Where do you want to go?
What do you want to do whilst you are there?
What facilities do you need?
What board are you looking for?
How much will it actually cost?
But how many people take time to look at the wider picture and investigate the company that they are actually making their booking with?
For the vast majority of people who are simply looking for a quick break in the sun, checking things like ABTA membership and ATOL membership might not feature highly on the ‘to do’ list but it’s something that would be well advised, especially bearing in mind the number of high profile collapses in the travel industry in recent years.
Perhaps the most high profile of those came less than twelve months ago, when LowCostHolidays collapsed in the middle of last summer.
More than 100,000 travellers suddenly found their holiday plans thrown into disarray – including those who had already travelled and were in their resort and those who were back at home and counting the days until they travelled.
The main issue for those people was that LowCostHolidays had moved its operations from the UK to Spain in 2013, meaning it was no longer a part of ATOL; the body that helps to provide people with protection when they are booking a holiday.
Launched in the 1970s, ATOL protection originally covered package holidays but now applies to all overseas air holidays where a flight and accommodation are booked together.
When booking through a company that has a ATOL number, you are booking with a company that pays into a special fund that is overseen by the Civil Aviation Authority, with that fund then being used to help customers to complete their holiday or to gain a refund in the event that a travel company collapses.
It means that, as long as you have booked with a company that is part of the ATOL scheme, you should be able to continue with your holiday if you are already away from home or get your money back to book an alternative – although you might have to wait for the funds to come through once you’ve lodged a claim, particularly if the failure is of a major company.
The move to Spain meant those who had booked with LowCostHolidays no longer had that ATOL protection to fall back on – meaning that any money that had been paid for a holiday was effectively lost and any customers became creditors trying to get a cut of whatever money there was from the administrator.
Some may have been covered by their travel insurance if the policy taken out covered agent collapse, whilst others may have been able to get money back from a credit card company.
It served as the perfect reminder as to why it’s important to book with a fully-bonded travel agent – something that you can check with ease by either looking for the ATOL number of their website or by doing a search of the ATOL register online.
You should also get an ATOL certificate after booking, providing evidence of the cover that you have in place. In short, if there is no ATOL protection, the company is either based outside the UK or not fully regulated to sell holidays.
But what about if you aren’t booking a package and run into problems?
Well certain flights are covered by ATOL if you are booking flights with accommodation and/or car hire – basically a package holiday that hasn’t been put into a package by the holiday company.
If you’re booking flight only through a travel agent then you’d be well advised to check what protection there is in place – with the Civil Aviation Authority requiring tour operators to have something in place in the event of any issues.
As mentioned above, there is also the possibility of making use of Section 75 protection on a credit card to get a refund.
If you are booking accommodation only then you won’t benefit from ATOL protection but you may be covered by ABTA – with many ABTA members offering protection that they aren’t legally required to – something you’d need to check when making a booking.
In terms of holiday insurance, you’ll need to make sure that you have something to cover you if a travel company goes bust if you aren’t booking with an ATOL/ABTA registered agent as there’s a good chance that end supplier failure will not be included in many of the cheaper packages that people tend to go for.
In fact, it should act as a reminder to sort travel insurance when you book your holiday so that you have cover in place if required ahead of travelling rather than doing what many people do and leaving it until just before you depart to think about getting insurance in place.
Should you encounter problems, either at home or abroad, the following links may be of use:
ABTA Member Search
ATOL Member Search