What is ATOL protection?

ATOL protection means you’ll be covered if your holiday company goes bust. Find out how it works and how to make sure you’re protected.

Eve Powell
Eve Powell
Updated 13 December 2022  | 5 mins read

What is ATOL?

ATOL, which stands for Air Travel Organiser’s Licence, is a financial protection scheme for package holidays booked in the UK.

It’s designed to make sure you’ll get a refund and won’t be left stranded overseas if your travel company goes out of business.

When you buy an ATOL-protected trip, you’ll receive an ATOL certificate. This tells you how the cover works and what you should do if your travel company stops trading.

Key points

  • ATOL protection means you won’t lose money or be left stranded abroad if your travel company goes bust 
  • It protects package holidays but check your travel firm is ATOL certified before you book  
  • When you pay you should receive an ATOL certificate. Keep it safe and bring it on your holiday 
  • It’s not a substitute for travel insurance. Situations like delays, lost luggage and medical expenses will not be covered by ATOL

What’s covered by ATOL protection?

If you book an ATOL protected trip or package holiday with a single travel firm, everything you’ve booked will be covered, including:

  • Flights and accommodation, including cruise ships
  • Flights with car hire
  • Some flight-only bookings
  • Accommodation with car hire

Before you make your booking, do your research and make sure the company has an ATOL licence.

How can ATOL protection help me?

ATOL protection means that if your travel firm collapses, you won’t lose any money and there’ll be minimal disruption to your holiday:

  • If you’re already abroad and your holiday company or airline fails (providing you booked flights through the holiday company), you’ll be able to finish your holiday and get home
  • If the holiday company goes under before you go on holiday, you’ll be fully compensated

You’ll receive this protection automatically when you book a package holiday.

ATOL registered companies pay £2.50 for each traveller, which is held in a special fund that’s used to provide compensation for any affected parts of your trip.

How do I know if my holiday is ATOL protected?

Every travel company that sells holidays involving a flight should have an ATOL licence, but there are fake websites that pretend to have one.

So before you book, do your research by:

  • Searching for the company on the ATOL database - You can use the travel firm’s name or ATOL number to check if it has a current licence
  • Looking out for the ATOL logo - Most travel company websites and brochures show the ATOL logo, but always check the ATOL number before you make any payments
  • Avoiding fake websites - ATOL displays a list of websites that falsely claim to have an ATOL certificate or sell holidays that are ATOL protected

Are flights protected by ATOL?

ATOL tends to just cover package holidays. However, if you’re only buying flights with a travel agent, check whether they’ll be ATOL protected before you book.

It’s rare for ATOL protection to apply to flight-only bookings, but if your flight is protected you should receive an ATOL certificate as soon as you’ve paid.

If you book your flight directly with the airline, it won’t be protected by ATOL. But if it’s cancelled or delayed, you may be entitled to compensation from your airline.

Make sure you get your ATOL certificate

As soon as you pay any money or deposit for an ATOL protected holiday, you should receive an ATOL certificate.

The certificate explains:

  • Who is protected by ATOL
  • What is covered
  • The travel company providing the protection and its ATOL number
  • What you should do if your travel company goes out of business.

Take a digital or paper copy with you on your trip, in case anything goes wrong while you’re abroad.

If there’s an emergency or if you need to make a claim, you’ll need to quote the unique reference number on the certificate.

How to claim on an ATOL holiday

There are two main situations when you might need to claim - if the travel company goes into administration before you’re due to travel, or if this happens during your trip.

To make a claim you’ll need to provide:

  • Your ATOL certificate and unique reference number
  • Proof of your booking and all booking documents sent to you
  • Receipts or evidence of payment for any replacement elements of your trip

If you need to claim before your trip was due

If your travel company stops trading before your trip, ATOL can advise on what to do next and how to claim a refund.

If the flight bookings are still available, you may be able to use these and book your own accommodation and replacement services, like transfers and car hire.

You should be able to claim for anything that was part of your original ATOL protected booking.

If you have to claim while on a trip abroad

If you’re abroad when your travel company goes bust, ATOL can provide support to minimise the disruption to your holiday.

Wherever possible ATOL will arrange and pay for you to receive the transport, accommodation and other services you originally bought so you can continue with your trip.

But if you need to make new arrangements while you’re away and pay for these yourself, you can claim these costs back from ATOL. Make sure to keep all proof of purchases as these will be needed when sorting out any claim.

If you need more information while abroad, you can call ATOL on: +44 (0)333 103 6350.

How long does a claim take?

ATOL aims to confirm receipt of your claim within five working days and it should take around 28 days to process. But this may take longer if you booked through a travel agent.

Any compensation you receive will primarily be funded by the Air Travel Trust Fund.

When might an ATOL claim be rejected?

There are some situations where the Air Travel Trust (ATT) may refuse to make a payment for a claim, these include:

  • If you paid by credit card - The ATT may ask you to make a claim with your credit card provider instead
  • If you didn’t use the replacement flights arranged - If alternative flights were arranged and you didn’t use them, you can’t claim for this
  • If you booked a higher standard of accommodation - Any replacement accommodation needs to be booked on a ‘like for like’ basis - you won’t be refunded more than the total original cost of the ATOL protected trip

Booking with travel firms that don’t offer ATOL protection

UK travel companies must be ATOL certified. But travel firms outside the UK aren’t legally required to do this, so you won’t be protected in the same way.

Wherever you book, travel companies should provide some level of protection to their customers. But what you’ll get depends on the individual country’s regulations.

If you choose to book with a foreign company, check that you're comfortable with the level of protection you’ll get and find out what the steps are for submitting a claim.

But if you’ve got any doubts, it’s best to think twice before booking.

Am I ATOL protected if I book different parts of my trip with different companies?

No, if there are parts of your trip that are booked separately, these won’t be included under ATOL protection.

This includes when a travel company sells you two or more travel services separately - sometimes known as a linked travel arrangement - as this doesn’t qualify as a package holiday.

If you’re sold travel services this way, there should still be some protections in place. Your travel company should explain what these are before you book.

Is there an alternative to ATOL protection?

If your travel company is a member of ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) you’ll have a similar level of protection, except for flights.

ABTA is designed to cover holidays involving travel by rail, road and sea. If your travel company goes bust, it can refund the cost of your trip and help you to continue your holiday or get you back to the UK if you’re abroad.

And if you’ve paid for your holiday using a credit card, your credit card company may be able to provide protection if something goes wrong. But always check before you book.

Why do I still need travel insurance?

Although ATOL protected holidays will cover you if your travel company goes into administration, it won’t help with other unexpected situations.

Travel insurance covers you for events like sudden illness and injuries, trip cancellation and lost, stolen, or damaged belongings.

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