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What is ATOL protected?

What is ATOL protected?
Image source: Getty Images


You’re sunbathing by the sea without a care in the world. Then you get an email telling you that your travel company just went bust. How do you get home? And who pays for it? Well, the answer depends on whether your holiday is covered by ATOL. Let’s check out what ATOL protected actually means.

How ATOL works

The Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL) is a financial protection scheme run by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Essentially, ATOL serves one purpose: to protect British holidaymakers if their travel company collapses.

But when does it kick in? There are two scenarios:

  • Your travel company or airline goes bust before you travel and you want a refund. 
  • The operator goes bust while you’re on holiday and you need hotel accommodation and flights home. 

Are all holidays ATOL protected? No, not always. Here’s what you should know.

What does it mean to be ATOL protected?

ATOL applies if you book a package holiday, meaning that you book your travel and accommodation through the same company. It covers all trips including cruises, self-catering and all-inclusive, so long as it’s a package deal.

The best part? It doesn’t cost you anything. It’s simply part of the trip.

  • You’re not covered if you book your plane tickets through the airline.
  • ATOL occasionally covers flight-only bookings, but this is in exceptional circumstances. 

So, to be clear, you’re usually only ATOL protected if you purchase a package holiday. 

Am I ATOL protected?

Unsure if you’re covered? Well, if you book with a UK travel business, you should be – it’s the law. 

However, if you book through a foreign holiday company, you’re not covered. ATOL only applies to holidays bought from UK operators, although EU travel companies may have their own schemes available. It’s best to check before you book.

Once you complete your purchase, you’ll receive an ATOL certificate. The certificate tells you what to do if the tour operator folds, so keep it somewhere safe. 

What can I claim for?

Now that we’re clear on what it means to be ATOL protected, let’s run through what you can claim for. 

If you’re still at home

  • You’ll get your holiday deposit back.
  • If you’ve paid the whole amount, you’re due a refund. 
  • Sometimes, they’ll offer you an equivalent holiday instead.
  • If it’s just the airline that collapses, your operator will try to arrange different flights or reimburse you. 

If you’re abroad

  • You’ll get help finding a new flight and/or booking temporary accommodation.
  • Check with the CAA to see if there’s anything else you can claim for. 

Where do I claim?

Your ATOL certificate should point you in the right direction, but you can claim online with the Civil Aviation Authority. They’ll ask for proof of purchase to help them decide how much to refund.

  • If you’re still at home, claims usually take up to 28 days to process.
  • The process moves faster if you’re abroad. Check the CAA website for details – they’ll tell you exactly what to do and what to include on your claim form.

It’s far easier to make a claim if you still have your certificate handy. However, if you can’t find it, the CAA can still help you. 

Do I still need travel insurance?

Yes, you do. While ATOL can help you if a travel company collapses, it doesn’t cover:

  • Injury
  • Illness
  • Lost luggage 
  • Delays or travel disruptions

For complete peace of mind, you need travel insurance. Just remember that if you travel to a country where the UK government recommends avoiding all but essential travel, your cover may not be valid. Check the rules with your insurance provider before you buy cover.

How does coronavirus affect my ATOL protection?

The UK government has confirmed that if your ATOL protected holiday is cancelled due to coronavirus, and you accept a credit note rather than a refund, ATOL will still cover you if the tour company folds before you use your credit note. So you won’t lose out by accepting a credit note rather than a simple refund. 

You can still ask for a refund, though, if you prefer. 

What if I’m not ATOL protected?

Since not every holiday is ATOL protected, here are some other ways you might get a refund: 

  • If you paid by credit card, you can often get a refund from your card company.
  • Used a debit card? See if your bank can arrange a chargeback.
  • If there’s no flight included with with your package holiday, you might be ABTA protected. ABTA helps you get your money back if your holiday provider collapses. Not every operator is a member of ABTA, though, so check before you book.
  • Paid through PayPal? You might be entitled to a refund under their Buyer Protection Scheme. Contact PayPal to check your eligibility.

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