Each time you abandon your suitcase to the not-so-tender mercies of airline baggage handlers and TSA agents, you might wonder, “Should I have locked my luggage?” A study found that airline passengers filed almost 8,000 yearly claims against the TSA for losing items such as clothing, jewelry, and electronics. Unfortunately, you can’t count on the TSA to reimburse you for such losses; the agency denied more than half of the claims. Are luggage locks the answer?

The Benefits of Luggage Locks

Locking your suitcase doesn’t just make it more difficult for opportunistic baggage handlers or security officers to root through your stuff at the airport. A lock can also help hold your bag’s zippers together so they don’t work their way open while in transit, leaking socks and underwear all over the baggage carousel.

You might also want to lock your bag if you’re staying in a hostel with strangers, or while traveling on a crowded bus or train. Some travelers even lock their suitcases during the day at hotels to deter theft by housekeepers.

The Limitations of Luggage Locks

Putting a lock on your suitcase isn’t a guarantee that your stuff will be safe. Do a quick search on YouTube, and you’ll find a trove of videos explaining how to open a combination lock without the code or how to break into a locked suitcase with nothing but a ballpoint pen. Nor is it difficult to slice through a soft-sided bag. Locks discourage casual thieves, who will move on to easier targets, but they’re flimsy protection against those who are truly determined to get into your bag.

That’s why you should always keep any valuables in your carry-on, not your checked luggage. As noted above, the TSA is unlikely to pay you back if something is stolen from your checked bag, and airlines typically don’t accept liability for the loss of expensive items such as jewelry, electronic equipment, or fragile souvenirs.

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