By Marisa Garcia
February 03, 2017
Baggage Claim Tips
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A ranking by frequent flier booking site RewardExpert shows which U.S. airlines are most—and least—likely to get your bags safely to your destination.

The study found that, among major U.S. airlines, Delta is least likely to lose your luggage—only 0.21 percent of the time. United Airlines came in second with a 0.32 percent rate for missing baggage.

Hawaiian Airlines is the most reliable among regional carriers, only misplacing bags 0.24 percent of the time, but Alaska Airlines comes in very close with a baggage loss rate of 0.26 percent.

Low-cost carriers Virgin America and JetBlue outperformed their peers, maintaining the lowest rates of baggage loss among all U.S. carriers: 0.09 percent Virgin America and 0.18 percent JetBlue.

Mishandled baggage report from SITA.
Credit: Courtesy of SITA

American Airlines had the most trouble with baggage handling with a 0.36 percent likelihood of lost luggage. To make matters worse, Envoy Air—which serves as a regional carrier for American Airlines—is most likely to lose your luggage among all U.S. carriers, maintaining a 0.79 percent baggage loss rate.

RewardExpert’s baggage rankings are based on the firm’s analysis of U.S. Department of Transportation data, collected by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics from October 2013 through September 2016.

When you fly matters

The seasons also play a role in baggage loss. RewardExpert reports that September is the month when U.S. airlines are most likely to deliver your bags without incident. January is the most likely month for your baggage to go its separate way.

You may want to carry on your bags during peak vacation times. The summer months of June, July, and August and the winter months of December, January, and February each have high rates of baggage loss incidents. If you travel during the spring or autumn, you can rest easier.

“Entrusting an airline to transport your belongings to their final destination in a safe and timely manner is a huge leap of faith for many people,” said RewardExpert CEO Roman Shteyn. “Finding out that your bag is lost, damaged, or severely delayed can end up costing travelers hundreds of dollars—not to mention items that have great sentimental value and can’t be replaced. Knowing what you’re signing up for when you buy your ticket can help travelers avoid becoming a statistic.”

Less lost luggage

The overall performance of all airlines around the world on baggage handling has improved dramatically in recent years. The 2016 Baggage Report prepared by airline technology company SITA found that and airlines are getting better at delivering our bags reliably world-wide, despite a 7 percent rise in passenger numbers.

Airlines have a financial incentive to improve: They suffered a loss of $0.65 per passenger attributed to passenger bags during 2015. Every penny counts. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reports that airlines only earn $7.54 in profits for each passenger carried.

Mishandled baggage report from SITA.
Credit: Courtesy of SITA

To reduce these losses, IATA Resolution 753 goes into effect in 2018. It requires all airlines to maintain and share standardised baggage tracking records. As the deadline nears, airlines are adopting new baggage tracking technologies which will ultimately benefit flyers and airports are busy installing self-drop stations to make the baggage check-in process smoother.

Delta Air Lines, which beats the performance of its peers in this RewardExpert ranking, has deployed a comprehensive system for baggage tracking using RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) tags, and industry experts expect RFID technology, among other emerging baggage tracking systems, to gain broader adoption over the next five years.