What is the difference between ATOL and ABTA?

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*This article was updated October 2019

The rise of holidays abroad in recent years has further increased the need for insurance and security when Brits travel overseas. According to the Office for National Statistics there were 71.7 million visits overseas by UK residents in 2018, the second-highest figure recorded by the International Passenger Survey. 

One of the most common excursions away from the UK is a package holiday. Many families take out these inclusive holidays that have transport, accommodation and food all catered for in one deal. But who will be there to guarantee the customer’s financial and personal safety if a travel company fails to do so? With high profile holiday and airline company failures in the last 2 years including the giant Thomas Cook it pays to know how you can be protected.

Licensing organisations exist to ensure that in case anything was to go wrong with your holiday or the company you have taken out a package with, there would be somebody available to sort any travelling problems and in extreme cases of company failure, get you home from your holiday or refund you your money.

ATOL

The ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licensing scheme) exists to protect customers if their travel organiser should fail. It ensures you are not stranded abroad or do not lose money paid to the travel organiser for holidays and flights.

ATOL Regulations were first intoduced in the 1970’s as the rise in foreign holidays increased. Since then they have been replaced with new regulations in 1995 and again in 2012 (amended 1 July 2018).

ATOL certificates are issued by the Civil Aviation Authority. The CAA oversees the supplying of licenses so travel companies can trade. Every UK travel company which sells overseas holidays and flights is required to hold a license in case a company ceases trading for whatever reason.

The license ensures that the customers will be looked after in case the company lets its customers down, they’re stranded overseas or they get their money back if the holiday has to be cancelled. This ensures your protection from company failure by offering full refunds or ensuring that tourists are able to finish their holidays. It is a legal requirement that your travel agency that you book with for travel will supply an ATOL certificate with the booking confirmation.

ABTA

Offering slightly different policies to those of the licenses mentioned above, ABTA is the Association of British Travel Agents. While ATOL is a compulsory licensing system run by government, ABTA is a voluntary scheme that Travel agents can sign up to and become a member.

ABTA has a specific code of conduct that its suppliers have to abide by in order to be certified and there is a lot of protection if things go wrong with your holiday.  However, this is a voluntary scheme and Travel Agents are not required to become members. There are also lots of caveats, for example an ABTA registered travel agent may book you a holiday, quite legally, with a non-ABTA provider. In case anything went wrong you would not be protected under those circumstances.

Much more information can be found on the ABTA website.

To ensure safety when booking your next holiday, be sure to check what protection is in place before you part with any money. This information is clearly listed on their websites and covered on the certificates that are legally provided and it’s wise to ask the agent you are booking your holiday with. Be sure to take your protection certificate in case of an emergency whilst on your overseas trip. Even if the chances of this happening are slim, it will provide peace of mind in case something is to go wrong. It is better to be safe than sorry so ensure that you are protected on your vacations overseas.

19 Comments

  • Harvey Hopkins says:

    My sister has seen a cheap holiday for her family to Florida through a company online which is atol protected but not abta and she’s not sure if to book it. She found it on a comparable website

  • Julie Noakes says:

    Have flights & hotel accommodation booked with Virgin. However I am now pregnant and my due date is 1 week before travel. Virgin have advised that I will not be able to fly with them and have offered a refund on the flights (minus our deposit). However they say the hotel will not refund, as the deal Virgin have with the hotel, is non refundable and non transferable. Therefore we will not be able to get a refund. Could you please advise if there is anything we can do about this.

  • Graham Morley Graham Morley says:

    Hi Julie
    We cannot offer advice directly on your situation. The T’s and C’s for your booking should have details of where you can turn to if you have a complaint or query and the action you can take if you are not satisfied. Below you will find a link to the complaints procedure for Virgin Holidays.
    https://www.virginholidays.co.uk/customer-service/complaints
    I hope that helps and good luck!

  • rodney gooding says:

    His daughter and her family booked for turkey 26th this month with Thomas Cook but she can not find any email for atol number will this stop her getting a refund

  • Jackie Taylor says:

    Hi, I have booked a Thomas cook holiday to Canada, travel, food, hotel, with Thomas Cook. While giving all my sympathy to the employees of Thomas Cook, I have obviously paid a lot of money for the deposit. Will I get this back?

  • Graham Morley Graham Morley says:

    Thank you for your comment Rodney. We are unable to offer specific advice about this. There is a dedicated website set up for affected customers of Thomas Cook and you will find lots of helpful advice there.

  • Graham Morley Graham Morley says:

    Hi Jackie
    Thank you for your comment and we share your sympathy for staff and customers alike in this situation. We cannot offer specific advice but please refer to the dedicated website set up for affected customers.

  • Robert Langley says:

    Dear sir I have booked a return flight to Australia for myself and my partner we where quoted a price of £1786 for both of us I paid £800 deposit and was told to pay £986 by
    The 30thsept I phoned up to day to pay the outstanding balance and was informed that their was a slite problem they wanted an extra £250 is there anything I can do about it.
    Robert Langley

  • Graham Morley Graham Morley says:

    Thanks for your comment Robert.
    We are unable to answer your specific query because it is out of the remit of our knowledge. One piece of advice would be to check the terms and conditions of the company you made your booking with and see if that if that clause is included.

  • Kate says:

    Hello, I’m home from a holiday with easyJet (flight and accommodation) but it was awful, I need to put in a official complaint… are easyJet not a member of ABTA.. ? Or do I go through atol
    Thank you

  • Graham Morley Graham Morley says:

    Thank you for your comment Kate. Easyjet holidays are ATOL protected with licence No.10915 which is issued by the Civil Aviation Authority. This is a scheme largely to protect customers in the event of a company failure.

  • Chris says:

    Hi

    Ongoing argument with Travel Republic, and abta haven’t been helpful.

    Holiday we had wasnt as paid for, per booking.

    Didn’t get the room we booked snd moved rooms 3 times during stay.
    TR said not their fault despit hotel telling us they booked wrong room.

    Abta say TR are members but cabt help as claim TR acted as bookers so not liable.

    Who’s right and can ATOL help?

  • Graham Morley Graham Morley says:

    Thank you for your comment Chris.
    We are unable to comment specifically on your dilemma but we can tell you that ATOL licenses are issued by the Civil Aviation Authority and relate to holiday company failures so would probably not be relevant to your issue. Here is a further link for ABTA which may shed more light for you and failing that you could look for independent advice from Citizens Advice.

  • Dillan Edwards says:

    Hi. I am booking a Fly Drive holiday in Florida, do i have to book both the flight and car hire with the same company to be covered by ABTA & ATOL

  • Graham Morley Graham Morley says:

    Hi Dillan
    Thanks for your comment. ATOL covers package holidays that include flights, and some flight only sales. You are not covered if you book a flight directly with an airline. ABTA covers holidays booked through member organisations and they updated their package travel regulations in 2018 and you may find more information there.

  • Colin Allen says:

    Hi, I have booked a holiday,(flights,accom,transfers) with TR and due to the Coronavirus problem it has been cancelled, TR has offered a voucher valid for 6 months in compensation. I have previously booked up for 2 additional holidays for this year so would not be able to use the voucher this year. I have asked for a refund. How do I stand ?as I understand it is a difficult time for TR with all the cancellations due to Coronavirus but the booking was for 4 people and usually myself and wife go on our own, so how do I give my brother and partner a refund ?

  • Graham Morley Graham Morley says:

    Hi Colin
    I’m sorry to hear that your travel plans have been disrupted. I can’t offer you specific advice about this because it is out of the remit of our knowledge. I have found some information from Which? that may provide some answers for you. Good luck, and I hope you get a satisfactory outcome.

  • Trevor Hughes says:

    Hi – We booked a package holiday with Cruise 118 which involved a Three night stay in Dubai and a one week cruise from Dubai. The Cruise part of our holiday was cancelled due to coronavirus. Cruise 118 arranged for return flights to get us back home. We have an ATOL certificate for our holiday. My question is are we entitled to a full refund or a partial refund to cover the Cruise ?

  • Graham Morley Graham Morley says:

    Hi Trevor
    I’m sorry to hear your holiday has been cancelled. I am unable to answer your query directly but I have found 2 links that may provide more information for you. One is concerning cancelled cruise holidays and the other a direct link to travel information for Cruise 118.com. Good luck and I hope you manage to get a satisfactory outcome.

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