What is ATOL protection for holiday bookings?
Since 1973, it has been a legal requirement in the United Kingdom that your package holiday must be financially protected and some flight bookings. The Air Travel Organiser’s License, or ATOL, is a UK protection scheme designed to protect you and your booking party financially should the travel agency or tour operator you have booked through collapse. The license was originally introduced due to various travel companies going bust and leaving holiday-goers stranded in foreign countries around the world, something that is now a thing of the past.
Each year, ATOL protects over 20 million travellers from the United Kingdom both financially and securely, ensuring that your booking money is safe and that you will always have a way home (as well as other assistance). In instances like we have seen in recent years with Thomas Cook, it is ATOL that helps to find alternate flights and routes to return people to the UK and claim refunds for the inconvenience or even missed holidays.
You can expect that ATOL protection is included in all package holidays you book in the UK, with an ATOL certificate being issued at the time of booking (usually electronically). Below, we’ve collated some of the most frequently asked questions and information that you’ll need to know!
It's not just packages.
While ATOL is designed specifically for holiday packages, meaning you have to have at least two parts to your booking, it is not exclusively for this in all cases. Sometimes, if you purchase a fare with an airline that doesn’t give you a ticket right away, for example if you’re paying in instalments or before the tickets can be issued, these will usually be ATOL protected.
As a general rule, flights that are booked directly with the airline are not protected by ATOL, so if the flight is delayed, cancelled or the company goes bust, you may still be in a sticky situation – which is where the likes of travel insurance comes in. Sometimes this situation occurs when booking through flight booking agencies like Skyscanner or similar too, so always keep an eye out and check if you’re ATOL protected on your booking.
Are you covered by ATOL?
Any operating UK travel business that is selling package holidays is required to be part of ATOL scheme, but if you’re not sure if your booking is covered or not, there is a few ways to check. The first, and easiest, is just to simply check if you got an ATOL certificate with your booking. This is usually an entirely separate document to your travel documents, but is normally sent over immediately with payment or invoices. If you should have this certificate and you don’t, contact the business or operator immediately.
If you’ve not yet booked and want to know if you’re covered or not, there are also a few things you can do to check. On the bottom of most travel business websites you will see the ATOL logo (it’s a small circle with the word ATOL written on it). This logo appears on documentation and booking information too. You can also check the Check an ATOL facility run by the Civil Aviation Authority before you book.
Does it cost extra?
ATOL is solely funded by the travel businesses that hold it, with a requirement of £2.50 to be paid per passenger. This cost is not imposed on travellers, is not a tax and is not an insurance premium; so you don’t pay for it, it has to be paid for by the businesses.
Sometimes, you may see the ATOL protection fee show up on an invoice, but usually this is just to highlight it to you and for the internal invoicing systems of the business. The fee is then held in a fund managed by the Air Travel Trust that is used for any situation that ATOL was designed to protect, such as the reimbursement or rearranging of travel for passengers.