Top Tips for Dealing with Lost or Delayed Luggage

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Use these tips to help prevent losing your suitcase during your trip and learn how to handle it if the airline loses your luggage.

A pile of suitcases.

Even though it is a rarer occurrence these days, we managed to be the unlucky family who didn’t receive one of our suitcases during our London trip.

When we landed in Heathrow International Airport in London, just 3 of our 4 suitcases arrived with us. My youngest daughter’s luggage had been left somewhere in New York City.

We made a few mistakes, did a few things right, and managed to handle the situation so that it didn’t ruin our trip.

Here’s what I wish I would have known before we went.

Clearly Mark Your Suitcase

This was the biggest mistake we made with our luggage. My daughter was using a hand-me-down suitcase that did not have a luggage tag on it.

The official airline baggage tracking tag somehow got ripped off the handle during transportation and the suitcase was left completely unmarked and unidentified.

We meant to put one of the cheap paper tags on it that used to be offered at the airport check-in counter, but with digital check in and self check now the norm, we never found them and forgot all about it in the chaos of the airport.

We will never fly without luggage tags again.

  1. Simple Luggage Tags: You could buy an affordable but sturdy set like this.
  2. Index Card with Info: Some suitcases have a built-in pocket for your information.
  3. Tuck it in a Pocket: At the very least, write it on an index card and slip it into one of the pockets of the bag.

Be sure to include your name and contact information where you can be reached at your destination. A cell phone number is best.

Consider Apple Tags

I’m not a paranoid traveler, but I will never fly without an Apple Tag in my suitcase again.

The information doesn’t do much good to know where your bag is if you can’t contact someone an ocean away to help you get it, but it would have been super handy to know whether or not the suitcase was still in New York or if it had even landed in London.

We worried for two more days than we probably needed to, assuming the luggage was just completely missing.

If we had known it had made it to London, we might have been able to relax a little knowing it would show up eventually. We also could have tracked the delivery of it to our AirBNB so that it might not have been left in the rubbish bin by the delivery driver.


Once you know your suitcase is missing, absolutely do NOT leave the airport until you have filed a claim at the baggage services counter.

You cannot prove that your suitcase hasn’t arrived once you’ve left.

They will kickstart the claims process and produce claim codes you will absolutely need later for reimbursement.

Know What You Packed

The first thing the baggage services attendant asked us was to identify some of the contents of the suitcase so they could match our bag to us despite it not having that tag on it.

She wanted to know some specifically identifiable items both inside the bag (like a pair of green boots, an orange bag, and purple packing cubes) as well as outside of the bag (like the green ribbons I tied to the handle and the tear on the front pocket.)

Bleary eyed and jet lagged, it was hard for me to originally remember what was inside the suitcase we lost.

It would be an excellent pre-trip habit to quickly snap a photo of what you packed in your bag before you zip it up and leave. This will not only help you identify what was in the bag but could help with your claim if it goes missing.

Document Your Bag and Travel Info

At every step of your travel, be sure you are keeping track of the codes assigned to you as a passenger and your bag.

If you have to file a claim or deal with any issues, you will need to know:

  1. Your Ticket Number
  2. Your Ticket Receipt
  3. Your Confirmation Code
  4. Your Baggage ID
  5. Your Baggage Claim Check Number

Save all the emails the airline sends you, some of this information can only be found there and not even in the airline app.

Smart Carry On Packing

I always make my family pack an emergency change of clothes in our carry-on bags. They all thought I was crazy until one of us actually had to use it!

You can see a change of underwear and socks along with a fresh t-shirt bundled together in a plastic storage bag in my carry on items along with a few essentials that make a lost suitcase less of an immediate emergency:

A carry on bag sits on the bed in front of all the items that go inside.

I always tell my kids to pack these items in their carry-on:

  1. Change of Shirt
  2. Change of Underwear and Socks
  3. Toothbrush & Toothpaste
  4. Deodorant

You can see my entire carry on packing list here.

NEVER Put These Items in Checked Bags

Losing your luggage completely is a legitimate concern. You absolutely, 100% never want to pack these items in your checked bag:

  1. Prescription Medicines
  2. Eyeglasses or Contacts
  3. Jewelry
  4. Retainer or Mouth Guard
  5. Money or Anything of High Value
  6. Anything Truly Special that Could Not Be Replaced

Travel with a Credit Card

The baggage services attendant was not able to immediately identify where our lost luggage was and could not guarantee if or when we might see it again.

She told us that the airline would reimburse us for a “reasonable” amount of replacement clothing for the next 1 – 2 days but that if the luggage didn’t show up by then, we could shop again to get what was needed for the remainder of the trip.

She suggested I hold on to all the receipts and wait to file my claim until I got home so I’d have the full total of what needed to be reimbursed.

This means, I had to suddenly spend hundreds of dollars on an unexpected expense to be sure my daughter had enough clothing to enjoy her trip.

I am SO grateful I had a foreign transaction fee-free credit card in my wallet. Even if you normally pay cash for everything, unexpected expenses can pop up when you travel and a credit card helps ensure you aren’t immediately out of pocket the cash.

Shopping for Replacement Items on Your Trip

I am so grateful I had a friend in London I could message for advice on where to take my daughter shopping for replacement clothes.

She suggested Marks & Spencer where we were able to purchase literally every single thing she needed, all in one place.

A young girl holds shopping bags in front of Marks & Spencer.

I suggest finding a department store that carries everything unless you enjoy shopping and don’t mind visiting a few shops during your first day.

We purchased:

  1. Pajamas
  2. Underwear and Socks
  3. Sweaters
  4. Tops
  5. Jeans
  6. Dress Pants for Easter which was the next day
  7. Walking Shoes
  8. A Rain Coat
  9. Belt

The total ended up coming to about £400 which was $500 with the exchange rate. So you can see why I was grateful to have the credit card for the purchase.

We chose fairly average-priced items, I did not stress finding anything on sale but also didn’t head directly to a luxury shop. The jeans were about $35, the sweaters $45, the raincoat $100.

The baggage attendant insinuated that it was going to be a while before we ever saw the suitcase and I did not want to go back for a second round of shopping. We just bought what I felt she needed for the entire week in one trip.

Thankfully, I guessed right. She didn’t have her suitcase until the end of Day 3 and the airline reimbursed the total of the expense.

Getting Reunited with Your Luggage

When we returned to our AirBNB at the end of our third day in London, we wondered if the suitcase would be waiting for us.

I had called the airline that morning and been told it was out for delivery but we were never contacted by the delivery driver.

If we had stayed in a hotel, the concierge would have been able to accept the bag, but renting the AirBNB it had to be left on the front step or we would have had to stay home to wait for it.

To hide it from theft, the delivery driver placed the suitcase in the building’s rubbish closet. I would never have thought to look there, but my daughter saw the door and was curious.

We were never told it had been delivered, if we hadn’t looked it may have been picked up with the trash.

We pulled the bag inside, and this was her reaction to finally seeing her very favorite things packed for the trip:

A girl hugs her clothes in her suitcase.

Filing a Claim

We finished our London vacation and headed home. I didn’t start the final claim until a few days after the trip.

We had up to 30 days to file the claim, but I recommend that you take care of it as soon as possible once you get back.

It took me about an hour and a half to complete the process because I did not have all the information I listed at the top.

I had to dig around for our ticket numbers, confirmation codes, baggage tags, etc. If you took the time to track it before you left, the claim process would take less than 15 minutes.

I’m thankful the airline reimbursed the entire expense but something I learned during the claim process is that if your suitcase if over the weight limit coming home because you have more clothing than you left with, they will also reimburse the extra-weight fee.

So just be sure to track literally EVERYTHING you spend on the trip so you can submit your full claim.

The photo collage shows a pile of suitcases next to a carry on bag with essentials.

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