In December 2019, there were more than 75,000 flight services scheduled in the UK.
That’s a lot of flights. And, if something should happen which meant your travel company couldn’t provide your holiday any longer, in some cases, they will be obliged to protect you from losing your money or even make sure you’re not stranded abroad.
That’s where ATOL protection comes into play.
You can find out everything you need to know about ATOL protection in this handy guide - including the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions around the subject.
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What is ATOL?
ATOL stands for Air Travel Organiser’s License - which is a financial protection scheme covering package holidays which include air travel, and in some cases, flight-only travel bookings.
This means that you could be entitled to a refund for the money you paid and also covered for your travel home if you’re stranded abroad.
In terms of its background, the ATOL scheme itself was first introduced in 1973 - a time when it became more common (and fashionable) for people to book overseas holidays. Today ATOL protects around 20 million UK holidaymakers each year.
Who runs ATOL?
ATOL is run by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
The CAA is actually funded by ATOL protected travel providers, who each pay a fee of £2.50 into the scheme every time a customer books travel through them.
Each fee paid is added to a fund - managed by the Air Travel Trust. Any refund, or reimbursement required for affected travellers covered under ATOL is taken directly from this blanket fund.
What does ATOL cover?
As mentioned above, ATOL protection is a common feature across package holidays and some flight-only bookings.
Basically, it provides you with extra protection should a company that you booked your package holiday with ceased trading.
If you have not yet gone away, you should be entitled to a full refund for any ATOL protected parts of your holiday, such as your flights and accommodation costs. If you are already away, and your travel provider gets into trouble, ATOL protection will also help you to get home.
I’ve booked a package holiday. Am I ATOL protected?
UK and European law actually requires package holidays to be covered, so it’s important that you book your holiday through a reputable company - always be on the lookout for the ATOL logo, it’s usually displayed on a travel company’s website.
ATOL protection cover specifically applies to packages that include:
- Flights and accommodation (including cruises)
- Flights and car hire
- Flights, accommodation and car hire
ATOL protection usually will not apply if you have booked your airline ticket directly from an airline, or travel company, and you immediately receive your ticket directly from them after payment.
I’ve booked my flights separately. Am I ATOL protected?
You will be protected as long as the company issued you with an ATOL certificate when you made your booking.
In most circumstances, the scheme commonly applies to charter flights but it can also cover discounted scheduled flights where the cost of your air fare has been spread out in installments.
However, it’s important to bear in mind that ATOL doesn’t apply to flights booked directly with the airline and/or scheduled airline ticket agents.
How to check if a travel company is ATOL registered
There are 3 main things to check:
- ATOL logo - this is your first port of call. Does the company have this in full view on either their website or brochure?
- Ask the company directly - they should be able to clarify whether you’re ATOL protected. But, if you’re still not convinced…
- Check with the CAA - You can search for a company to find out whether it’s ATOL registered or not.
Exceptions: Linked Travel Arrangements (LTAs)
A Linked Travel Arrangement (LTA) is where you purchase a minimum of two different types of services. It’s therefore different to a standard holiday package (where all services come from the same provider).
Unlike air travel packages, LTAs are not obliged to have ATOL protection. Although, some may include a single ATOL protected component - i.e. such as for your flights only.
For this reason, it’s important to keep this in mind when booking a package holiday. You should check:
- What you’re booking is actually classed as a package, and
- If it’s an LTA - are there any ATOL protected areas?
Do I need travel insurance if I have ATOL protection?
Whilst ATOL protection does protect parts of your holiday should your travel supplier cease to trade, it should not be seen as a replacement for travel insurance cover. 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 to 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.
Also, 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). You can find out more about this cover here.
What is an ATOL certificate?
Your air package provider is legally bound to issue an ATOL certificate with your booking confirmation to confirm that you’re covered.
The certificate is essentially proof that your holiday is protected by the ATOL scheme and should include instructions to follow in the event that your travel company stops operating.
As a result, you’ll want to make sure that you keep it saved in a safe place should you ever need it for reference.
The ATOL certificate you receive should look like below.
I haven’t received an ATOL certificate. Should I have?
If you’ve parted with the cash to pay for your trip - your travel company should have issued you with the ATOL certificate by now. The same applies even if you’ve just put down a deposit.
If this isn’t the case, you’ll need to get in touch with them directly or double-check whether you’ve actually paid for the package yet.
Understanding your ATOL certificate
When it comes to understanding your ATOL certificate just be aware that there are three different types:
- Package Single Contract - one contract with the organiser for all travel services part of the package.
- Package Multi Contract - more than one contract with the organiser for all travel services part of the package.
- 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)
If you have any concerns about your certificate, or need further guidance should your travel provider cease operating - you can always refer to the Air Travel Trust Payment Policy.