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What is ABTA? What is ATOL? Why is it important?

Over 60 million people travel from the UK each year for holidays or business reasons. The vast majority of them enjoy smooth, trouble-free journeys. However, just occasionally things go wrong, people don’t receive the service they expected or travel companies unexpectedly run into financial problems. In those rare cases, travellers need urgent support and that’s where ABTA comes in. However, few people understand what ABTA is or the protection ABTA offers.

What is ABTA?

ABTA is the operating name of what was formerly known as the Association of British Travel Agents. Founded over 60 years ago, ABTA is the UK’s largest travel association, representing travel agents and tour operators. ABTA protection is designed to enforce standards and provide insurance for holidaymakers in the event of financial problems for travel companies.

What does ABTA do?

The name ABTA means that holidaymakers are afforded protection. It is specifically designed to cover holidays bought in the UK that don’t include flights. So, if you buy a land or sea-based package holiday, such as a coach, rail or cruise holiday from an ABTA member, your money and holiday will be protected by ABTA’s financial protection scheme.

What does ABTA protected mean?

ABTA protection means that if your travel company goes out of business, you will be entitled to a refund which includes hotel costs. If you are abroad, your transport home will be covered. It provides a quick, clear and simple process to follow, so you are able to continue your holiday as planned, or get your money back.

How else can ABTA offer protection?

ABTA also has a Code of Conduct which governs areas such as accurate advertising, fair terms of trading, changes to bookings and managing customer complaints, plus guidance on providing travellers with the right paperwork and handling complaints. An ABTA member cannot cancel your booking after the date for payment of the full price unless it is necessary to do so for reasons outside its control. If this happens, it must offer you the choice of getting all your money back or choosing alternative travel arrangements. Moreover, if there is a significant change to your travel arrangements they must offer you the choice of accepting the changed travel arrangements or getting your money back. All ABTA members have to abide by its code and those that breach it can face sanctions from the organisation.

What is the difference between ABTA and ATOL?

ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licensing) sits alongside ABTA but is specifically designed to cover people who fly. Whereas ABTA covers rail, road, or sea travel holidays. Many ABTA tour operators also provide bonds to the Civil Aviation Authority under the ATOL scheme.

How do I know if I’m covered by ABTA?

You should always check your travel company is ATOL and ABTA protected. Check your receipt shows the name of the company that's providing the holiday service - for example, the tour operator. Where your holiday services are being provided by more than one company, you should receive a separate receipt for each service. Ensure that the name that appears on the receipt is the name of the company to which the payment is made.

This information should also be clearly listed on company websites and covered on the certificates that are legally provided. Be sure to take your protection certificate in case of an emergency while you’re away.

How to make a complaint to ABTA

If you’ve been unable to resolve your issues with your tour operator or received no reply from them within 28 days you can appeal to ABTA. It provides an arbitration scheme and will apply its strict guidelines. To complain go to ABTA’s online complaints hub.  You will need to provide all documentation and copies of all relevant correspondence. ABTA will reply within seven days and attempt to resolve your dispute.

Do I still need travel insurance if a company is covered by ABTA?

Even if a company is an ABTA member you still need to take out personal holiday insurance covering personal effects, delays and medical issues.

What is ATOL?

ATOL stands for Air Travel Organisers' Licensing. It was first introduced in 1973 and updated in 2012. After a number of travel company failures left people stranded, the government took steps to ensure consumers were covered, should firms fall into financial difficulties. The scheme is funded by contributions from the travel companies.

What does ATOL protected mean?

ATOL is a scheme run by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) which offers protection for holidays booked through a travel agent or tour company where a flight is involved. Every UK travel company which sells overseas holidays and flights is required to hold a license in case an operator ceases trading.

What does it cover?

An ATOL license ensures that the customers will be looked after in case a company lets its customers down cancelling its holidays or leaves them stranded overseas. It can provide full refunds or ensure people are able to finish their holidays confident they will be able to return.

ATOL cover means you are protected if you book a holiday with a single travel firm that includes: flights and accommodation (including on a cruise), or flights and car hire, or flights, accommodation and car hire.

The ATOL scheme also applies when you book a package that includes UK domestic flights, your holiday involves at least one flight to or from the UK (eg, a fly/cruise break where you travel out by ship and fly home) or you book flights (including UK domestic flights) but do not receive your tickets immediately. This is most common with charter flights and can also apply to discounted scheduled flights, but does not apply to holidays or flights booked directly with scheduled airlines or with airline ticket agents.

How do I know if my holiday is ATOL protected?

Check. Look for the ATOL logo on travel company websites, brochures and advertisements. If you are not sure, ask your travel company or agent for clarification. Also, make sure you receive an ATOL certificate. ATOL also has its own online check facility

What is an ATOL certificate?

It is a legal requirement that the agency that you book with for travel will supply an ATOL certificate with the booking confirmation.

When you book an ATOL protected holiday, you should be given an ATOL Certificate by your travel company as soon as you pay over any money for the holiday - even if it’s only a deposit. The Certificate is proof that the holiday you have booked is protected by the ATOL scheme, it also has details of the scheme and information telling you what to do if your travel company stops operating so it’s important to take it with you and keep it safe.

How to claim?

Check your certificate to see the specific circumstances (e.g. if it is for a future trip) and complete a claim form. If you are already away, consult the certificate, check the Civil Aviation Agency’s website Latest ATOL Holder Failures page for more details about your current circumstances or call +44 (0) 333 103 6350.

What happens if I book with a company that’s not ATOL protected?

If your travel company cannot provide an ATOL certificate, ask why. Remember every UK company must provide one. If it cannot you will be booking at your own risk.

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