United Airlines lost my luggage, part 2: The wait for reimbursement

alaska from plane

Update: I eventually received my $100 voucher and the full reimbursement claim. It took many months and repeated phone calls. My advice is to be persistent and keeping calling.

You may remember that when Felip and I flew to Alaska for our epic month-long adventure, United lost our luggage, including all of our camping gear, requiring a lot of hustling to buy new equipment before heading to Denali National Park.

I’ve had some reader inquiries regarding how that all turned out, so here’s an update.

Return of the luggage

The bag never showed up in Alaska, but it finally arrived back to my home in Chicago a week after we returned. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that United refuses to waive the $25 baggage fee I paid to have them ship the pack to Alaska. You’d think that since the bag never actually, you know, arrived at its destination, they would refund the fee.

When I voiced my outrage to the United phone rep from India, I was offered a voucher for future travel on the airline. Although my opinion of this company is not very positive at the moment, I accepted the offer, thinking that the voucher could come in handy for a short weekend flight somewhere.

anchorage united flight

I was promised I would receive the voucher within 30 days. You can probably guess that 30 days came and went without a voucher. When I called, a second United rep from India apologized profusely and said it was on the way and would arrive within one week.

Ten days later, I called to inquire about the whereabouts of the voucher. A third United rep from India had no answer, nor could he give me a new date when I should expect to receive it. This was the most perplexing call, as there was no attempt at any sort of customer service at all.

Two weeks later, I called again and was told by a fourth United rep from India that the voucher had never actually been processed, and that it would now be given “priority.” I would have to give it another 30 days, though.

Day number 30 is September 23, so we’ll see if it arrives this week. That’s where things are with the voucher.

What about emergency supply reimbursement?

Now, onto the issue of being reimbursed for our emergency purchases. Since our baggage never made it to Alaska and we had a week full of camping ahead of us, we had to buy all new supplies.

When we called United to authorize these emergency purchases, we were told they would not approve buying new camping supplies but would instead approving the cost of renting them. The rep who gave us this information was obviously uninformed about the cost of renting camping gear in Alaska.

tent campground

Had we gone to REI in Anchorage and rented a tent, sleeping bags, and backpacks for a full week, the cost would have been several hundred dollars. Instead, we went to discount department stores and bought all-new (if cheap and poorly-made) replacement items for $108.

We actually saved United hundreds of dollars by going this route. Will the company include a note of gratitude with its reimbursement check? Or will they deny or claim entirely, based on the fact that technically we did not abide by the instruction to rent our gear?

The process of getting reimbursed for these items takes eight weeks, so we’re still waiting on that one to play out.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted on how things go, as well as any comment from United along the way.

Has anyone ever gone through the process of being reimbursed for lost luggage? I’d love to hear how your situation worked out. Leave a comment, please!

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

20 comments on “United Airlines lost my luggage, part 2: The wait for reimbursement

  1. unacceptable!

    i highly encourage you to write united and include the fact that you are a travel blogger, including a link to this page or a printout of it. it is still very easy for united to make this right, before you have to head to small claims court.

    United Airlines World Headquarters

    77 West Wacker Drive
    Chicago, Illinois 60601
    Telephone: (312) 997-8000

    United Airlines Customer Relations

    Customer Relations

    WHQPW
    United Airlines
    PO Box 66100
    Chicago, IL 60666
    hello haha narf recently posted..Adventure in Tahn

    • I’ve mentioned during my conversations that I would be reporting everything that happens on my blog. They don’t care. At this point they seem to have totally given up on the PR game. Thanks for the address and phone number. Those could come in handy.

  2. This is just like the time I went to London and my bag went to Ireland. By the time they hunted me down, I was leaving England for France. The baggage fee was never refunded, and I knew that they wouldn’t reimburse me for “extra” expenses so I refused to buy any clothes. Yes, I wore the same shirt for THREE days. So, there, sucky airline people!
    Lane recently posted..Best Hot Dogs in Santa Fe: 3 You’ll Love

    • In the U.S. it is never a good sign when the customer service phone reps are from some faraway country, because that makes it obvious they are reading from a script and usually won’t be able to appropriately handle our problems. I’d rather speak with someone from United’s headquarters in Houston than someone thousands of miles away who I can barely understand.

  3. Wow sounds like a nightmare Scott. I always try and avoid checking bags when I can because of this very reason. Obviously that’s not really an option when camping. Sorry to hear about your struggles. United perplexes me with their voucher system. I one time received a $150 voucher immediately because the tvs weren’t working on their planes (which hardly bothered me at all). Another time we were given absolutely NO reimbursement when our flight was significantly delayed due to mechanical issues on the plane (we had to abort as we were taking off – scariest flying moment of my life). It makes little to no sense when and where they give and how they process these vouchers. Best of luck in getting a big, fat one for your troubles.
    John recently posted..Visiting Denver, Colorado: The Local’s Take With Kim Olson

    • Oh yes, now I recall that saga! I’m lucky my luggage was only gone for a couple of weeks. Five months is crazy. At least you finally got your cash money. I’m starting to question whether I will ever see anything from United. I will keep calling and blogging until there is some resolution.

  4. Haha!
    I found you through google bc I’m looking for the “form” to submit to United with my receipts for reimbursement for things I had to buy for my trip. I can’t find it ANYwhere—-I was trying to explain to my husband that I literally COULD NOT understand the United agent. I kept having to ask him to SLOW down and SPEAK more clearly—-sheesh!!!

    • I had one agent like that too. I almost asked him to transfer me to someone who spoke English. You should definitely do that if you need to. I hope your reimbursement experience goes more smoothly than mine did!

  5. As with Christy I found this blog after looking up info for my claim with United, because they’ve been a nightmare to get info from directly. They busted my suitcase, but refuse to pay because their suitcase coverage doesn’t cover zippers (or wheels or handles or hinges or anything else on a suitcase). Then they left it open on the carousel, so stuff was falling all out on the belt so it’s no surprise my make-up kit and some loose toiletries went walk about. The off-shore call centre annoyed me too, I had so much trouble communicating my issues with rep, I couldn’t understand a word he said. He was really rude and aggravated, and then asked ME if I didn’t know English! (I’m from Australia!) Not to mention the trouble I had trying to give a list of missing items to a guy who didn’t understand what ‘powder’ is. Unfortunately they lost my make-up bad, so every other word was powder. Somehow I’m not confident about getting my items (or compensation) back from them. I’m so glad that when they lost my bags for 4 days in Boston, I just had them waive the baggage fees for the rest of my trip (which they’ve tried to renege on the last 2 legs) but I was just missing clothes and stuff. How can they not understand the importance of camping gear? They lost your actual accommodations, and the renting thing is ridiculous. And unfortunately like you said it would have been too expensive to rent and then try to get the cash back because you would been taking on the risk of those thousands rather than just forking out the couple of hundred. Thats my biggest issue with offshore call centres, if they don’t actually work for the company they can’t use logic and experience to bend policies to the benefit of both the company and client. It’s like talking to a computer, say A get B response, add on top of that an unintelligible accent and a lack of corporate pride and it makes me want to pull my hair out.

    • Sorry to hear about your experience. The offshore call centers are really aggravating. There should be a way for customers to talk to someone in the U.S. who actually understands them. I spoke with a United manager at the airport at length, and he said that when he tries to call headquarters in Houston, he even gets routed through the offshore line. My advice for United customers whose luggage gets lost is to demand a really high compensation and be vocal about your experience, since there’s not too much more to do.

  6. Here’s my sad tale. Family trip to Cancun, Mexico with United as the carrier. Dispite my pocket of prior lost luggage tags from other trips(leafing thru them to present to agent at CUN airport -“no, that one was from last month, or that one was with Delta, ect.”), I was convinced by family to check my bags. Not only did my luggage never show up, I foolishly purchased the $400 of necessary items for survival that United assured me they would reimburse(eventually saw less than 50% of that). Understand these are resort priced items…$50 generic flip flops in traditional Mayan sizing(not a size 13 to be found! Size 43 was as good as it got), $65 for a bathing suit, $8 for a small tube of citrus toothpaste, $50+ for a plain white shirt, and another $50 for a pair of too small/tight dress pants for evening dining that $400 dollars didn’t go far! And yes, I was the only male in a family of women…hard to share any clothing. Returned home to Iowa and after 2 months of daily inquires to multiple agents based in Mumbai, was advised that my luggage would probably never be located(so quit calling and ‘$200 dolla’ all you will ever see “due to current economic climate”).
    Fast forward 4 additional weeks. Get a call from Carnival Cruise Line in Vancouver, Can., they pulled my luggage off of an Alaskan cruise ship after going unclaimed for several tours. The multiple postings of my name and address both inside and outside of luggage, prompted them to finally call me. Probably also the multiple swimsuits and bright, light flowered clothing didn’t fit the climate or taste of any cruiser.
    The bag had apparently been off-loaded in Portland, transferred to a cruise ship, then off to the Aleutians! Long way from Cancun! Moral of this tale, though I got this one bag returned(beaten up and had apparently been soaked in what looked like mud and diesel, but zippers still zipping), once some baggage handler gets your bag and places the wrong tag on it or places it on a wrong conveyor it’s truly a matter of phenomenal chance that you’ll see it intact again. Travel light with a single carry-on my friends!

    • Wow, that is a crazy story! It’s interesting that you got to find out all the details about where the bag went. I’m still curious how mine disappeared and where it ended up for three weeks before it found its way back. When things like this are happening, I can understand why travelers try to take the largest carry-ons possible to avoid checking any bags. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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