Understanding ABTA and ATOL: What’s the Difference?

Feb 11, 2024 | Featured, Travel Info

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When planning a holiday, whether it’s a weekend getaway or a long-awaited escape abroad, ensuring you have the right protection is crucial. Two common terms you might encounter in the UK travel industry are ABTA and ATOL.

While both offer protection to travellers, they serve different purposes and cover different aspects of your trip. Let’s delve into the simple yet significant distinctions between ABTA and ATOL, and they will or won’t cover you on your holiday.

ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents)

ABTA, the Association of British Travel Agents, is a trade association that represents travel agents and tour operators in the UK. Its primary focus is on ensuring high standards of quality and service within the travel industry. When you book a holiday with an ABTA member, you gain certain protections:

Financial Protection: ABTA provides financial protection for your holiday booking. If your travel company goes out of business, ABTA ensures that you either receive a refund or can continue your holiday as planned.

Assistance and Advice: ABTA members are required to adhere to a strict code of conduct, ensuring that you receive reliable information and assistance throughout your booking process and holiday.

Dispute Resolution: In case of any disputes with your travel provider, ABTA offers a dispute resolution service to help resolve issues fairly and efficiently.

ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s License)

ATOL, which stands for Air Travel Organiser’s License, is a scheme operated by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). It primarily focuses on protecting holidaymakers who purchase air package holidays and flights from UK-based travel businesses. Here’s what ATOL offers:

Financial Protection: ATOL ensures that you don’t lose money or become stranded abroad if your ATOL-protected travel company ceases trading. If you’ve booked a holiday that includes flights and/or certain other components, ATOL protects you against financial losses. If an airline fails before you travel, your tour operator must offer a replacement holiday or a refund.

Repatriation: In the event of your travel company collapsing while you’re abroad, ATOL ensures you’re brought back to the UK at no extra cost.

Information and Advice: ATOL provides information and advice to help you understand your rights and make informed decisions when booking holidays.

ATOL also protects flights sold with overseas accommodation or car hire. These are known as linked travel arrangements. Similar to a package holiday, you will receive an ATOL certificate. Remember to keep it safe and bring it with you in case you need it.

independent travel

If you book a flight directly with the airline, you will not be covered by ATOL.

If the airline you booked with goes bust, you will need a return flight with another airline. This will be at your expense. This is why it is so important to have travel insurance, as they may cover you for expenses.

If there is a delay or no other airline flies the same route, you may need to book a hotel or do some extra travelling at one or both ends of your journey. You will have to make and pay for these arrangements yourself.

Some airlines offer reduced ‘repatriation fares’ for stranded passengers. These are usually available, by telephone only, within a few hours of an airline going bust (but maybe not immediately) and last about two weeks.

For ordinary fares, you can check with other airlines, online travel sites, local travel agents, or ask at airport information or ticket desks.

Claiming a refund


You may be entitled to a part or full refund if you booked your original flight:

  • with a company other than the airline itself – contact the company before buying a replacement flight
  • using a credit or Visa debit card – contact your card issuer

If you paid money to an airline that has gone into administration, you can try claiming from the appointed Administrator.

If you’re worried about something like this happening you can take out extra travel insurance if you think it is worthwhile. 

In summary, while both ABTA and ATOL provide essential protections for travelers, they cater to different aspects of holiday bookings. ABTA primarily focuses on travel agents and tour operators, offering financial protection and assistance throughout your holiday, while ATOL specialises in protecting air package holidays and flights, ensuring you don’t lose money or get stranded if your travel company collapses. Understanding these differences can help you make informed decisions when booking your next holiday.

For more indepth information – check out Martin Lewis’s post on “Your Holiday Rights, ATOL, ABTA, cancellations & delays explained’.

It’s always best to book your trip through a travel agent or independent travel advisor like myself who is covered by both ABTA and ATOL for maximum protection. If you would like to talk to me about your next trip please do get in touch.

Happy Travels

Emma x


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