Lost Luggage Auctions

The Idea

We all know that from time to time, while airlines ‘delicately’ move our valued luggage around the world, the odd one tends to go missing somewhere. Most of the time after a lengthy delay the owner ends up being gratefully reunited with their possessions. However, what you might not be aware of is that hundreds of thousands of items of luggage each year never get returned for one reason or another. The result is that airlines sell these items off at auction houses around the world. As far as London goes, there are three main establishments that deal with the lost luggage. Greasbys largely deals with Heathrow, meaning it’s mainly British Airways loot. Wellers Auctioneers gets the bulk of the unclaimed bounty from Gatwick, whilst Hertfordshire Auctions sells on Luton Airports share. It’s fairly hard to find a comprehensive list of auction houses that deal with lost luggage, so if you live outside of London the best bet might be an internet search regarding your nearest airport (although I can tell you that Bristol Airport send theirs to BCVA). The basic workings are that auction houses receive the lost bags once a pre-defined period has passed and airlines are sure that they can’t be reunited with their owners. The auction house then inspects the contents and often remove any very valuable items, such as phones, laptops and jewellery to auction separately. Then the luggage is put to auction. There are viewing sessions before each auction, but the bags remain closed, you cannot see the contents until you have purchased a bag at auction. This makes it a bit of a lottery, but idea is to take an educated guess at the contents from the type and condition of the bag. A Louis Vuitton designer case is probably worth a punt, whereas a grotty travelers backpack with a rather distinct smell might not be such a good investment. This does depend on how much you pick it up for though, you could end up paying £50 for the aforementioned Louis Vuitton case and it contain only a few t-shirts whereas £5 may have bought you a particularly stylish backpackers genuine leather jacket. It’s all a case of balancing up your judgement with the price an item is likely to fetch and relying on a little bit of luck. The aim is to pick up a case and it’s contents at significantly less than you’re going to be able to flog them for on something like eBay.

Investment Required

Cases typically seem to sell for between around £5-£50. It’s difficult to know quite how much or how many I would be looking to buy, being new to this concept, so I reckon to start with it’s probably safe to limit myself to four cases and around £100 maximum to get an idea of how it will work. In terms of time required, there is a little bit needed to get down to the auction house, then the auction process itself including viewing I imagine will take around 2-3 hours. However, many offer online auctions, which will be a great way to get a feel for how it works without actually physically attending each one (read about my exciting experience with online bidding here). The time spent selling it also needs to be considered, but sites like eBay and gumtree makes this process fairly quick and simple.

Capital: £100

Time(hrs): 4-5 per time

Return On Investment

Being new to this, I’m not quite sure where to pitch this. I have read that often people can make 2-3 times what they paid, but I’m a little sceptical as to whether this is the norm. I’m going to base my assumptions on a reasonable estimate of being able to sell at a 50% profit margin. On this basis, if I pick up a bag for £20, I reckon I can sell it on for £30 after all the costs of postage etc. are factored in.

Projected ROI:  50%

Expected Return: £40-£50 per time

Skills/Resources Required

I imagine being slightly savvy won’t go amiss here. It’s all about picking up the right item at the right price, and outwitting everyone else who is trying to do the same. It will be interesting to see what kind of techniques are used for this. It will take a little bit of eBay knowhow to sell the items at the best price, but there are plenty of ways you can do that.

Risk

The risk is in not knowing exactly what you’re buying, and not knowing how much that might sell for. It is a possibility that you will end up buying things that aren’t worth as much as you paid, or worse yet don’t sell at all. However, it’s fairly unlikely, and a technique to avoid this will be to base the limit I will pay on what the case will roughly fetch on eBay, then I’m unlikely not to at least cover my costs, and anything inside that sells is profit. In limiting how many I buy the first time I am limiting the risk of how much I might lose, however it also means that I risk wasting my time, as I’m not taking advantage of economies of scale. I’d rather do this the first time though just to get a feel for how it all works, and limit the loss I might make if it’s not viable.

Scalability

There are only so many auctions each week, and it takes a fair bit of upfront capital and time. With this in mind it is hard to see it really becoming a big time money maker. However, it might well be a decent way to get a good return on the capital I have already built up and move the project on to a new level. It is also worth noting that I can always increase the quantities I buy at the auctions (to the limit of what I can fit in my car) and therefore increase the scale slightly. A side note is that there are other auction types, such as police auctions and bailiff seized property that I will most likely look into in the near future.

Viability

It is difficult to judge how successful this is going to be without having tried it. I plan to at least look at two online on Saturday and Tuesday (if not go to one in person), so I should be able to have a slightly better idea then. The real test though is going to be actually getting stuck in and seeing if I can make some money out of it. Given what I have researched and know about it, it should be possible to make a half decent return without too much specialist knowledge, so for now I’m going to give it a go and reassess after my first try.

The Verdict

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Read about my experience at an online auction here

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Comments

  1. It’s the fees that kill you on Ebay. Would be interested in knowing what you get for it after the fees.

    Good article. You had me on tender hooks with the auction.

  2. Thanks for the information about the auctions very helpful.

  3. Hi, you got an address from Baggage Auctions in UK?

  4. Geoff says:

    Hi great read adrian is their any auctions in the north which do the same thks

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