Laptop ban: Will your card protect you if you check your electronics?

The U.S. has banned electronics larger than cellphones from the cabin for direct flights on nine carriers and from 10 airports in the Middle East. And, in May 2017, considered doing the same for flights to Europe (but ultimately decided not to). If you frequently travel with a laptop, a camera a tablet and more and are taking a flight with an electronics ban, you’re probably wondering – “Am I supposed to put all that expensive stuff in my checked baggage?”

For now, affected airlines are dealing with the ban in various ways. Emirates and Turkish Airlines, for example, allow you to use banned electronics until just before boarding — and will then package and gate-check them for you. Qatar Airways is providing loaner laptops for business-class passengers. Emirates offers a packaging service for banned devices during security screening. However, all the airlines, in their official press releases on the ban, encourage passengers to check all banned electronics. So, assuming you do have to check some of your most prized electronic possessions, your credit cards may provide *some* protection.

Credit card protection for checked baggage

According to our latest Card Benefits Survey, 54 percent of credit cards provide coverage for checked baggage and its contents.

Unfortunately, coverage for checked electronics isn’t that great. While cards that cover checked bags will tout generous coverage maximums of $1,000 or more, they often provide much-less generous coverage for expensive items, such as electronics ($500, or nothing at all). Some cards even exclude computers used for business.

As with all card benefits, there’s also a lot of fine print to consider. You’ll often have to report the loss to the airline “immediately,” for example (a problem if it’s late at night, or if the line for missing baggage is long). You will also generally have to file claim paperwork by a deadline (specified in your card benefits). Credit card coverage for pilfered luggage is also usually “secondary” to other coverage you have that already protects the stolen item (more on that in a moment). And, most importantly, you generally must use the card providing the coverage to pay for the flight.

The table below shows a sampling of cards that provide baggage insurance – and their terms. This list is not a complete accounting of all cards that offer this benefit, but it should give you an idea of what cards will (and won’t) do for you if your luggage contents are stolen.

Credit card coverage for electronics in checked baggage

CardCoverage maximum for checked baggage (per person per trip, unless otherwise indicated)Coverage limits for electronics
American Express Platinum card (American Express is a CreditCardForum advertising partner)

$2,000 $250 (considered “high-risk” items)
American Express Premier Rewards Gold card; Everyday Preferred and more$1,250$250 (considered “high-risk” items)
Capital One Venture; Quicksilver$3,000 (PER TRIP)Cameras excluded; “business-items” (including computers used for business) excluded
Chase Sapphire (Preferred and Reserve); IHG Rewards Club card; Ink cards and more$3,000$500 per person per trip
Citi AAdvantage cards; Citi Prestige$3,000 Price of item or cost to repair, whichever is less.
Wells Fargo Propel cards$1,000Excludes cameras and electronic equipment
U.S. Bank Visa Signature cards$3,000 (PER TRIP)Cameras excluded; “business-items” (including computers used for business) excluded

Other options

If your credit card doesn’t provide any lost-baggage coverage (or its coverage isn’t good enough), you have some other options:

Trip insurance: Travel insurance packages will often include coverage for items stolen from your luggage. Cost will vary based on the length of your trip. Expect coverage for electronics to be limited – for example, a sample Gold policy from Travel Guard puts an aggregate $500 cap on a list of “valuables,” which includes electronics.

Cellphone coverage: Some credit cards (including one from Chase and several from Wells Fargo) provide separate coverage for your phone, which includes theft. We have a list of those cards here. You may have also purchased coverage for your phone from the carrier or manufacturer. But note that some coverage does NOT cover theft (AppleCare+, for example, does not cover theft).

Home insurance: If your home insurance includes “off-premises coverage,” your stolen electronics will be covered up to a certain limit. However, you’ll likely have to pay a deductible – and decide whether it’s worth filing a claim to replace a $700 laptop.

Coverage from the airline: If your laptop got lifted from your bag while it was in the airline’s hands, the airline should cover it, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. U.S. domestic carriers are notoriously stingy when it comes to reimbursing you for stolen electronics. They’re more in the business of reimbursing you for clothing and toiletries, not so much cameras and laptops.

Things get slightly better when it comes to international flights, thanks to the Montreal Convention. It stipulates that, if your luggage is pilfered or lost while in the airline’s possession, you’re is entitled to up to roughly $1,700 from the airline. However, filing a claim is a complicated process limited by strictly enforced deadlines and other required paperwork. Want some light reading? Knock yourself out.

The bottom line

The airlines are doing their best to limit the inconvenience the ban imposes on travelers. But, unfortunately, if you check your electronics, you have very little protection from your cards, travel insurance and the airlines.

Updated May 16, 2017

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