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One Traveler’s Lost Luggage is Another’s Found Bargain

Lost Luggage
Allianz - Lost Luggage

What happens to lost bags when they’re misplaced, become separated from their tags or have their owners go M.I.A?

Or the stroller dropped in haste at a top tourist destination?

Or even your lucky toenail clippers, a family heirloom passed down from Great Aunt Hilda, when you forget to place them in checked luggage and they’re discovered by TSA?

We may not be able to find your lost bags, misplaced baby gear or confiscated personal grooming accessories, but we did some investigating to find out where all these items all end up.

Where Lost Bags and Shoppers Get a Second Chance

The South is ripe with top tourist destinations, from Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to South of the Border, which straddles the Carolinas with firework shops and giant sombreros, and San Antonio’s The Alamo, an endearing icon of American fortitude.

Then there is the Unclaimed Baggage Center, or UBC, located in Scottsboro, Alabama. (Get driving directions)

For more than 30 years, the UBC has drawn more than local shoppers looking for steals on lost bags and all the goods once stored inside them. It also draws tourists traveling hundreds of miles and several hours, too.

This second-hand shopping destination is a 50,000-square-foot superstore with a café and a museum of found oddities, including Hoggle, the actual dwarf puppet designed by the Henson Company that starred in the movie “Labyrinth.” The museum itself houses found items including fragrances, shampoo, blazers, headphones and even tablets, all for 30 to 80 percent off their retail price. Purchased from airlines, bus companies and train services, the goods only arrive at the UBC after the transportation companies spend about three months attempting to reunite them with their owners.1

Missing Mouse Ears and Abandoned Strollers

Sometimes, lost bags and other belongings don’t even make it as far as the airport for the long flight home, but instead are left behind at beaches, ski resorts and theme parks.

Take Florida’s Disney World, which covers nearly 30,000 acres and played hosted to more than 50 million visitors in 2013. That’s a lot of mouse ears and strollers to lose – and plenty of good hiding spots.2

While only 25 percent of items lost in Central Florida’s collection of theme parks are estimated to be reunited with their owners each year, possessions displaced at the Disney parks find a home away from home.3

The Happiest Place on Earth has a little secret when it comes to managing the loads of unclaimed lost and found loot it amasses. Its Property Control store sells these rattles, raincoats, fanny pouches, as well as damaged Disney merchandise to cast members at highly discounted rates. If you think you can simply walk in this back lot second-hand shop to find a deal on slightly used Mickey Mouse Crocs, think again. The store is only open to Disney cast members – the company’s name for park employees – and their guests. So you better makes nice with a ride operator or character actor, or get ready to pay full retail prices.

Plundering TSA’s Treasure Trove

Remember those lucky nail clippers?

Sometimes lost bags aren’t your problem when it comes to becoming separated from your possessions at the airport. Sometimes you simply forget to put items you’re prohibited from carry on planes – clippers, knives, liquids and more – into checked luggage.

And when the TSA agent asks you to hand these over, you don’t pause or try to negotiate. You comply.

Some confiscated items are donated to non-profits, while others are recycled – including a lot of the worthless metal contraband – but the bulk of these items are actually sold at auction.

Most states run online auctions to offload this inventory, often through their Office of Surplus Property Management or a similar authority. (Here is a comprehensive list of each state’s auctions.)

New Hampshire’s surplus office, for example, collects TSA items from airports in its own state, as well as Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts’s Logan airport. The office generates about $40,000 in annual revenues from the auction proceeds.4

Of course, if you want to keep your lucky clippers, you have options, such as checking them in with TSA and reclaiming them later. But if you’re flying from Seattle home to Miami, odds are slim that you’ll see them again.5

Just because you may not see your lost bags, missing toddler toys and confiscated pen knife again doesn’t mean they won’t come in handy for someone. Likewise, nothing is stopping you from hunting down bargains and chasing deals on second-hand items that slip through the fingers of other weary and distracted travelers.

That said, if want total peace of mind when it comes to being compensated for your lost bags, and you don’t like your odds of combing through the piles of shirts at the Unclaimed Bag Center to find yours, strongly consider a travel insurance plan that will provide reimbursement for lost, stolen or damaged baggage.

Safe travels and happy shopping!

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Oct 06, 2014