Travel Money Guide

When planning a holiday, it’s essential to understand the protections available to ensure a worry-free experience. Two key organisations in the UK travel industry, ATOL and ABTA, play a significant role in this regard. In this article, we will explore the differences between these two organisations and how they protect travellers.

ATOL (Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing) is a government-backed scheme administered by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). It provides financial protection to travellers who have booked a package holiday, including flights and accommodation, through a UK tour operator. If the tour operator goes out of business, ATOL protection ensures that travellers are not left stranded abroad or out of pocket. In contrast, ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) is a trade association representing travel agents and tour operators in the UK. ABTA members must adhere to a strict code of conduct, ensuring high standards of service and fair dealing with customers.

While ATOL focuses on financial protection for package holidays involving air travel, ABTA offers a wider range of protections, including assistance with complaints and disputes, as well as ensuring its members adhere to industry best practices. By understanding the roles of ATOL and ABTA, we can make informed choices when booking our holidays and enjoy peace of mind during our travels.

ATOL vs ABTA: An Overview

In the world of travel protection, two important organisations play crucial roles in ensuring customers get the security they need for their holidays: ATOL and ABTA. In this overview, we will be discussing the primary differences between these key players.

ATOL: Air Travel Organiser’s Licence

ATOL, which stands for Air Travel Organiser’s Licence, is a UK financial protection scheme operated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). ATOL protection is primarily for customers who book package holidays including flights or just flights. It works as a safety net ensuring customers do not lose money or become stranded abroad if their travel company fails.

When booking a holiday with an ATOL-protected company, customers receive an ATOL certificate, which details what parts of the package are covered. If the travel agency goes under, ATOL will help customers with either a refund or arrange to continue their trip if they are already abroad.

ABTA: Association of British Travel Agents

On the other hand, ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) is a UK trade association for travel agents and tour operators. ABTA protection is aimed at customers who book either a package holiday that does not include flights or other forms of travel arrangements, such as hotel or car hire bookings.

ABTA membership offers a Code of Conduct that members must adhere to, ensuring customers receive a high standard of service, and access to the organisation’s support, protection and expertise. If a travel company with ABTA membership collapses, customers can receive refunds or be brought home if they’re already on their trip.

In conclusion, the main difference between ATOL and ABTA lies in the type of protection they afford customers. While ATOL provides financial protection to those booking flight-inclusive holidays, ABTA covers customers booking other forms of travel arrangements and maintains a high level of industry standards through their Code of Conduct for member companies.

Types of Protection

ATOL Protection
ATOL (Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing) is a financial protection scheme for air travellers and holidaymakers in the UK. When booking a flight or a package holiday with an ATOL-protected provider, we can be secure in the knowledge that our money is safe and we will not be left stranded abroad. ATOL protection covers flight-only bookings, package holidays that include flights, and some flight-plus arrangements. However, it does not cover bookings made directly with airlines or accommodation-only bookings.

Financial protection is an essential aspect of ATOL, as it ensures we will either receive a refund or be able to continue our holiday if the travel company we booked through ceases trading. Furthermore, ATOL protection includes repatriation, meaning we will be brought back to the UK should the company we have booked with go out of business while we are abroad.

ATOL protection is administered by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and all licensed travel providers must issue an ATOL certificate upon booking. This certificate contains details of the protection and what to do if the travel provider goes out of business.

ABTA Protection
ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) is a trade association for UK travel agents and tour operators. ABTA protection offers financial protection and support for travellers who book with one of their member companies. Unlike ATOL, ABTA does not specifically focus on air travel but covers various types of holidays, including package holidays without flights, cruises, and rail holidays.

ABTA members must abide by a strict code of conduct and provide accurate information about the holidays they sell. In the event that an ABTA-protected travel company fails, we will be protected against lost money and can expect a refund, or if we are abroad, we can complete our holiday and return to the UK. ABTA protection also means that we have access to an arbitration service for resolving disputes between us and the travel provider.

While both ATOL and ABTA protection offer financial security and peace of mind when booking holidays, it is essential for us to verify the type of protection offered by the travel company we choose. Always check for an ATOL certificate or the ABTA logo on their website or marketing materials, and be aware of the specific coverage provided for our specific travel arrangements.

Booking with ATOL and ABTA Members

Tour Operators and Travel Agents
When booking a holiday, it is essential for travellers to choose tour operators and travel agents who are members of reputable organisations such as ATOL (Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing) and ABTA (The Association of British Travel Agents). Both ATOL and ABTA aim to provide financial protection for customers, ensuring that their bookings are secure and safeguarding them against company failures.

ATOL primarily protects customers who book flights and air holiday packages, whereas ABTA covers a wider range of travel services, including road and rail transport, accommodation, and other services.

ATOL Certificates and Insurance
When booking a holiday with an ATOL member, customers receive an ATOL certificate, which outlines the protection provided by the ATOL scheme. The certificate ensures that if the travel provider becomes insolvent, customers will be able to claim a full refund for the services they had booked, or receive assistance with repatriation if they are already abroad.

Additionally, many travel agents and tour operators offer travel insurance to their customers, providing extra protection against unforeseen circumstances, such as illness, accident, or cancellations. It is important to read the policy carefully, as not all insurance policies cover every possibility.

ABTA Code of Conduct
ABTA members must adhere to a strict Code of Conduct, ensuring high standards of service for customers. This code helps to maintain the high-quality service that customers should expect when booking a holiday and provides guidelines on topics such as advertising, booking conditions, and complaint handling.

By booking with an ABTA member, customers can trust that their holiday provider will uphold these standards, increasing their confidence and satisfaction in their chosen holiday package.

In summary, when booking a holiday, travellers should always consider choosing tour operators and travel agents who are members of organisations like ATOL and ABTA. This ensures financial protection, professional conduct, and peace of mind, making for an overall enjoyable experience.

Dealing with Problems and Compensation

Cancellations and Delays
When dealing with cancellations and delays, it is essential to understand the difference between ATOL and ABTA. ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licence) protects holidaymakers who have booked package holidays, including flights, ensuring compensation and alternative arrangements in case of company failure. On the other hand, ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) covers holidays that do not include flights and provides financial protection and support.

As a travel company, we take responsibility for unforeseen circumstances and work with both ATOL and ABTA to provide our customers with peace of mind.

When it comes to flight cancellations or delays, ATOL protection enables us to offer refunds, alternative flights or suitable accommodation when necessary.
For non-flight holiday issues, ABTA guidelines help us address cancellations or delays effectively, ensuring customers are reimbursed and have options for alternative arrangements.

Refunds and Credit Notes
When processing refunds and credit notes, we follow the regulations set by ATOL and ABTA. Depending on the type of holiday booked and the circumstances involved, the process may vary.

For ATOL-protected holidays, customers are entitled to a full refund if the package holiday is cancelled due to company failure, travel restrictions, or other reasons beyond our control.

For ABTA-protected holidays, customers can seek refunds or credit notes when their holiday is cancelled, and we work closely with ABTA to resolve these situations smoothly.

To ensure customer satisfaction, we also offer flexible booking options to allow changes or cancellations with minimal fees.

Complaints and Legal Protection

When it comes to dealing with complaints and legal protection, ATOL and ABTA have slightly different approaches.

ATOL, being a financial protection scheme, focuses on safeguarding customers’ money in the event of company failures or insolvencies. It doesn’t generally handle complaint resolutions for issues like customer service or accommodation quality.

On the other hand, ABTA provides guidelines for its members regarding dispute resolution and customer complaints. ABTA also offers an arbitration scheme for resolving disputes, so customers can seek a legally-binding decision for their grievances.

Therefore, when dealing with issues related to travel plans, it’s essential to understand that ATOL and ABTA operate within different scopes. We encourage travellers to be aware of the protections offered by both schemes to make informed decisions and ensure their holiday experiences are as stress-free as possible.

Travel Scenarios and Coverage

In this section, we will discuss the differences between ATOL and ABTA coverage in various travel scenarios. We will explore their coverage in Rail, Cruise, and Coach Travel, Pandemic and Health Problems, and Self-Drive and Car Hire.

Rail, Cruise, and Coach Travel

ATOL (Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing) primarily covers flight-based holidays and is a financial protection scheme for holidaymakers who book air-inclusive packages or flight-only deals. In contrast, ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) focuses more on protecting travellers who book non-flight-based services, such as holidays by rail, cruise, or coach travel. For example, if a traveller books a cruise or a train journey through an ABTA member, they will have the reassurance that their booking is protected by the ABTA Code of Conduct.

Pandemic and Health Problems

During unforeseen circumstances like a pandemic, ATOL and ABTA may provide different levels of support and protection. ATOL, being a financial protection scheme, will ensure that travellers receive refunds or alternative arrangements if an ATOL-protected trip is cancelled due to a pandemic. On the other hand, ABTA mainly offers support and guidance to travellers in cases of health problems during their non-flight-based holiday. It is essential for travellers to have adequate travel insurance alongside their ATOL or ABTA protection to cover health-related issues during their trip.

Self-Drive and Car Hire

When it comes to self-drive holidays and car hire, ATOL does not usually cover these bookings, as it primarily focuses on flight-based travel arrangements. In contrast, ABTA protection extends to various types of holidays, including self-drive breaks and car hire bookings made through ABTA members. By booking through an ABTA-affiliated travel agent, travellers can have peace of mind that their self-drive holiday or car hire is protected.

In conclusion, ATOL and ABTA offer different types of protection for travellers in various scenarios. Therefore, it is crucial for travellers to understand the coverage provided by each organization and choose the appropriate protection according to their specific travel arrangements.

Additional Considerations

Voluntary ABTOT Protection

In addition to ATOL and ABTA protection, some travel companies choose to join ABTOT (Association of Bonded Travel Organisers Trust) for an extra layer of customer protection. ABTOT is a voluntary scheme, so it’s worth checking if your travel company is a member. This can provide financial protection for customers in case the company goes bust or enters administration.

Companies Going Bust and Administration

When travel companies go bust or enter administration, customers might worry about their booked holidays and protection. That’s where ATOL, ABTA, and, in some cases, ABTOT can help. These organisations ensure customers are protected financially, and that their travel bookings are either honoured, fulfilled by alternative providers, or refunded. It’s essential to check your chosen travel company’s membership in these organisations to safeguard your holidays and travel plans.

Refund Credit Notes and ATOL Numbers

In some cases, travel companies might issue Refund Credit Notes (RCNs) for customers affected by company failures or other disruptions. RCNs can be used to rebook a similar holiday in the future or request a refund.

To ensure your Refund Credit Note is protected, check if it carries an ATOL number. An ATOL number is issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and guarantees protection for flight-based holiday bookings. By choosing a travel company that is ATOL protected, you have the peace of mind knowing that your travel arrangements are financially backed by the UK government.

In conclusion, understanding the difference between ATOL and ABTA protection, along with the benefits of voluntary ABTOT membership and the use of Refund Credit Notes, can help travellers make informed choices when booking holidays. Always verify your travel company’s credentials before making a booking to ensure your holiday plans are suitably protected.


Jason is the founder of Compare Travel Cash, and has worked in the financial industry for the majority of his career.