On a recent summer trip to Europe, British Airways, in collusion with American Airlines, misplaced my luggage for over 3-weeks. They ultimately found the two bags and reimbursed me $1,563 for the majority of my expenses; however, the process was very stressful and lasted over eight weeks.
On June 24, 2019, my partner and I set off from Houston IAH for a summer adventure to southern Germany via Munich. I booked our trip nearly a year in advance after finding a great deal ($1040 roundtrip) with American Airlines in their new, well-reviewed Premium Economy cabin.
I paid for the fare with Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned from my Freedom and Sapphire Reserve cards (important as explained later).
Our original flight itinerary had has making a short hop from Houston IAH to Dallas DFW before the overnight to Munich MUC. However, heavy storms rolled through southeast Texas the night before our departure and into the early morning. Compounded with an ongoing work slowdown by American Airlines mechanics union, American was having a very, very bad day by 11am.
An hour before our scheduled departure, there were still two, earlier flights to Dallas, which had yet to leave Houston plus an unscheduled flight on a 777 that had rerouted from Madrid (!) the night before.
How I got Free Upgrades, Sans Luggage, to British Airways Club World Business Class
Anxiously watching the time tick by, I tried in vain for about an hour going to every American gate at IAH trying to standby on any flight leaving for Dallas (there are at least 9 flights a day).
Warranted or not, the American ground staff was exceedingly curt and unhelpful. However, their phone support was great!
Lesson Learned – Don’t even bother with the airport staff. Try to reassign yourself to a new flight at no cost using the AA app, going online, or calling. In my case, calling was the only option due to my trip being international and having limited alternative routes.
My phone call to American went straight to a helpful representative; there was no hold time, and they knew exactly who I was and why I was calling.
Lesson Learned – Make sure to call from the number linked to your AA ticket.
The first time I called, the representative offered a new route to Munich via London on British Airways; however, she said that I might be downgraded to economy since Premium Economy was currently unavailable. I asked if she could upgrade me to business, but she said she could not do that. Not wanting to agree to a “free downgrade,” I told her I would need to call her back.
Lesson Learned – For long haul flights of more than 3,500km, EU law requires airlines to refund 75% of your ticket’s purchase price. For example, since my ticket costs $1040 roundtrip, I would have been entitled to compensation of $427.50, which is 75% of $570 or the outbound, affected portion of my ticket.
The American Airlines agents never volunteered that I’d be entitled to such hefty compensation, but ultimately they did not have to. The second time I called American, a different agent again suggested the same British Airways flight via London but this time helpfully offered to upgrade both me and my partner to Club World business class!
This upgrade was a real, confirmed upgrade with seat assignment, boarding pass, and booking class. With my new boarding pass, I got to board at my leisure, bypassing the mere plebeians in economy, and of course fly in even more comfort than my originally planned premium economy seat, and I wouldn’t have to hassle them for a refund for the downgrade.
However, this admittedly 12-hour-lived euphoria ended in Munich when our baggage was nowhere to be found. American says that they need 4-hours (four hours!) to reroute luggage once new flight arrangements are made. And because they only had a measly two hours, our bags went onto our originally scheduled flight to Dallas instead of with us on British Airways to London.
Timeline of Claim Actions and Outcomes
- June 24 – British Airways loses my luggage
- June 25 – I filed a missing bag report in Munich
- July 5 – I filed a claim for compensation at BA.com
- July 13 – British Airways returns my luggage
- July 28 – British Airways responds to my claim saying they need better quality receipt images
- August 11- British Airways agrees to reimburse me for most of my expenses
- August 30 – British Airways pays out my claim
The first thing that we did was file a report with the British Airways luggage desk in Munich. This process was a little tedious as the agent had trouble with English. It was weird; she spoke with a flawless British accent but seemed neither German nor British. Fortunately, we were able to correct all of her misspellings online after putting in the claim number she gave us.
Getting Reimbursed for your Delayed or Lost Baggage
Oddly, the British Airways agent in Munich offered no compensation. The last time that an airline lost my luggage in 2006 (incidentally also British Airways), the airline agent gave me a prepaid Visa card with a set amount of money. This agent went so far as to suggest—counter to international treaty—that I would not be entitled to any compensation at all.
Lesson Learned – Airlines must pay for your “incidental expenses” when they delay or lose your baggage. Legally required compensation is much better for US domestic flights than international flights. The airline that flies your final leg is responsible; not the airline you bought the ticket from. Therefore in my case, I had to deal with British Airways and not American Airlines (even though American was probably mostly responsible).
For domestic flights in the United States, US law requires airlines to pay up to $3,500 per bag; furthermore, there is no cap on how much the airline must reimburse you if they lose or damage your “assistive device” like wheelchair, CPAP, or prescription medicine.
For international flights, the Montreal Convention requires the airlines to pay up to “1,131 Special Drawing Rights” or approximately $1,600 USD. The airline cannot arbitrarily dictate how much you can spend per day, but the treaty does not specify as what qualifies fore reimbursement.
Every day for the next 10 days in Germany, I checked the status of my baggage at BA.com only to ever see “we are still searching for your bag.” In actuality, a helpful American Airlines baggage agent at Dallas DFW had found my bags and retagged them to go to Munich. However, there was no further coordination between American Airlines and British Airways.
Lesson Learned – Calling British Airways got me nowhere. British Airways’s call center is outsourced to India, whose admittedly polite agents have limited ability to help. By default, they will transfer you to the baggage office at the airport where you filed your claim. At non-hub airports, most airlines outsource their baggage recovery efforts to a local contractor.
In my case, British Airways phone support kept transferring my call to a single guy in Munich who was seemingly armed with only a cell phone. I called and talked to this at least twice. Often, his cell phone wasn’t turned on, in which case I got a message in German saying that my call could not be completed. On the occasion he did answer, he would always say, “I’ll go look for it and call you back,” but of course he never did call me back. I can’t verify if he actually went to look for my bag.
I did have some idea of where my bags were because of Marion with American Airlines at Dallas DFW. A couple of days after I had already been in Germany, trying in vain to get info from British Airways, Marion called my cell phone and left a message saying that my bags were waiting to be collected at Dallas DFW. When I got a hold of her a day later, she said that she had already sent the bags with British Airways to Munich.
As such, I was able to see “scan data” of my bag movement on American’s website but not British’s website. British’s website always showed “We are still searching for your bags,” even while American’s website showed that the bags were coming back to Houston 3-weeks later on a United Airlines flight.
Helpfully, Marion also reassured me that British Airways would reimburse me for necessities and told me to keep my receipts for when I filed my claim.
When I returned to Houston, I ignored British Airways’s advice to file with my travel insurance and instead filed my claim for reimbursement at BA.com. I itemized all of the things I purchased, uploaded images of the receipts, and gave them a bank account and routing number for reimbursement.
Purchase Your Ticket with a Credit Card That Includes Travel Insurance
I actually did have travel insurance since I purchased the tickets using my Chase Ultimate Rewards points from my Sapphire Reserve Card. The Sapphire Reserve Card insurance will pay up to $100 per day per passenger for 5 days for delayed baggage or $3,000 per passenger if the bag is completely lost. However, this insurance is “in excess” of any other compensation, meaning that you have to file with the airline first.
Lesson Learned – With both Chase and British Airways, claims must be made within 21 days of the incident, and you must upload each receipt one-by-one. With British Airways’s poorly functioning online system, the image must be in JPEG (no other file type worked even though the site said it supported PDF), and each file must be less than something small like 1 megabyte.
In total, I asked British Airways to compensate me for $2,066 or $1033 per passenger’s lost bag. However, they took exception with my purchase of a roll-aboard and backpack, claiming that Tumi and Victorinox counted as “replacement” and not “necessities.” As such, they only chipped in 50 euros per bag and paid a total of $1,563.
Via their “reply form” to Shlesha in India, I pushed back on them not compensating for my luggage, as I obviously needed a way to get my newly purchased goods from city to city in Europe and ultimately back home. And-surprisingly-the famous KaDeWe department store in Berlin doesn’t sell 50 euro bags.
They adamantly refused to pay for the luggage; however, to be fair, they did compensate me for my Ray-Ban sunglasses, G-Star jeans, and Lacoste polo. And I guess they gave me in total 3 upgrades to business class (more on that later), so I let the issue drop.
However, if I could do it all over again, I would have preferred to have kept my original flights in the middle of the plane, not have spent 8-hours buying new stuff, which I neither wanted nor needed, and spending a further 8+ hours trying to find my bags and getting reimbursed for my expenses!
If you’re reading this article, your luggage has probably already been lost or delayed. But I hope my experience will at least help relieve some of your stress and anxiety.