off.

For example, to declare an excess valuation with JetBlue, you must:

  • Declare your excess valuation at the time of check-in
  • Pay an additional charge of $1.00 for every $100 declared
  • Not exceed the maximum liability of $5,000, which includes the $3,800 standard liability per passenger

Additionally, most airlines make you re-declare and pay any additional charges each time you check your baggage.

What to Do If Your Baggage is Delayed or Lost

There are a few steps involved in filing a claim for delayed or lost suitcases and getting compensated for missing items. You’ll want to do most of these steps while inside the airport and file your claim within 24 hours of arrival.

Speak with an Airline Rep

As soon as you know your luggage has been delayed or lost, speak with an airline representative immediately. The sooner you do so, the quicker you’ll be able to be compensated during your trip.

Find your airline’s baggage claim representative or speak with a check-in desk attendant to begin the claims process. For a delayed baggage claim, airline agents will have you fill out a property irregularity report (PIR). You’ll need to do this before leaving the airport.

Here’s what you’ll need to file your claim:

  • Reservation number on your ticket
  • Baggage tag number
  • Description of your baggage (color, brand, size)
  • Address where you will be staying
  • Your contact details

Once the property irregularity report is done, you’ll get a copy of the report and a filing number needed for tracking. This step is not for compensation. The airline will need a paper trail starting from the time your luggage did not show up on the carousel.

You’ll then have a certain number of days to file a compensation claim with the airline to receive payment. You can also call the airline directly to notify them of a missing bag, but remember to do so inside of the airport.

Airline/Carrier Baggage Hotline
Alaska 877-815-8253
American 866-289-9673
Delta 800-325-8224
Frontier 801-401-9000
Hawaiian 866-389-6654
JetBlue 866-538-5438
Southwest 800-435-9792
United 800-221-6903

request an allowance for delayed baggage

Request a Checked Baggage Fee Refund

If you were charged for a checked bag, some airlines will reimburse you for that fee if your bags did not arrive on time. Check with the specific airline to see if this is a possibility, some require an allotted waiting period (such as 12 hours after arrival) before they’ll refund you. This is also why it is important to start the claims process as soon as possible.

Request an Allowance For Expenses

When speaking with a baggage agent, ask for an overnight kit (they’ll normally have this on-hand) which generally comes with toiletries and a t-shirt for sleeping. You’ll also want to request an allowance to purchase reasonable and essential items you may need while waiting for your baggage.

Airlines won’t offer this allowance unless you ask. This may come in the form of vouchers for local stores, cash or a reimbursement once your claim has been approved. If the latter, you’ll need to buy your items with your own money and then submit all receipts later on to receive payment.

The nicer you are to the agent—and the better you can prove what essential items are needed—the greater your chances will be for getting a higher dollar amount to spend. When shopping, a good rule of thumb is that if you wouldn't spend that much on the item with your own cash, don’t buy it with the airline’s money. You may be stuck with the bill if your claim is denied.

Your Credit Card May Save the Day

Check with your credit card company what their policies are regarding travel and mishandled baggage. Some will reimburse your expenses while you wait for your bag to be returned. American Express will cover you up to $200 on approved claims.

Submit A Missing Baggage Claim

Typically, airlines will require a 24-hour waiting period before you can file a formal claim for compensation. This form will be used to determine the value of your lost contents as well as any incidental expenses.

Currently, airlines are liable up to $3,800 per ticketed passenger for lost, delayed or damaged luggage on domestic flights. Each airline will have its own system for reimbursement but generally you’ll need the following when filing a claim:

  • Contact information
  • Flight information
  • Baggage claim number
  • Copy of your driver’s license
  • Inventory of lost items and receipts to prove value
  • Trip email confirmation
  • Photos of missing items (if applicable)
    compensation for delayed baggage
    Most airlines offer online baggage claim forms to fill out and a tracking system to be notified of any updates.

You’ll have the option to track your claim and will be notified of a decision typically within 30 days of your delayed luggage. If you’d rather not go through this entire process, you may still be compensated for your delayed luggage

Some contracts of carriage state that compensation will be given automatically after a certain number of days goes by without your bags, no documentation required. For example, United will pay you $1,500 if your bag isn’t found after five days. However, this would be in place of the $3,800 reimbursement fee you could potentially qualify for with a claim.

After 5-14 days (depending on the airline), your luggage will be officially declared lost. But even if after that time it is found, you’re still entitled to the initial compensation.

Airport Responsibility For Missing Baggage

Although you will be working with a specific airline to get your stuff back, it’s the airport’s responsibility to keep you updated on your luggage for at least five days until it’s returned. When they have your suitcase(s) back in their possession, you can request it be delivered to your location for free.

This may take some negotiation but ultimately, since they were in the wrong (and if you’re nice about your request), they may agree to it and save you an extra trip to the airport.

Once those five days have passed, if you still don’t have your luggage, the responsibility falls to the airlines' central baggage services department. You’ll need to contact them directly and may need to file a new request to get your money.

Timing is Essential to Getting Paid

Each airline has its own policy regarding claims, some allow up to 45 days while others only give you 21 days to submit your claim after landing. Don't put off the claims process if you're hoping for a reimbursement.

What to Do After Your Luggage is Retrieved

If the airline finds your bag, inspect it right away and notify them of any damage within 24 hours of receiving it. If it’s covered under their contract of carriage, it may be repaired or replaced.

While inspecting your luggage, check to make sure all your items are accounted for as well as any damage that may have occurred to its contents. Both of these issues will require another claim and will likely need your original proof of purchase receipt for the damaged suitcase and items.

take photos of your luggage and its items
Taking photos before your trip and after your luggage is returned is helpful when submitting a damaged claim.

Be sure to contact the airport to see if they are holding any item matching your missing contents before requesting compensation. Also, take photos of your damaged luggage for the claim since they’ll be used during the approval process.

Best Practices For Checked Baggage

To help prevent being stranded without your things after a delayed bag, be sure to utilize these best practices for traveling with checked baggage:

  • Take photos of your luggage and what you’re bringing on the trip, especially for any expensive or essential items.
  • Make copies of your receipts for valuable items.
  • Store your receipts in a physical location such as a purse or your carry-on bag, or keep them in a folder on your phone, laptop or tablet for easy access.
  • Declare an excess valuation during check-in if your items exceed $3,800.
  • Pack essential items in your carry-on such as:
    • Medications
    • One set of travel-sized toiletries
    • One set of both work and leisure attire
    • A phone charger
    • An extra set of contacts or prescription glasses
    • Emergency funds (cash or credit cards)
    • Irreplaceable items
  • Keep your baggage claim ticket in a safe location

Domestic Contracts of Carriage By Airline

Each airline has its own bill of rights for passengers and outlines what you’ll be liable for and what it will cover in the event of a baggage mishandling. At the end of the day, it is up to their discretion on what you may be owed following missing luggage.

Click on an airline below to read its contract of carriage for domestic flights and the fine print surrounding lost, delayed, or damaged luggage:

Finally, before doing any type of travel, be sure you’re up-to-date on COVID-19 rules and restrictions so that you won’t run into any additional snags along the way.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do airlines compensate for delayed baggage?

Yes, airlines are required to offer some form of compensation for delayed, lost or damaged baggage. In fact, travelers can potentially receive up to $3,800 in compensation for mishandled bags, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

How do I file a claim for delayed baggage compensation?

Airlines require a 24-hour waiting period before you can file a formal claim for compensation. You'll need to go online to file or speak with an airline representative. You may need the following when filing a claim:

  • Contact information
  • Flight information
  • Baggage claim number
  • Copy of your driver’s license
  • Inventory of lost items and receipts to prove value
  • Trip email confirmation
  • Photos of missing items (if applicable)

Who do I speak to about reimbursement for purchases after delayed baggage?

Before leaving the airport, you'll need to speak with an airline representative about your missing baggage in order to fill out a property irregularity report (PIR). This is needed prior to filing a formal claim for compensation. 

What items won't be covered under a compensation claim for delayed baggage?

Airlines are not liable for following items due to baggage mishandling:

  • Cameras, videos and photographic equipment
  • Cash, currency
  •  Jewelry, watches
  •  Electronic equipment/devices
  •  Computers and related components
  •  Optical devices including eyeglasses and contacts
  •  Dental and orthodontic devices or equipment
  •  Furs, including coats, gloves, hats
  •  Game trophies, antlers, and pelts

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