Lost luggage: your rights

LuggageIf your luggage has gone missing following a flight, what should you do? We take a look at your rights and how to make a claim.

Lost luggage - it's the holiday nightmare we all dread.

The baggage carousel starts out packed, as you're surrounded by your fellow holiday-makers. But suddenly there's fewer bags, fewer people waiting, and then it stops. You've made it but your bag hasn't.
So what are the rules on what you should do when your luggage has gone missing? And who coughs up for your case?

What to do first
Before you start working out whether to claim from the airline or your travel insurance you need to report your missing bag.
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Once your flight touches down, responsibility for getting bags off the plane and onto the baggage carousel is usually down to the airline's 'handling agents' so look for their desk or the 'lost baggage' desk in the baggage hall.

Then ask to fill out a 'Property Irregularity Report' (PIR) and make sure you include details of where you can be found - so your hotel, or home address if you're on your return - along with contact numbers.

Who pays for any emergency essentials?
If you've arrived on holiday but your bag hasn't, your airline may cover the cost of buying essentials like a change of clothes or toiletries. But this won't mean an unlimited spending spree. Airline procedure varies - according to the Civil Aviation Authority, while some may give a cash payment, others simply offer reimbursement further down the line.

So the rule is to buy just the bare minimum in the way of essentials and keep all your receipts.

Most travel insurance policies will also cover you for delayed baggage, but you've usually got to wait at least twelve hours before this kicks in. Beyond this time limit Saga's travel insurance pays up to £250, and with LV= it's also £250 on a basic policy or up to £500 with its premier version.

Others, like the premier cover from Protectyourbubble, pay £75 a day, (up to a maximum £300), but this is for the outward journey only. So if your bag's delayed on the home journey, however inconvenient, you won't get anything.

When's a delayed bag 'lost'?
Some airlines class bags as 'lost' once they've been missing for 21 days, whereas others (like British Airways) claim to keep looking for up to 90 days before they'll admit a bag is finally 'lost'.

It's worth knowing that insurers will usually wait for the airline to count your bag as 'lost' before they'll look to settle a final payout.

Should I claim from my airline or travel policy?
Airline liability is limited. Under the Montreal Convention (which covers lost and delayed baggage and flight delays) the maximum payout for a lost case and contents is around £1,000, although in most cases the Civil Aviation Authority says passengers won't get anything close to this.

Airline payouts aren't based on 'new for old' cover either, so we're talking the value of your case and contents at the time it's lost.

If you're claiming the loss from your airline you need to submit a claim for a 'lost' bag within seven days. You've got 21 days, after receiving your bag back, to make a claim for any costs relating to 'delayed' luggage. However as some airlines won't officially class bags as 'lost' until three weeks or beyond it may be a case of a further wait once your claim has been submitted.

Travel insurance policies often have much higher payouts, but insurer small print may state that you try to claim from your airline first before relying on your travel policy, as is the case with NFU Mutual. With both Saga and NFU Mutual the maximum payout for lost luggage is £2,500, while you can get up to £3,000 with the LV= Premier policy and up to £1,500 with Halifax and Direct Line.

Another bonus to claiming on your travel insurance is that some policies will cover 'consequential loss'. This is the 'knock on effect' of any loss. So if your case is delayed and you miss the start of a pre-booked tour waiting around for it, your airline won't cover this but your travel insurance might.

Can I only claim for 'checked-in' luggage?
Carry on luggage is naturally much less likely to be lost as it's usually under the seat in front or overhead locker next to you. But if it's a full flight and you're last on you can end up having to pack your bag in a locker several rows behind.

If this happens, take out anything of value including your money, passport, phone, keys and return tickets. While most travel policies will cover lost or stolen cabin bags, airline liability is limited to 'hold' luggage only, unless you can prove any damage or loss is the direct fault of the cabin crew or airline.

Keep your luggage safe
No system is foolproof so tag bags with your name, destination airport and a contact number. I always write my name and mobile number on a big sheet of paper inside my suitcase.

Most case colours tend to be dark so make use of bright stickers or name straps so yours is easy to spot. This also reduces the chances of someone else picking it up by mistake!

And when it comes to your holiday packing always keep receipts for new luggage or clothes, just in case you later have to prove the value of any items that were in it.

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Lost luggage: your rights

If you are a victim of a strike, or any other event beyond the airline's control (including ash clouds!), they must offer you a refund (in which case it's up to you to find a way home) or an alternative flight. While you are waiting for the flight you have the right to food and refreshment and accommodation.

If you are on a package holiday, your tour operator is entirely responsible for looking after you until you get back to the UK.

This is more likely to happen due to the financial crisis, but in some situations you are covered. 

If you pay by credit card and it's over £100, you'll get a refund from the card company. 

Your travel insurance may well cover you too, but check before you go.  

Talk to the airline, and if it is temporarily misplaced they should arrange for it to be sent to your accommodation, and you should be either given cash to cover the essentials in the interim.

If it's completely lost you must wait 21 days and then make a claim for compensation. If you are travelling as part of a package you can claim costs from your operator.

If you are travelling within the EU you need an EHIC card, which gives you access to public healthcare. However, this won't necessarily be free, and if you need extra services such as accommodation for a carer, a helicopter home or a delayed flight, you could end up seriously out of pocket.

The only protection that will guarantee you will be looked after without running up a horrendous debt is by having travel insurance - which often covers up to £10 million of costs.

The most common form of theft is pick-pocketing, followed by theft from a car and bag snatching. Meanwhile, 752,000 of those surveyed had items stolen from their hotel room or villa.

If you have anything stolen, your only protection is insurance. You need to tell the local police immediately and get a crime reference for your travel insurer.

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