5 hard lessons I learned about insurance after my carry-on bag was stolen

Last Christmas, my carry-on bag was stolen during a trip from New York to San Francisco. I’d last seen it on the plane, but it disappeared somewhere between the aircraft and the car at the airport. A few days later, the phone inside the bag turned up in the Philippines. You can read about that story here. The rest of my bag — computer, wallet, sunglasses, jewelry, medicine, silver ornaments — was never seen again, at least by me.

I charged the flights on my American Express Platinum card, so I called AMEX to start a claim immediately. It took over six months, but in the end I received nearly $1,500.00 to cover my losses. Here’s what I learned:

  1. File a police report and airline claim right away. You are going to need these. List everything, and I mean everything, that was lost or stolen. I was mostly focused on high-value items like electronics and jewelry, but here’s the catch with baggage insurance — high-risk items, including electronics, jewelry, sporting equipment, cameras, and furs, are capped. At the time I filed, you couldn’t get more than $250 for all your high-end items. Not $250 per item, but $250 for ALL those expensive items. Now Amex has it capped at $1,000, but either way, you aren’t getting back the full value. Prepare yourself.
  2. Did I say list everything? This bears repeating. I got $250 for a computer, two iPhones, and a couple thousand dollars worth of jewelry. I got more for my sunglasses, $210, than I did for my pearl earrings. A silver ornament given to my daughter netted $149 after I found a picture on eBay, but my iPhone? Basically zip as it was a high-risk electronic device counted with all the other high-risk items and capped at $250 ALL together. So don’t forget all the little things in your bag. Finally, claim the bag itself, as well.
  3. There’s lots of paperwork involved. It’s way more than a phone call and just sending the police report to American Express. I went back and forth with AMEX for over six months. Here are a few of the things they wanted: Complete police/security/incident report, copy of airline tickets, inventory of items claimed including dates of purchase and replacement value, original receipts for contents stolen. If I didn’t have original receipts, they were pretty nice and accepted pictures/estimated values from similar items that I could find online.
  4. If you use airline miles to buy your ticket, you are out of luck in terms of coverage. You need to purchase your ticket (or use membership rewards, in the case of AMEX) to be eligible. Think of it this way — if you don’t use your credit card to buy the ticket, your credit card coverage won’t protect you. If you do want baggage insurance on a mileage trip you can check with your homeowners or renters policy. You could also buy standalone coverage if you are really worried.
  5. I was lucky that I used my American Express card. Lots of cards do not offer baggage insurance. Call your card company. Do they offer coverage for a carry-on or just a checked bag? Ask and shop around, if you travel a lot.

After all was said and done, American Express paid out $1,475.16 to me in statement credits. The value of my bag and its contents was close to $7,500. We can definitely say that I was an idiot for putting it all in one bag, but it was my carry-on bag and I didn’t want to check any of the items.

Not in the financial calculation is all the time this took me. I have 11 email chains with AMEX Assurance Company from February until July. That’s not to mention the letters and phone calls that started back in December of last year when the bag was stolen. I’m guessing I spent a good eight to 10 hours tracking down all the information and speaking to different representatives.

In the end, I’m glad I got something, but it wasn’t at all the process I was expecting. Best-case scenario, you never lose a bag and have to use the service.