It’s a common problem for travelers. After an exhausting day on the road, you arrive at your destination eager to take a shower, change and hit the hotel bar. The thing is, you forgot the combo to your luggage lock.
Surely you wrote it down and put it in your pants pocket?
Unfortunately, those pants are packed and locked in your luggage.
Next time, you’ll make a note and save it in your phone, but what about now? Don’t worry. If this happens to you, you don’t have to wear the same clothes the entire trip, or rush to Wal-Mart for a new pair of underwear and a new toothbrush.
Here’s how to reset a luggage lock if you forget the combination.
We’re about to let in on a little secret: Many luggage brands use a TSA-approved three-digit combination lock. Those brands include:
- American Tourister
Although TSA-approved locks come in a variety of different styles, they will always feature the special Travel Sentry logo that looks like a red diamond. Below is an example:
Do You Need to Lock Your Luggage When Flying?
Here’s the thing, though, TSA-approved locks aren’t really that secure, though they do add some additional protection in the event your luggage is lost or stolen. You could use an additional padlock, but the TSA will simply cut that off if they need to inspect your luggage, which — as we said — could permanently damage your bag.
What Are TSA Approved Locks?
Founded after 9/11, the TSA, or Transportation Security Administration, is a U.S. federal government agency charged with keeping travelers safe while traveling.
Part of what the TSA does is scan for prohibited items in all luggage before it is carried onto a plane or loaded into a luggage compartment.
All TSA-approved locks can be opened by TSA agents with a master key in the event a suspicious or prohibited item is detected.
Otherwise, locked suitcases might have to be cut open or opened by force, permanently damaging the luggage.
Most TSA-approved locks are integrated directly into the luggage itself, but some are padlock style.
Places where you can buy a TSA-approved lock if your luggage doesn’t already have one include the airport, your general luggage store, or even online outlets. Just make sure the lock says “TSA Approved” on the packaging.
Types of TSA-Approved Locks:
The plus side of a key lock (think a pretty traditional padlock-style lock) is that all you need to open it is a key. The downside, though, is that you need a key to open it. If that key gets lost, you’ll have to use a saw to get the thing off.
Cable locks — something like a coiled bike lock — are combination locks, except they’re attached to a semi-flexible cable allowing the lock to twist and wrap into different configurations for different shapes and sizes of luggage, even backpacks and duffle bags.
Cable locks don’t use a key, so no risk of losing that, and if you forget the combo you can open the lock with the same technique we’ll tell you about a little bit later on.
There are also retractable cable locks, which are pretty much the same as other cable locks except the cable is retractable within the lock itself. Some studies have shown, though, that the cables in retractable cable locks are less durable than in other styles of cable locks.
Key Card Locks
Key card locks work a lot like those locks on hotel room doors that open with the slide of a credit card-like key card. These locks are a bit bulky, but one key advantage (pun intended) is the slim keys used in this style of lock fits conveniently in your wallet.
Which brings us to the combination lock. With a three- or four-digit combo, these locks save you the stress of keeping track of a key. Just don’t lose the combination. But if you do, there are ways to reset it. And how to do that is coming up next.
There are a few different ways to crack the TSA-approved lock when you’ve lost or forgotten the combination. Here are some of the best, in no particular order. You might have to experiment with all of them before you find one that works for you, and if all else fails, you might just have to call the luggage manufacturer, especially if the brand is Samsonite or Tosca.
Otherwise, try the following:
- Resetting the combo when your luggage is open: If you’ve lost or forgotten your lock combinations with your luggage open — you’re in luck! That’s the best case scenario. All you have to do is reset the combination. Here’s how:
- Set the numbers on the dial to all zeroes: 0-0-0.
- Turn the shackle at a 90-degree angle from the lock position: This is only if you have a padlock. The shackle is the U-shaped part. Then, push the shackle down outside of the lock.
- Reset the code and pull the shackle up: After the code is reset, all you have to do is turn it back to the lock position. But if you’re stuck with locked luggage and no combo, here’s what to try next. Do you remember at least one digit of the combination? That can make the process go that much quicker.
- Try your safe-cracking skills: Some travelers with lost or forgotten lock combinations have some luck with the classic method used by safe crackers to open locks. All you need is a sharp set of ears.
- Put some pressure on the locking mechanism by pushing on the button or pulling on the lock
- Slowly turn the first dial until you hear an audible click: That’s your first number!
- Leaving the dial set to that number, repeat the process with the other two dials
When all three click, the lock should open!
If none of the above has worked for you, here’s what to try next:
Try all the numbers until you get the right combination.
Yeah, you read that right. If you’re trying to crack the lock combo on a three-dial TSA-approved lock, just try all the different number combinations until you find the right one. Before you slam your laptop down in disbelief or throw your phone across the hotel room, this equation is much easier and way less time-consuming than it sounds. It’s only about 120 number combinations!
But don’t just take our word for it. Manny Hernandez, founder and CEO of the travel website Embarky.io, has tried the method and recommends it. “This sounds like a tedious task,” he says. “but it should take only about 30 minutes.”
And if you remember even just one digit of your combination, the process is even easier.
But first, it’s important to understand the mechanics of a combination lock.
How Do Combination Locks Work?
When you set the combination of your lock, you probably depressed a small button with something like a ballpoint pen while the lock was in the open position. Doing so freed the numbered thumb wheels from the locking mechanism.
Then, most often, you spin the thumb wheels, settling on the combination of your choice before pushing the big button used to open the lock, reconnecting the locking mechanism, and establishing your combination.
Once you’ve done so, notches on the small wheel on the locking mechanism are all aligned. On many locks, that small wheel is visible. Cracking the combination involves finding the point when those notches are aligned and then working backwards.
Here are the steps.
How to Open a Combination Lock
- Spot the small disk next to the thumb wheels: First, you’ll need to look at the lock form above. The small disk is a little hard to see, so you might need to use some method of magnification to see it clearly once you spot it. This could be a simple magnifying glass, but chances are you don’t have a magnifying glass in your hotel room. If that’s the case, a trick we like is to use the zoom function on your camera phone.
- Spin the first thumb wheel: Keep spinning until you see the first notch. Now, do the same on the next two thumb wheels until they’re all lined up. Now turn the luggage so you can see the number side. Jot those three numbers down on a piece of paper.
But wait, there’s more. ’Cause that’s not your combo.
Here’s what to do next.
The next thing you’ll need to do on that same piece of paper is add one digit to each number, creating a list of numbers, repeat the process until you have 10 three-digit numbers. Something like this:
And so on until you have a row of 10.
Try the codes one at a time until you can open the suitcase. If none of the combinations work, check again to make sure you’ve correctly lined up the notches on the disk, and try again.
This method isn’t foolproof and might not work on every style of lock. Sometimes you’re just going to have to call the luggage manufacturer or resort to more drastic measures — like cutting off the lock or somehow prying the thing open.
But what’s important to know is that if you’ve lost the combination to your TSA-approved lock — there’s hope! With a little time and effort, you can get to your sunscreen and swim trunks, and enjoy your vacation as planned.