Losing your luggage can be a nightmare. Tracking the lost luggage down with your airline can be time-consuming, but if bags aren’t claimed within 21 days, they’re considered lost and go to auction.

In the UK, the London airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted), Manchester and Glasgow airports use auction houses to sell unclaimed lost luggage. In the US, most cities with an airport have auction houses. The Unclaimed Baggage Centre in Alabama auction house and museum receives around 800,000 visitors every year and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the state.

Most bags are soon matched up with their owners and only temporarily lost in transit but some never find their owner. Airlines will unlock cases first – they need check for ID and to ensure what’s inside is legal. The bags and their contents will then end up at one of the auction houses up and down the country which deal in lost property, police property confiscations and bailiff debt recovery sales.

Auction houses are likely to remove valuables such as perfume, jewellery and technology as these will be sold as separate lots. But bidding for unclaimed luggage is big business. Homeward-bound cases are likely to be packed with unwashed clothes, but if you’re prepared to give them a really good wash, you might find a designer label or two worth something. The case itself can have a resale value – Samsonite, Trunki, Travelpro are all popular luggage brands.

Among regular finds are electrical chargers, cameras, watches, hairdryers and straighteners, electric razors, shoes, trainers and jewellery. Wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses and tuxedos are frequent finds too, as are children’s buggies and prams.

The more bizarre finds include a live rattle snake, 300 tortoises and 50 vacuum-packed frogs.

Here are some of the biggest value lost luggage finds from around the world.

  • Barbie doll with $500 stuffed in her head
  • a 5.8-carat diamond, stuffed in a sock, valued at $46,000 and sold for $23,000
  • $1 million in a briefcase
  • a 1770s violin, worth in the region of $100,000
  • five pounds of cocaine stuffed in tennis shoes valued around $107,000
  • a 40.95-carat natural uncut emerald worth $25,000
  • a GPS naval guidance system worth $250,000
  • Undisclosed – ancient Egyptian artefacts dated 1500 BC, including a mummified falcon and some shrunken heads

To avoid your bag ending up in auction, and a stranger sifting through your smalls, place a piece of paper inside your suitcase with your name and address, where you are going to, and a contact telephone number.

For more airport information have a read of some air travel health hacks.

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