There’s no faster way to ruin a long-awaited vacation than discovering that an airline has lost your luggage.

While the odds of that nightmare scenario happening are improving, more than 154,600 bags were mishandled by airline carriers in November 2023 alone, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

While more travelers are opting to fly with only a carry-on these days, that’s not always possible for extended vacations or during the holidays, when we tend to load up our bags with gifts for family and friends. So, what can flyers do to protect themselves against the agony of an AWOL suitcase?

For starters, many top rewards credit cards already include surprisingly comprehensive travel protections, including insurance coverage for baggage mishaps. Two types of luggage insurance typically offered include incidents of lost baggage and baggage that is severely delayed by several hours. For delays, that means your credit card issuer will often reimburse you for any necessities purchased while you wait for your bag to turn up — including those for toiletries, medication and clothing.

In the event that your baggage is lost indefinitely, you may be entitled to a full refund — so long as you purchased the flight with an eligible credit card and can provide adequate proof to support your claim. The extent of coverage varies by card. Generally, premium rewards cards offer the broadest coverage. However, even premium credit cards have exceptions in place when it comes to jewelry, electronics and other high-value items.


Bankrate’s take: For expensive items or gifts you’re better off packing them in your carry-on. If you absolutely must check a bag, purchase excess valuation insurance from your airline. This will offer additional coverage beyond the airline’s standard liability.

How to file a lost luggage claim with your credit card issuer

As with most types of insurance, the process of filing a claim isn’t so straightforward. Prepare to wade through a lot of fine print. For example, to qualify for coverage, some cards require that you’ve already paid for the entire cost of the flight, while others are OK with just partial payment.

Credit card baggage insurance typically provides secondary coverage — meaning you must first file your claim with the carrier responsible for the loss. In this case, that’s your airline (though it can also include cruise ships and trains). Once you’ve determined your bag indeed has been lost, do not leave the airport without filing a missing baggage report at your airline’s baggage desk. Smaller airlines may not always have a dedicated baggage desk and may instead use contractors that handle baggage services for multiple carriers.

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Keep in mind: Most credit card baggage delay coverage typically kicks in after your bag has been missing for longer than six hours, after which you may be reimbursed for necessities. However, this benefit is usually capped at $500 per ticket, so it’s by no means an invitation to shop until you drop.

While the majority of missing bags are only temporarily lost and eventually located by the airline, that’s not always the case. Some airlines will consider your bag permanently lost after 14 days, though here, too, that number can vary by carrier. Once this occurs, you’ll need to file a second, more detailed claim with the airline, often providing an itemized list and receipts to prove the value of the missing contents. Remember, the value of your items depreciates after purchasing, so don’t expect to get back exactly what you paid for a pair of jeans two years ago.

Once you have confirmation of the claim you’ve filed with your carrier, you can contact your benefits administrator to begin a claim with your credit card company. The allotted window for making your lost baggage claim will vary by card. Most range from 20 to 90 days from the date your bag went missing.

In addition, every credit card has slightly different requirements regarding what documentation you need to submit with your claim. Besides your original claim to the airline and original receipts, you may be asked to provide a travel itinerary, card statement with your flight purchase and proof of any reimbursements made by the airline.

Best credit cards for delayed or lost luggage insurance

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

American Express Gold Card

The Platinum Card from American Express

Lost luggage prevention 101

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and there are measures you can take to minimize your odds of losing a bag or at least make it a little easier to recover if it does go missing.

  • Make your bag easy to identify. Attaching a luggage tag with your name and address is a great start, but those tags can easily fall off in transit. For that reason, you should include an additional means of identification inside your bag. A simple sheet of paper with your name and address will do just fine. And because so many bags are identical, adding some easily-identifiable flourish — like a tassel or a sticker — can go a long way in making your bag easier for baggage handlers to spot.
  • Choose your route wisely. When you have to rush to make a connecting flight, so does your bag, and that’s just one more stop where things can go wrong. So whenever possible, opt for a nonstop flight. Of course, not everyone has the luxury of living near a well-connected airline hub, but you can still be selective about which airports you connect through. For example, suppose you can choose between a connection in Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) or Newark (EWR) for a January return holiday flight. In that case, it’s probably a safe assumption that Texas will be less affected by the sort of winter weather chaos that could separate you from your bag.
  • Photograph the contents of your bag. When it comes time to file that claim, you’ll need all the evidence you can get to show exactly what was packed inside. Snapping a quick pic with your phone can help jog your memory later should you need to provide an itemized list.
  • Use tracking devices. The Apple AirTag allows flyers to track the precise location of their luggage from drop-off to carousel using the iPhone Find My app. The small, disc-shaped device works flawlessly provided it stays looped to the exterior of your bag, which isn’t necessarily guaranteed. To prevent it from being stolen or becoming detached, you’re probably better off keeping the AirTag tucked away inside your suitcase. Note that AirTags use a lithium battery, but it’s well within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allowance of 0.3 grams, making it safe to fly with.
  • Download your airline’s app. Having your airline’s app downloaded on your phone can help streamline everything from check-in to ancillary purchases, but some airline apps also alert you when your bag has been loaded onto an aircraft.

The bottom line

With passenger numbers soaring and airports continuing to struggle with staffing, it’s better to face travel knowing you might experience an ugly scene at the baggage carousel. Before you dash off to the airport, though, do your homework. Understand the travel protections your credit card provides for lost luggage and delays. Visit your airline’s contract of carriage online, and get familiar with its liability policies and resolution process. And, if possible, pack any electronics, gifts and valuables in your carry-on, and be sure to document the contents of your checked baggage. In other words, plan for the worst and hope for the best.

For Capital One products listed on this page, some of the above benefits are provided by Visa® or Mastercard® and may vary by product. See the respective Guide to Benefits for details, as terms and exclusions apply.