Travel professionals are being accused of not fully understanding ATOL protection after an investigation by a consumer watchdog magazine.
Posing as potential customers, researchers at Which? Travel made 80 calls to eight travel companies, including Thomas Cook, British Airways, Ryanair and Bravofly, part of Lastminute.com, asking questions about the circumstances where holidaymakers would be covered by ATOL protection.
It says the research, carried out amid the collapse of Monarch and the controversial cancellations by Ryanair, found a lack of knowledge among staff about whether protections exist in a number of situations.
It claims travel professionals gave exaggerated and contradictory advice to customers.
According to Which? Travel, staff at Thomas Cook performed particularly poorly, getting less than 50% of questions right.
Despite being the UK's second biggest ATOL holder, staff at Thomas Cook answered 'don't know' to more questions than anyone else.
It also struggled to correctly answer whether holidaymakers were protected when booking a flight and a hotel at the same time, or if a hotel is booked the day after a flight.
In eight out of 10 calls, Thomas Cook staff couldn't answer either of those questions correctly.
Which? Travel also claims British Airways and lastminute.com also exaggerated ATOL protection, with representatives of the former wrongly telling researchers on several occasions that they would be covered if they just purchased a flight.
Bravofly, part of the lastminute.com group, had the least informed staff, who got nearly three quarters of questions wrong.
In eight out of 10 instances they couldn't correctly tell Which? researchers whether they could get a refund if there was something wrong with their hotel.
Similarly, in seven out of 10 cases they couldn't tell researchers whether they'd be protected if they had to cancel their holiday.
But a spokesman for lasminute.com told TravelMole: "Bravofly.com~is an international website and does not target the UK market, hence why we are not obliged to provide ATOL protection."
Which? Travel also criticised Ryanair for incorrectly claiming, on a since amended blogpost, that its package travel subsidiary, Ryanair Holidays, was a member of the ATOL scheme.
"Ryanair Holidays is actually run by a German company and so not legally required to be ATOL protected. Instead it is part of a financial protection scheme in Germany," said the report.
"Ryanair Holidays has since changed its explanation of its financial protection although it is still not clear how a claim to the German equivalent of ATOL would be made.
The website's financial protection page now says: 'In the unlikely event of insolvency, all passengers will be able to submit a claim through the Ryanair Holidays website'."
Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor said: "Given the recent chaos caused by Monarch going into administration and Ryanair's flight cancellation shambles, it's just not good enough that travel agents don't understand the rules around holiday protections, especially when they are exaggerating the cover on offer.
"ATOL registered companies need to improve the accuracy of the information they are providing to their customers, and companies registered abroad must do more to inform customers in the UK about what protections they will be covered by."
Courtesy of Travelmole
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