ATOL & Refund Credit Notes

Travel Talk

The Civil Aviation Authority has announced that it is extending ATOL cover to Refund Credit Notes, offered by Tour Operators in response to holidays cancelled because of covid-19.

So what does this mean?

The Scheme

Civil Aviation AuthorityWhenever you book a holiday that is ATOL protected, you receive an ATOL certificate with a unique reference number. If you booked a holiday that was originally ATOL protected and which was subsequently cancelled because of Coronavirus, you will probably be offered a Refund Credit Note (RCN).

As a result of this new ruling, all RCNs issued between 10 March 2020 and 30 September 2020 will benefit from the same ATOL protection as the original booking. Should the supplier go out of business then your money will be refunded under the ATOL scheme.

When issuing an RCN, travel companies must offer you a cash refund at the same time. If you choose to accept an RCN you should have the option to convert it to a cash refund at any point and must do so before 30 September 2021.

It goes without saying that you should keep all the original booking documentation, including the original ATOL certificate, proof of payment and other documents.

What‘s excluded

The scheme covers only those bookings that were originally covered by ATOL. Direct stand-alone bookings, such as cruises, accommodation, flights and so on that did not come with an ATOL certificate will not be covered. The scheme merely extends the ATOL cover of the original booking to the related RCN.

ATOL cover and how to get it

ATOLMany people think that ATOL applies only to pre-packaged holidays offered by tour operators such as TUI, Tropical Skies and so on, but that is not so.

ATOL stands for Air Travel Organisers Licence, a scheme operated by the Civil Aviation Authority. It applies to all travel packages as long as a flight and one other item is part of the booking. The package may be a flight plus a cruise, flight plus villa, flight plus car hire and so on, all will qualify for ATOL. You can create your own bespoke trip and still get ATOL protection by booking the various elements through a UK travel agent who is part of the ATOL scheme, and almost all of them are.

Is it more expensive?

Travel Agents earn their money through commissions they receive from suppliers such as hotels, cruise lines, transfer companies, excursion organisers and so on. The only area in which they do not earn commission is low cost airlines such as Easyjet and Ryanair. It’s a competitive market and travel agents may use some of their commission to offer you a discount. So, by booking your self-made package through a travel agent, not only do you benefit from ATOL protection, you may also save money over booking it yourself.


ABTADon’t confuse ATOL with ABTA. The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) is just that – a trade organisation that not all travel agents want to join. ABTA does offer an element of consumer protection for holidays that do not include flights and are therefore not covered by ATOL. Further, if a travel agent takes your money and then goes bust before they pass it on to a supplier, ABTA will make good the payment. However, travel agents that are not ABTA members, such as Travel Counsellors, offer similar protection by using third party trust organisations.

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Mike Pickup

Award-winning travel writer & photographer

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