5 steps to take when an airline loses your bag

Baggage delays can be aggravating and expensive, but reward cards can help

Cashing In with Tony Mecia

Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. Every week, he answers readers’ questions about credit card rewards programs in his “Cashing In” column.

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Can my rewards credit card reimburse me for lost luggage? 

If your bags are delayed so long that you must replace clothes or toiletries, you should know that both airlines and credit card travel insurance can pay for some of those expenses. Here are the steps you need to take to get those costs reimbursed:

  1. File a missing bag report with the airline 
  2. Buy only what you need
  3. Save your receipts
  4. File a claim with the airline
  5. File a claim with your reward card issuer
Expert Q&A

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Dear Cashing In,

I just got back from vacation. At the beginning of the trip, the airline lost my luggage for a couple of days. I have read that some reward credit cards offer protection against lost luggage, but how does that work? I had to buy some clothes and toiletries. It was a huge inconvenience. –Mark

Dear Mark,

Nothing can get a vacation started on the wrong foot like missing luggage. Being stuck with the clothes you wore on the plane can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you’re going from somewhere cold to somewhere tropical.

The smartest advice is to try to make the best of the situation by not letting missing bags ruin your vacation. It can certainly feel that way, given the amount of time and expense involved in attempting to hunt down your luggage from the airline, and perhaps having to purchase replacement clothes.

Generally, if you're flying to a place where your airline has frequent flights, lost luggage might be less of an emergency than if you are flying somewhere that has limited flights. If your bag doesn’t make it onto your flight, the airline will usually put it on the next flight to your destination. 

That means if you’re flying from Chicago to Los Angeles, your bag will likely arrive much more quickly than if you’re flying to a small Caribbean island with just one flight a day.

See related: 10 ways to maximize delayed trip and bag reimbursements

If your bags are delayed so long that you must replace clothes or toiletries, you should know that both airlines and credit card travel insurance can pay for some of those expenses. Here are the steps you need to take to get those costs reimbursed:

  • File a missing bag report with the airline. When your bag doesn’t arrive on the carousel, file a report with the airline’s baggage office at the arrival airport. They will take your basic information and the address of where you are staying, and they may deliver the bag when it arrives.
  • Buy only what you need. Don’t view a lost bag as carte blanche to go on a shopping spree at somebody else’s expense. Typically, a change of clothes and toiletries are fair game, as is a replacement phone charger. But the more extravagant the purchase, the less chance it will be reimbursed. Replacement jewelry and electronics generally won’t be reimbursed.
  • Save your receipts. You will need the original receipts for the replacement items you buy. Also, save all the paperwork related to your flights and your missing bag report.
  • File a claim with the airline. Once you return home from your trip, file a baggage delay claim with the airline that lost your bag. All airlines have a process for this. It may involve filling out a form on their website.
  • File a claim with your reward credit card issuer. Many reward credit cards offer travel insurance for trips that are paid for with their cards. They have different rules on what qualifies – such as how long you and your bag must be separated – so read the details on your card (which should be easily available online). And they will pay only the difference between your costs and what the airline reimbursed you.

Not all reward cards offer baggage delay coverage. Most of the high-end travel cards do. Visa Signature cards and World Elite Mastercards also provide some coverage. Terms vary. In most cases, the delay must be greater than six hours for the credit card coverage to kick in. Some claims are capped at $300, some at $500 and some at $100 per day.

Knowing you can be compensated when your bag doesn’t arrive won’t fix the problem, but it can give you peace of mind knowing you’re not on the hook for the expense of replacing clothes. 

If you’re looking for another bright side, reports of mishandled bags are low – U.S. airlines reported just three baggage complaints per 1,000 passengers in August, according to federal data.


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Updated: 12-17-2018