Why I’m Done With Checked Bags & Joining Team Carry On!

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Why I'm done with checked bags

Why I’m Done With Checked Bags

I’m done with checked bags when traveling. Sure, carrying nothing through the airport is easier, but I’m not checking bags unless it’s a necessity. Having airlines lose my bags every time I have a short connection or flight delay has become a burden. I’m on team carry on now. Here are some reasons I changed my mind.

Delta checked bags

August 2018

Returning from the US to Brazil after my cousin’s wedding last summer, our flight to Atlanta ATL on Delta had a rain delay. Instead of 2.5 hours, because of the delay we had under an hour. This included taking the train to the international terminal, clearing passport control, and literally running to the last gate at the end of the hallway. They were calling our names and saying “the door is closing” when we showed up, sweating from running so much through a giant airport. After boarding, they made an announcement that the plane would wait 10 minutes for some last-minute bags to get loaded.

Imagine our surprise arriving in Brazil at São Paulo GRU airport and hearing our names called to tell us our bags didn’t make the flight. If we waited for “last-minute bags”, why didn’t that include ours? Delta was beyond burdensome in trying to resolve this. Yeah, I got reimbursed for gas to the airport and airport parking to go retrieve our bags after 2 days, but that doesn’t make up for the hassle.

Ethiopian checked bags

March 2019

In March this year, I flew São Paulo GRU to Johannesburg JNB on South African airlines. From there, I had a connection on Ethiopian to ADD Addis Ababa, onward to the small country of Djibouti. Arriving in JNB, they said our plane was being held as customs came through the plane with drug dogs. This took an hour. My 2hr layover turned into an hour, and again I was running through the airport (the international transfers line is always long at JNB).

My suitcase didn’t make the flight, and I only found that out when I arrived in Djibouti that night. There are multiple daily flights from JNB to ADD, and they literally did nothing with my suitcase for 24 hours. A full 48 hours later, my suitcase still hadn’t arrived, and it had only moved to ADD without going further. On day 3, I begged and pleaded with them to  forward it to my new destination, which they said they weren’t supposed to do (makes no sense). I got my suitcase after 3 days.

lufthansa checked bags

November 2019

Due to sitting on the runway for unannounced reasons (and wouldn’t tell me why when I asked), my 80 minutes in Frankfurt turned into 40. I had to connect from the Schengen zone to the international terminal, which again resulted in a ton of running. “Doors closing in 5 minutes” was the flight status when I boarded my flight to JED Jeddah from FRA Frankfurt.

What do you know, my suitcase didn’t make it. I’ve learned that any time you have a tight connection, running for the next flight, your suitcase isn’t running. 0/3 on my suitcase making it during a short connection last year or this year.

The worst part is that my suitcase arrived in Jeddah 24 hours later, but they told me it hadn’t. When I left 48 hours later, it was actually at the airport, and they didn’t know it. I left Jeddah and provided the address for where I’d be for the next 3 days. Let’s call this city B of my trip. What do you know, since no one could tell me where my suitcase was for a full 72 hours (and Lufthansa bitterly refused all inquiries about how to get more information than what their not-updated website shows), I left City B without my suitcase, also. Providing a new forwarding address was worrisome, to say the least. Planning for more failures, I told them to send it to City D as I flew to City C. I thought I’d arrive at the same time.

Shockingly, the extremely helpful airport employee who updated the info on my claim in City B tracked down the manager of the Jeddah location and hounded him. He put my bag on the next flight to City D. Couldn’t they have just done that when the bag arrived days ago? Now, my bag is sitting in City D and waiting for me for over 48 hours. All told, it will be 6 days without my bag.

January 2019

This wasn’t a lost / delayed bag issue, but it was still a checked bag issue that annoyed a lot of people. Due to storms in the area, our Azul flight from Fort Lauderdale FLL to Belem BEL in Brazil was delayed from 7pm until 10am the next morning. They provided hotels and a bus to the hotel for everyone. The kicker was that they refused to release the checked bags. That meant no one was changing clothes. We always travel with a toothbrush in the carry on for long flights, but I bet most of our flight didn’t have a toothbrush or clean underwear in the carry on. Having the airline be responsible for my checked bag in this situation created a hassle, rather than convenience.

If Your Checked Bags are Lost / Delayed – What to Do

First, you obviously tell the lost & found desk. Get a case number. It’s what comes after this that you probably want to know.

The airline is responsible for costs from the delay – up to certain amounts. It’s part of the Montreal Convention of 1999. You’re going to need some items to get you by, so save the receipts on these items for reimbursement. If in doubt, contact the airline before buying. Underwear, toiletries, and those sorts of things are definitely covered but have price limits.

Responsibility lies with the airline you were flying when the bag didn’t show up. If you made a partner award booking, it’s the the company flying the plane who needs to take care of you. Example: if you used United points to book a flight flying on Air Canada, Air Canada needs to reimburse you – not United. Air Canada was responsible for your suitcase.

The longer your delay carries on, the more you’ll need to get by. It’s going to get more complicated. You may run up against the price limits from your airline. This is where travel insurance (I have the Allianz All Trips Premier for my wife and I, $450 annually) or the coverage of your credit card will help.

Popular Credit Cards with Checked Bag Delay / Loss Coverage

Many of the most popular travel credit cards have policies for delayed / lost baggage. For most, the coverage should be in effect for award tickets where you paid the taxes/fees on your credit card, but it never hurts to check beforehand.

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve – Reimburses you for essential purchases like toiletries and clothing for baggage delays over 6 hours by passenger carrier up to $100 a day for 5 days. If checked or carry-on bags are damaged or lost by the carrier, you’re covered up to $3,000 per passenger.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred – Reimburses you for essential purchases like toiletries and clothing for baggage delays over 6 hours by passenger carrier up to $100 a day for 5 days. If checked or carry-on bags are damaged or lost by the carrier, you’re covered up to $3,000 per passenger.
  • American Express Platinum Card – New travel insurance benefits will be coming in January 2020. Note: this coverage only exists if you paid for the whole ticket, not just fees, on this card.

Remember that delayed/lost baggage benefits were removed from the majority of Citi cards recently, so don’t look for check baggage protections from them.

Moral of the story – Why I’m Done with Checked Bags

The ease of traveling through an airport without a carry on is awesome. Zip through security. No fighting for overhead bins. No one has to watch your stuff while you browse shops or use the toilet. Despite that, the inconvenience of a delayed/lost bag is insufferable. The online tracking systems airlines have don’t function as advertised. If you contact them , they can’t provide any real updates about where your bag is “right now”. They can’t say when it will actually get to you. Thus, you spend your holiday looking for the bag, not enjoying your time.

Given the choice between the 2, the inconvenience of a bag lost/delayed for multiple days greatly outweighs the inconvenience of taking a bag through airport security and clamoring for overhead space. Yes, airlines are required to reimburse you for items you need in the days before your bag arrives. And yes, I’ve gotten repaid for all purchases of underwear and toiletries. It’s not fast, but it happens. However, no one can repay me for the time spent on holidays checking on a bag when I would’ve been sightseeing.

Shockingly, it’s only the “big” airlines. I’ve never had a small-time airline like JetSmart or Yeti lose my bags. True, I also don’t have connections on those hops. I’m done with checked bags on any trip that has connections or involves spending less than a week at my first stop. The loss/delay only gets worse when you change to a new city and need the bag forwarded. Unless I’m traveling with items I can’t carry on, I’m not checking a bag. The airlines are just too unreliable to be trusted any longer.

Ryan S
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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  1. It seems like there may be a variety of issues at play here. You mentioned early on that you are tired of having your bags lost, but they’re really just delayed. Your connections seem to be consistently tight. Can you manage all of your current possessions as well as all purchases in carry on alone?

    You do seem to have an unfortunate gift for having delayed baggage. Still, that’s not remotely the same as lost bags. I have flown hundreds of flights with never a lost bag, although I’ve had a few times with delayed bags, with Delta being the worst. My wife and I always carry a small packing cube each with a change of clothes in case of problems.

    Another contributing factor seems to be fairly tight connections. Leave yourself more time. Sit at the lounge for a bit, work a little, have a glass of wine. Your stress level should drop a lot.

    You also seem to be of the opinion that everyone can just carry on rather than checking bags. My wife and I are in Bali right now. Even if we could have somehow done this long a trip with zero checked bags, there’s no human way to cram all of our Christmas presents, souvenirs, general gifts and miscellaneous purchases back into the same bags when returning.

    One final point for us anyway is that if our bags do get delayed, it’s always preferable on the return leg. We already have more clothes and what not at home. Sure, any delay is annoying, but it’s not like we have nothing to wear.

    • Christian, think you missed me pointing out that all of these tight connections were caused by outside issues: weather delays, customs searches on the plane, etc. That’s nothing I can control. I never chose to have a 20min layover.

      I also clearly mentioned (last paragraph) that I know there are times this isn’t an option. Xmas is a great example of needing to bring gifts and not being able to use a carryon only.

      These were addressed 🙂

  2. Sorry to hear about all your bad luck . I would feel exactly the same way if it happened to me. My wife and I don’t travel like you do. In fact our trips are only twice a year to Hawaii. In July we flew United to Maui with a 1 hour layover before getting on Hawaiian Airlines for the flight to Kona. Both checked bags we put on in Denver arrived in Kona,no problem. Then on way home we checked 2 bags to Denver via Honolulu. Flight over on Hawaiian with 2 hour stopover and then United to a Denver. Both bags arrived in Denver with no problems. Have had good luck Denver to Hawaii no matter what route we take.


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