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ATOL protection: everything you need to know

We look at what ATOL protection means and what it covers. 

Person holding phone with a 'flight cancelled' message

When you hear adverts for holidays, there’s always a line at the end which mentions ATOL protection. But what does it mean? 

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What is ATOL protection? 

ATOL or Air Travel Organiser’s Licence is a scheme that protects you if your holiday provider goes bust before or during your holiday. 

If your provider goes out of business while you’re travelling, the scheme can help you get home. In some circumstances you might even be able to carry on with your holiday if it’s ATOL protected. 

If your holiday goes bust before you travel, you can organise a refund through ATOL. 

Financial protection schemes are a legal requirement by UK and EU law for package holidays, so most reputable firms should have it in place.

The scheme is backed by the UK government. It started in the seventies when holidays abroad were booming. 

Some firms went bust and left people stranded, so ATOL was brought in to get people home or provide refunds. 


Why is ATOL important? 

ATOL protection acts as a safety net for your holiday provider if they go out of business. It’s not a replacement for your travel insurance though. 

Package holiday providers must have this to make sure you don’t get stranded while you’re travelling. 

ATOL protection also means you can get a refund if your provider goes bust. 


Are there any exceptions to ATOL protection? 

Most package holiday firms have ATOL protection. But if you’re booking different parts of your holiday with different firms, they might not be ATOL protected. 

Flights are covered in some cases. 

ATOL should cover flights that you pay for in advance and in full. With this type of flight, you don’t usually receive your ticket straightaway. 

If you book your flight with an ATOL holder – this could be either directly or through a travel agent – you should be protected. 

Before you book, use the ‘Check an ATOL’ tool on the UK Civil Aviation Authority Website. Here you can see which firms provide ATOL protection for flights or holidays. 


How do I know whether my holiday is ATOL protected? 

If you’ve booked a holiday, you should receive a certificate with details of your ATOL protection. 

This will tell you who to contact if your holiday provider fails. 

If you’re about to book, check your holiday provider’s website or brochure for the ATOL protection logo. It’ll usually contain the ATOL logo, sometimes combined with the provider’s unique number. 

You may also hear it mentioned on providers’ adverts. 

If in doubt, ask your tour operator or holiday provider whether your holiday is ATOL protected. 

Be wary of companies that falsely claim they’re ATOL protected. Use the ‘Check an ATOL’ tool that we mentioned earlier to make sure they’re covered.

READ MORE: Defaqto: what does the rating mean for travel insurance?

How do I make an ATOL claim? 

If you need to make a claim, or if you’re stranded, you’ll find who you need to contact on the ATOL certificate. It’s worth checking this before you travel. 

The UK Civil Aviation Authority website has a list of ‘holder failures’ or companies that have gone bust. 

You can find up-to-date information on each travel provider’s situation, and who to contact to make a claim. 


What’s the difference between ATOL and ABTA? 

It’s easy to get confused with the abbreviations around holidays. ATOL protection covers package holidays with air travel. 

ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) covers rail, road or sea travel holidays.