Q: My credit card offers additional baggage coverage when I use it to book airline tickets. Do I need it?
A: It depends on what you packed.
Airlines will cover lost or damaged luggage and clothing to a maximum of $2,500 per passenger on domestic flights, but they won't cover electronics, antiques, jewelry or fragile items like fine china. These probably should be placed in your carry-on bag, along with cameras, essential medicine and important documents.
Careful packers taking routine trips probably don't need additional coverage. But if it's a special occasion, like your honeymoon, or if you travel with lots of expensive clothes and shoes, you might consider supplemental baggage loss or baggage delay insurance.
"If you're traveling with expensive items or a lot of items, it's definitely worth having additional coverage," said Nancy Dunnan, publisher of TravelSmart, a monthly consumer newsletter.
It also may be a good option when you travel overseas, said Paul Hudson, executive director of the Aviation Consumer Action Project. On international flights, the liability limit for airlines is set at just $635 per passenger.
"We get some real horror stories from that," said Hudson, whose group worked to get the liability limits on domestic flights raised to the current level. "We've seen immigrants lose everything. Large bags can vanish with people's life possessions in them and the airlines completely disclaim liability."
Before purchasing supplemental insurance, experts suggest you check your existing policies to see if you're already covered. Your homeowner's or renter's policy may cover loss or damage to your property when you travel.
Additionally, many credit cards and travel agencies offer automatic coverage when you purchase your ticket. Policies vary, so read the fine print. A platinum-level card may include better coverage than a regular card.
You should also consider your destination, said Alejandra Soto, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute. If you're traveling to a place where essentials are harder to find or more expensive to replace, additional coverage might be a good call.
Almost all misplaced bags turn up, usually within a few hours, according to the Department of Transportation, which reported this month that the number of mishandled bag complaints is falling overall. Luggage delays are a more common complaint.
Most airlines will absorb reasonable expenses you incur while you're without your stuff. However, you and the airline might have a different idea about what's reasonable, and getting a good deal may depend on your negotiating skills.
Whether your bags are lost or late, it is important to make your complaint to the airline in person before you leave the airport, and secure an agreement for compensation until your bags are found. Otherwise, your expenses may not be covered. Also, try to arrange for the airline to deliver the bags to you.
The Travel Security Association - the federal agency that screens bags - recently asked travelers to leave their checked luggage unlocked. This has led to some concerns about theft, although it's still not clear what impact it may have on how airlines address claims.
To help protect yourself, Soto suggests you pack carefully, make a list of what you're taking and don't check anything irreplaceable. Then consider additional coverage if you're still concerned.
"For some people it may be worth the extra peace of mind," Soto said. "But you have to be a smart shopper."
On the Net:
Insurance Information Institute: www.iii.org
TravelSmart monthly: www.TravelSmartnewsletter.com
Aviation Consumer Action Project: www.acap1971.org