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What does ATOL protected mean?

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…

Written by
Rebecca Goodman
Insurance expert
Last Updated
9 MAY 2023
4 min read
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What is ATOL protection?

ATOL protection safeguards your money if your travel company or airline ceases trading.

ATOL (which stands for Air Travel Organiser’s Licence) is a government-run financial protection scheme operated by the  UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) that’s been looking after passengers since 1973.

What does ATOL cover?

The ATOL protection scheme 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.

Non-package holidays aren’t ATOL protected, meaning, if you booked a flight separately through an airline and it goes bust, you won’t be protected by ATOL. The only possible exception to this is for selected flight-only bookings, when you’re paying for your airline ticket in instalments or didn’t receive your tickets after paying.

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.

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 they hold an ATOL licence, if you aren’t sure.

You can also search for a travel company in the ATOL database on the CAA website, using their name or ATOL number, to confirm they hold a valid ATOL licence.

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.

What is an ATOL certificate?

An ATOL certificate is proof that your trip is protected by the ATOL scheme. It will detail the protection you have and what you need to do if your end supplier fails.

If your travel arrangements are ATOL protected, you’ll receive an ATOL Certificate from your travel company after completing your purchase.

How to make an ATOL claim

The first thing to do is check the ATOL certificate you were given after booking your trip. This should explain the details of your protection and what to do if your tour operator has gone bust.

If you’re claiming for a future trip

If your tour operator goes bust before your holiday was scheduled, you’ll need to:

  • Visit the ATOL website and find your failed tour operator.
  • Complete a claim form.
  • Provide evidence of your booking.
  • Provide evidence of payment.

If you’re already abroad

If your tour operator goes bust while you’re already away, you’ll need to:

  • Visit the ATOL website and select your failed tour operator.
  • Information and details on repatriation/return flights to get you home will be published here.
  • Alternatively, call +44 (0) 333 103 6350 for more information.
  • Complete a claim form.
  • Provide evidence of your booking.
  • Provide evidence of payment.

Once submitted, you should receive acknowledgement of your claim via email. It should then be reviewed within 28 working days from submission.

Frequently asked questions

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.

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.

Does ATOL protection cover COVID-19?

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

However, as restrictions eased and the travel market returned, unredeemed refund credit notes are no longer ATOL protected. This has been the case since 30 September 2022.

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.

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.

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

While ATOL protection might cover a lot, it 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.

What is the difference between ABTA and ATOL?

ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) and ATOL offer similar protection for travellers. ATOL protects package holidays and their flights, whereas ABTA covers package holidays that travel by road, rail and sea.

Customers with pre-existing medical conditions

If you have a serious health condition, your travel insurance is likely to be more expensive. Whatever happens, don’t lie to an insurance provider, because this could mean your claim is rejected. When you declare any medical conditions on our website, we’ll only show you quotes from insurance providers who will cover them, with no exclusions.

If your condition is more serious, MoneyHelper has a directory of insurance providers who may be able to provide quotes over the phone. You can call them on 0800 138 7777.

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