We're all told to look out for the ATOL logo when we’re booking a holiday, but what is ATOL protection, and why do we need it?
The history of ATOL
Back in the 1970s, before travel insurance took off, but when package holidays were becoming increasingly popular, British holidaymakers were finding themselves stranded abroad or out of pocket if their travel company went bust before or during their holiday.
In response, the Civil Aviation Authority set up the ATOL scheme. ATOL stands for Air Travel Organiser's Licence.
Today, every UK travel company that sells holidays that involve a flight is required by law to hold a licence. But if you just book a flight directly with a scheduled airline, you won’t be covered.
If you book directly with a scheduled airline, you won’t be covered
What does ATOL protection mean?
ATOL protection means:
- If you’re overseas and your holiday organiser or airline fails, you'll be able to finish your holiday and get home
- If you have yet to take your holiday, you’ll get your money back
ATOL protection can work well in tandem with travel insurance to ensure you’re completely protected against any part of your holiday being ruined by a provider going bust.
This is because ATOL protection covers the failure of your holiday organiser, whereas if you book elements of your trip directly with the supplier, travel insurance can cover the failure of that supplier, such as the ferry company or a firm running excursions. So if you have ATOL protection and appropriate travel insurance, you should be covered regardless of how you booked your holiday.
What types of holiday are protected? (This information applies to trips booked on or after 1 July 2018)
If you book two or more travel services for the same trip under a single contract with one supplier, those services become a package and are protected.
If you book online with one provider and click through from their site to another site and your details (including your payment details) are transferred and you then book other elements from the second site within 24 hours, this will make your booking what is called a ‘click through’ package and it will be protected .
A similar situation arises with what is called ‘linked travel arrangements’. This is where you buy travel services from different traders in separate contracts but they are linked e.g. where one trader facilitates the booking of the subsequent service and you buy them for the purpose of the same trip. For the booking to be a linked travel arrangement a supplier must facilitate the:
- booking on the basis of a single visit or contact
- second booking, which is made in a targeted way and the conclusion of a contract for the second travel service from another supplier is made within 24 hours of the confirmation of the booking of the first
LV= travel insurance can cover you if a flight you’ve booked directly with a scheduled airline is no longer available because the provider goes bankrupt.
How do I know if an operator is covered by ATOL?
Most travel company websites will display the ATOL Protected logo and their unique licence number, issued by the Civil Aviation Authority.
Bogus travel companies sometimes use the ATOL logo to reassure customers that their money is safe when in fact it isn't. Always check the unique licence number before you part with your cash.
When you've booked your holiday, you’ll be provided with an ATOL certificate. This certificate shows which parts of your holiday are covered by ATOL protection. And if you need to make a claim, you can refer to the details on the certificate.
What if an operator isn’t covered by ATOL?
Unless you have a fairly comprehensive travel insurance policy in place when you book your holiday, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get any money back if a provider of an element of your trip goes bust before you travel. And of course, the loss of one element of your trip may impact other elements; for instance if your flight is cancelled you may not be able to book a direct replacement so might need to change your accommodation booking.
Other protections also exist. If you've bought your holiday from the UK with an ABTA Member, then you’ll be covered by their financial protection scheme. ABTA offer similar protection to ATOL. More detail can be found here: https://abta.com/tips-and-latest/protecting-your-holiday-and-travel-plans
If you've paid for your holiday on a credit card, debit card or PayPal, you may also be able to claim some of the cost back if the organiser doesn’t give you a refund and you don’t get what you paid for. Speak to your provider about what they can do to help. Credit card protection is particularly useful if your travel operator has gone bust, as the credit card provider is jointly liable for any breach of contract. So you can often reclaim the cost of the service you were expecting but didn't receive from the credit card company.
If you’re booking your holiday from outside of the UK or with a company that isn’t based in the UK you may not have the same protection. Ask the travel company you’re booking with about what safeguards are in place.
What if I need to make a claim?
Be sure to take your ATOL certificate and organisers' details on holiday with you. You should contact them first if something goes wrong.
The ATOL website lists the companies that have recently gone out of business. You can look for the company named on your certificate in this list and it will detail what you need to do to make a claim.
If you're still on holiday when you find out your holiday organiser has gone bust, information will normally be provided to you. In most cases, you should still be able to finish your holiday.
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