What does ATOL do for you?
Q | What is ATOL?
It’s one of the many logos you’ll see stamped over travel websites and brochures. ATOL stands for Air Travel Organisers Licensing and is a financial protection scheme for holidaymakers managed by the Civil Aviation Authority. If an ATOL member tour operator goes out of business, ATOL ensures customers don’t lose their money and aren’t stranded abroad.
Q | So who are the members?
All UK companies selling air packages or flights are legally required to hold an ATOL licence — this doesn’t include flights purchased direct with an airline. The organisation carries out checks on the companies it licenses and makes them part of a financial guarantee scheme managed by the Air Travel Trust (ATT), which provides the funds to protect customers should a company fail.
Q | Do I pay for the privilege of being covered?
Yes, in a small way. ATOL members make a £2.50 per person ATOL Protection Contribution to the ATT. Some ATOL holders flag up information about these costs; most build them into the holiday cost.
Q | What if I organise my own holiday?
An extension of the ATOL scheme, announced earlier this year, is likely to be the biggest upheaval in holiday financial protection in years. The new ‘flight plus’ regulations mean any company selling a flight and separate holiday components needs ATOL cover. If you book a flight plus accommodation, transfer or hire car with the same retailer as part of a single holiday in the same 24 hours, you should be protected. However ‘flight plus’ won’t be available until early 2012.
Q | How can I be sure that I’m protected?
Look for the ATOL logo and check for information that confirms all your arrangements are covered. ‘Flight plus’ also aims to force companies to be more transparent about what protection they have for each element of their trip. If you book flight only, you should be covered if the airline fails, although you may be asked to pay an insurance premium on booking.
Q | So all in all, a good idea?
The extension has been welcomed across the industry as it provides protection for the increasing number of online bookers. But there are concerns about the cost to small travel companies. ATOL asks many new companies for an initial bond covering the first four years of its membership, something that some cannot afford. Some believe it doesn’t go far enough, excluding airlines and website click-through sales from the scheme, although the government has indicated the latter will be looked at this year.
Q | What else does ATOL do?
It offers financial protection, but won’t deal with complaints. It differs from ABTA, the UK’s travel trade association, which has a code of conduct to which members should adhere. Member operators selling holiday packages that don’t include flights can be bonded with ABTA or with another body like AITO (Association of Independent Tour Operators). None of these organisations are a replacement for private travel insurance.