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Buy Up Lost Luggage?? Okay!

by J. Money on Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ever wonder what happens to your lost luggage that never gets returned to you? They go up for auction a la Storage Wars style! Haha… how awesome/weird is that? (Makes you double think some of the stuff you pack away, eh? ;))

I’ve actually never heard about this until I ran across a post by my friend over at Skint in The City: Buying up lost luggage. Her husband had lost a bag on a trip out to Dublin, and across her searches for how to claim it she stumbled across tons of auction sites that sell off all these poor bags site unseen (well, you can look at the outside of them but you can’t poke around on the inside). Meaning if you know there’s some expensive designer bags on the lot, chances are they’ll be nicer stuff on the inside and thus some treasure to be found :) Or of course it can be totally empty or have random ass things like rattle snakes or shrunken heads in it (true stories).

Actually, check out that video there at the top if you haven’t already as it showcases a ton of crazy stuff found in some of these bags over the years. Including huge diamond rings and even ancient artifacts – it’s pretty wild. And that’s only from ONE of these places that sell the bags!

In fact, these guys – The Unclaimed Baggage Center, in Scottsboro Alabama – took it a step further and opened up an entire shopping warehouse full of stuff found in all these lost bags over 40 years ago. Instead of auctioning them all off like other places do – especially in Europe and the UK it seems – they have contracts with tons of major airlines here in the States and buy all these bags in bulk to then sell all the contents as bargains to customers from all over. You can read more about their story here, it’s pretty interesting. And apparently this center is now a tourist attraction! Which I’ll have to now add to my “must see” list one day :)

If you live out in the UK, here are some auction houses that sell these bags:

I couldn’t find any good ones in the US through my searching, other than the Unclaimed Baggage Center (which doesn’t do the auction thing – only sells the insides as I mentioned) and the Miami airport’s one being shut down, but I did come across a TV series that follow a few guys that do this stuff called Baggage Wars. Looks like it’s still an active show too through the Travel Channel I’ll have to check out. Also found this thread on an auction forum that was kinda interesting to read.

Guess I won’t be able to participate in these baggage biddings anytime soon, unless one of you want to fly me out to your place in London? :), but it was a fascinating (and smart!) thing to come across yesterday. Big thanks to Skint in The City again for writing about it – got me all excited for a hot minute! Totally something I’d do in a heartbeat if readily available… From that forum it looks like they go anywhere from $30-$200 a pop depending on size and shape, and I’d pick one up just to experience it no matter what was on the inside! Though I’ve been saying that about storage units too and haven’t gotten off my ass to try it out yet, haha…

Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever LOST any of my bags completely from an airlines? Have you? I’ve had it missing for a few days before, and stuff stolen out of it (damn handlers!!), but never gone missing altogether. Here are some interesting facts/percentages from the U.B.C’s website (tired of typing out their full name, haha…):

  • Of the hundreds of millions of passenger bags checked every year, roughly 1/2 of 1 percent are delayed and fail to meet up with their owners at the claim carousel.
  • Within 24 hours, 80-90 percent of those delayed bags are delivered, and within five days, 95-98 percent of them make their way home.
  • Over the course of the next 90+ days, through a comprehensive baggage tracing process conducted by the airlines, over half of the remaining bags are reunited with their owner.

So it really is a TINY percentage in the end for those poor abandoned bags, which is good to know. After checking out all this stuff it seemed like millions were being lost every day!

Anyone ever participate in these baggage auctions before? Anyone ever visit the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama? Tell us all your stories!


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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Free Money Minute May 29, 2013 at 6:07 am

I cannot say I have ever purchased other people’s lost bags. I have also, luckily, never lost any bags while traveling. I actually hate traveling via airlines anymore, as I am sure a lot of us would say, because of security checks, lost bags, fees, etc.

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2 Skint in the City May 29, 2013 at 7:16 am

Hey J$, delighted to have turned you on to the lost luggage-buying thing and thank you for the shout-out! I’m very jealous of you guys in the States having the huge Alabama store – if I were living Stateside I’d be taking a road trip there this weekend and losing hours just rifling through the stuff! But I’m going to check out the UK auctions some day and will report back . . . and yep, just you and the family fly on over and join us!

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3 J. Money May 30, 2013 at 9:54 am

You better let me know how it goes! We may have the big store here, but I’d MUCH rather have the opportunity to bid on a bag and be surprised :) Even if I get crap in return – it’s all about the adventure!

(and thanks for turning me on to it! very fun to think about :))

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4 Lance @ Money Life and More May 29, 2013 at 7:31 am

I think I saw that show once, that or they did a luggage auction on one of the storage wars shows. It was pretty neat but it is an even bigger crapshoot. Is it only clothes? Or did someone pack a high end laptop too?

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5 Greg@ClubThrifty May 29, 2013 at 7:53 am

This looks sweet! It reminds me of “Storage Wars”…and that show can be a lot of fun!

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6 Brian May 29, 2013 at 8:11 am

I went to the big auction there had here in Indianapolis last year. It was even shown on “Baggage Battles” on the travel channel. It was pretty cool. I did feel like some of the characters were playing it up a bit for the camera, but that is why they are on TV and I am not. I wanted to bid on a dump truck (because who wouldn’t want a dump truck) and a large diesel generator. Man did those get out of my price range quick

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7 Brian May 29, 2013 at 2:12 pm

I totally forgot that I purchased some CDs while doing an Internship for Airborne Express (now part of DHL) in Wilmington, OH. They had a place where all the undeliverable items went and you could buy them at very very low prices. The place was not open to the public and I was told that they would donate any clothing to a local homeless shelter.

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8 J. Money May 30, 2013 at 9:57 am

well that’s kinda cool! I didn’t even think of post offices and shipping companies/etc – I bet they’re left with tons of stuff all the time too. maybe next is “mailing wars” haha…

and where the hell would you even PUT that dump drunk if you got it?

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9 Leah May 29, 2013 at 8:22 am

I had a friend who bought undeliverable/unclaimed packages from the post office auctions and made a killing selling his findings on eBay. Like, sometimes $30,000 per month worth of stuff.

Same deal as baggage auctions, you bid for the packages sight unseen, but they were categorized into various boxes like sports, clothings, handbags, knives etc.

The upsides were when he landed the world’s greatest catalog of baseball cards…the downside was when he purchased a box that contained a shop vac that was full of weed…oops!

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10 J. Money May 30, 2013 at 10:01 am

Hahahhahahaha OMG that is so cool!!! I want to go and buy that stuff too!!!! :) So funny as I just mentioned post office stuff in the previous comment I just left – love this stuff!

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11 David Hunter May 29, 2013 at 8:27 am

So, these people who lost their luggage just decided to give up their search?

“Eh, I didn’t want that 5.4 Karat Diamond Ring anyways!”

I’m pretty sure if I lost my missle guidance system I wouldn’t give up searching for it (funny that it even made it to the Unclaimed Baggage Center).

You know, J. Money, I’ve been reading finance blogs for a couple years now and yours is one of the few I still read. You’re always posting something awesome!

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12 J. Money May 30, 2013 at 10:04 am

Well thank you kindly, good sir. I do my best or else I’d bore myself! Thanks for reading for so long :)

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13 Mike@WeOnlyDoThisOnce May 29, 2013 at 8:56 am

That’s awful–can’t imagine how that is allowed. I’ve had plenty of lost bags. My general rule of thumb now is never to check a bag if you can help it.

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14 J. Money May 30, 2013 at 10:05 am

What do you mean you can’t imagine it’s allowed? You think it’s a bad practice? Not sure what you’d do with thousands/millions of bags laying around every year if no owners were ever found… they gotta go somewhere, right?

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15 John S @ Frugal Rules May 29, 2013 at 9:35 am

That’s crazy, but I bet very interesting. I have never had any luggage just completely lost, just maybe a day or two. My Mom, on the other hand, has regularly had things taken out of her bag by TSA nearly every time she flies the last few years. It has become a running joke for everyone wondering what she’ll pack that she will end up having been stolen at the end of the flight.

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16 J. Money May 30, 2013 at 10:06 am

hah! that’s horrible. she should put a note in there saying, “this is for you, TSA agent” and attach it to something crazy ;) the only stuff I’ve ever had stolen (to my knowledge at least) was money cuz I forgot to take it out before I checked it in… good lesson learned though – don’t put cash in your suitcase!

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17 Jeremy @ My Financial Road May 29, 2013 at 9:49 am

Yeah, call me a cheap a$$ but I never check bags. I take a back pack and an old dufflebag from high school soccer and if I can’t fit a weeks worth of stuff in there then something is wrong with me. they are both considered carry ons and if the planes overhead bins happen to be too small, they check the bag at the gate with a yellow tag and as soon as the plane lands, all the yellow bags are pulled and you pick them up at the gate. no lost bags, no waiting on a carousel and no paying extra money!!! Combined, the major airlines received $6 billion from extra fees last year…the only con is you have to lug that bag through the airport but I’m not going to be a part of that $6bn bonus for them so no thank you!!

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18 J. Money May 30, 2013 at 10:08 am

true that. you’re a better man than I as I need a billion pairs of socks and shirts and shoes as I like to have options every day when getting dressed :) I also like to change clothes a lot too if I’m somewhere hot, so I pretty much turn into my wife. who packs less.

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19 Jacob Erickson May 29, 2013 at 9:50 am

I guess I never really thought about what happens to lost bags. This is pretty interesting and I would probably be up for trying it out if I could do it locally. Fortunately, I’ve never had a lost bag before, but I also don’t travel too much.

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20 Kyle @ Debt Free Diaries May 29, 2013 at 11:06 am

I’ve heard of things like this before! The idea of buying someone’s old bag, with the chance that something cool might be inside definitely feeds my slight “modern day pirate” obsession. Treasure! I’ll have to take a trip out there sometime to see what the Unclaimed Baggage Center is like!

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21 Retire By 40 May 29, 2013 at 11:42 am

Gosh, that’s crazy. We don’t have any storage already and couldn’t handle anymore junks. 99.99% of the bags would just have old clothes. I haven’t lost a bag either. We don’t check bags much.

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22 Kaye May 29, 2013 at 11:47 am

Funny story – I’m originally from Alabama and that Unclaimed Baggage Center is real. I went there when I was around 14 with some friends of my parents because I had no choice (yeah…wasn’t really interested at the time). It was a big mall/warehouse combo. I would love to go back now that I would be more interested (and have some money of my own to spend). I will say that you can snag some really nice stuff there though.

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23 J. Money May 30, 2013 at 10:10 am

Cool! They’ve been around forever it seems so would be interesting to see what you think of it now vs then. Perhaps a new blog post for you? :)

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24 Kaye May 30, 2013 at 11:50 am

True. I should make it a point to check it out the next time I have an extended visit home. Thanks for the reminder of that place!

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25 Martin May 29, 2013 at 2:29 pm

That’s crazy! Unfortunately, I hate stuff. I would lose my mind if I were to accumulate more stuff. I wonder what sort of treasures have been found this way though.

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26 J. Money May 30, 2013 at 10:11 am

Well the plan is to turn around and sell all the stuff you didn’t like – in theory anyways. Just more of a hassle unless you REALLY find something killer in there like a diamond ring or something.

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27 Shafi May 29, 2013 at 3:16 pm

It reminds me of the movie “The Terminal” with Tom Hanks where one of the characters has many items from the lost department.

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28 Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen May 29, 2013 at 3:25 pm

I wish I had the experience of that! It seems kinda fun to be treasure hunting at the airport. Luckily I’ve never had baggage go entirely missing before:P I always carry the valuables on me anyways…meaning all the cash.

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29 Elvin @ Journey To Millions May 29, 2013 at 5:40 pm

I wonder if they’re doing it in my country. Thanks for sharing J, I’ll do my research on this. :) But I wonder why other people are failing to get their luggage?

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30 J. Money May 30, 2013 at 10:13 am

Look into it and then blog about it! I’m sure people can’t connect with their luggage due to incorrect addresses or people missing (dying?), etc etc. things get lost all the time at the post office too and then returned like 30 years later or something, haha… guess both parties just gotta do their best to figure it out and at the end of the day call it a loss… I’m sure the passengers get some type of compensation at least, so it’s not a total loss.

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31 Nick @ ayoungpro.com May 29, 2013 at 6:12 pm

I bet there is some interesting and potentially scary stuff inside of some of those bags! I’ll have to give it a try just for fun.

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32 Punky Coletta May 29, 2013 at 8:24 pm

This sounds awesome! Even if I didn’t walk away with any found treasures, it would be fun just to see what others travel with.

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33 J. Money May 30, 2013 at 10:13 am

haha yeah – exactly :)

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34 Ramsey May 30, 2013 at 2:28 pm

I was training in Alabama back in 2008 and decided to stop at Unclaimed Baggage on the way to the Jack Daniels Distillery (Which is well worth the tour, as being a dry county, you cannot taste, so the tour has to be really good!!).

I spotted a rain jacket with the Vancouver 2010 Olympics Logo on it for $15. Being from Canada, I thought it was a funny find in Alabama. It was brand new, tags intact, probably bought at YVR immediately before being lost.

When I got home I searched on-line and found this was a technical waterproof wind-breaker from Sunice worth $130!

Not a bad mark-up for a half-hours work!

I still get a chuckle every time i put that jacket on :0)

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35 J. Money May 31, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Nice! Even crazier about that Jack Daniels distillery – can’t believe you can’t get free samples!!

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36 Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) May 31, 2013 at 12:14 am

I have been to this unclaimed baggage center! (I even wrote a post about it: http://www.budgetblonde.com/2011/01/i-lost-my-bags.html) We went out of our way to drive through there on my way home to Louisiana from Virginia one time, and I regret to say that I was pretty disappointed. It was not nearly as cool as the videos said, and I didn’t buy anything. Sad times!

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37 J. Money May 31, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Awwww, well when I go and visit then I’ll have to make sure to have DOUBLE the fun to help make up for it ;) And I won’t stop until I find something cool for you too – how does that sound?

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38 Mary Anne @ BillGuard June 4, 2013 at 11:55 pm

That is actually a really cool idea!! Now I’m tempted to buy a bag, sight-unseen, just to discover what random goodies I’ll find inside. I agree, I’d pay extra to buy a nice designer bag, on the hopes that it could contain some pretty swanky stuff. At the very least, I’ve have a great designer piece of luggage! Hmm … in fact, maybe I should just do this the next time I need to buy luggage? …

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