To check or not to check?Here, top tips for keeping your suitcase out of harm's way

Thanks to sophisticated airport routing systems, relatively few pieces of luggage are lost or held up as they make their way via cart, container, and conveyor belt. But what should you do when yours falls through the cracks?

Most airlines are liable for a maximum of $1,250-$1,280 worth of your luggage—that's $625-$640 per bag, with the two-bag limit. The carrier may reimburse you according to how much your bag weighed at check-in (most often, around $9 per pound) or simply assume that each bag weighed the maximum it will accept (usually 70 pounds). Keep in mind that compensation will be assessed by weight and not by worth of content—that is, they don't care whether you were carrying diamonds or rocks.

  • Here are several tips to reduce the number of potential problems.
  • Fly nonstop whenever possible. The likelihood of trouble increases with every connection (especially if you switch airlines).
  • Find out the correct airport code for your destination, and doublecheck the tags when the airline checks in your luggage.
  • Carry valuables on board, as well as anything you might need in the first 24 hours after a baggage mishap. Some airlines offer amenity kits for those first luggagefree hours; others give money (depending upon circumstances and class of service). Ask for it.
  • If you must check valuables, consider purchasing "excess valuation" at the ticket counter to expand the carrier's liability.
  • Investigate your homeowner's or renter's insurance polity, creditcard company, or travel agency to find out whether any provides supplemental or total coverage of your baggage. (For example, for $5.75 per flight—if you pay for your tickets with your card—American Express will reimburse you from $200 to $500, depending on whether your luggage was delayed, lost, or stolen.)