New Atol certificate to explain protection for package holidays

ATOL certTravel agents which organise package holidays with either flights, accommodation or car hire included must now give customers a certificate explaining how the holiday is protected.

Everyone booking a holiday covered by the Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (Atol) scheme will be given a certificate showing exactly which parts of their trip are included in the cover.
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It's hoped the move will make it clearer to consumers how they are protected should a holiday firm go bust.

The Atol certificate

It's now a legal obligation for agents to hand out these certificates. Failure to do so is a criminal offence.
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The certificate is a form of proof that the holiday you have booked is protected by the Atol scheme and it needs to be issued when you first make a payment to your holiday company.

It will outline which parts of your holiday you are covered for, should something go wrong or the company goes bust. It will also list the name of the company offering the protection, which could either be the agency covering all parts of the trip or one of the individual companies such as the car hire provider.

There are three circumstances in which you should receive one of these certificates. Firstly, a traditional package deal when you book the whole holiday through one agent.

The second instance is what is known as a Flight Plus holiday. In order for this to occur you need to have requested (not booked) the flight and accommodation on the same day. Trips which begin outside the UK, last less than 24-hours and don't involve an overnight stay are also excluded

Lastly you should see a certificate if you book just a flight through a retailer which isn't the airline itself.

If for any reason your travel company doesn't give you a certificate, first ask it for one and if you're not happy with its response contact the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

How are you protected?

Backed by the CAA, the Atol scheme was first introduced in 1973 and works as a way of protecting customers when holiday companies go bust.

Any package holiday which includes a flight is covered under the Atol scheme and the company providing the holiday must have the correct licence.

This means if you've booked a holiday and the company goes bust, the CAA will refund you for any money you've already paid out. If you're away already it will arrange for you to complete your holiday then fly home.

When it comes to package deals, if one aspect of the package, such as the airline company, fails the Atol protection means the holiday company will need to book an alternative flight for you at no extra cost.

What's excluded?

At the moment the one area where companies are not obliged to give Atol protection is airlines. Therefore if a package holiday is sold by an airline there is no guarantee all parts of the holiday will be covered.

How can I protect myself if I don't book a package deal?

Whenever I go away I generally book each part of a trip on its own with the help of the internet. However, this means there's no Atol protection, so if one arm of the trip goes bust there's little you can do. This is why it's essential you have the right level of travel insurance, should something go wrong and it's worth reading the small print first to make sure you're covered for delays of if a company falls into insolvency.

Booking with a credit card will also give you some cover if each purchase is worth more than £100 you'll be protected under the Consumer Credit Act (1974).

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New Atol certificate to explain protection for package holidays

If you are a victim of a strike, or any other event beyond the airline's control (including ash clouds!), they must offer you a refund (in which case it's up to you to find a way home) or an alternative flight. While you are waiting for the flight you have the right to food and refreshment and accommodation.

If you are on a package holiday, your tour operator is entirely responsible for looking after you until you get back to the UK.

This is more likely to happen due to the financial crisis, but in some situations you are covered. 

If you pay by credit card and it's over £100, you'll get a refund from the card company. 

Your travel insurance may well cover you too, but check before you go.  

Talk to the airline, and if it is temporarily misplaced they should arrange for it to be sent to your accommodation, and you should be either given cash to cover the essentials in the interim.

If it's completely lost you must wait 21 days and then make a claim for compensation. If you are travelling as part of a package you can claim costs from your operator.

If you are travelling within the EU you need an EHIC card, which gives you access to public healthcare. However, this won't necessarily be free, and if you need extra services such as accommodation for a carer, a helicopter home or a delayed flight, you could end up seriously out of pocket.

The only protection that will guarantee you will be looked after without running up a horrendous debt is by having travel insurance - which often covers up to £10 million of costs.

The most common form of theft is pick-pocketing, followed by theft from a car and bag snatching. Meanwhile, 752,000 of those surveyed had items stolen from their hotel room or villa.

If you have anything stolen, your only protection is insurance. You need to tell the local police immediately and get a crime reference for your travel insurer.

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