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How to book your holiday with confidence
We’ve all seen the stories of companies collapsing in the peak holiday period with holidaymakers stranded and facing paying again for a new trip. The last thing that any of us want when we book our holidays is disruption for unforeseen circumstance outside of our control, yet add in troubles from strikes, ash clouds and snow and the Great British travelling public have had a lot to contend within the last few years.
And recent news around the political problems in Tunisia and Egypt have led to even more news coverage of holidaymakers having their trips curtailed or cancelled and emergency flights to bring them home.
This week we have seen the announcement of proposals to reform the ATOL protection scheme – it’s all becoming a nightmare for customers to understand what to do.
Despite the drama of events like this, the vast majority of us never experience any problems with our bookings. However there are some easy steps that you can take whenever you make your holiday plans to help your booking go as smoothly as possible, whatever life throws at you.
In this article we tell you about our Three Golden Rules, we answer your Questions and give you some Top Tips for how to go about making your booking safer
Let’s start with our Three Golden Rules;
- Book an ATOL protected trip wherever you can – essentially place the booking for as much of your trip as possible with one company where an invoice is issued to cover the entire cost of the trip with one total price for your holiday. The company should hold an ATOL (Air Tour Operator’s Licence) from the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) in order to sell on this basis. ATOL’s are usually held by Tour Operators and their holidays are sold either direct of via travel agents. Some travel agents also hold these licences to allow them to package up trips and offer the full financial cover.
The benefits of doing this are that the ATOL scheme ensures that if the company goes under you are entitled to a full refund under the scheme, or if you are already abroad you can continue on your holiday without any issues. Additionally, if a part of your trip goes wrong, the ATOL holder is responsible for sorting it out for you.
- Pay for your holiday by credit card – when you are not able to book a trip covered by ATOL you must pay for your transaction by credit card, whether you book direct or through a travel agent. This gives you protection under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 section 10. However you may well face paying credit card charges on your booking which obviously add cost to your break. Visa debit cards also offering the purchaser protection when companies go under.
If you pay by cash, cheque, bank transfer, debit card or electron/pre paid cards then you do not receive cover under the consumer credit act should something go wrong. There is also no cover for transactions by credit card under £100 in value.
- Take out a travel insurance policy with End Supplier failure – This is a relatively new concept, however it allows you to be covered should elements of your holiday go wrong and you are faced with irrecoverable losses or additional costs when sorting out your holiday plans. You should buy a policy with this type of cover even when booking a package as it will cover all the other little pieces you have such as car parking that you often overlook. We tell you about the policies you can buy here.
So is it as simple as all that? Unfortunately not and there are a number of things that we get asked when customers are confused as to what to do. Here are some of the important ones.
As long as I see the ATOL logo on a website, brochure or a travel agency then everything I book there is safe under the CAA ATOL scheme?
Unfortunately not. The key is that you must book a package (flight plus at least one other item) as one transaction with one total invoice that covers all of the pieces of your trip. This must have been sold direct to you by the ATOL licence holder or by an agent acting as an agent for the ATOL holder for the scheme to apply in the event of a failure.
So, don’t get lured into a sense of false security by seeing the ATOL logo on a website. For instance when Tui sells a package holiday of flight and accommodation on their web or in their shops you are covered by ATOL. However book accommodation only or any flights from the 1st November 2010 and you do not receive ATOL cover even though the website shows it.
Yesterday the Government announced deails of revisions to te current ATOL scheme to ensure that anyone selling a flight plus another item such as a hotel will have to have ATOL cover. They will also have to be transparent about the level of protection that you have and provide a clear document to explain this. However, these additional measures are not due to come into force until late 2011
How can I be sure the arrangements are covered by ATOL?
Firstly check that the company holds a valid licence or check that the licence they are showing is current. This can be done at the CAA website.
Secondly ask the question are my arrangements covered by ATOL of your travel agent or tour operator.
So what should I do if I am buying travel but there is no ATOL logo – is this safe?
What is safe? It is perfectly legitimate to book travel arrangements that are not ATOL covered. Most DIY trips are sold in this way by piecing together arrangements from different companies. However you must protect yourself by paying on credit cards or a Visa debit card and have a suitable travel insurance policy to give you piece of mind should things go wrong. This insurance cover must have End Supplier Failure as part of it.
Some travel agents offer their own financial protection cover, such as Travel Republic who has a total financial protection scheme should parts of a trip you book with them go wrong. Others will claim total financial protection but only cover the flight element, so be careful and ask questions if you are unsure.
I can never see the ATOL logo on airline websites or car hire companies. Why?
Most products are not ATOL covered as they are not a package of one price for a variety of travel arrangements. Therefore they do not need an ATOL licence to trade, so airlines such as easyJet, Ryanair and British Airways do not need them. Neither do many other types of travel company selling ferry tickets, car hire and hotel rooms. In order to be protected with these types of bookings you should follow the credit card and/or travel insurance policy rule.
I don’t want to book an ATOL backed package. What should I do?
If you choose to make your own arrangements, read our article for handy hints on insurance and payment protection
So what is ABTA then? I thought I always had to book with ABTA protection?
ABTA is the Association of British Travel Agents who represents the industry members and offer financial cover should an agent you have paid money to go under. They ensure that all members operate under strict rules and guidelines to protect the customer when things go wrong.
However ABTA is not the same as the ATOL scheme and not all travel agents are ABTA members. There are two other schemes that offer membership to agents, the Global Travel Group and the Travel Trust Association (TTA). These also ensure that monies paid to their members cannot go missing if the agent goes under.
So you can book with either an ABTA member or a member of Global Travel Group or the TTA and know that the money you have paid to their agent members is safe and secure under their own financial protection scheme.
How does paying by Credit Card work?
The 1974 Consumer Credit Act ensures that if you do not receive your goods you can receive a refund from the credit card company. Therefore if a company goes under, you can claim back the cost of your flight, hotel etc from your card issuer. It helps if you have paid for the total cost of the travel arrangements on one card in one transaction but it is a fairly easy to process to follow. More advice can be found on our sister company website.
How do I know if a travel insurance policy offers End Supplier Failure cover?
When buying a policy you need to look for wording such as Supplier Failure, Scheduled Airline Failure or End Supplier Failure cover in the level of cover on offer. Our sister site moneysupermarket.com has some advice here on what to look for. Remember, the cheapest policies do not include this item in the cover, so a great example where the cheapest is not the best cover.
I already have a travel policy, Can I buy a separate policy to cover me for End Supplier Failure?
Yes indeed you can, our article above will help you to find companies that can offer cover from as little as £4 per person
Our Top Tips when making a booking
- Always read the small print. Before confirming your booking read the terms and conditions or booking conditions and ensure you know what they mean should you need to change or cancel your booking at a later date. Double check all dates and names too before clicking to book.
- Check the cover you are receiving from your travel arranger. Is it ATOL covered or protected under any other scheme or do you need to arrange your own cover.
- Always pay by credit card or Visa debit card where you can.
- Always take out a travel insurance policy including end supplier failure from the moment you book your trip. You then receive cancellation cover immediately as well as the all important supplier failure clauses. Don’t leave it till just before you go away. Or consider an annual policy if you travel several times a year as it is cheaper.
- Where possible book an ATOL covered package – although this will not suit all travel needs on every occasion
- Check your documents before you travel. Whether it be passports in date, correct names on tickets or validity of your driving licence, check everything is up to date and correct and that you have all the things you need to travel before you leave. Don’t forget to check your dates and times as well as where you are booked to travel to and from.