You arrive at your airport, claim your baggage, go home and start to unpack, only to find that the heirloom silver cup your grandmother passed on to you is missing. Who was responsible? And what should you do now? Although I’ve never had anything lifted from a checked bag, it does happen. Prevention is the best protection:
Prevention rule 1: Leave valuables that you don’t need during your trip at home. I have no sympathy for travelers who wail about loss of expensive jewelry or unique clothing when they’re on a trip.
Prevention rule 2: Never, ever pack anything in checked baggage that is likely to attract thieves. The obvious targets are electronics, cameras, currency or valuable papers and such. If you need more than you can accommodate in your carry-on, arrange separate shipment.
But prevention is not always possible, and you do have recourse – although limited recourse, in many cases.
Recourse rule 1: Start with the airline. File a loss or damage report as soon as you discover the problem, and no later than 24 hours after you obtain the bag. On domestic flights in the United States, airlines are responsible for up to $3,300 per passenger, increasing to $3,400 this June; on international flights, the claim ceiling is about $1,752. You can buy excess value insurance, but that covers loss only, not damage. Airline liability has limits:
• All airlines post long lists of “high risk” items for which they do not accept any liability. These lists include the usual suspects of tech stuff, valuable papers, jewelry, heirlooms and such.
• Airline liability is based on current, depreciated value of whatever is lost or damaged, not replacement value, and sentimental value doesn’t count. Moreover, you may have to provide original purchase receipts.
Recourse rule 2: If your airline doesn’t cover enough, your personal property insurance – typically homeowners or tenant policies – probably covers your personal effects when you’re traveling, as well as at home. When airline compensation is inadequate, apply for recovery through your policy.
Recourse rule 3: Your credit card also may cover some baggage loss/damage. Some American Express cards, for example, cover up to $3,000 for baggage loss/damage, including up to $250 for some “high risk” items (but not cash, securities, tickets and travel documents) the airlines won’t cover at all, and recovery is based on replacement rather than depreciated value. Other cards provide similar benefits. Most credit card coverage, however, is secondary, meaning you must first make a claim against the airline. And you have to have paid the entire ticket price with the card; coverage does not apply when you travel on frequent flyer award tickets.
Before you start your trip, you can also buy travel insurance that covers baggage loss/damage.
Insurance rule 1: Many bundled travel insurance policies cover baggage loss or damage. Amounts and terms vary by policy and range from a low of $500 in secondary coverage to a high of $2,500 in primary coverage. Policies also vary in the specific types of property they might exclude: Most exclude cash, securities, travel documents and prosthetic devices such as dentures and hearing aids, but they may well include some items airlines do not. Most policies pay depreciated value, not replacement value. And most impose a lower dollar limit on “high risk” items. Also, buying a bundled policy just for the baggage insurance may be overkill.
Insurance rule 2: You can buy special insurance covering high-tech items on an annual basis. Tripinsurance.com, for example, sells “electronics and cameras” policies covering smartphones, tablets, laptops, e-readers, cameras and gaming consoles. But prices are stiff, ranging from $110 a year for up to $1,600 in laptop coverage (7 percent) to $41 a year for up to $299 coverage for an Android phone (14 percent). I have not found any by-the-trip baggage-only policies.