What is ABTA?

Booking a rail, coach or cruise package holiday with an ABTA member can offer you valuable protection if things go wrong.

Kim Jones
Kim Jones
Updated 21 March 2022  | 3 mins read

What is ABTA?

ABTA, The Travel Association used to be known as The Association of British Travel Agents.

As the UK’s largest association of travel agents and tour operators, its aims include:

  • Ensuring its members offer high quality, reliable travel experiences
  • To offer expert travel advice and guidance
  • To offer assistance and help protect customers’ holidays and money in the event that something goes wrong
  • To resolve customer disputes

Key points

  • ABTA can protect your road, rail or sea-based package holiday
  • You’ll still need travel insurance to cover you for things like medical treatment, cancellation, delay or theft of your holiday luggage
  • ABTA members have to adhere to the high standards set out in a Code of Conduct, so booking with them can give you confidence you’ll be getting good service
  • If you have a complaint about your holiday, ABTA can help you resolve it

What does ABTA do?

ABTA sets high standards of service among its members and offers protection to people who buy rail, self-drive, coach, ferry or cruise holidays through their member companies. Holidays with air travel are protected by the Air Travel Organiser's Licence (ATOL) instead.

  • ABTA aims to protect consumer rights by ensuring their members abide by the high standards set out in their Code of Conduct. This code governs areas like trading fairly and accurately advertising a holiday
  • They can issue fines to members who are found to be in breach of the code and, in serious circumstances, can terminate their membership of ABTA
  • If something doesn’t go to plan and you want to complain to your travel company, ABTA can help advise you on how to make a complaint, look into complaints on your behalf and help resolve them for you
  • If required, you can use their independent complaints resolution service which can save you time and the expense of going to the small claims court
  • ABTA administers a scheme of financial protection for non-flight-based package holidays. All package holidays sold by ABTA members are financially protected if the company goes out of business. This means:
    • If you haven’t yet travelled, you can claim a refund for the holiday
    • If you’re already on holiday when the company goes bust, you can continue with your holiday as planned or, if you have to return early because of the company failure, you can claim for the parts of the holiday you missed
  • ABTA works with the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and with destinations all over the world, so they can provide up-to-date help and advice for holidaymakers as well as expert help in a crisis

What is the ABTA code of conduct?

ABTA’s Code of Conduct sets high standards for its members to abide by, with the aim of ensuring they provide a reliable, professional and trustworthy service.

The code requires that an ABTA member:

  • Provide you with accurate information on the holiday
  • Give you clear and accurate information on issues such as the country’s requirements, passports and visas
  • Offer you a suitable alternative if an issue that might seriously impair your holiday arises - such as building work at your destination
  • Refund you if there’s a significant flight delay and you no longer want to travel
  • Provide you with responses to complaints within a strict time limit of 28 days
  • Resolve any disputes quickly or offer you the option of arbitration to settle a complaint

What does ‘ABTA protected’ mean?

If you book a package holiday with a tour operator or travel company that’s ‘ABTA protected’, it means you can expect to receive a high level of reliable service that adheres to ABTA’s Code of Conduct.

You’ll be covered by financial protection if your provider goes bust and can receive help from ABTA to resolve any issues or complaints you may have with your travel provider.

What is the role of ABTA?

As well as protecting holidaymakers and aiming to ensure that their members provide a high quality, trusted and dependable service, ABTA supports the travel and tourism industry to grow in a responsible way.

They lobby on issues such as taxation and financial protection, offering free legal advice and crisis management for their members.

What is the difference between ABTA and ATOL?

ABTA covers rail, coach, cruise and self-drive package holidays, while ATOL protection is there for flight-based package holidays.

When you book with an ATOL member, you’ll be issued with a certificate that shows protection is in place.

It means that if your tour operator or travel company were to go out of business before you went on holiday, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) would issue you a full refund.

If the company collapsed while you were away, they enable you to finish your holiday and also get you home.

How do I know if I’m covered by ABTA?

Look for the ABTA badge on your travel company’s brochure and website or do a member search on the ABTA website.

What is ABTA’s complaint process?

To use ABTA’s arbitration scheme, you’ll first need to have complained in writing to your travel company, letting them know how you’d like them to resolve the problem.

If you haven’t been able to reach a satisfactory outcome after two letters of complaint, then you can register a dispute online at ABTA.

You’ll need to supply things like copies of letters and emails, plus details of any phone conversations.

ABTA will then review your dispute, offer advice, decide if you have a case to pursue, then contact the company asking them to review your case.

If you reach a deadlock with the ABTA member and you wish to go through the arbitration process, the arbitrator will consider the evidence and make a legally binding award, payable within 21 days from the date issued.

Do I need insurance if a company is covered by ABTA?

Though ABTA offers protection if a member goes out of business or you have a complaint, they don’t cover you for all the other important things that travel insurance does, such as paying out for:

  • Medical expenses
  • Cancellation and delays
  • Lost or stolen luggage and belongings