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Luggage tips to keep your belongings secure

How safe is my luggage? Luggage tips for both international and domestic travel, luggage safety tips, travel insurance, carry on restrictions and more

If your knowledge of what you can and can’t take on an aeroplane is limited to nail scissors you need to read this guide.

If you think it’s okay to leave your bags with someone you met five minutes ago, you need to read this guide.

And if you ever need to make a luggage-related claim with an airline or travel insurer, this guide is something you absolutely have to read.

Protect your luggage and apply for travel insurance

Carry on and checked luggage: what can you pack in your bag?

The aviation industry has strict regulations about what can and can’t be taken onboard a commercial aircraft in carry-on luggage and checked baggage on domestic and international flights.

Domestic

On a domestic flight within Australia, most airlines will allow you to carry on one piece of luggage that conforms to requirements regarding weight and dimensions. In it you can carry clothing, books, small electronics, toiletry and personal items, as long as they are not on the prohibited items list. At the discretion of airport security, you may also carry items such as:

  • Safety razors
  • Plastic cutlery
  • Blunt-ended scissors
  • Umbrellas

Items that you cannot take onto a domestic flight in your carry-on luggage include:

  • Knives
  • Kitchen utensils
  • Sporting equipment
  • Metal cutlery
  • Tools
  • Straight razors
  • Letter openers
  • Golf clubs
  • Cricket bats
  • Pool cues
  • Hypodermic needles
  • Fireworks
  • Aerosols
  • Handcuffs
  • Cable ties

Checked baggage on domestic flights is slightly less strict. The main restrictions pertain to weight and size limits and whether the items are securely wrapped or fastened.

However, the same regulations regarding dangerous items apply to checked baggage as they do to carry-on luggage and you may not pack anything in your checked luggage that could represent a threat to the aircraft. This includes explosive or flammable items, oxygen bottles, petrol, certain batteries types and magnetic, caustic or corrosive substances.

International

International flights from Australia have additional restrictions regarding liquids and gels, which could potentially contain explosive substances. Liquid, aerosol and gel products such as toiletries must be in containers of no more than 100 ml (100 gm) and must be in a transparent, resealable plastic bag no more than 80 cm2 (about the size of a sandwich bag). International flights also have restrictions on the amount of liquids and gels you can carry on as duty free and such items must be carried in a bag along with the purchase receipt.

The same restrictions apply to international checked luggage as do to domestic checked luggage and dangerous or flammable items are prohibited. Checked baggage on international flights is also subject to more rigorous screening by airport security than domestic checked baggage and random searches and sniffer dogs are regularly employed in the baggage areas of international terminals.

Each airline operates according to its own conditions of carriage, which dictate what can and can’t be taken onboard or packed in your checked baggage. So if you are in doubt about any item you plan to take with you, you should check the airline’s website or contact their customer service department.

Security of luggage

Although you hear nightmare stories about bags going missing or being tampered with, the instances of lost or damaged checked baggage are the exception rather than the rule. Most bags gets safely from A to B and when they don’t, the airline will usually accept responsibility and compensate you towards their replacement.

To err on the side of caution, make sure any items you can’t afford to lose are in your checked luggage. If you must place valuable items in your checked baggage, make sure you have adequate travel insurance to cover them, as airline compensation is not always adequate.

Steps to avoid a luggage claim

Steps you can take to keep your luggage safe:

  • Use numbered cable ties that are unique so if your bag shows up with another tie on it, you will know it has been tampered with.
  • Shrink wrap your suitcase, which will slow down potential thieves and will show clear signs of tampering if compromised.
  • Get to the baggage carousel on time to ensure no one else has time to grab your bag.
  • Attach something bright or distinctive to your bag so it is easy for you to identify on the carousel and easy to describe if it goes missing.
  • Keep a list of what is in your luggage so you can claim for it from the airline or your insurance company if it is lost or stolen.
  • Remove any old tags from your luggage so it doesn’t accidentally get sent to your last holiday destination.

Who pays for missing luggage?

It’s important to report the loss or theft or your luggage as soon as possible, not only to increase the chances of it being located, but also to satisfy the requirements of your travel insurance policy.

You should report and lost or stolen items to the airline within 24 hours and a report obtained from police or airport authorities. If your luggage is delayed for longer than 12 hours, you should also obtain a report from the airline, as your travel insurance will usually cover delays of more than 12 hours.

If your checked luggage is lost or damaged by the airline, they will normally assume liability and compensate you, providing you report the incident promptly (within three days for carry-on luggage and 21 days for checked baggage). Compensation will usually be minimal, which is why travel insurance is advisable if your items are valuable.

How much will I get?

You should make a claim with your insurance company within 30 days of returning from your trip and provide them with the police report and other required documentation such as proof of ownership. If you have insured your luggage to cover the items lost, your insurer will pay the difference between the benefit limit and the amount the airline pays you.

Luggage exclusions

Airlines are required by their charters to take responsibility for lost or damaged luggage while it is in their care, but they will not assume liability in certain circumstances including:

  • Loss or damage caused by defective luggage
  • Wear and tear
  • Loss or damage resulting from over-packed or poorly packed luggage
  • Any fragile, valuable or perishable items.

What your travel insurance will cover you for will depend on the type of policy you take out and the level of cover you select. However, most travel insurers will not cover you:

  • If the loss or theft was due to your own negligence (i.e. leaving your bag unattended)
  • If you fail to take the necessary steps within the time frames allowed
  • If the items lost include jewellery, electronic devices, photographic equipment or other valuables, unless they were specified in your policy and additional cover was purchased.
  • If your cash, travel documents or credit cards were in your checked luggage.

Common luggage claims

Some of the most common luggage-related claims lodged with travel insurance providers include:

  • Lost luggage. Whether lost by a carrier (covered) or lost due to negligence (not covered)
  • Stolen luggage. Either pilfered from a carousel (covered) or stolen from an unlocked room or vehicle (not covered).
  • Damaged luggage. Either due to rough treatment by baggage handlers (covered) or because of inappropriate packing (not covered).

While losses due to carrier negligence can’t usually be avoided, the best way to ensure that your bags aren’t lost, stolen or damaged due to your own actions is to make sure they are packed securely, marked clearly and kept in your sight at all times.

Luggage cover

John B from Perth needed to go to the toilet while waiting to check his suitcase in for a flight to Bali. As he was travelling alone and had struck up a conversation with a fellow traveller, he asked the man if he would keep an eye on his bag while he ducked into the toilet. The man agreed and John slipped out of the queue and was gone for just a few minutes. When he returned, there was no sign of his fellow traveller or his suitcase and when he tried to claim its loss from his travel insurer, his claim was rejected as he had technically left his bag with a stranger (and thus "unattended").

Apply for travel insurance that covers your luggage

Luggage security is 90% common sense and 10% luck that your carrier won’t let you down. Concentrating on the 90% is therefore a sensible way to dramatically reduce the likelihood of losing your bags on your holiday.

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Richard Laycock

Richard is the senior insurance writer at finder.com.au and is on a mission to make insurance easier to understand.

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