In theory, travelers with lost luggage are entitled to a daily allowance to buy basic necessities. But many carriers make passengers wait at least 24 hours before this kicks in, and may limit it to $25-$50 per day, or have a mile-long list of exclusions.
However, the Department of Transportation recently began cracking down on airlines for this practice. Why? Because there is nothing in the DOT rules that says you have to wait 24 hours to be covered, or that limits your daily allowance. So before you leave the airport, go to the baggage service counter and ask about their policy is on replacement item expenses.
Some may offer your cash on the spot, while others may authorize you to buy a few items to reimburse you later. If they try to tell you that they can’t provide any compensation for 24 hours, tell them nicely—but firmly—that they are mistaken and insist on getting authorization to buy needed items NOW.
Don’t go overboard. The airline is only required to pay for emergency necessities, not the expensive camera that was in your bag. And, as always, keep a paper trail of receipts and everyone at the airline and baggage claim that you talk to.