Before her recent Lufthansa flight to Hamburg, Kate Griffin purchased a Platinum lost luggage protection plan from Blue Ribbon Bags. That plan provides a $1,500 lump payment if an insured bag goes missing and can’t be located within 96 hours.
So when she landed in Germany but her two suitcases didn’t, Kate figured she was covered. She quickly filed a lost luggage report with Lufthansa and Blue Ribbon Bags and then waited.
Those 96 hours came and went, but Lufthansa failed to locate her lost luggage. So why did Blue Ribbon reject her $3,000 claim for the two missing bags?
That’s what a frustrated Kate is asking the Consumer Rescue team to find out.
Blue Ribbon Bags protection during a surge in lost luggage
Last summer, Kate, who lives in Germany, was visiting the United States. After an enjoyable few weeks, it was time to go home. On July 6, she headed to the Lufthansa business class check-in counter at Chicago O’Hare Airport.
Having read many recent reports about the surge in lost luggage – especially on flights to and from Europe – Kate handed her suitcases over with trepidation. At the same time, she purchased a Platinum lost luggage protection policy from Blue Ribbon Bags.
Airline passengers can purchase Blue Ribbon’s Gold, Platinum, or Diamond service for $5, $7, or $10, respectively. If an airline loses a traveler’s luggage during a covered flight and the lost suitcase(s) aren’t located within those 96 hours, Blue Ribbon will pay a flat rate of $1,000, $1,500, or $2,000 per lost bag.
Landing in Hamburg after the 10-hour flight, which connected through Frankfurt, Kate made her way to the baggage carousel. She was eager to grab her luggage and head home after her long trip. As a business class passenger, Lufthansa had tagged her luggage with bright orange priority labels, so she expected those bags to soon flop down the conveyor belt.
But they didn’t.
All around her, travelers were collecting their bags and dispersing. Kate noticed that all the other business class passengers on her flight had been reunited with their priority-tagged suitcases.
As the crowd in the baggage claim area grew thinner, Kate began to get a bad feeling about her luggage.
Yep, Lufthansa definitely lost all of my luggage!
When the luggage carousel suddenly came to a stop, it was clear that neither of Kate’s bags had made it to Hamburg.
“I was irritated and tired, but I knew I had to file a lost luggage claim with Lufthansa, right away,” Kate recalled. “I knew I also needed to alert Blue Ribbon Bags about the missing baggage. But I really was just hoping Lufthansa would find my suitcases. That’s really all I wanted.”
After filing the necessary reports, Kate headed home – empty-handed.
96 hours and still no sign of the missing bags
Unfortunately, as the days progressed, it was clear that neither Lufthansa nor Blue Ribbon Bags could locate Kate’s lost luggage. Although she really just wanted her belongings, the $3,000 compensation would certainly make the situation a little easier to bear.
When the clock hit the 96-hour mark, Lufthansa informed Kate it still had no idea where her bags had gone. Then she reached out to Blue Ribbon.
That’s when Kate learned the Blue Ribbon protection plan was not quite as straightforward as she thought.
She was in for more bad news. Blue Ribbon Bags was rejecting her claim.
Blue Ribbon Bags rejection: “Your luggage was on your Lufthansa flight.”
“A senior customer service representative at Blue Ribbon Bags told me my claim was rejected,” Kate explained. “He said that his team had determined that my “lost” luggage was on my Lufthansa flight to Hamburg. So I was owed nothing and Blue Ribbon had rejected my claim.”
Kate assumed there was some misunderstanding since Lufthansa had confirmed that her bags were still missing. She appealed her case with Blue Ribbon Bags and quickly received a reiteration that the claim was rejected. The case was closed.
“Obviously my luggage was not on that Lufthansa flight, so I don’t know why Blue Ribbon is insisting that it was! This makes no sense. Even now, Lufthansa doesn’t know where my luggage is.”
Asking for help with this Blue Ribbon Bags claim
Not knowing what else to do, Kate started scrolling through the internet. There, she found an article I had written about another Blue Ribbon Bags customer. Unlike Kate, the traveler in that case had not read any of the terms and conditions of the company and had never even reported his bag as missing.
Of course, it should go without saying that if you don’t report your luggage missing, there is no way for Blue Ribbon Bags to find it. And the company is definitely not going to pay compensation for a bag you never reported as missing. For obvious reasons, that customer’s claim was rejected.
But Kate had read the terms and conditions and had a firm grasp of what her responsibilities were in the situation. She was sure that she had followed all the steps to qualify for the compensation from Blue Ribbon Bags.
So what had gone wrong? Kate submitted her request for help to the Consumer Rescue team and hoped we could find out.
Consumer Rescue investigates: Is this luggage really lost?
When Kate’s request for help landed in my inbox, I was in the middle of my 18th annual month-long Endless Road Trip across the United States with my daughters and their friends.
At that moment, my “office” was a Glamping tent in Glacier National Park, where I had intermittent Wifi. But Kate was in distress, and I was determined to figure out what had gone wrong.
Of course, my traveling companions, being teenagers, rarely appeared outside their tent before 10 AM. So I drove 10 miles to a Starbucks where the internet was strong, grabbed a cup of coffee, and read through Kate’s paper trail.
By that day, she had been reunited with one of her bags in a most unusual way. Kate explained:
A passenger who flew into Hamburg airport called me yesterday.
She found my small silver bag that I had checked in and sent me pics of the suitcase and where it was on WhatsApp. There is an entire terminal of lost and unclaimed luggage called TANGO in Hamburg. My friend and I went to the airport and got that bag.
Scouring through the piles of unclaimed bags, Kate hoped to find her other suitcase as well.
“It definitely wasn’t there,” Kate told me. “Lufthansa told me that their records showed the bags had never left Chicago.”
I quickly confirmed that wasn’t true. In fact, with just a few clicks I was able to “see” exactly where Kate’s other bag was – and it wasn’t Chicago.
What is WorldTracer, and how can it help you if your luggage is lost on a flight?
Lufthansa, like many airlines, uses the WorldTracer program to track its passengers’ luggage.
WorldTracer® is the world’s only fully global baggage tracing and matching system. It provides a single, standardized solution for reporting and repatriating mishandled bags. Developed in cooperation with IATA, it allows customers to locate their lost baggage anywhere in the world.From the WorldTracer website
I first became acquainted with just how useful the WorldTracer program is just before the pandemic. At that time, Lufthansa had forced my dad (who had never checked a bag before in his entire life) to hand over his carry-on at the gate on a trip to Germany. Like Kate, he was one of the unlucky ones at the baggage claim after his flight. His bag was nowhere to be found.
But using the WorldTracer system via a link provided by Lufthansa as part of the missing luggage report, we were able to locate my dad’s bag and alert the airline and help the process along. My dad was soon reunited with his lone suitcase.
So I headed over to the Lufthansa WorldTracer system again to see what it might show about Kate’s missing bag. And even though Lufthansa was still sending Kate messages that her suitcase had never left the United States, the WorldTracer showed it had.
In fact, at that moment, it was 9,000 miles away from Chicago in Johannesburg, South Africa. Not only that, it was taking a flight back to Hamburg that very day – two weeks after it went missing.
Asking Blue Ribbon Bags to have another look at this claim
It appeared we had one part of Kate’s problem fixed. I gave her the good news about her missing bag. Of course, she still wanted an explanation from Blue Ribbon Bags about her rejected claim.
I believed this new information provided the evidence that we needed to prove her suitcases (at least this one) were not on the original flight to Hamburg.
Plus, I had a little secret “weapon” in my advocacy toolbox that I thought could bring immediate clarity to this situation.
Over my years as a consumer advocate, I’ve enjoyed making many friendly contacts along the way – on both sides of the consumer and business relationship. Gabriel Menkin, the CEO of Blue Ribbon Bags, is one of those friendly business contacts. He is always quick to respond when I bring one of his customer’s problems to his attention.
So after I reviewed Kate’s documentation, including the information from WorldTracer and her Blue Ribbon Bags claim rejection, I was sure that Gabriel would like to have a look.
And soon, from a dusty 2-star motel in Wyoming in the middle of nowhere, with limited phone service, I was chatting with Gabriel. We yelled our way through the call and got disconnected at least once… but the message I received was clear. There would be good news for Kate about her Blue Ribbon Bags claim.
Gabriel told me that his proprietary information showed that Kate’s bags were both loaded on her Lufthansa flight to Hamburg. As per the terms of Blue Ribbon Bags, coverage ends when the flight lands. If a passenger’s luggage goes missing between the aircraft and the carousel, the claim will not be successful. BUT…
In the spirit of goodwill, Blue Ribbon Bags would pay Kate $1,500 for the missing bag that was found in Johannesburg.
Blue Ribbon Bags will not cover an airline’s misdirection of your bags after the flight
Just like every other company in the world, Blue Ribbon Bags has terms and conditions. This service contract provides all the crucial information that a consumer needs to know to understand what they’re buying.
Unfortunately, many consumers breeze past the terms and conditions of the companies they patronize and then end up blindsided when the outcome doesn’t match their expectations. Kate had read most of the Blue Ribbon Bags’ terms and conditions – but not all of it. And the part she missed was the part that explained why her claim had been rejected.
j. All bags will be considered returned to the passenger, and this service agreement will be considered rendered, per the terms and conditions of the Blue Ribbon Bags Service Agreement, when as per the airline’s baggage system, the bag arrives at the airport where the passenger filed their lost luggage claim, as shown in the passengers lost baggage claim.Blue Ribbon Bags service agreement
So if Blue Ribbon Bags, through its proprietary tracking system, determines your luggage was on your scheduled flight and landed with you, you’ll need to look to your airline or insurance carrier to cover your loss.
In Kate’s situation, Lufthansa was showing inaccurate information across the board about the location of her luggage. It would appear that both bags were mislabeled. But Gabriel says that his proprietary information shows that both Kate’s bags arrived in Hamburg with her on July 7. That ended her service agreement with Blue Ribbon. The company doesn’t track bags from the aircraft to the baggage carousel.
But Blue Ribbon would pay Kate $1,500 for the bag that Lufthansa sent to South Africa.
Kate was pleased with the outcome, but Lufthansa had one more surprise for her.
Lufthansa flies the lost luggage back to South Africa
No sooner had Kate breathed a sigh of relief that she would soon have the rest of her belongings plus the $1,500, her luggage took another inexplicable trip.
Unbelievably, as soon as the red suitcase arrived home in Hamburg, WorldTracer showed that Lufthansa sent it back to South Africa.
I’m afraid the saga continues. If only my suitcase could talk! A friend of mine who flew back to FRA from abroad and then back to Hamburg checked on my suitcase for me (he works at Lufthansa Technik), and unfortunately, it looks like it arrived, but they accidentally sent it back to Johannesburg! Can you believe that?Kate
When Kate called Lufthansa about the latest mistake, the airline assured her the luggage would be on the next flight back to Hamburg.
I’m happy to report that the next day after two weeks and multiple flights, Kate finally reunited with her solo-traveling suitcase.
Lost luggage: What you need to know before and after it happens
When Lufthansa lost Kate’s luggage, she joined the hundreds of thousands of passengers whose belongings the airlines misplaced last summer. It’s been a banner year for lost luggage, and unfortunately, there seems to be no sign that the situation is improving.
Here’s what travelers need to know about lost luggage: Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst with these tips.
Itemize and photograph your luggage and what’s in it!
As you’re packing for your trip, make a list of the things you’re putting in your suitcase. Take a photo of what you’ve packed. If you become a victim of the lost luggage “pandemic,” filing a claim will be a breeze if you’ve itemized everything beforehand.
Consider travel insurance
Whether you purchase a standalone policy like Blue Ribbon Bags which provides for lost luggage compensation only, or a more comprehensive travel insurance policy, make sure you understand your coverage. That means reading through the entire document and terms and conditions. For most travel insurance policies, you have 10-14 days to review the details before it becomes nonrefundable. The service agreement with Blue Ribbon indicates that the policy is not refundable after purchase.
You can compare travel insurance policies and their costs from a variety of companies based on your personal details at InsureMyTrip.
Never put valuables, medication or perishables in checked luggage
It seems like a common sense type of advice, but our team regularly receives pleas for help from travelers who have packed high-value jewelry and other irreplaceable items in their checked bags. Do not do this. Your airline’s contract of carriage details the exclusions of what it will cover should it lose your luggage. Valuable items are nearly 100 percent of the time excluded. Medication and perishables should similarly not be kept in your checked bags. Remember, if you need the item when you land, then it should always travel with you.
Understand the airlines’ lost luggage liability
It’s important for passengers to understand that there are strict limits for what an airline will be liable to pay you if it loses or damages your luggage. For international flights, the Montreal Convention sets liability limits for lost and damaged luggage to around $1,780 per passenger (not per bag). For domestic flights, the Department of Transportation leans more in favor of passengers and has set a limit of $3,800 per traveler.
One critical piece of information that passengers should keep in mind is that those figures are limits – not a required payout. And airlines are permitted (and do) to use their own judgment when processing a claim. Travelers should not expect the upper limit in most cases and should not submit sky-high lost luggage claims to the airlines. These submissions often end up in a virtual garbage can.
I hope it’s now becoming even more clear why you should not pack valuables in your checked luggage.
File a missing bag claim at the airport
If the worst happens and your luggage does not arrive at your destination, make sure to file a claim while you’re at the airport. There are strict time limits that you must follow in order to qualify for lost luggage compensation, so don’t delay this step. In some cases, you may be able to file the report online, so check your airline’s website for details.
Note: If, like Kate, your problem is with Lufthansa, you can start your lost and missing luggage claim directly through Lufthansa’s website.
Buy replacement items – but keep it within reason
If the airline lost your luggage on the way to your vacation, you’ll be able to buy replacement items to tide you over until your belongings are recovered. Make sure to keep your purchases within reason. No, you can’t buy a Gucci bag and expect the airline to reimburse you. But essential items should be reimbursed.
Don’t forget to keep your receipts.
You will need those receipts to complete your lost luggage claim with the airline or travel insurance provider. Note: Blue Ribbon Bags doesn’t require any receipts. Their payment is a lump sum and is not based on what was in your luggage.
Submit all receipts and your itemized list
A missing or delayed bag is considered officially lost after 21 days. If the airline loses your bag, you will need to submit your receipts and list of items after 21 days. This will be an easy process if you followed the pre-departure steps above by photographing and itemizing your belongings.
If, despite following all of these steps, you find yourself with an unapproved lost luggage claim (or any other consumer problem), send your request to our team, and we can help you, too. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)
*Before you go: Check out Consumer Rescue’s ultimate guide to what you should do when an airline loses your bags.