Perhaps now one of the most commonly asked questions I receive when booking a holiday. Most of those who ask me will probably not understand what Atol or Abta even is but they know they need to ask it and when I say “yes” it’s a big tick and they can move on despite having little or no awareness of what these things are.
What is Atol?
It stands for Air Travel Organiser’s Licence and it is designed to financially protect those who buy a package holiday which includes flights AND some flight only purchases (usually when you receive your tickets later on down the line). The scheme is government run but it is operated by the Civil Aviation Authority and it is a compulsory licensing requirement.
If you get an Atol certificate when you book your travel, this means the trip is Atol protected.
In reality having an Atol certificate means that if your airline goes bust before your trip, you will get a refund. We saw this in the news last year with Thomas Cook and most refunds have now been processed. I had customers who’d booked a Thomas Cook package holiday and because the company ceased to exist, they were issued full refunds. I also had customers who’d booked a package holiday with other operators which included Thomas Cook flights with other accommodation and they were issued with new flights with other airlines at no extra charge. They had all booked packages and so were totally covered financially.
What about those who are away when the airline fails? They will be given a flight home and can also claim for the cost of replacing the Atol protected parts of their trip, or out of pocket expenses as a result of delayed flights. The most important thing to remember is that by booking an Atol protected trip, you are gaining financial protection in the event of airline failure. Those without an Atol certificate will need to make their own way home, or stand in a very long line of people waiting to get refunds. Having an Atol is a very small price to pay for protection.
Know that if you book your flight direct with an airline it will not be Atol protected.
If you book your flight with one company and accommodation with another then you are unlikely to be Atol protected. I have spotted an increased use of Airbnb (which needs its own article!) which means that there are even more people out there on unprotected holidays which is a worry. The easiest way to ensure you have Atol protection is to book a package.
What is Abta?
Think for confidence in the company you are booking with and complaint resolution.
Travel companies do not need to be part of the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) to operate but many here in the UK are as it offers more protection to their customers. Being a member of Abta allows travel companies access to various services and support but it should give consumers the confidence in who they are booking with. If a member falls short of the Abta guidelines and does not deal with any complaint raised by the customer, the customer can take this to Abta to review and deal with.
If you book a holiday with an organisation which is not a member, your only avenue of complaint after dealing with the company is Court which is far more costly and time consuming.
Customers do have to be careful when booking on their own. They may book with an Abta bonded travel agency but that agency may then book the travel arrangements with a non-Abta operator which means no protection.
Do I need them?
Abta is not necessary but why would you book with a company not willing to sign up? Atol will be required in many cases as outlined above but if you are considering booking elements of your trip separately, then you need to stop and think about Atol!!