Tommy Lloyd
Author: Tommy Lloyd, Managing Director

Tommy has over 15 years experience within the insurance industry, and his primary focus is helping travellers find the right cover for their medical conditions.

Travelling can be one of the most exciting experiences in life, whether it's an annual holiday, an essential business trip, or an adventure of a lifetime. However, the joy of travel is often coupled with the stress of organizing it, not to mention the risks that unforeseen circumstances can pose. This is where the Air Travel Organiser's Licence, more commonly known as ATOL, comes into play. If you've ever booked or contemplated booking a holiday, ATOL protection should be a term you're familiar with. This definitive guide is designed to demystify ATOL, ensuring you understand its role in safeguarding your travels.

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What is ATOL?

ATOL, or Air Travel Organiser's Licence, is a financial protection scheme that provides coverage for package holidays that include air travel, as well as flight-only travel bookings in certain cases. This means that not only are you entitled to a refund for the money you paid, but you are also covered for your travel home if you happen to be stranded abroad.

But what does this mean for you as a traveler? Essentially, it gives you peace of mind that you are financially protected should your tour operator go bust before or during your trip.

The ATOL scheme was first introduced in 1973, a time when booking overseas holidays became increasingly popular and fashionable. With the rise in international travel, it became essential to protect the rights and interests of holidaymakers.

Today, the ATOL scheme continues to play a crucial role in safeguarding the interests of more than 20 million UK holidaymakers each year, providing them with peace of mind while enjoying their well-deserved holidays. Its primary aim is to ensure consumers are not stranded abroad or lose money due to the financial failure of their tour operator.

Who runs ATOL?

ATOL (Air Travel Organiser's Licence) is an important scheme regulated by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). It plays a crucial role in protecting consumers who book package holidays or flights that are covered by ATOL. But how does it work?

Under the ATOL scheme, travel providers who offer ATOL-protected travel services contribute to the funding of the CAA. Whenever a customer books travel through these providers, a fee of £2.50 is paid into the scheme. These fees collectively form a fund that is managed by the Air Travel Trust.

This fund acts as a safety net, ensuring that in the event of any disruption or insolvency of the travel provider, affected travellers are protected. Any necessary refunds or reimbursements for these travellers are directly sourced from this blanket fund, providing financial security and peace of mind.

ATOL, therefore, not only safeguards the rights of travellers but also promotes financial responsibility within the travel industry. Ensuring that travel providers are accountable and contributing to the ATOL scheme, reinforces consumer trust and confidence in the industry as a whole.

Who needs ATOL protection?

ATOL protection primarily benefits individuals who live in the UK and book holidays that include flights with a tour operator. This protection extends to nearly all holidays that involve air transport, ensuring compensation and assistance if the holiday cannot be provided and you're unable to travel as a result. It also includes flight-only bookings in certain cases, such as booking a return flight and receiving an ATOL certificate from the airline or travel provider.

It's worth noting that not all travel booked through airlines will be covered by ATOL. If you book a flight directly with an airline, it's important to check if they provide financial protection in case of insolvency. If not, it's advisable to purchase travel insurance that includes cover for airline failure.

What does ATOL cover?

As mentioned above, ATOL protection is a common feature across package holidays and some flight-only bookings. It is a crucial safeguard that provides you with extra protection and peace of mind in case the company you booked your package holiday with ceases trading.

Essentially, ATOL protection ensures that if you have not yet embarked on your holiday, you are entitled to a full refund for any ATOL-protected parts of your holiday, including flights and accommodation costs. This means that even in the unfortunate event of your travel provider encountering financial trouble, you will not be left stranded and will have the necessary assistance to get back home safely.

By having ATOL protection, you can travel with confidence, knowing that your investment in your holiday is safeguarded, and any unexpected disruptions will be handled efficiently. It is an essential aspect to consider when planning your travel arrangements, providing you with the reassurance and support you need throughout your journey.

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Am I ATOL protected?

If you've booked a package holiday

In the UK and Europe, it is a legal requirement for package holidays to be covered. This means that it is crucial for you to book your holiday through a reputable company that provides ATOL protection. When searching for a travel company, always keep an eye out for the ATOL logo, as it is usually displayed on their website.

ATOL protection cover is specifically designed for packages that include a combination of flights and accommodation (including cruises). It also applies to packages that include flights and car hire, as well as those that combine flights, accommodation, and car hire. This comprehensive protection ensures that you are safeguarded throughout your entire travel experience.

However, it is important to note that ATOL protection usually does not apply if you have booked your airline ticket directly from an airline or a travel company, and if you immediately receive your ticket directly from them after making the payment. To ensure your peace of mind, it is always advisable to book your holiday through a company that offers ATOL protection, ensuring that your trip is covered from start to finish.

If you've booked your flights separately

You will be protected as long as the company has issued you with an ATOL certificate at the time of booking. The ATOL scheme is primarily designed to cover charter flights, ensuring that your travel arrangements are safeguarded. However, it's worth noting that the protection can also extend to discounted scheduled flights where the airfare cost has been divided into installments.

It's important to keep in mind that ATOL does not provide protection for flights that are booked directly with the airline or through scheduled airline ticket agents. Rest assured, with an ATOL certificate, you can have peace of mind knowing that your travel plans are secure and protected.

Why is ATOL protection important?

ATOL is not just a financial technicality; it can be a lifeline for travellers. In 2019, when the Thomas Cook group ceased trading, ATOL protected over 150,000 customers who were stranded abroad or faced with canceled trips. Without ATOL, these travellers would have faced considerable financial losses and logistical nightmares. This highlights the significance of ATOL and how it plays a crucial role in safeguarding the interests of holidaymakers.

Take the example of a family who book an all-inclusive package trip to the Caribbean. If the travel company goes bust before they leave, ATOL will assist them with new travel arrangements or offer a full refund. Or consider the case of a group of friends planning a European city break with flights and hotel included. If the hotel goes into administration, leaving them without accommodation, ATOL would provide a safety net.

By understanding and ensuring ATOL protection, travellers are better equipped to deal with the unexpected, knowing that they have a legal right to compensation or an alternative holiday in the event of tour operator failure.

How do I check if a travel company is ATOL registered?

When it comes to ensuring your travel plans are protected, there are 3 main things to check.

  1. ATOL logo - this is your first port of call as it serves as a reassuring indicator of a company's commitment to consumer protection. Make sure the logo is prominently displayed on their website or brochure.
  2. Ask the company directly - don't hesitate to ask the company directly about their ATOL protection status. They should be able to provide you with the necessary information and clarify any doubts you may have.
  3. Check with ATOL - if you still find yourself wanting more reassurance, you can always check with They offer a convenient search option that allows you to verify if a company is ATOL registered or not.

Taking these steps will help ensure that your travel plans are in safe hands.

Are there any exceptions?

Linked Travel Arrangements (LTAs)

A Linked Travel Arrangement (LTA) is a type of travel booking where you purchase a minimum of two different types of services, such as accommodation and transportation. Unlike a standard holiday package, where all services come from the same provider, an LTA allows you to customize your travel experience by choosing different providers for each service.

It's important to note that LTAs do not necessarily have ATOL (Air Travel Organiser's Licence) protection, which is a financial protection scheme for air travel packages. However, some LTAs may include a single ATOL-protected component, such as flights.

When booking a package holiday, it's crucial to keep this in mind and take the following steps to ensure a safe and secure booking:

  1. Confirm that what you're booking is actually classified as a package, as defined by the regulatory authorities.
  2. If it's an LTA, check if there are any ATOL-protected areas within the arrangement to ensure your travel is financially protected.

By understanding the differences between LTAs and standard holiday packages and being aware of the protection schemes in place, you can make informed decisions when booking your next getaway.

Do I need travel insurance if I have ATOL protection?

Whilst ATOL protection does safeguard certain aspects of your holiday in case your travel provider goes out of business, it's important to note that it specifically covers issues related to flights and package holidays. However, it is crucial to understand that ATOL protection does not provide coverage for all possible scenarios, such as medical emergencies abroad, trip cancellations, or lost luggage. Therefore, complementing your ATOL protection with comprehensive travel insurance is highly recommended to ensure you have adequate coverage for a wide range of unforeseen circumstances during your travels.

Travel insurance cover can protect you for many things outside of ATOL protection such as:

  • Cancellation - in case you need to cancel any of your trips. 
  • Personal Accident - in case you're liable for any damages resulting from an accident. 
  • Medical and Repatriation Expenses - to cover the costs of emergency medical care or repatriation back to the UK. 
  • Mobility Aids - to cover the things you rely on most. 
  • Baggage Loss - to cover your luggage for every trip. 
  • Theft - to cover any stolen belongings.

In addition, if you find that your holiday is not ATOL protected, many travel insurance policies can also provide cover for ‘Airline Failure’ (should your airline cease to trade) and ‘End Supplier Failure’ (should your travel or accommodation supplier cease to trade). This additional cover ensures you are protected against unforeseen circumstances and gives you peace of mind during your travels.

What is an ATOL certificate?

When booking your package holiday, it is crucial to ensure that your provider issues an ATOL certificate along with your booking confirmation. This certificate serves as legal proof that your holiday is protected by the ATOL scheme, offering you peace of mind.

In the unfortunate event that your travel company ceases operations, the certificate will also contain clear instructions on the necessary steps to take. Therefore, it is highly advisable to keep this certificate safely stored in case you ever need to refer to it.

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I haven’t received an ATOL certificate. Should I have?

If’ve already paid for your trip, it's important that your travel company has issued you with the ATOL certificate by now. This certificate guarantees financial protection for your booking, ensuring that you are covered in case of any unforeseen circumstances. Even if you've only made a deposit, the same applies - you should still receive the ATOL certificate.

If, for some reason, you haven't received the certificate, it is advisable to get in touch with your travel company directly. It's always a good idea to double-check whether you have actually completed the payment for the package, as this could be a reason for the delay in receiving the certificate. Your peace of mind is crucial when it comes to your travel plans, and ensuring that you have the necessary documentation is an important step in that process.

Understanding your ATOL certificate

When it comes to understanding your ATOL certificate just be aware that there are three different types: 

  1. Package Single Contract - one contract with the organiser for all travel services part of the package.
  2. Package Multi Contract - more than one contract with the organiser for all travel services part of the package.
  3. ATOL Protected Flight-Only - only protects any flight(s) you’ve booked. Any other travel services are not protected under this certificate. 

Your certificate will tell you:

  • What’s protected
  • Who’s covered
  • Who’s providing this protection (including the name of the package provider and designated ATOL number for the business)

ATOL protection is a vital aspect of any holiday booking process, meriting more attention than it often receives. By being aware of your rights and knowing how to check for ATOL protection, you can substantially reduce the risks associated with travel. Whether it's due to natural disasters, global pandemics, or simply the misfortunes of individual companies, the comfort of ATOL protection is universally valuable to all travelers.

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You should receive an ATOL certificate when you make a booking that's covered by ATOL. This certificate shows who is covered, what is covered, and who to contact in the event of a company failure.

While ATOL offers robust protection, there are exceptions. For example, if you book flights directly with an airline that subsequently goes bust, you might not be covered by ATOL. It's always best to book through a reliable ATOL-registered tour operator.

No, ATOL protection must be in place at the time of your booking. If you book elements of your holiday separately, you may not benefit from ATOL protection.

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