Schiphol luggage auction hits the big time

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Every year for over a decade, Schiphol Airport has held auctions giving anyone with the time and interest the opportunity to bid on luggage and other items left behind by travelers. The auctions have become incredibly popular in the wake of the baggage chaos experienced by travelers last year, when thousands of bags piled up due to luggage handling issues. Auction house De Eland organizes the event, held four times per year, on behalf of the airport. This year’s first installment took place during the last week of April and saw participants bid thousands of euros for the right to take home carts full of luggage in hopes of finding hidden treasure.

Schiphol keeps lost items worth less than €450 for three months before sending them on to be auctioned. It holds on to expensive electronic products for a bit longer – 13 months. Identifying information is removed before unclaimed items are forwarded to the auction house. Proceeds belong to the airport, and De Eland charges a 30% fee.

Bids aren’t placed on individual bags during these auctions, but rather on carts containing multiple pieces of luggage or found items. Participants are permitted to tour the warehouse and view the carts a few hours before the big event to determine what lots they’re interested in. Looking inside individual bags, however, is strictly prohibited. Winners only discover what they’ve purchased after getting their loot home and digging through their finds. But some carts contain a mixture of loose items that can easily be seen. This year a Seqway, books, jewelry, sneakers, clothes and, of course, bags were part of the lots. Carts containing items such as knives and scissors were the most popular and attracted the highest bids. Bidding this year started at €400, but some lots went for much as €2600. Lots with just bags of luggage were less in demand – most went for between €500 and €800.

Most of the items involved in the auction were left behind by travelers. The vast majority of bags that were “lost” this summer were eventually returned to their owners by various airline companies and probably didn’t make it into the auction. But bidders still lined up, hoping to find treasures such as laptops, expensive watches, necklaces and rings tucked away in unclaimed bags. Auction regulars such as traders often purchase lots and resell items such as designer clothes, jewelry and even electronic devices online. Some have even found expensive headphones and nice sums of cash.

The popularity of these auctions has been steadily rising, according to many who’ve been attending for years. Last-year’s baggage chaos may only be one factor driving increased attendance. Bloggers such as Enzo Knol, who posts videos of himself participating in auctions and sharing his finds, have also contributed to the trend. Auctions have even hit the small screen. The Travel Channel hosted a five-season docudrama, Baggage Battles, that followed experts as they traveled the world participating in luggage and estate auctions and discovering rare finds. The time of year may also have boosted the number of first-time visitors, as some treated the event as a fun school vacation activity. But those who have been heading to these auctions for years aren’t terribly enthusiastic about the sudden attention, as newcomers often drive prices up, offering more than most dealers can comfortably compete with. ‘You often don’t earn more than €800 on a cart,’ says professional trader Jan Verpoorten.

Schiphol isn’t the only airport that auctions off unclaimed baggage and items left behind; these events are actually popular in the United States. Bargain hunters can take advantage of similar opportunities in the United Kingdom. However, valuables are removed from bags before auction in the United Kingdom, taking away the potential for really big scores. Sydney Airport also regularly holds lost item auctions. Proceeds from this year’s event went to a local women’s shelter. There were more than 3000 items up for grabs during the auction, including an air fryer, a circular saw and even a hedge trimmer. Plenty of cameras, Bluetooth speakers and even a violin were also on offer.

Written by Lorre Luther