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Airlines now have to refund fees for delayed bags

There is no way to ensure that a checked bag will get to the final destination when you do. It’s a risk we all take, but now the FAA is make sure you won’t have to pay for the inconvenience.

A new law makes it mandatory for airlines to refund baggage fees for delayed bags. Specifically, airlines must refund baggage fees automatically if luggage is delayed 12 hours after a domestic flight arrival or 15 hours after an international flight. (On July 15, President Obama signed the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016 extension bill into law. The extension will be in effect until Sept. 30, 2017, and was passed to give policymakers more time to make air-traffic control reform decisions, but this consumer-friendly measure was slipped into the bill.) The new law takes effect immediately.

Delta (DAL) already has a delayed baggage refund policy in place. On its website, the airline states that passengers can apply for a rebate online if their bag is delayed more than 12 hours. The rebate provides a $25 electronic voucher for one bag that can be used on a future flight. The rebate jumps up to $50 for two delayed bags.

Now every airline will have to refund fees for delayed bags, but it’s unlikely this money will put a dent in their vast fee collection. In 2015, airlines collected $3.8 billion in baggage fees, and airlines have already collected more than $974 million so far this year. American Airlines leads the way, collecting $262 million in baggage fees in the first quarter of 2016.

This is clearly a small win for passengers, but there are other policies currently in place to help travelers remain comfortable when their bags go MIA.

Let’s say your bag is delayed and you’re forced to buy toiletries and a change of clothes until they reappear. Most airlines will reimburse you for costs incurred during the first five days your bag is missing, within reason.

Delta is the only airline that details the exact amount travelers can get reimbursed while waiting for their bags. On its website, the airline says it will reimburse travelers up to $50 a day for the first five days a bag is delayed as long as they keep their receipts.

United Airlines, American, Southwest, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines are all a bit more cryptic about how much they are willing to cover. However, all of the sites state that travelers should keep their receipts for any purchases made and submit them to an airline.

Here are some other things to keep in mind when trying to get reimbursed for expenses while your bags are delayed.

1. Make the complaint before you leave the airport

No one wants to hang out in a crowded airport, we get it, but it’s crucial to file a complaint while you’re still there. Find the airline’s baggage office and make an official report. Without doing this, some airlines won’t offer any kind of compensation. If you really can’t bear being at the airport any longer, try to file the complaint by phone within 24 hours.

2. Keep your documents

Be sure to put your baggage claim ticket, boarding pass, and all receipts for expenses in a safe place. You’ll likely need these documents during the claim process. 

3. Don’t go on a shopping spree

Airlines are notoriously stingy, and if you go out and buy “essentials” that are overpriced, chances are you won’t get a full refund. Stick to the basics and try to keep your expenses low and reasonable so you don’t end up with a big bill in the end. Also, they probably won’t pay for you to temporarily replace delayed sports equipment (like a surfboard) or expensive clothes (like a tux for a wedding), so consider this before you check these items

4. Check your credit card

While airline reimbursement is limited, some credit cards have pretty decent coverage. For instance, if you pay for your ticket with the Chase Sapphire Card, and your baggage is delayed, you will be reimbursed for essential purchases up to $100 a day for five days. Every card has different rules, so it’s worth looking into before you book your next flight.

5. Relax

Most lost or delayed bags are found within 48 hours, so while it is a major inconvenience, there’s a good chance you will get all of your belongings back.

Brittany Jones-Cooper is a writer for Yahoo Finance.

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