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On April 30, changes were made to the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) ATOL scheme which will result in millions more holidays being protected each year.
But what are these changes and how will they affect you?
ATOL is a financial protection scheme which was first introduced in 1973 by the CAA. All travel companies in the UK selling package holidays and flights are required to hold an Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL) which is granted by the CAA.
If you book an ATOL-protected package holiday and the company who sold it to you were to collapse – either while you were away or before you travelled – you would be covered and wouldn’t lose any money. You would be brought home by the CAA at the end of your normal holiday period if you were away at the time of the collapse and, if a future booking were affected, you could apply for a refund via the CAA.
The way that we book holidays has really changed since the ATOL scheme was first introduced. More holidaymakers now book their trips without an agent – recent research by TravelSupermarket found that almost a third of holidaymakers (32%) now take a DIY approach to booking a holiday – and many agents now offer travel arrangements with separate flights, accommodation and car hire all from different suppliers. This means that the ‘holiday’ booked is not considered to be a package holiday and is not covered under the terms of the original ATOL scheme.
High-profile collapses of companies such as XL.com and Goldtrail left thousands of people out of pocket due to the way their ‘holidays’ had been put together by travel suppliers.
Holidaymakers are also, understandably, confused about which holidays are protected and the changes are designed to both increase the number of protected trips and to make it clearer to consumers what is covered and what is not.
A new type of ATOL cover was introduced on April 30 called Flight-Plus. This is designed to cover the huge number of holidays where a flight is booked separately and accommodation or car hire is added to the booking.
Flight-Plus is predicted to cover between five and 10million more holidays per year than the previous ATOL scheme alone which is great news for holidaymakers. It will cover travel arrangements booked with travel suppliers face-to-face, by phone or online.
TravelSupermarket’s travel expert, Bob Atkinson, said: “With the revised ATOL reforms taking effect from April 30, we finally have some great news for millions of British holidaymakers. The Flight-Plus scheme will ensure that the holiday monies of millions more holidaymakers will now come under the ATOL protection scheme when they buy flights and accommodation that are essentially a ‘package’ holiday.”
Despite this extra level of protection being in place, there are still exceptions and it is important to check whether you are covered while you are booking.
For example, Flight-Plus only applies if you book your flight with accommodation and/or car hire within 24 hours of each other. So, if you were to book your flight one day then request to book a hotel or car hire the next you would be covered. If, however, you were to wait a week to request your car hire or hotel you would not be covered.
The hotel that you add on also needs to be overseas and not an airport hotel in the UK, and Flight-Plus only covers trips beginning in the UK – but not holidays with UK travel only. To be covered, your trip also needs to last for at least 24 hours.
Further exclusions from the scheme include business travel arrangements made through a corporate supplier and self-built DIY trips. And IMPORTANTLY, sales made through airline websites are not included in the scheme such as a flight only sale or a flight and hotel sale on sites including ba.com, easyjet.co.uk and Ryanair.co.uk.
The changes are also designed to make it clearer to holidaymakers on what is covered under ATOL regulations and what isn’t. All retailers have the responsibility to explain this during the booking process. If they don’t, make sure that you ask.
An example of what the new ATOL certificate will look likeFrom October 1, it will be even clearer whether your break is covered under the ATOL scheme as it will become compulsory for travel providers to issue a certificate when a trip is booked detailing what is covered and what isn’t.
To speed up claims and to help holidaymakers, information will also be given at the booking stage on what to do if a company collapses and each certificate will have a unique reference number.
Some travel companies are ready to issue these certificates now while others won’t start issuing them until the cut-off date in October.
Although these changes are a step forward and will result in millions more holidaymakers being protected, it’s still important to follow the three golden rules of booking travel to make sure you are protected. These are: