Delta’s New 20 Minute Checked Baggage Guarantee

Filed Under: Delta

One of the things that has always impressed me about Alaska Airlines is their 20 minute baggage guarantee. They guarantee that checked bags will arrive at the carousel within 20 minutes of your plane arriving in the gate, or else you receive a $25 Alaska discount code or 2,500 Mileage Plan miles.

The way Alaska handles checked bags really makes you wonder where other airlines go wrong. I’ve checked Alaska bags dozens of times, and they’ve always arrived within 20 minutes. As a matter of fact, they’re the only airline I consistently check bags on. Since they start boarding earlier than just about any other airline, I usually just check bags with them and then board last minute.


I’ve asked people at Alaska about this policy, and they’re quite modest about it. They’ve always told me something along the lines of “well it really isn’t that difficult once you set the standard that our employees and ground handling contract workers have to follow.” And it works.

Anyway, up until now we haven’t seen other US airlines follow, though it looks like that’s about to change.

Delta has just added a “Bags On Time” guarantee, whereby Delta guarantees that your checked bag will arrive at the carousel within 20 minutes of your domestic flight arriving at the gate. If they fail to deliver, you’ll receive 2,500 bonus SkyMiles.

This promotion is only valid through March 31, 2015. My guess is that they’re testing out the system to see how well they can deliver on it, and my hope is that this will be made a permanent feature from there.


What’s interesting is that you have to fill out an online form within three days of your flight to request the 2,500 SkyMiles. With Alaska Airlines you have to request it at the airport immediately. This makes me wonder whether Delta actually has a system for verifying when bags arrive, or if they’re using the honor system.

Anyway, the basic terms of the promotion are as follows:

  • Only valid for domestic flights within the 50US and Puero Rico
  • The final leg of the itinerary has to be on Delta Air Lines (not Delta Connection)
  • It can take up to two weeks for bonus SkyMiles to appear in the account
  • All claims must be submitted by April 3, 2015
  • Each passenger can only request this once per trip, regardless of how many bags were checked, and whether it’s a one-way or return trip
  • Lost, mishandled, and damaged bags are excluded

Bottom line

This is something I’d love to see other airlines add as well, especially now that most airlines are charging for checked bags. The battle between Alaska and Delta has been great for consumers, and this is another example of that.

  1. According to the terms and conditions beneath the online form, “time to baggage claim will be as measured by Delta’s baggage tracking system, where available; lost, mishandled, and damaged bags are excluded. Oversize and overweight baggage and special items are not eligible.”

    The baggage tracking feature, available both on and the Fly Delta app, provides updates down to the second each time a checked bag is scanned. Each bag is scanned as it’s loaded onto the baggage carousel, so I imagine that is how Delta will verify whether or not a given bag was delivered outside of the 20-minute window. So no, not an honor system.

  2. yea, well, they can afford to do that, now that i’m seeing those 12,500 mile one way award tickets, seem to be all costing 20,000…

  3. Something tells me this is one Delta policy United will NOT be copying.

    Interesting this doesn’t apply to DCX. Since (1) passengers don’t differentiate these as “non-Delta” flights and (2) these are usually handled by 3rd parties who I’d argue have the most work to do to hit a 20 minute goal. I have a feeling most claims will be for DCX passengers, and if denied, will leave a sour taste with the people Delta is trying to make happy.

  4. The problem is that SkyMiles have no value. So they are not offering anything of value if they fail, which makes the whole guarantee a scam. If they are willing to offer a voucher of $50 or $40 or even $30 that’s something. SkyMiles? That’s ridiculous.
    On a side note, iis almost impossible to disentangle the image of an airline’s frequent flyer program from the image of its operations. An airline that has a bad (and untrustworthy) frequent flyer program is a bad airline.

  5. Miz… totally agree with you. I can proudly say that I burned thru 200k of peso’s over the past year, and am the “proud” holder of 19,950 peso’s left…now that i see that those 12.5k awards are 20k, i ask myself, do i really want to “buy” miles to flush my remaining balance? btw, i have 40 drink coupons on Delta, wondering what the heck to do with em… if i give them to Goodwill, what can i write off 🙁

  6. I actually have a bunch of old vouchers sitting around from this. When they ran the B739 on BOS-SEA it was often weight-restricted. I should see if they’re still valid.

  7. Tyler… relax, Delta has their own clock schedule they are using to decide when it starts, but are opting not to publish it, or what time zone they use… Delta is just terrific in coming up with innovative business planning to maximize profits. Harvard, Yale, MIT, pay attention!

  8. Good luck in getting Delta to give you those miles. How in the world are you supposed to prove the bags were at the carousel after 20 minutes you landed? Should you start the chronometer once seat belts sign is off as soon as the plane gets into the gate and then stop it once your bag shows up? It it going to be your word against Delta’s? (good luck with that!!!!). They will either give away 2,500 Skypesos to everyone that takes the time to complain or they will deny all the claims and tell you did not look hard enough and your bag was there.

  9. In my experience, it’s actually the Delta Connection flights that are the problem, not the Delta operated ones… smart of them to exclude those.

    Worst airport for baggage? Surprisingly, Roanoke, VA. Consistently 35-45 minutes, even though there are only like 10 arrivals per day. Strange.

  10. The timing for the 20-minute guarantee is probably based on scanning the bar codes on the bag tags. That is how the airline tracks bags and seems the only way to keep track of time. Of course bags are scanned after the bags are unloaded not when the plane lands or reaches the gate.

  11. I’d settle for delta not damaging my bag. Three of the last four flights I’ve taken, my checked bag has been damaged by delta. And, it takes so long at the baggage claim office to file a claim. All four bags did arrive at the carousel within a reasonable amount of time. Maybe delta was trying out the system before we knew they were trying out the system . . .

  12. Bags on all DL flights are scanned during on/offload from the aircraft. At most airports, they also have a scanning system on or near the arrivals carousel that scans the tags as they pass by on the belt (not to mention at other points in the outbound bag system). The time is from the block in time + :20. At both UA and US, :20 is the goal too, but it is rarely met and sporadically enforced/followed up on by management. Staffing is essential to making the goal, as is how the upline station loads the aircraft. For example, if the upline station stuffs last minute cargo in the bins/pits, therefore blocking bags, then obviously the cargo must be removed before reaching the bags – thus delaying the offload process. This happens more than one would think. Another cause of a delay is when bags are loaded in both forward and aft cargo bins, and only one ramp crew is offloading the aircraft. So, they offload the forward, then move to the aft, then finally go drop the bags in the claim area. Typically the quickest flights to offload are the hourly / frequent service markets on smaller mainline equipment – for example LGA-BOS / PHL-BOS often only has 10 bags checked on a full flight. The longest to offload are on larger equipment coming from certain hubs – such as a A321 from CLT with 180 bags loaded in multiple compartments. Additionally, widebodies and other aircraft using a containerized loading system are much faster to offload than any bulk load system, simply because there is less manual labor involved. Good luck to Delta with this. Their operation is a lot more diverse than AS’s and I expect there to be more challenges as a result.

  13. “Lost, mishandled, and damaged bags are excluded” – doesn’t this exclusion mean it makes more sense for Delta to lose your bag if it’s going to be late so they don’t have to pay the 2,500 SkyRubles?!

  14. Delta is not honoring this – you just get some fluff auto reply that they’ve “researched” and determined that the bag made it in under 20 min. I timestamped on my phone from when I stepped foot off the jetway and into the terminal and again when the buzzer started not even when I got my luggage. It was 22 min, which would have been longer had I used “at the gate” as my start time. I still got blown off with a sorry, no points for you response. I swear they must scan it as delivered when they pull it off the actual plane or as they are driving across the tarmac with it.

  15. Delta denied my claim because they said some people’s bags arrived within 20 minutes. Well, my bag was not at the front of the pack and it took more than 20 minutes. Their policy clearly states that you qualify for the miles if YOUR bag does not arrive within 20 minutes. I pointed this out to them and they failed to reply to my email or my follow-up email. This program has backfired for me– without it, I would have hardly paid attention to how long it took my bags to arrive. Now I’m irritated that they rejected my claim despite me meeting the requirements, and even more irritated that they quit replying to me. Way to keep your frequent fliers happy, Delta. NOT.

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