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No bag? Then airlines should refund fee

By Brett Snyder, Special to CNN
If your checked bag doesn't arrive when you do, good luck getting a refund of the bag fee, says Brett Snyder.
If your checked bag doesn't arrive when you do, good luck getting a refund of the bag fee, says Brett Snyder.
  • Brett Snyder thinks travelers should receive refunds if they don't get their luggage
  • Delta has a $25 to $50 voucher if your bags are delayed by more than 12 hours
  • Frontier is one airline that refunds bag fees if your bag doesn't arrive on your flight

Editor's note: Brett Snyder writes a weekly travel column. Snyder is the founder of air travel assistance site Cranky Concierge, and he writes the consumer air travel blog The Cranky Flier.

(CNN) -- We all know the feeling of dread that washes over you when standing at the baggage carousel after a flight.

"Did my bag make it?"

In the last couple of years, another wrinkle has been added to the mix in the form of bag fees. In the past, if an airline lost, delayed or damaged your bag, you could get compensation. That's still true today, but what about that fee you paid just for the right to check your bag? Can you get that back?

While some airlines will give you something back, the majority won't. That's surprising to a lot of people, and it doesn't really seem fair.

Are you paying just to check your bag or are you paying for it to actually get to your destination when you do?

Only one airline will refund your bag fees if your bag is lost, delayed, or damaged and that's Frontier, with its hubs in Denver and Milwaukee. Kudos to Frontier for doing the right thing, but very few others will do anything at all.

May: Changes in the air

Alaska led the way in compensating travelers when it first introduced its bag fees for the first checked bag. Now, if you aren't reunited with your bags within 20 minutes of arriving at the gate, you're entitled to a $20 discount on a future flight or 2,000 bonus miles in the airline's frequent flier program. There are a couple of catches.

This won't automatically get put into your account -- you'll have to talk to someone at the airport within two hours of your arrival to get the credit. Also, it's only one coupon per person, regardless of how many bags were checked.

Delta has also decided to do something in this arena, but it's structured differently. If your bags are delayed more than 12 hours on Delta, and you've paid the first and second bag fees, then you can get a credit as well. But on Delta it's a $25 credit for the first bag and another $25 if you had a second bag.

Unfortunately, this is really the end of the line when it comes to getting something in return when your bags go missing.

United has a bag fee refund form, as do others, but the only reasons it says it gives refunds are if there were duplicate charges, if you didn't travel or if you didn't actually check a bag. If your bag was delayed, it appears you aren't getting that fee back in any shape or form.

Southwest and JetBlue, of course, won't refund your money for checking that first bag, because they don't charge a fee for those bags. Instead, they bake the cost into the ticket price, and you aren't getting a refund for that.

There is a little bit of relief on the horizon from the federal government, but it's really minor at best. Regulation soon goes into effect that will require airlines to refund bag fees but only if the bag is lost permanently. In other words, if your bag is simply delayed for a day or two or 10, then this regulation doesn't apply. It's only if that bag is lost and gone forever. Not much teeth to this rule.

So what can you do? Well, if your bag is lost or delayed, you can always try contacting customer relations at the airline. Depending upon the situation, that might be able to get you some bonus miles or a voucher, but that's the luck of the draw.