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No luggage, no refund

Jim Mesick and his wife make the flight to Montego Bay, but their luggage doesn’t. When they pay $133 for new clothes and toiletries, and ask their airline for a reimbursement, they’re turned down. The reason? They went shopping too soon. Or did they?
/ Source: Tribune Media Services

Q: Recently, my wife and I flew from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Montego Bay, Jamaica on Spirit Airlines, but our luggage didn’t make it. Apparently, it was left behind in Florida.

We filled out a claim form in Jamaica and an airline representative told us there was little chance that we would see our luggage until the next day. We spent $133 the following day for clothes and toiletries. Our luggage finally arrived that evening.

For passengers whose luggage cannot be delivered within 24 hours, Spirit’s delayed luggage policy allows for “reasonable interim” expenses for customers away from home on a round-trip reservation.

A few weeks later, Spirit sent us a letter denying our claim. The reason? Our purchases were made during the initial 24-hour period of the delay.

I wrote back to contest their decision. After all, you need personal items shortly after you arrive and certainly need a change of clothes for the next morning. Of course I understand that, had our luggage arrived within 24 hours, we would not have been eligible for reimbursement. But that wasn’t the situation.

Can you help me persuade Spirit to reconsider this inappropriate decision?
— Jim Mesick, Royal Palm Beach, Fla.

A: If Spirit says it will reimburse you when your luggage is delayed by more than a day, then it should honor your claim. It shouldn’t be able to reinterpret — or rewrite — its own rules on a whim.

Your only worry should be whether $133 is a “reasonable” amount to spend on clothing and toiletries. I think $66 per person is more than enough to buy a nice outfit and a toothbrush. But if you’re on vacation, and the closest store is the resort gift shop, then you might be making some difficult choices. So in my book, your expenses were reasonable.

Airlines routinely misplace or lose luggage. On average, about two pieces of luggage will be mishandled on every airline flight, but most of it is found and returned within a day. That’s why carriers like Spirit have a 24-hour clause.

Most passengers decide to wait a full day before buying new clothes, in the hopes that they will recover their belongings and can avoid filling out more paperwork. I’m not sure how many customers call Spirit’s bluff and go shopping before the clock winds down, but my instinct tells me it probably isn’t a lot of them.

I would have probably taken a different approach to your refund. Rather than waiting for a formal response by mail, I would have made a few photocopies of your receipts at the airport and taken the matter up with your ticket agent when you checked in for your return flight. In my experience, ticket agents and their supervisors often have the ability to make decisions about disbursing refunds, and they might have been able to issue a credit to your card or given you a cash refund.

I contacted Spirit on your behalf, and it took another look at your claim. A representative said there had been a “mix-up in the initial determination” and said your claim would be honored.

Christopher Elliot is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at, or troubleshoot your trip through his Web site,