When film director Daniel Scheinert won multiple Oscars at the 2023 Academy Awards, he wasn’t wearing a tuxedo made by some fashionable designer. Instead, he bought a used tux from a unique store called Unclaimed Baggage.
That’s the store that answers the question: What happens to lost luggage that never gets found?
It also happens to be a great place to go bargain shopping online.
The reality is, the vast majority of lost bags get reunited with their owners. Only a small fraction of luggage never gets claimed by anyone. But with billions of bags getting checked at airports every year, even a small fraction is a lot.
Luggage that’s truly “orphaned” ends up at a huge retail store in Alabama the size of a city block. It’s called the Unclaimed Baggage Center, and it has an online store called Unclaimed Baggage.
There, you can find a never-ending supply of men and women’s clothes, as well as jewelry and electronics like laptops, tablets, earbuds and headphones.
The company works with all the major airlines in the U.S., and it bills itself as the nation’s only retailer of lost luggage.
“The airlines do a great job at reuniting passengers with their baggage. They succeed over 99½ percent of the time,” says Sonni Hood, a spokesperson for the store. “We’re looking at a fraction of a percent of bags that truly go unclaimed. We step in as a salvage partner so they don’t end up in a landfill.”
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In the online store, there are scheduled “drops” of new merchandise every Thursday and Sunday, so those are typically the best days to shop there. However, on any day of the week you can find thousands of unclaimed items for sale at deep discounts.
You can shop by category — men’s and women’s clothes and accessories; children’s and baby clothes; shoes; electronics; jewelry; and “home & lifestyle,” which is a catchall for all kinds of things.
You can narrow it down further, searching by brand or by price range. When we clicked around the site, we found a vast array of shirts, pants, shoes, AirPods, Kindles and neckties, among other things. For each item, Unclaimed Baggage lists the price and, often, the estimated retail price that you’d pay somewhere else.
(We’ll answer some frequently asked questions about Unclaimed Baggage at the end of the article.)
According to the store’s “bag openers,” the most common things they find in lost luggage are blue jeans and headphones.
At Unclaimed Baggage’s huge, 50,000-square-foot physical store in Scottsboro, Alabama, they sometimes stock up to 7,000 new items per day. The store is in northeastern Alabama, midway between Birmingham, Alabama, and Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“The online store is meant to give you the Unclaimed Baggage experience until you can make the road trip to Scottsboro,” Hood said, and apparently that’s what lots of customers do. “We’re actually one of the top tourist attractions in the state of Alabama, with 1 million visitors annually. For many people, we’re a ‘bucket list’ destination.”
The physical store opened in 1970, and the online store opened in 2020.
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The Weirdest Things They’ve Found
Airlines and airports, hoping to avoid making passengers mad, go to a lot of trouble to reunite customers with their missing baggage. If you’re really trying to get your bag back, the odds are good that you’ll get it back.
It’s only after an extensive three-month search that an unclaimed bag is deemed truly “orphaned,” the store says. That happens with an estimated 0.03% of all checked luggage, or 3 out of every 10,000 bags that get checked.
If a bag is truly lost, airlines typically pay out a claim to the passenger. Still, it makes you scratch your head to see some of the possessions that passengers are apparently willing to leave behind.
It turns out that some pretty weird stuff turns up in lost luggage.
“The most shocking thing we’ve found was a live rattlesnake. He was traveling in a pocket of a duffel bag,” Hood said. “We’ve also found real human shrunken heads — three to be exact.”
The most expensive item they’ve ever sold? A platinum Rolex watch that originally retailed for $64,000 and sold for $32,000.
There was also a 40-carat Colombian emerald that was rolled up in a sock in a lost suitcase. It was appraised for $32,000 and sold for $14,000 in cash.
The Alabama store actually has its own museum exhibit showcasing some of the wilder things it’s found in unclaimed baggage. They include two full suits of armor, various mounted animal heads and an original puppet from the 1980s Jim Henson movie “Labyrinth.”
Passengers also accidentally leave things at airport security checkpoints, in overhead bins, in taxi cabs and on buses. If it goes unclaimed, it eventually makes its way to Unclaimed Baggage.
The store says it sells a third of the stuff, donates a third, and recycles a third that can’t be resold.
Where does lost luggage go if it’s never found? Now you know.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Are the Clothes Clean?
All of the clothing for sale is professionally cleaned. In fact, Unclaimed Baggage says it has the largest commercial laundry operation in Alabama.
What Condition Are the Electronics In?
All of the electronic gear is tested to make sure it works, and any personal data gets erased.
How Do They Know the Jewelry Is Authentic?
Unclaimed Baggage says it has a team of experts with years of experience authenticating jewelry and luxury brands. (Some of the jewelry for sale is costume jewelry, not fine jewelry, and it’s priced accordingly.)
Can They Help Me Find My Lost Luggage?
Nope, sorry. By the time luggage gets to the Unclaimed Baggage store, airlines have already tried to return it to its owner. Items arrive at the store with no identifying information.
Mike Brassfield (email@example.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website that empowers millions of readers nationwide to make smart decisions with their money through actionable and inspirational advice, and resources about how to make, save and manage money.