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What to do if your luggage is lost when you’re abroad

luggage at airport

It’s the last thing you want to think about when you’re planning a holiday. But if your luggage gets lost when you’re abroad, it pays to be prepared.

Here are our tips for dealing with lost luggage while travelling.

Before You Travel

Invest in a traceable luggage tag

Before travelling, consider buying a traceable luggage tag. These use GPS or Radio-Frequency Identification technology to track the exact location of your bag. Most come with a smartphone app that allows you to follow the bag as it moves. So, if your bag gets lost in transit, you can help the airline pinpoint its location.

Take notes

Make a note of the brand and model of your suitcase, or even take a photo. When filing a lost luggage report you’ll need to describe the bag, and ‘black suitcase’ might not be descriptive enough! You could make a rough list of everything that’s inside your case, and take photos for evidence if needed.

It’s best to avoid putting valuables in your main suitcase altogether. These are safer on your person anyway, and may not be covered by your travel insurance unless they were in your hand luggage. If there’s anything of value in your case, make sure you have a copy of the receipt.

Keep your luggage receipt

When you check in for your flight, you’ll be given a baggage tag or luggage receipt. Put this somewhere safe and keep hold of it. If you need to file a lost luggage report this will be very useful.

What to do if your luggage is lost

1. Make sure it isn’t delayed first

As soon as you realise that your bag isn’t on the carousel, don’t panic. Most ‘lost’ luggage is merely delayed, so chances are you will get it back.

Head straight to the baggage claims office and file a report. Most airlines need you to file the forms within a certain number of days, or even hours. Your best bet is to do it immediately, even if you’re in a hurry. Also, if the bag has simply been re-routed by accident, reporting it straight away can help you get it back quicker.

Ask for the name of the person who helped you, and get a phone number so you can follow up. Be sure to get a copy of the report form. They may ask for your baggage tag, so take a photo of it or make a note of the reference numbers before you hand it over, just in case anything gets lost.

2. Sit back and wait

The next step is to simply wait while the airline investigates. If your bags are on the next flight, you could get hold of them within a few hours. If they’ve been sent to the wrong airport this could take a few days.

Head to your hotel and settle in while you wait. If you need to buy a few essentials to get you by, keep hold of the receipts, as you may be able to get compensation.

Once an airline has found your luggage, they will usually deliver it to you. If you’re travelling to more than one destination, make sure you let the airline staff know the address of each hotel and what dates you’ll be there. It may be worth calling the airline each time you move on, to let them know you’re in a different location.

If you need to travel back to the airport to collect your lost luggage, keep any travel receipts. Again, you may be able to claim compensation.

If your luggage is definitely lost

After 21 days, your bag is considered officially lost. Until that time, it will be treated as ‘delayed.’ Once 21 days have passed, give the airline a final call to check that the luggage is still missing. If it is, it’s time to claim compensation.


Many airlines will reimburse you for any expenses caused by lost or delayed luggage. Find out what your airline’s policy is, and keep hold of any receipts for things you want to claim for. You can find lots of helpful information on the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website.

Airlines have to compensate passengers for lost luggage under an act called the Montreal Convention. This sets a fixed amount for lost luggage, and also requires the airline to fully compensate travellers for the cost of replacement items bought because of delayed or lost luggage.

Contact the airline

Many airlines have a claim form on their website. If they don’t, contact them directly and ask the best way to make your claim.

Send in copies of all relevant information, including a copy of the form from your lost luggage report, as well as any receipts for replacement clothes, toiletries and other essentials. Mention that you are ‘claiming compensation under the Montreal Convention’ as this will show that you know your rights.

Check your travel insurance

Depending on the value of your luggage contents, you may find that the airline compensation isn’t quite enough. Check what amount you can claim for under your travel insurance; if it’s more, you may be able to claim for the difference. Just be aware, there’s usually an excess to pay for travel insurance claims unless you have bought an excess waiver.

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