Losing a checked bag during vacation is not something that I would wish on anyone. It can be a frustrating and anxiety-inducing experience, especially if you are in a foreign country.

Given that this happened to me for the very first time just a few weeks ago, I wanted to share some things I learned about your luggage getting delayed or lost. I’ve also included some tips I have to prevent this from happening in the first place, and managing the situation if it does indeed happen to you.

My Experience

Hand pulling a yellow suitcase off of the baggage carousel at the airport

In late July 2021, I travelled from Washington D.C. to Madrid, Spain on Brussels Airlines, with what was supposed to be a one-hour connection through Brussels Airport. When I checked in to my Transatlantic flight in Washington DC, my connecting flight from Brussels to Madrid was showing as operating. However, when I landed in Brussels Airport, the monitors showed that my connecting flight had been canceled.

I logged onto the airport wifi and checked my email. Brussels Airlines had proactively rebooked me on an Air Europa flight leaving an hour after my original flight. The email said my checked bag would be rerouted through them and that I should pick up my new boarding pass at the gate. I thought, ‘this is pretty simple.’

I spent some time in the Brussels Airlines lounge and then went to the gate. But there must’ve been a miscommunication or error because the Air Europa gate agent said that the flight was full and there was no seat for me. Obviously, this was quite frustrating. That flight departed and I went back to the lounge.

I asked to be booked on the next available flight, which was on Iberia, departing an hour later (so two hours after my original flight.) The lounge agent said I needed to pick up my boarding pass at the Iberia boarding gate and that my checked bag would be on that flight.

I got on that flight. I arrived in Madrid. I went to the baggage carousel. You can guess what happened next.

My bag didn’t arrive on the flight with me. It was still in Brussels. I think because there were so many changes—with three different airlines who are part of three different airline alliances—it got misplaced at some point in time.

I spent my four days in Madrid at a friend’s house, so fortunately, I was able to borrow clothes and toiletries. After my stay in Madrid, I left to continue my trip in Georgia (the country, not the state), but my bag still hadn’t arrived in Madrid, so I had to leave without it.

To cut a long story short, my bag did eventually show up. It flew from Brussels to Madrid, and then from Madrid to Georgia. In all, I was without my checked bag for a week. Not the worst thing that could happen but frustrating nonetheless.

So here’s what I learned...

1. Keep Your Boarding Pass & Baggage Receipt Handy

If you do lose your bag, it will be a smoother process if you have your boarding pass easily accessible. It’s even better if you have the physical baggage receipt (or a photo of it) that the agent gives you when you drop your bag at check-in. You can often find this stuck to the back of your boarding pass.

2. Open Your Lost Baggage Case As Soon As Possible

If your bag doesn’t show up on the baggage carousel, go to the lost baggage counter at the arrival airport. Look for the logo of the airline that you have just flown with. You’ll be asked to fill out your personal details and a description of your luggage.

And try to be nice to the representatives there. They bear the brunt of a lot of anger and frustration even though it’s not their fault. You’ll probably get better service by being pleasant.

Related: The U.S. Airlines Most Likely to Lose Your Luggage

3. You’re More Likely To Lose Your Bag If You Make A Connection

This one makes sense, right? If you make one or more connections, that increases the likelihood that your bag gets misplaced during the journey. Fly nonstop if you can—or at least try to minimize the number of connections.

4. Airlines Outsource Baggage Tracking To A Third-Party Company

Given the large number of bags that are delayed or lost, airlines can save money by getting a third-party organization to take care of it. Once I filed my claim with Iberia, my case was entered into WorldTracer‘s system and they were in charge of locating my bag and delivering it to me.

5. Check The Airline’s Policy About Delayed Baggage Compensation

There are international conventions that cap the amount of compensation that airlines have to provide if they misplace or lose your bag. The amount tends to be higher if you are traveling to, from or through a European Union country.

The airline’s website will detail how much you are entitled to. For example, Iberia offers 50 euros for each day your bag is delayed (up to a maximum of 7 days) to cover buying new clothes and emergency toiletries. If they lose your bag, they cover up to 1,300 euros in total. Keep the receipts for anything you buy, as the airline will only cover eligible expenses.

Related: How to Pack in Just a Personal Item Sized Bag

6. You Can Update The Address You Want Your Bag Delivered To

In the WorldTracer system, I was able to update my address from my friend’s house in Madrid to my hotel in Georgia. You can also enter the date that you will be in each location until.

7. A Bag Isn’t Considered ‘Lost’ Until After A Certain Amount Of Time

Airlines have quite a lot of time to deliver your bag to you. Your checked baggage is not considered to be ‘lost’ until after 21 days of it going missing.

8. Check To See If Your Credit Card Or Travel Insurance Policy Covers Delayed Or Lost Baggage

Some credit cards and most travel insurance policies will cover delayed or lost luggage expenses. However, check the fine print. I found out that the American Express Platinum card that I used to book my flight did not include itineraries booked with frequent flyer points, therefore I was not covered.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Travel Insurance: Everything You Need to Know

9. If You Can, Just Travel With A Carry-On

This is perhaps easier said than done, but if you can avoid checking a bag, then you’re reducing the risk that it’s lost somewhere in the underbelly of an airport. Just make sure that any liquids you take with you through security are of the right size.

10. Pack Anything Important In Your Carry-On

Whilst I had two pairs of clothes and necessary medication in my carry-on, I wish I had also had my electric toothbrush and more pairs of underwear with me.

11. Take A Photo Or Video Of The Contents of Your Checked Bag

When you’re packing, take a photo or video of everything in your bag before you close it. This can help you prove what you had packed in your bag. It will also help you to itemize the contents, something that might be difficult if you are under stress from losing your bag.

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