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What is ATOL protection? And why is it important?

ATOL protection stands for Air Travel Organiser's Licence. Since 1973, it’s been protecting UK holiday-makers from losing money if their travel agency goes out of business. It’s a government-backed scheme and UK-based travel companies are legally obliged to provide it.


ATOL protection means the difference between being a bit disappointed when your holiday fails to materialise and being completely devastated and of pocket. It covers any overseas holidays where you booked a flight and accommodation, flights and car hire or everything together.


So how does it work?

Well, say you arrange a world cruise through (a hypothetical) “Tip Top Trips”. They’ll fly you out to join the ship in the Bahamas, where the adventure of a lifetime begins. You’re excited, you can’t wait to relax and you’ve already started buying sun cream like it’s going out of fashion.

Then you get a call. “Tip Top Trips” has folded – your holiday is no more.

At this point, you may be sad, angry and disappointed- sun-creamed up with nowhere to go. And if your booking wasn’t ATOL protected, you’re also out of pocket. Without it, any money you have paid out for your holiday is likely to be unrecoverable.

That’s why ATOL protection is so important.

So, if your travel company goes out of business before your holiday starts, you’ll get a full refund. In addition, if your travel company goes out of business while you’re away, ATOL protection makes sure you get to finish your holiday and get home safe.

And ATOL protection doesn’t only cover your holiday: it also protects the money you’ve paid for flights to or from the UK. If an airline fails, being covered by ATOL means your travel company will have to find you alternative flights or give you your money back.

Even if you’re only taking one flight in the trip, like flying out to join a cruise and sailing back, you’re protected. ATOL protection means you’re even covered if you don’t receive your flight tickets when you should.

Are all holidays ATOL protected?

When the UK fell in love with cheap holidays abroad in the 70s, the government realised holiday-makers needed more protection from being stranded abroad if their travel agency went bust. Now, 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.

However, just because it’s a legal requirement doesn’t mean there aren’t some dodgy characters out there. Always book with a reputable travel company and ask if their holidays are ATOL protected. If the answer is ‘no’, then it’s best to walk away.

Booking with a travel firm based somewhere else in Europe is different – they’re under no obligation to provide ATOL protection or ABTA insurance. EU legislation does say they have to provide protection for your money, but it’s down to the protection authority in that country. 

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How to find out if your holiday is ATOL protected

Best advice? Check before you book. Look for the ATOL logo on all the brochures you’re given or any websites you look at. It’s always worth asking your travel company too – you can never be too careful.

When you’re booking your escape, make sure you get your ATOL protection certificate. It’s a legal requirement that your travel company gives you one, and it shows you’re covered once you’ve booked and paid. So keep it safe. It is possible for certain parts of your holiday to be ATOL protected and others not – if it’s not on your ATOL certificate, it’s not covered.

Bear in mind that you don’t get ATOL protection on flights you book through an airline or accommodation booked without a travel agency. If you want to be fully covered by ATOL it’s package deals all the way.

You can check if your travel company has ATOL protection here. And once you’ve booked your trip away, don’t forget to get yourself covered by taking out travel insurance. You can compare travel insurance policies quickly and make sure you’re getting the best deal for you.

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