Booking a holiday is always exciting, especially when you find that perfect trip that suits both your budget and the type of itinerary you're after.
However, before you get swept up in the excitement and part with your hard-earned cash, it's important to check that you're not putting your money at risk.
That's where ATOL protection cover comes in; it protects you from losing your money, or being stranded abroad should the travel company you've booked with fall apart.
For example, when Monarch Airlines entered administration, most travel insurers didn't cover holidaymakers for the loss - but those on ATOL protected breaks were given alternative flights at no extra cost.
And when you consider that since 2010 over 316,000 tourists have been reimbursed by ATOL - last year alone saw its total expenditure at £14.8million - there's no denying that it's more vital than ever for Brits booking a package holiday.
But what exactly is ATOL protection - and why do you need it? We take a look at everything you need to know, including how to make sure you're protected...
What's included in the guide?
- What is ATOL protection cover?
- What holidays are protected?
- Why is it so important?
- How to check if your holiday is covered
- What happens if your holiday isn't ATOL protected?
- Top 5 tips from ATOL on staying protected when booking
What is ATOL protection cover?
"ATOL is the UK’s air holiday financial protection scheme," explains ATOL's Richard Moriarty. "It stands for Air Travel Organiser’s Licence, and by law every UK-based travel company that sells air holidays has to have an ATOL licence and issue an ATOL Certificate as soon as customers pay any money towards their trip.
"By booking a holiday which is ATOL protected it means UK holidaymakers will get a refund if their travel operator collapses, or if they are already abroad, that they will be flown home at no extra cost.
"When booking a holiday UK consumers should make sure it is ATOL protected. They can also check if a tour operator’s ATOL licence is valid in the ATOL database, which has a list of all ATOL registered companies."
What holidays are protected?
ATOL protection covers overseas air holidays booked with a UK travel company - but if you book a package that includes UK domestic flights you're also covered.
The law says that your holiday must be protected if you book with a single travel firm that includes flights and accommodation (this also applies to cruise holidays), flights and car hire, or flights and accommodation and car hire.
It's worth nothing that if you book a flight and hotel separately, you won't be covered as ATOL covers package holidays only.
Why is it so important?
ATOL protects you from either losing your money, or becoming stranded abroad if the travel firm collapses.
This includes if you are already on holiday - the scheme will ensure you can finish your break and return home, at no extra cost.
And if the travel company collapses before you've left, then you'll be provided a full refund for the holiday.
How to check if your holiday is covered
Travel companies usually display the 'ATOL Protected' logo on their website - but some scammmers falsely apply the logo to their deals to make them seem legitimate.
Always do your research, especially if it's a company you're not familiar with. To double check, write down the company name and/or the 4-5 digit ATOL number on their website.
Then search the details in the ATOL database - this has a list of all of the registered companies, so if yours isn't on there, you're not protected.
Once you've booked, you should immediately receive an ATOL certificate from the travel firm - they are required to provide this by law as soon as any money is taken for a booking. If you don't receive one, contact the travel firm and ensure this is sent over to you immediately.
If you continue to have concerns, you can email ATOL certificates .
What happens if your holiday isn't ATOL protected?
Should the travel firm you've booked with collapse, you won't necessarily receive a refund.
In fact, you could find yourself having to fork out extra cash to sort out flights home if you're already away - and if the trip hasn't started, you could lose your money completely.
Top 5 tips from ATOL on staying protected when booking
1. Think outside the box - package holidays can be personalised
There are plenty of ways to tailor a holiday for you and your family, so don’t be put off by the term ‘package holiday’. Buying a package where flights and accommodation are booked through one company means your holiday will be ATOL protected and your money will be safe.
Remember, if you book a hotel and flight with different suppliers, your whole trip will not be ATOL protected, and you could lose your hard earned cash if either company fails.
2. Do your research and check for ATOL protection
Sadly, some travel websites falsely display the 'ATOL Protected' logo, in order to lure and defraud customers out of their hard earned cash. You can check a company has ATOL protection easily.
- Write down the company name and/or the 4 or 5 digit ATOL number.
- Visit www.packpeaceofmind.co.uk and enter the details into the ‘Check an ATOL’ database, which has a list of all ATOL registered companies.
3. Think beyond the price
There are some foreign-based travel companies, which offer cheap and attractive package holidays, but these will not have ATOL protection.
If booking with a non-UK travel company find out what financial protection they provide and if this covers company failure and repatriation. If not, you may decide to take out additional travel insurance to include insolvency protection, which may mean you pay extra.
4. Take your ATOL certificate with you
You must receive an ATOL certificate as soon as you pay any money towards an ATOL protected holiday. The certificate confirms what is protected, which company is responsible for your holiday booking (it may not be the company you are booking with directly) and what to do if the company ceases trading.
Whether you print out the certificate or have a digital version with you, it’s important to take your certificate with you.
5. Use a credit card and take out good medical and travel insurance
If you are booking your holiday through a number of travel operators, this will not be ATOL protected, so remember to pay with a credit or debit card.
These cards provide some protection if the goods and services you’ve booked are not delivered, for instance if one of the travel operators fails, but may not cover consequential losses.
And make sure you have travel insurance, which will cover medical costs and other potential expenses such as damage or loss of any possessions you take with you.
You can find out more on the Civil Aviation Authority website .