If you are checking a bag, assume it will get lost — at least for a little while. Split up your most important items, try to carry on the things you can’t do without in first day, and don’t put all of your most valuable items in the same bag.
Checked bags will get lost. Not every time, of course, just when you’re the one checking them and when you need their contents the most.
They’re most likely to get lost when:
- Transferring bags between airlines. It’s an extra complication and condition that needs to go right.
- You have a short connection, whether because of flight delays or not
- There are disgruntled employees. When Alaska had a baggage handler job action I had one bag mutilated to shreds and another sent to Reno rather than Seattle.
Airlines are better at tracking bags than they used to be, but things go wrong with bags outside of your control. This becomes especially problematic when the contents are super-important or you’re traveling beyond the ticket you’re flying on when you checked the bags.
Assume your bags will not make it when you do. Carry on clothes that will get you through, along with whatever else is vital.
I’ve had plenty of good luck with checked bags. I’ve left bags in Bankok on a 14 hour overnight without problems. I’ve had Cathay Pacific retrieve and re-tag bags more than once mid-trip to send them to a different destination than they were originally checked to. I’ve usually had no problems. But I always plan as though I will.
In addition to packing items in a carry on as insurance, and being willing to make purchases at your destination when bags do get lost, you should:
- Have identifying marks on your bag — tags, contact information inside the bag as well, and something unique on the outside so it stands out. You don’t want the airline looking for an unidentified and unidentifiable black bag.
- Take a photo of your bags, I usually wind up doing this at the airport with my phone as I am turning the bag over to airline employees. That makes it easier to explain what it looks like.
Odds on, you’ll be ok.
And don’t forget that in addition to getting compensation from an airline that lost your bags you may be able to get something from the credit card that you used to purchase the ticket.
With American Express it’s generally up to $500; with Visa Signature it’s $100 per day ($300 maximum) when you’re separated from your bags for over 18 hours; World MasterCard is similar to Visa Signature except that the delay only needs to be 4 hours. Your specific card benefits may vary, but save your receipts and call your card issuer to process a claim.