One of the best smart luggage accessories you can buy, bag trackers, have rapidly grown in popularity.
Away Travel once launched a luggage tag together with Tile Mate creating the Slim Bluetooth Tracker Luggage Tag, and it immediately sold out! (Although you can still buy the upgraded new version of the Tile Slim and a fancy luggage tag from Away and combine the two — it fits, we’ve tried.)
However, smart trackers come in several flavours, with the main difference being GPS vs Bluetooth. This article will cover everything you need to know about buying a Bluetooth tracking device.
Before you dive into buying a Bluetooth tracker for your luggage, they aren’t all made equally — in fact some aren’t suited to long-distance tracking at all! Here we will look at the different types of tile trackers, how to get the best use out of your tile trackers and look at when not to use Bluetooth trackers — you might need a GPS bag tag instead.
Why use Bluetooth for tracking luggage?
While high-end smart luggage like Plevo has inbuilt tracking, most of the time brands are moving away from all-in-one smart luggage. Instead, they are using additional extras like Bluetooth tile trackers and GPS bag tags to provide smart features.
GPS bag tags are ultimately the most accurate way of tracking your luggage, however they come with some downsides:
Downsides to GPS tracking
Bluetooth trackers solve virtually all the problems of traditional GPS luggage trackers, and make luggage tracking one of the best uses for tile trackers.
As a result, they are growing in popularity as a must-have smart luggage accessory.
Some manufactures like Samsonite are even including Tile Mate trackers and a dedicated pouch to store them in as standard with their latest smart luggage.
Cheap, small and lightweight and using significantly less power than GPS, bluetooth trackers can fit into any pocket within your suitcase without taking up valuable packing space or weight.
Equally, most large airports are very high-density. Thousands of people pass through every single hour. This means they are the perfect place to use crowdsourced locating — how bluetooth luggage tracking works.
How bluetooth tracking works
There is some confusion around how bluetooth tracker tiles work. As a result, one of the most frequently googled searches around the number one brand for bluetooth trackers — Tile Mate — involves GPS.
As of 2021, Tile Mate have never made a tracker with GPS. Not one.
The functionality is similar — you hopefully find out where your luggage is located — but the difference between GPS locating and how Bluetooth trackers work is stark.
Bluetooth tracking uses two features:
That is essentially it.
- Your smartphone’s inbuilt Bluetooth
- Other users smartphone’s Bluetooth
The tile trackers constantly broadcast a small signal that can be detected by your phone and together this forms a wireless network.
Here’s a short 3-minute video to explain how Bluetooth works in-depth.
When you are within around 200 ft of your smartphone, your phone can connect to the signal broadcast from the tracking device, and locate where your luggage is. Depending on how powerful the antenna is in the tracking device depends on how far this system will work — typically it’s up to an absolutely maximum of 500 ft.
So if you’re flying home to LA via a connection in the USA, how do we track our luggage across continents and work out whether United Airline’s actually left your luggage in London? Or did it get lost in America on your domestic connecting flight home?
Unlike GPS trackers, Bluetooth devices can’t broadcast their location over long distances. Instead, your bags position is calculated using a process called crowdsourced locating — effectively relying on other peoples bluetooth.
It is this process that means bluetooth based devices can be used as long-distance tile trackers.
Crowdsourced locating infographic
Crowdsourced locating detailed explanation
With modern smartphone technology, Bluetooth never really needs to be turned off. It is so low powered that it actually doesn’t make any noticeable difference to your battery life. This is part of the reason that Bluetooth has become such a popular technology, and why it makes it great for crowdsourced locating.
This means that in high density places, like shopping malls, city centres or crucially — airports — there will be thousands of people wandering round with bluetooth activated.
When you accept the permissions on the Tile Bluetooth trackers apps, you enable your phones Bluetooth to be used anonymously to find any other Tile Mate trackers that are lost.
If any other Tile customer is passing through London Heathrow — and your luggage is left there — when they walk within 200ft of the lost baggage store as they collect their bags, it will detect your bags Bluetooth tracker and alert the Tile network that your bag is in London. Similarly, if its actually got lost on your connection in the USA, you are relying on another customer in that airport to be passing within the range of your bag.
When Bluetooth luggage trackers might not be for you
While Bluetooth tracking has many great features, with this type of tracker relying on crowdsourced data if you frequently travel to low-density places you are unlikely to have an accurate reporting of where your luggage is.
If your bag is lost in a regional airport in a part of the world without anybody passing who has also purchased your specific brand of Bluetooth tracker, it might be months until someone passes.
You travel to remote corners of the world
If you are a frequent global traveller and spend time transiting across parts of the world that don’t have a large modern smartphone presence.
You shy away from major airports
If your travel usually revolves around minor airports or smaller transport hubs — away from crowds and tourist destinations.
If this is the case, it is probably worth the upgrade to smart luggage with built in GPS tracking, or looking at a GPS bag tag add on.
What has improved in newer models?
Like all tech, smart luggage accessories have improved rapidly in the last few years. That’s great for consumers in general, as it means that there are now a wide variety of options and some excellent deals on slightly older bluetooth trackers.
If you wonder is it worth the upgrade for the latest versions, or should you save your money and buy an older version — you are not alone! Tile Mate — one of the most popular brands — update their models roughly every two years and currently Difference between tile mate 2018 and 2020 is one of the most frequently asked questions.
There are 4 key differences between some older bluetooth tracking models and later versions:
- Rechargeable batteries
- Longer battery life
- Improved range
To highlight this, the exact difference between the original generation of Tile Mate vs 2018s Tile Mate and the 2020 model is highlighted below.
Original Tile Mate
- Disposable batteries only
- Quiet speakers
- Shorter range (<100ft)
Tile Mate 2018 (2nd Gen)
- Replaceable batteries (CR1632)
- Improved sound quality (1.5 louder)
- Longer range (150ft)
Tile Mate 2020 (3rd Gen)
- Better sound quality
- Longer range (200ft)
4 things to look for when buying a bluetooth luggage tracker
While there are many bluetooth trackers on the market — not all are suitable for tracking luggage.
As we highlighted earlier, the reason bluetooth trackers are so good for tracking luggage is that they can be found via crowdsourced location finding.
- Many products on the market rely purely on pairing to just your phone via Bluetooth without the option to locate via long-distance on an app — so if they are out of range of your phone you will not ever be able to locate them.
- This makes them great for locating items around the house — or if you can’t remember where you put your suitcase in the loft! — but absolutely no use when travelling the world and trying to work out which airport your luggage got stranded at.
Here are four features you need to get the best out of bluetooth tile trackers for your luggage.
Some basic trackers don’t come with this feature — they are great for finding your keys in your house, but not for locating your luggage on the other side of the world
For long-term use, tile trackers with replaceable batteries work out significantly cheaper and are more environmentally friendly than disposable trackers
Stick with popular brands
By sticking to a popular brand you maximise your user base who can detect where your luggage has ended up
Avoid mini or dot trackers
These trackers are great for attaching to key fobs, but in larger spaces like airports — and with plenty of space in a suitcase — ensure you buy a full-size tracker with a decent range
Products similar to Tile Mate trackers
While one of the most popular brands on the market, Tile Mate are not the only bluetooth trackers around. There are arguably products better than the Tile tracker, but it is worth considering that part of the reason Tile Trackers work so well is their popularity — required for accurate crowd locating.
Here are 3 examples of bluetooth trackers that are similar to Tile Mate — all of which offer crowdsourced locating so can be used for luggage tracking.
01. Nut Find
Cheaper than Tile Mate, the Nut Find is another smaller bluetooth tile device — ideal for stowing inside a luggage tag or a top pocket of your bag.
Nut Find — pros and cons
02. CUBE Pro
This great little Bluetooth tracker is very similar to the popular Tile Mate brand — however this is completely waterproof!
CUBE Pro — pros and cons
03. TrackR Pixel
This exceptionally small bluetooth tracker weighs only 4 grams! However unlike many mini trackers it works up to 100 ft.
TrackR Pixel — pros and cons
Summary of Bluetooth luggage trackers
Overcoming some problems of GPS bag trackers, Bluetooth trackers offer an affordable way of ensuring you never lose track of your luggage.
However, there are some users who would benefit from a more advanced GPS tracking device, and not all bluetooth bag trackers are made equally. Some are unsuitable for tracking luggage.
To get the best use out of your tile tracker:
- Ensure that you buy one from a popular brand so there are many potential users to help you locate your luggage
- Look for a tracker with a replaceable battery to reduce long-term costs
- Pick a tracker with the longest range you can to maximise its effectiveness