If you've traveled with checked luggage, you know that when all goes well, it ends up in the same place as you at the end of your trip – no matter how many connections you've made – unless you requested otherwis.. What might remain unclear is what exactly happens to the checked luggage while its owners are in flight to ensure it ends up exactly where it's supposed to be.

Luggage and Connecting Flights

Not all flights are nonstop; for example, you might travel from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., with a stop in Detroit. If you’re just touching down in an airport for a stop before your connecting flight, it’s not necessary to pick up your checked luggage in the baggage claim. Because the luggage is checked through to your final destination, you can just grab an airport coffee or magazine during the stop and relax, knowing that your luggage will meet you at the final stop.

Luggage and Layovers

Some connecting flights have an overnight layover, depending on your travel itinerary. In this situation, it’s possible that the airline has not checked your luggage through to the final destination. If you have an overnight layover, you can request to retrieve your luggage at baggage claim so that you have all of your items with you. However, you'll need to recheck your luggage in the morning, so plan additional time for going through security again. Different airlines have different rules about overnight layovers and checked luggage, so ask ahead of time to avoid confusion.

Multiple Carriers, Multiple Rules

Your checked luggage might not head directly to your final destination if you have connecting flights operated by different airlines, so be sure to ask at the ticket counter. Some airlines require that you retrieve your checked luggage and recheck it with the connecting airline for tickets involving multiple carriers. Other airlines that frequently operate in association with each other will check your bags all the way through to your final destination, regardless of whether you're flying on two or even three different airlines. When planning your trip, check with the airline to determine whether your bags will be checked all the way through to your final destination.

Gaming the System

Some so-called savvy travelers try to save money by booking airline flights they don’t intend to fully use. For example, it might for some reason be cheaper to book a flight from San Diego to Portland, Oregon, with a layover in San Francisco -- perhaps there's an airline promotion going on, or maybe it’s just a cheaper route. Although airlines explicitly forbid this, some travelers might book the full San Diego to Portland ticket, but then disembark in San Francisco, where they wanted to go all along. Although not illegal, it’s against the rules, and your checked luggage can get lost in the process even if you request to retrieve it at the layover.

Airlines Make Mistakes

Checked luggage might not make it to the final destination based airline error -- that is, someone put your luggage on the wrong plane. Pack extra clothing in your carry-on luggage, make sure you have adequate travel insurance to cover lost luggage and cross your fingers. Putting ID labels on your checked luggage will help it make its way back to you. If you find yourself in a situation where your checked luggage doesn't end up in the same place as you, head to the help desk for your airline and fill out a property irregularity report. Your bag should be tracked down and returned to you within a couple of days. If after 21 days it's still not found, your luggage will be officially declared "lost," and you can claim for compensation from the airline.