It’s safe to say I will change how I check my luggage for future trips after recently researching airline lost luggage policies.
But sometimes, I need to check a bag.
There are times when certain kinds of activities with special equipment, such as scuba diving and snowboarding, require you to check a bag. And families regularly face challenges around packing — my sister certainly needs her hands free when she wrangles her kids into the correct seats on a plane.
So, why am I now taking the additional step of snapping photos and recording videos of my suitcase when I need to check a bag? Let me explain.
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Lost luggage is a growing concern
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Over 230,000 checked bags were mishandled (meaning lost or delayed) in the U.S. during May 2022, according to a recent report from the Department of Transportation. That translates to an average of 5.6 checked bags per 1,000 — or a lot of missing and delayed luggage.
You always assume it won’t be your bag — until it is.
Just consider senior credit cards editor Matt Moffitt, who recently had two baggage delays during the same trip.
If your suitcase doesn’t arrive on time, there are steps you should take immediately.
Assuming your luggage isn’t just delayed but is irrevocably lost, know that you have certain rights. Airlines are obligated to reimburse you (up to a certain amount) for the value of what was in your suitcase once it’s deemed lost (though there is no value limit for mobility-assistance equipment, which must be reimbursed or replaced no matter how much it costs).
Let’s say your bag is lost and you want to file a claim for reimbursement. One of the first steps in this process will be proving what was in your suitcase and its worth.
Can you name exactly what was in your suitcase the last time you checked a bag, and prove how much each item is worth? I know I wouldn’t be able to off the top of my head.
Since airlines (and credit cards offering lost luggage protection) are only obligated to reimburse you for what you can prove was in your bag, simply relying on your memory may not be enough to receive adequate compensation.
Take pictures and videos of your checked bag contents
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Whether you take annual snowboarding and scuba diving trips like my wife and me or are just planning an epic trip to a destination such as the Galapagos Islands, odds are on some trips you want to pack some special, possibly expensive, items. However, if those belongings are lost by your airline, you could quickly find yourself spending a lot out of pocket to replace them if your claim is unsuccessful.
Even if your claim is approved, you could find yourself receiving significantly less than what you spent on your belongings. I’d certainly hate to file a claim for pricey items like snowboard gear only to receive a fraction of their value.
That’s why I plan to take pictures and videos of the contents of my checked bags any time something valuable is inside. This is my best way to prove to the investigator handling my claim what was in my checked luggage.
When taking photos and videos, be sure to capture the brand names and labels for valuable items. If there are electronics, it wouldn’t hurt to turn them on to prove that they work. I’ll capture my items both individually and from a few angles once everything is packed; this will show both the details of the goods and the fact these things were inside my suitcase when it’s all said and done.
What counts as proof of value?
Does taking pictures and videos of your suitcase’s contents really count as proof of what’s inside? Would an airline accept this as proof? Or what about a travel insurance company, if you need to file a claim with it? The answer is “yes.” In fact, Allianz lists this as a tip for making travel insurance claims smoother.
“Your cell phone is not only good for taking selfies during your travels but a handy tool in the event of luggage mishaps,” says Daniel Durazo, director of external communications at Allianz Partners USA. “Pre-trip, remember to document the contents of your luggage — this way, if any big-ticket items go missing, you have a time-stamped record. And while you and the airline work to recover and deliver your belongings, if you have a travel insurance policy, you may be reimbursed for essential items needed while you wait for your bags to arrive.”
Spokespeople for United Airlines and American Airlines also confirmed that photos and videos can help during the claims process if your luggage is lost.
“When filing the claim, customers will be asked to provide details of the items in their bag. Photos and video are accepted to help identify the customer’s items” either to find the suitcase or to prove what was lost, according to a spokesperson from American Airlines.
A spokesperson for United Airlines also confirmed that photos and videos can help but said the airline may still ask for additional documents during the claims process: “Of course customers would still need to file a claim listing all the items that were in the bag and [their] corresponding value. [R]eceipts are vital means of resolving claims as they definitively show the value of the items.”
Judging by responses in the TPG Lounge on Facebook, having pictures has helped several members with their claims — and not having photos has been a problem for others who had lost suitcases.
Iara Palacios Johnson from Houston, Texas flew with Turkish Airlines and never received her suitcase. When filing a claim, “I had to give a detailed list of what was in the suitcase and a value, ” she said. “I want to say the value was ~$2200 or so.” The airline asked her for proof of what was in the suitcase and receipts to corroborate the value on her claim forms.
“Of course, I had few,” she said, but “who keeps receipts for jeans and shirts!” The airline offered her $900, she said, after she was unable to provide photos or receipts for the suitcase contents. Iara says she questioned how the airline came up with this number and came away with a “take it or leave it” impression.
Kirsten Heder from Brush Prairie, Washington had a similar experience with Lufthansa when the airline misplaced her suitcase. When she filed a claim, she needed to provide a list of contents and their values for what was in the lost luggage. The airline asked for proof of value for the contents, which Heder didn’t have. That made her concerned about whether she would receive fair compensation and prompted her to spend significant time calling every baggage department phone number she could find until she tracked down her missing suitcase. By the time she found it, it was slated to go to an unclaimed luggage sales center in Texas.
Len Giuliano from Allendale, New Jersey, had a better experience when his suitcase went on the wrong flight and disappeared at baggage claim. It contained suits and dress clothes worth a fair sum of money. During the claims process, he was able to provide photos of the items inside and proof of their value, so he received fair compensation for what he’d lost.
“If it weren’t for my wife who meticulously kept receipts dating back years,” he said, “I would have been out of luck.”
While you should do your best to avoid putting valuable items in your checked bags, there may be times when you have no other option. Should you find yourself absolutely needing to check a bag in the future, consider photographing and filming the contents inside.
Now that I better understand the lost luggage claims process, I plan on taking lots of photos and videos of my items from here on out. That way, if my bag does get lost, I can prove exactly what was inside and how much it was worth.
We previously recommended taking videos of rental cars to protect yourself against wrongful charges for damages. In the same way, taking photos and videos of what’s in your suitcase can help you be properly reimbursed if your luggage is irrevocably lost.
Featured photo by Boy_Anupong/Getty Images.