What is ATOL protection?

ATOL protection ensures your holiday is covered if the company you’ve booked it with goes bust. This helps to ensure that you aren’t stuck abroad if an issue happens while you’re away, for example. It’s important to stress, however, that ATOL protection is not a substitute for travel insurance…

ATOL protection ensures your holiday is covered if the company you’ve booked it with goes bust. This helps to ensure that you aren’t stuck abroad if an issue happens while you’re away, for example. It’s important to stress, however, that ATOL protection is not a substitute for travel insurance…

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: please check the latest government travel advice that sets out what you need to do, if anything, before you travel abroad and before you return home. You should also check the latest travel advice and entry requirements for each country you visit or transit through. Travel rules can change at short notice, so check the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) for the latest information.

Rebecca Goodman
Insurance expert
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Posted 21 OCTOBER 2020 Last Updated 13 MAY 2022

What does it mean if my holiday is ATOL protected?

ATOL protection safeguards your money if your travel company or airline goes out of business. If they go bust before your holiday starts, you’ll get a full refund. If your travel company goes out of business while you’re away, ATOL protection means you can finish your holiday and get home safely. 

ATOL (which stands for Air Travel Organiser’s Licence) is a government-run financial protection scheme operated by the Civil Aviation Authority that’s been looking after passengers since 1973. It covers any overseas package holiday where you booked a flight and accommodation, flights and car hire, or everything together. It also protects the money you’ve paid for flights to or from the UK. If an airline fails and they’re ATOL protected, your travel company will have to find you alternative flights or give you your money back. 

While having protection against a holiday company or travel firm going bust has always been important, in the world of coronavirus it’s become crucial. Many firms have collapsed because they’ve been unable to survive financially because of the pandemic. Therefore, although it’s rare, it’s important to make sure you’re covered when booking your next trip. 

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Customers with more serious pre-existing medical conditions

If you have a serious health condition, the price you pay for travel insurance is likely to be more expensive. However, there are still many providers out there and you should be able to find affordable cover. Whatever happens, don’t be tempted to lie to an insurance provider, because if you do and then need to make a claim, it could be rejected.

When you declare medical conditions on our website, we’ll only show quotes from insurance providers who will cover all declared medical conditions, with no exclusions. 

MoneyHelper has launched a directory of insurance providers who may be able to provide quotes over the phone if you have more serious medical conditions. Find more information at MoneyHelper or by calling them on 0800 138 7777.

ATOL FAQs

Are all my trips ATOL protected?

ATOL is a great safety net for your holiday if things go wrong and you need to claim back money you’ve paid out. But it doesn’t apply to every kind of holiday you book.

All package holiday trips should be ATOL protected, in the UK at least. However, flights booked directly with airlines are not protected. Every travel company in the UK has to have ATOL protection, for which they pay £2.50 into the scheme per person booked on to a holiday. For a customer, there’s no additional cost.

However, that doesn’t mean that all companies that offer you a holiday have protection. Always look for the ATOL logo before you book and ask the company if you aren’t sure. If your travel arrangements are ATOL protected, you’ll receive an ATOL Certificate from your travel company after completing your purchase.

And if you’ve got used to creating your own package holiday by booking all the different elements online directly yourself, such as flights, accommodation and car hire, then you’re highly unlikely to be covered. This doesn’t mean you have no backup if things go wrong, it just means that having travel insurance to cover every element of your trip becomes more important.

It’s important to note that travel firms based outside of the UK are under no obligation to provide ATOL protection or ABTA insurance.

EU legislation says that travel companies based in Europe have to provide protection for your money, but it’s down to the protection authority in that individual country. Check with the Civil Aviation Authority to see if the travel company you are using has ATOL protection.

If my holiday is ATOL protected, why do I need travel insurance as well?

ATOL may cover you if your holiday company goes out of business, but it won’t cover you for lots of other things that can go wrong – such as losing your bags, getting injured or ill abroad, medical costs relating to a pre-existing medical condition, or having to cancel your plans because of a family emergency or other unforeseen events.

While travel insurance covers a whole range of eventualities, arguably one of the most important areas it can help with is medical costs. If you’re in another country and have a serious accident and need to be treated or even flown back to the UK, the costs could run into the tens of thousands, especially if you’re somewhere like the United States. It’s not something any of us like to think about, but it’s a really important protection to get in place before you set off, to save you forking out a huge medical bill if the worst happens.

So, getting travel insurance for any trip, especially if you’re heading abroad, is highly recommended. ATOL doesn’t cover everything, so compare quotes today and save.

COVID-19 FAQs

The world has changed in the last few years and when it comes to travel, we can’t ignore the pandemic. Even though restrictions have eased in the UK, it’s not the same everywhere around the world and things can change very quickly.

Let’s take a closer look at how COVID-19 might impact ATOL protection and clear up any concerns you may have about your upcoming trips.

What happens to my money if my holiday is cancelled because of COVID-19?

It depends on the provider. By law, you’re entitled to a full refund for flights within seven days and for package holidays within 14 days. However, due to the widespread disruption caused by the pandemic, you may be given the choice of either a full financial refund or a refund credit note (RCN). ABTA, the association that represents travel agents, estimated as much as £4.5bn was claimed back when COVID-19 first hit.

If you choose a full refund, you’ll be given a rough date for when you can expect your money to be back in your account. Don’t forget, you’re legally entitled to a refund and the firm can’t force you to take an alternative form of refund. If you opt for the voucher, you’ll be able to put it towards another holiday further down the line.

It’s worth remembering that if the holiday company cancels you may be able to get a refund, but if you’ve decided not to travel then it’s a different ball game completely. In this case, if say you don’t want to travel because you’re worried about levels of COVID in the country you’re visiting, check first with the holiday company. Unfortunately, most won’t refund you if it’s your decision not to travel but it might be possible to change the dates.

Is ATOL protection included in a refund credit note?

A lot of providers offered refund credit notes as a means of repaying customers when they had to cancel their holidays. These give you the chance to get money off any future holiday you book through the same provider.

If you were entitled to ATOL cover as part of your initial package, this should be included as part of the RCN. That means if the provider goes bust between the time of the credit being issued and your next trip using the refund, you’ll still be covered for the money lost.

How can I check if my provider is ATOL protected before my holiday?

Most providers will have an ATOL logo or certificate and their unique licence number, which appears somewhere on their website. Usually in the footer of the site. If you can’t spot the logo, contact the provider directly and ask if they’re covered. You can double-check what they tell you by looking them up on the ATOL website tool. Some rogue companies will pretend they're ATOL covered but are not. See what to look for to avoid the frauds.

If you book an ATOL-protected holiday via a travel agent, you should be told which ATOL holder is protecting your travel arrangements and be given an ATOL Certificate when you pay.

Thousands of travel companies do have ATOL cover, so you should be easily able to find one that offers the kind of holiday you’re interested in.

Making sure your money is safe is probably something you want to keep in mind before you book anything. It might even be the decider when it comes to which provider you choose to holiday with.

Is now a good time to rebook my holiday?

In the UK, coronavirus restrictions have been lifted, meaning you’re able to travel freely from the UK. However, other countries may have their own restrictions. As time goes on, more and more countries are opening their borders and easing restrictions, but these are still subject to change at relatively short notice.

If you do choose to rebook, make sure to check all terms and conditions – especially around cancellation and curtailment in case your holiday gets cut short. You’ll want to guarantee you’re getting the same level of cancellation cover and ATOL protection you were entitled to for the previous trip – as well as any additional forms of COVID cover that have been introduced. Flexibility is key when rebooking a holiday, so you’ll want to make sure that if the situation changes again, you’ll be able to rebook or get a refund if you need to.

If you’re rebooking, remember some things may have changed at your package holiday destination because of the pandemic and to ensure the health of guests. For example, you might find that your food options are different, such as no buffet or fewer restaurants open. Some hotels may get you to check yourself in too. And if entertainment is usually on tap, then this might be more limited than usual in your resort.

What is coronavirus travel insurance?

Most travel insurance providers have had to adapt to the current state of affairs. That means creating a tailored form of cover that protects customers if their holiday is impacted by COVID-19.

Each provider will have their own specific set of terms and conditions as part of the cover. But there are a few hard-and-fast elements you’ll find in most policies. These include:

  • The ability to cancel your trip (within a certain number of days) if you test positive for COVID-19
  • Repatriation and cancellation cover if you’re denied boarding because of a positive test
  • A daily benefit if you need to self-isolate while you’re on your trip
  • Cancelling or shortening your trip as a result of a COVID-19 death in the family
  • Cover if anyone you’re travelling with is diagnosed with COVID-19 within a specific number of days before travel
  • No cover if you travel to a country that the foreign office advises you to avoid

It’s also important to remember you probably won’t be covered for any expenses you have to pay during your post-holiday quarantine period.

Make sure you fully understand what you are and aren’t covered for if your holiday is impacted by the pandemic.

Policies can vary quite a bit when it comes to cover for COVID, so it’s even more important to make sure you’re reading the small print and know exactly what cover you have before you buy.

How long can I expect to wait for my refund?

Package holiday providers are required to give you a full refund within 14 days of asking for it. With airlines, you should be refunded within seven days. However, owing to the higher volumes of people asking for their money back, these dates are less reliable than they once were.

Will I get a refund on all parts of my holiday?

While ATOL protection and coronavirus insurance might cover a lot, they won’t have an impact on third-party bookings like accommodation, car hire or any extra trips or activities you may have signed up for.

So, if you’ve booked a safari trip, for example, but your flight is cancelled, you may lose your money on the pre-booked trip unless you have travel insurance.

If these are still operational, there’s a chance that the provider could refuse to give you a refund, even if you’re not able to travel. This is something you’ll have to discuss directly with each business.

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