The guidance on this site is based on our own analysis and is meant to help you identify options and narrow down your choices. We do not advise or tell you which product to buy; undertake your own due diligence before entering into any agreement. Read our full disclosure here.

What is ATOL and ABTA?

When it comes to booking a holiday, most of us are aware that it should come with ATOL or ABTA protection. But what do these abbreviations stand for, what do they actually mean for travellers and how can they help you recoup your money if something goes wrong?

What’s the difference between ATOL and ABTA?

ATOL and ABTA are both guarantees that if something goes wrong with your holiday, you’ll be financially protected. The main difference is that they cover different types of holiday:

What is ATOL?

ATOL stands for Air Travel Organiser’s Licence. The scheme was launched in the early 1970s in response to the rising number of holidaymakers left stranded abroad when their tour operators went bust.

The ATOL programme is managed by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and covers the majority of air package holidays. Firms that hold ATOL certification must all pay into a fund with proceeds going towards compensating holidaymakers if necessary.

What is ABTA?

ABTA stands for Association of British Travel Agents. The organisation covers package holidays without air travel, for example, cruises, rail travel, and coach trips. ABTA also works to a strict code of conduct which all members must sign up to. This adds an extra layer of reassurance and means that holidaymakers can expect a high level of customer service.

Tour operators and travel firms that fail to adhere to the code of conduct can be fined or sanctioned by ABTA accordingly.

What does ATOL protection cover?

If you book a package holiday that includes flights and your tour operator ceases to trade, ATOL will step in to help. It means that if you’re already abroad, ATOL will support you to ensure your holiday continues with as little disruption as possible. They will also ensure you are repatriated (brought back home). You may also be entitled to compensation if you miss out on certain aspects of your holiday; for example if the tour operator had organised an excursion but this didn’t happen because of their insolvency.

If the travel operator stops trading before you go away, the ATOL scheme will ensure you are given a refund or offered an alternative holiday.

It’s crucial to know that ATOL only covers air travel that is booked as part of a package (known as flight plus), this includes:

  • Flights and accommodation
  • Flights and car hire
  • Flights, accommodation, and car hire

Generally, ATOL does not cover standalone flights bought directly from a scheduled airline (but always check the small print). For example, if you make a flight-only booking with easyJet, you won’t be covered by ATOL, but you will be if you buy an easyJet flight plus car hire in the same transaction.

How do I know if my trip is ATOL protected?

If you book an ATOL protected holiday, you will be sent an ATOL certificate. If you haven’t (but think you should have one) it’s vital that you contact the tour operator that sold you the holiday. You can also check ATOL membership at the CAA website.

What does ABTA protection cover?

ABTA essentially does the same as ATOL but for all other package holidays not involving flights. So, if you’re on a cruise or have booked an organised coach trip and the travel firm stops trading, you’ll be repatriated or refunded if you haven’t yet left the UK. Be aware that trips less than 24 hours or business travel may not be covered under the ABTA scheme.

Thanks to ABTA’s code of conduct, travel firms must also ensure they provide you with the holiday they’ve promised. If they don’t or your trip has been ruined because it wasn’t of a reasonable standard based on its cost, you can ask for a refund.

However, ABTA make it clear that making a claim should be based on facts, rather than you just didn’t have a good time because the weather was bad. For example, if the tour operator promised something would be included in the holiday but it wasn’t, that could be a good reason to ask for your money back.

How do I know if my trip is ABTA protected?

Travel firms usually make it very clear that they’re members of ABTA. Typically, it means you’ll find their ABTA membership number on their website or in brochures. It should also be on your receipt if you’ve booked a holiday with them. You can also check membership at the ABTA website.

How do I claim through ATOL and ABTA?

Both ATOL and ABTA have clear guidelines about how to make a complaint in order to get a refund. Before you make a claim, it’s well worth reading the information set out to ensure the process is as smooth as it can be:

Do I need travel insurance if my holiday is ATOL or ABTA protected?

Yes, even if your holiday is ATOL or ABTA protected, you should still arrange travel insurance. This is because travel insurance covers a much broader set of events – including lost or stolen luggage, accommodation in case of delays and medical cover too. If you don’t have appropriate travel insurance, it would be down to you to cover costs if the unexpected happens.

If you travel a lot, an annual policy can work out better value compared to single trip cover. Either way, most travel insurance policies are very reasonably priced compared to what you might have to pay if you weren’t covered. For a stress-free holiday and peace of mind, you can compare policies right here.

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The guidance on this site is based on our own analysis and is meant to help you identify options and narrow down your choices. We do not advise or tell you which product to buy; undertake your own due diligence before entering into any agreement. Read our full disclosure here.