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Vanish with a trace

We “lost” our bags to see if luggage-tracking tags actually reunite people with their errant belongings.

Spotting your suitcase on the airport carousel is a crapshoot: A staggering 42 million bags are misplaced by airlines globally each year.

To help passengers breathe easier, three companies — i-Trak, and Trace Me — have introduced luggage-tracking devices that are more durable than the airlines' checked-baggage labels and more private than personal tags.

The setup for each is decidedly low-tech: Customers order labels on the company Web site and attach them to their bags. Should the luggage go astray, the tags are printed with instructions for finders to call a toll-free number or file an alert online.

The service then contacts the owner, and he or she pays to have the bag shipped home. ImHonest is the only one that rewards the finder; the lucky person scores two packs of tracking stickers.

How effective is a system that depends on the kindness of strangers? To find out, we devised a series of trials: We abandoned duffels bearing the tags in the overhead compartments of three airlines (Test 1), on baggage carousels at three airports (Test 2) and in the backseat of three New York taxis (Test 3).

A bright spot for the airlines: They used their own checked-baggage labels to return the items left on the carousels.

The other results are mixed:

Nine tags, one-year service $20

  • Test 1: Still missing
  • Test 2: Returned
  • Test 3: Still missing

What happened: I e-mailed i-Trak after the bags I left in the overhead and the taxi had been gone for a week and received sympathy — but no word on my gear! The company told me that I'd have to find it on my own. I did at least get free labels for my troubles.
— Alison Rohrs
Six stickers, one-year service $15

  • Test 1: Returned
  • Test 2: Returned
  • Test 3: Still missing

What happened: Delta phoned the day after I left the carry-on, having traced it to me via ImHonest. The airline shipped it by FedEx a week later for $13. ImHonest couldn't help with the taxi bag; the company advised me to track it down using my cab receipt.
— Danielle Lipp

Trace Me
Two tags, lifetime service $30

  • Test 1: Returned
  • Test 2: Returned
  • Test 3: Still missing

What happened: Trace Me called about my overhead suitcase four hours after my flight. The company then e-mailed to tell me it was at the airport; I picked it up a few days later. As for the taxi bag, that puppy's long gone.
—John Rambow