Delayed Baggage Compensation: What Are You Entitled To?

Imagine this: You’ve just landed in Florida for a business conference and you’re waiting at baggage claim for your suitcase to arrive. 

One by one, everyone’s bags come tumbling down onto the carousel. But yours is nowhere to be seen. 

With a sigh, you accept that your bag is officially missing and begin making a list of all the stuff you’ll have to buy. 

Shouldn’t the airline have to pay for it, since they’re the ones that lost your bag? 

The answer is absolutely yes. In fact, airlines are required by law to help you cover certain expenses while your bag is missing. 

Erika Taught Me

  • The Department of Transportation requires all airlines to compensate you.
  • “Reasonable expenses” generally include clothes and toiletries.
  • Some airlines will try to cap your reimbursement at $50 per day, but in reality, you’re entitled to up to $3,800.
  • If your bag is missing for more than 12 hours, airlines have to refund your checked bag fee.

. . .

What Is Delayed Baggage Compensation? 

Delayed baggage compensation is a federally protected right of every airline passenger in the U.S. 

According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), if an airline loses your checked bag, they’re legally required to: 

  1. Refund your checked baggage fee, and 
  2. Reimburse you for all “reasonable expenses” and “consequential damages” you incur while your bag is missing. 

In other words, if Delta or Spirit loses your bag, they’re not only required to refund your checked bag fee, but they’re also responsible for paying for everything you have to buy while your bag is missing.

But where do they draw the line? Will the airline buy you a new laptop or designer shoes if you truly “need” them for your trip? 

@erikakullberg Don’t let the airlines keep this info from you if your bag is delayed 🤯🤫 #lawyer #travel #erikataughtme ♬ original sound – Money Lawyer Erika

What Are You Entitled to If Your Bag Is Delayed?

According to the DOT, “Airlines are required to compensate passengers for reasonable, verifiable, and actual incidental expenses that they may incur while their bags are delayed — subject to the maximum liability limits.” 

In addition, “Passengers who file a mishandled baggage report will be entitled to a refund of their checked bag fee if it is not delivered within 12 hours of their domestic flight arriving at the gate, or 15-30 hours of their international flight arriving at the gate, depending on the length of the flight.” 

The DOT calls this “significantly delayed baggage return.” 

So, if your bag doesn’t arrive at the carousel within 20 minutes of landing, you’re entitled to delayed baggage compensation. If the airline can’t find it within 12 hours, you’re also entitled to a refund of your checked bag fee. 

Now, while the latter refund is automatic (thanks to new DOT rules), airlines won’t provide delayed baggage compensation until you submit a claim for your expenses.

What are “reasonable, verifiable, and actual incidental expenses?” 

This is where things get a little muddy. “Verifiable” and “actual” are pretty straightforward terms, meaning anything you have a purchase receipt for. 

But what expenses are considered “reasonable” when your bag is missing? 

The DOT and airlines agree that the following purchases qualify as essential: 

  • Toiletries
  • Device chargers
  • Non-designer clothing and footwear

Beyond that, “You and the airline may have different ideas of what's reasonable,” says the DOT.

If you can make a compelling case that the following things were truly essential to your trip, the airline may bite and offer partial reimbursement: 

  • Electronics
  • Makeup and cosmetics
  • Prescription refills
  • Sporting equipment
  • Designer goods

What are “maximum liability limits”? 

Delta claims that “Reasonable expenses are generally determined as $50 USD per day.”

But don’t let that mislead you. 

In truth, the DOT requires airlines to compensate passengers up to $3,800 per trip for missing bags on domestic flights, and $1,700 on international flights.

You probably won’t get that much, but at the same time, you shouldn’t settle for $50 if you have to spend $100+. 

READ MORE: Erika's Flight Delay Compensation Guide

How Do You File a Delayed Baggage Claim with an Airline? 

The short answer is: Head to the nearest airline-specific helpdesk by baggage claim. 

Here’s the long answer to ensure you get all the compensation you’re entitled to: 

1. Before you leave, take a photo of the contents of your bag

Knowing what you packed can help you shop for replacement stuff and negotiate reimbursement with the airline. 

2. Wait until your bag is officially “delayed”

If you’ve been waiting at the carousel for longer than 20 minutes, it’s time to file a report.

Head to the nearest airline-specific helpdesk to file a lost/delayed baggage report.

3. Have an open conversation about reimbursement

Different airlines cover different things, so it’s helpful to ask the employee helping you what the airline typically does (and doesn’t) cover.

4. Request a printed copy of the report

You’ll want a copy of the report and a phone number to call for follow-up information. Be sure to get your specific report number, too, since you’ll need that to file a claim later.

5. Request miles, cash, fee reimbursement, and an amenities kit

In addition to your baggage delay reimbursement and a refund of your checked baggage fee, some airlines will offer you additional cash or miles on the spot if you ask.

For example, Alaska Airlines will offer you 2,500 bonus miles if your bag doesn’t arrive within 20 minutes.

6. Make your “reasonable” purchases and keep your receipts

Start buying the toiletries, clothes, and other things you need to feel comfortable. Keep and take photographs of every receipt.

Oh, and check your credit card benefits. One or more of your cards might have delayed baggage reimbursement as a free perk, meaning your credit card company may cover some of your interim expenses if your airline doesn’t. But it only works if you make your purchases using that card!

7. Check your phone for bag tracking updates

Most airlines will give you a FedEx-like tracking number for your missing bag and the option for live text updates.

8. Upload your receipts and await reimbursement

Once you get your bag, file a claim online for all of your interim purchases. You’ll need your report number, itinerary details, PDFs for each of your receipts, and more.

As an example, here’s Delta’s claim form.

Generally speaking, you’ll need to file a claim within 30 days of reporting your bag missing.

9. Negotiate if necessary

Once you get your compensation from the airline, don’t hesitate to push back if you feel they shortchanged you.

Remind them that the law entitles you to up to $3,800 in delayed baggage compensation and that your expenses were well within reason for your trip’s needs.

10. File a secondary claim with your travel insurance or credit card

If you made $250 in reasonable purchases but your airline won’t budge past $150, your credit card benefits or travel insurance might compensate you for the remaining $100 if you file a secondary claim.

If you have both, you’ll typically file with your travel insurance first. 

READ MORE: Baggage Delay Insurance: How It Works

Delayed Baggage Policies By Airline

Here are some airline-specific links and FYIs that might help you seek delayed baggage compensation. 

Delta delayed baggage compensation

Delta’s process is pretty straightforward: Notify an employee, get an incident number, and file a claim online

As mentioned, Delta “generally determines” reasonable expenses to cost $50 per day, but if your out-of-pocket expenses go beyond that, don’t hesitate to push for more compensation. 

Delta also offers a delayed bag rebate after your checked bag has been missing for 12 hours. 

United delayed baggage compensation

Head to the United Baggage Service Office near the baggage claim area to file a report. If you’ve already left the airport, you can chat with a rep online or call the Baggage Recovery Center (1-800-335-2247).

United calls delayed bag purchases “interim expenses” and allows you to file claims online.

The airline also has a long list of expenses it won’t compensate you for, including replacement medicine, jewelry, and antlers. Yep, like deer antlers. 

American Airlines delayed baggage compensation 

American Airlines’ process is also pretty straightforward. In its delayed or damaged bag guide, the airline instructs you to get a filing ID from a rep at the airport and then use it to file a claim online within 30 days. 

The airline simply states that it will cover “reasonable and necessary items.” 

Southwest delayed baggage compensation

@erikakullberg

Know the FINE PRINT for Southwest on delayed luggage! 🤯🤫 Directly from the Department of Transportation: “Airlines are required to compensate passengers for reasonable, verifiable, and actual incidental expenses that they may incur while their bags are delayed – subject to the maximum liability limits.” Search “Department of Transportation Delayed Baggage” to find this language. On Southwest’s Contract of Carriage, you can find information about their baggage policies in Section 7. If your bag is delayed/damaged/lost, you MUST follow the steps listed on their Contract of Carriage (starts on page 43, subsection called “Claims”). You’ll need to get a Baggage Report Number from them. For recent Southwest travel disruptions: Submit your baggage report file ID here: https://www.southwest.com/baginfo/?clk=TRAVEL-DISRUPTION-LP Then follow the steps that they instruct you to provide receipts for reimbursement. If they don’t provide additional steps, then go to this link: https://support.southwest.com/email-us/s/?clk=TRAVEL-DISRUPTION-LP then click complaint -> baggage -> lost/delayed luggage (or damaged baggage) -> then there will be a place for you to upload receipts.

♬ original sound – Money Lawyer Erika

In its Contract of Carriage, Southwest acknowledges its liability for delayed bags but doesn’t say much more beyond that.

The company did publish a short FAQ about delayed bags, where it provides tracking information and instructions on submitting claims online.  

Alaska Airlines delayed baggage compensation

@erikakullberg Erika Taught Me podcast coming out this month #lawyer #money #travel ♬ original sound – Money Lawyer Erika

Alaska Airlines requires you to report missing bags in person at their airport service baggage office within 24 hours of arrival. 

Once you’ve made your purchases, you can file a claim online for compensation.

Oh, and don’t forget to take advantage of Alaska Airlines’ 20-minute baggage guarantee!

Spirit Airlines delayed baggage compensation

Spirit Airlines requires you to file a missing baggage report within four hours of landing, so be sure to swing by the baggage service office before continuing on your journey.

You can then submit a claim for your expenses via Spirit’s online portal

The Bottom Line

If an airline loses your bag, the Department of Transportation requires them to help you cover essential expenses until they find it.

Each airline has a different process, so if your bag goes missing with one of them, check back here for the next steps to maximize your compensation. 

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I'm an award-winning lawyer and personal finance expert featured in Inc. Magazine, CNBC, the Today Show, Business Insider and more. My mission is to make personal finance accessible for everyone. As the largest financial influencer in the world, I'm connected to a community of over 20 million followers across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. I'm also the host of the podcast Erika Taught Me. You might recognize me from my viral tagline, "I read the fine print so you don't have to!"

I'm a graduate of Georgetown Law, where I founded the Georgetown Law Entrepreneurship Club, and the University of Notre Dame. I discovered my passion for personal finance after realizing I was drowning in over $200,000 of student debt and needed to take action-ultimately paying off my student loans in under 2 years. I then spent years as a corporate lawyer representing Fortune 500 companies, but I quit because I realized I wanted to have an impact; I wanted to help real people and teach them that you can create a financial future for yourself.

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Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.