Lost and stolen suitcases

What's the true cost of a case?

Did you know that the contents of your holiday suitcase are likely to be worth around £1,500?1

Here's the average cost of what we jet off with:

  • Suncream and new swimwear: £40
  • Clothing: £245
  • Gadgets (including phones and tablets): £600
  • Jewellery: £269
  • Cosmetics: £52
  • Shoes: £105
  • Designer sunglasses: £150
  • Suitcase cost: £100

Yet according to our research, 1 in 10 travellers aged 25–34 admit that they don't take out travel insurance before they go on holiday – and two-thirds of people surveyed believe that the old European Health Insurance Card, now the Global Health Insurance Card, is a free substitute for travel insurance.

How many suitcases go missing every year?

Every year, thousands of suitcases from the UK don't make it to their destination – some 26 million bags were lost, delayed or damaged worldwide in 2022. It's not cheap to recoup the cost of a lost suitcase; the average claim we receive for lost luggage every year is £316 per case.

If you're unlucky enough to lose a bag, we've got plenty of advice to make sure it doesn't ruin your holiday.

How do airlines lose bags?

It doesn't happen often, but mistakes can occur at check-in which can lead to lost luggage:

  • The check-in attendant could accidentally type in the wrong destination code which gets printed on your label.

  • The label might print oddly and be illegible, so baggage handlers can't tell where your bag's supposed to be going.

Bags can also get lost while they're being transported through the airport because:

  • Baggage handlers may put your bag into the wrong baggage cart, which means it gets loaded onto the wrong plane.

  • Your luggage tag can be damaged or torn off.

My suitcase didn't arrive on the luggage carousel. What should I do?

First, don't panic. There's a good chance you'll be reunited with your bag, but the faster you move the better.

  • Report your bag missing as soon as you can. It lets the airline know they need to find your bag, and their search for the bag can be documented.

  • Go to the airport's baggage claim office and explain what's happened. They'll want a description of your bag, and your flight details. Don't forget to give them your contact details – if you're travelling with a partner or friend, you can give their number too, just in case your phone dies. You can also give your hotel or hostel contact number, so the airline can contact you there if there's any news.

  • Keep any paperwork you're given, as well as your flight tickets, and take pictures of it all on your phone. You'll need identification numbers and claims numbers if you need to claim on your travel insurance.

  • Write down the name of the person who helped you and get a follow-up phone number.

  • Don't wait for the airline to call you – take a proactive approach, and call them if you want an update.

What happens to lost luggage?

UK airlines track your bag for 21 days before it's declared 'irretrievably lost', but the World Tracer System – used by most major airlines – will keep track of a bag for 100 days.

After the 100 day period has passed, lost and unclaimed baggage is likely to end up at an auction house, where the proceeds from the sale will go to charity.

What should I do if my suitcase has been stolen?

If you get your bag from the carousel but it's stolen afterwards, it's no longer a matter for the airline – it's now with the local police.

  • Head straight to the airline's information desk and explain what's happened. They'll put you in touch with local police, who'll file a report.

  • Give the police as many details as possible, including the time the bag went missing, and a full description of it.

  • It's a good idea to take a picture of your bag before you fly, as if it goes missing, you'll have an accurate description for the police.

  • Keep hold of any paperwork – you'll need this if you want to file a claim.

How to minimise the chance of losing your bag, or it being stolen

If you take a few precautionary steps when you check-in, it could help to make sure your bag gets to its destination.

  • Arrive early for check-in.

  • After the attendant has printed your baggage label, check it is legible and that the destination airport is correct. This is especially important if you have a connecting flight, as this is one of the most common scenarios where bags are lost.

  • Fill out your personal details on your suitcase tag. Although a lot of us don't bother, it can help baggage handlers if your suitcase's printed label is lost or damaged.

  • Remove any trailing straps on your bag before you check it in to reduce the chance of it getting snagged on the way.

  • Make sure your bag has an identifying feature which sets it apart from other people's bags, such as a ribbon or colourful stickers.

  • If you're travelling long-haul, book a non-stop flight if possible.

  • Put your name and mobile number somewhere on your bag so it's clearly visible.

  • If you're worried about carrying expensive gadgets or jewellery, pop them in your hand luggage.

There's no way to guarantee your bag won't be stolen, but you can take precautions to make it as hard for thieves as possible.

  • Head straight to the baggage carousel when you land and stand near the section where the luggage reappears.

  • If you see someone walking off with what looks like your bag, politely stop them and ask to check – if it's a genuine mistake, they won't mind.

  • Take advantage of plastic wrap machines at airports; thieves may be put off if they can't get into the bag quickly and easily.

  • Make sure your bag is locked with a travel padlock or has a combination lock.

  • Luggage tracking devices can bring extra peace of mind.

How much am I insured for with AA Travel Insurance?

AA Travel Insurance Gold cover provides £2,500 cover for your baggage, and if you're an AA member there's no excess to pay in the event of a claim.

Don't forget to take photos of your case and your belongings before you jet off, and make sure that you keep receipts for any new gadgets, toiletries and clothes. This can help you prove to your insurer what you've lost if you need to make a claim.

1 Going without travel insurance. AA-Populus online poll 17–24 May 2018 of 16,328 AA members. Populus is a founding member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

Author: The AA. Published 8 October 2019. Updated 8 April 2024.

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