How to prevent lost luggage and avoid all that arrival stress

Bright colorful suitcases and bags on luggage conveyor belt

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Imagine this — you prepped and planned for an upcoming trip, checked in, got your tiny seat and endured the flight, only to find that your luggage isn’t in the same place you are. This is not a great way to start any trip!

Recovering lost luggage is a notoriously annoying process, but there are a few things any traveler can do to prevent their bags from getting lost in the first place. These tips and tricks won’t guarantee that your bags will make it to your destination, but following them will give you the best chance that they will.

Check Your Bags Early


In the same way that you’ll want to leave yourself plenty of time to get to your gate, grab a snack and hit the restroom before you board, your bags also need ample time to get tagged, scanned through security, carted to your plane and stowed away — so you’ll want to get to the airport early.

How early can you check your bags for a flight? If you’re flying domestically, try to give yourself about two hours before your boarding time when you have a bag to check. International jet setters should leave a bit more time to stay on the safe side, and about three hours is generally recommended to get yourself and your bags safely checked and boarded. If you’re headed overseas or have more than one checked bag, have an agent check it for you rather than self-checking through a kiosk, but be sure to not arrive too early and stick with the timing windows we mentioned earlier.

Add an Apple AirTag to Your Items


OK, this won’t exactly prevent your bag from becoming misplaced by your airline, but if your suitcase does become lost, you’ll be able to pinpoint exactly where it is when you have an AirTag tracking your luggage. AirTags are Bluetooth tracking devices that allow you to keep a digital eye on your belongings. All you’ll need to use one is an iPhone or an iPad and the Find My app, which comes with those devices.

Just make sure your Bluetooth is on. The AirTag and Find My Network will communicate with each other to stay in touch, showing you exactly where the tag — and your bag — is at. This can help expedite the retrieval process big-time and give you a bit of peace of mind while you’re in transit. And if you don’t have an iPhone, try a Tile tracker instead. 

Apple AirTag


$38.99 at Amazon

Get Rid of Old Tags

Airline tags on a blue suitcase


Similarly, get rid of old tags to avoid any confusion. Not only are tags with outdated info going to be unhelpful in the event that your items go missing, but old check-in tags might make things messy for your current flight, which no one needs!

Tear those off entirely before checking your bag for a new flight, including any stickers or barcodes that might have been added to the sides of your suitcase. In a viral TikTok from last year, a worker at Ontario airport explained that there’s a chance old stickers can be scanned accidentally, which may result in them being sent to the wrong place.

Make Your Bag Easy to Spot


What’s the best way to spot your bag? Make it hard to miss! Applying stickers, personalized luggage covers and brightly colored ID tags are the easiest and most effective ways to help your bag stand out. Even opting to buy a suitcase in a non-traditional color could help make your bag more visible among the sea of black, gray and beige bags that most people tend to carry.

One thing we don’t recommend adding, however, is loose straps, long tags or ribbons, as those items can easily snag or get stuck in security machines amid the check-in process. Instead, consider a luggage cover. One option from the Explore Land Store fits snuggly over most suitcases without any loose edges or straps. It comes in 24 different looks and four sizes, so you’re sure to find something to fit your bag and your style.

Explore Land Travel Luggage Cover Suitcase Protector


$12.74 at Amazon

Opt for Direct Flights


This isn’t always going to be possible, but if you have the opportunity to do so, we recommend booking a direct flight. No layover means no bags being carted from one plane to another, which removes the possibility that your stuff will get lost in the shuffle.

If you can’t avoid a layover (which can be pretty hard to do most of the time), do your best to book legs that have a longer interval between the landing of the first flight and the taking off of your next one. This helps ensure that your bags have ample time to make it to the next part of your trip.

MORE: Never Lose Your Luggage Again With This Clever Idea

Label Your Tags With Current Info


The best way to ensure that your luggage won’t be lost is to carry it with you onto the plane. But more and more, flights have been asking passengers to check even their carry-on items should the cabin get packed. If you have to hand over your carry-on, be sure it’s clearly labeled with your current contact info, especially a cell phone number, along with a contact back home in case you’re in airplane mode.

These eight distinctly different tags are as easy to label as they are to spot, so if you’re wondering how to prevent lost luggage for under $8, look no further! Finally, remember to always keep tags outside the bag and inside as well, whether it’s a carry-on satchel or a full-sized suitcase. On an internal tag, you can provide more information, since it won’t be visible unless your luggage is opened.

Sodsay 4 Pack Luggage Tag for Suitcases


$7.99 at Amazon

Avoid the Airline and Ship It Instead


If you have items you absolutely cannot lose for any amount of time, or if you just don’t trust that your airline will get your stuff sent to where you’re going, there’s one more option — ship your stuff! Shipping companies like the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS are great ways to ship domestically, while DHL helps plenty of people send their items overseas safely. In addition to that, there are a few luggage shipping companies that may be more cost-effective, including Luggage Forward and LugLess.

Do you use any of these tricks to keep your bags by your side? What’s your favorite way to prevent lost luggage on a flight?

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About the Author
Krissy Howard
Krissy Howard is a New Mexico-based writer whose work has appeared in Byrdie, Well+Good, Cuteness, This Dog's Life, and Reader's Digest. In addition to reporting on pet care, skin care, and other wellness topics, her original humor can be found at Reductress, and The Hard Times.

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