By Sue Alexander, Managing Director, Eagle Travel, Bedford
In this month’s column, Sue Alexander, Managing Director of Eagle Travel, guides us through the importance of understanding holiday protection. Sue has forty years’ experience in the travel industry.
In light of the collapse of Thomas Cook, our thoughts go out to all of those who have lost their jobs and livelihoods, and all of those looking forward to their well-earned holiday.
It is a timely reminder that it has never been more important to understand how you are protected when booking a holiday.
Whether you have booked a long-awaited once-in-a-lifetime trip, a relaxing cruise or a last-minute short break, your hard-earned cash – and your travel plans – could be in jeopardy if you don’t know how you are covered.
Thomas Cook clients who are already on holiday will be flown home at no additional cost, as near to their original flight dates as possible and repatriation will be arranged through the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Those clients yet to travel on a Thomas Cook ‘package’ holiday now find themselves without that long-awaited trip, however thankfully their money is protected through the ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licence) Protection Scheme and they will be able to claim a refund.
ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) take up the protection for any ‘non package’ bookings such as cruises and hotel only bookings.
When I first started work in the travel industry 40 years ago, it was widely acknowledged that once you had booked your holiday through an ABTA Travel Agent you knew you were not only financially protected, but also that your Travel Agent was bound by a strict Code of Conduct.
Travel Agents were only allowed to deal with ABTA registered Tour Operators who were required to carry out stringent health and safety checks with hotels, cruise lines and transfer suppliers.
The widely recognised ABTA logo was the reassuring symbol for an all-encompassing guarantee that you would be well looked after if the unexpected happened.
However with the emergence of the internet, and before that Teletext (remember that!), other ways of booking your holiday became widely available. The ability to book your holiday online left a huge gap in the protection that the general public expected and a need for a more universal safeguard was recognised.
The ATOL Protection scheme had been established for many years and in 2000 Eagle Travel was granted membership to add another layer of re-assurance to our clients, following a rigorous inspection by the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority).
ATOL is always evolving but in simple terms, anything booked through a properly licensed agent is covered either by an ATOL license or ABTA Membership. If unsure please ask how you are protected before booking.
However this isn’t necessarily the case if you book separate components online. For example if you book your flights direct with the airline, your hotel with an online supplier and a car through another company then none of your holiday can be assured, whether it be due to financial failure, an ash cloud, airline strike or any other eventuality we have witnessed over the years.
To try to explain a very complex regulation in very simple terms is not easy! ATOL stands for Air Tour Organisers License and covers anyone booking a ‘package’ with accommodation and flights from the UK or a linked travel arrangement. However, there are still ‘gaps’ which leave many people vulnerable to loss if they have not fully understood the law.
According to ABTA’s website their explanation is as follows:
The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 apply to holiday travel arrangements booked on or after 1 July 2018. The new regulations cover two types of travel arrangements – package holidays and linked travel arrangements – which have different levels of protection.
The following information will help you to understand what the regulations may mean for your travel arrangements.
- The new regulations only apply to holiday travel arrangements booked on or after 1 July 2018. If you have booked a package holiday before 1 July, your package holiday will be covered by previous regulation. Package holidays that are for less than 24 hours, or are for business travel, may not be covered by the regulations.
- More holiday travel arrangements will be classified as packages. A ‘ready-made’ holiday (this is usually where you book through one company and pay one price) will still be classed as a package holiday. But so too will holidays sold in other ways – for example, many tailor-made trips and shopping basket type sales on websites (where you select the different elements such as flight and hotel).
- Package holidays offer the best form of protection. Financial protection means you are entitled to a refund or to be brought home if necessary, should the travel company organising your package go out of business. You’re also protected if elements of the holiday aren’t provided as required, for example the right to a refund if bad weather means your holiday can’t go ahead.
- Linked travel arrangement is a new arrangement under the Package Travel Regulations. This is not a package and the level of protection is significantly lower than if you bought a package holiday. It comes with limited financial protection in case the company that sold it goes bust, but complaints about each holiday service will have to be taken up with the individual suppliers.
- If you have booked your travel arrangements separately (eg – a flight directly with an airline and a hotel through an accommodation booking website), these are unlikely to have any financial or legal protection under the 2018 Package Travel Regulations. However, you might have certain protection for the individual services in other ways – either through travel insurance or through booking with your debit or credit card. Please check with your providers as levels of protection vary.
- Currently, around half of UK holiday travel arrangements are financially protected. While this isn’t expected to increase – the level of protection will, as the organiser will also be responsible for the package services. Whether your trip is covered by these regulations or not will depend on what and how you booked, so it is very important you check with your travel company.
- Travel companies will be required to provide you with more information about the holiday you’re buying. The travel company needs to tell you up front if you’re buying a package holiday or a linked travel arrangement.
- Companies should also provide information about whether a holiday is generally suitable for persons with reduced mobility and, if you request it, precise information on the suitability of the holiday for you (which should take into account any of your required needs).
Package holidays offer the greatest level of protection.
Holidays booked through an ABTA travel company benefit from the ABTA offer: support, protection and expertise. This requires Members to comply with ABTA’s Code of Conduct and an Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme, that is approved by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, if problems cannot be resolved.
Not all travel companies are ABTA Members, do check before you book so you can be safe in the knowledge that you’ve booked with a reputable company.
The explanation shows how very complex and detailed these regulations are, it is easy to fall foul of these and find yourself in a very dubious situation where you are not necessarily covered. If in doubt, then check with your travel supplier before booking anything.
Eagle travel are proud to be totally independent and hold their own ATOL Licence and ABTA Membership, so you can relax in the knowledge that your holiday is fully protected.
11 Goldington Road, Bedford MK40 3JY
Monday to Friday 09.00am – 5.30pm
Appointments available upon request – Ample free parking at rear
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