Mystery travel deals involve consumers paying for a package holiday, where the destination, accommodation and even the dates of the trip are revealed at a later date. Some travel companies advertise these deals at a set price, while others involve a monthly subscription with surprise trips all year round. While an exciting way to travel, this can result in consumers being unaware of the financial protections in place for their holiday.
Package holidays created by UK tour operators must be ATOL protected by law. However, travel agents are able to sell package holidays from UK and non-UK companies without being ATOL holders. That means, depending on which company packaged the holiday originally, consumers booking a mystery travel deal could be left without financial protection.
In the event that an ATOL holder ceases trading, travellers on ATOL protected packages are either able to complete their journeys, or are reimbursed for the cost of replacing components of their holiday or receive a full refund of the monies they paid, if they cannot travel on their forward booking (all refunds are in line with the ATT Payment Policy). These protections are in place so that travellers are not without support if their travel company were to cease trading. They are also important for travellers to be able to identify who is responsible if part of their mystery travel deal becomes unavailable.
Travellers should check for the following prior to booking:
• Is the travel company an ATOL holder? You can visit their website or search for a company name or ATOL number on the UK Civil Aviation Authority's website: https://www.caa.co.uk/ATOL-protection/Check-an-ATOL/ATOL-holder-search/
• Is the holiday ATOL protected? Just because a company is an ATOL holder, this does not mean that everything they sell is ATOL protected. ATOL protects package holidays and some flight-only bookings. You should ask, before booking, if your holiday or flight is ATOL protected. Information on what ATOL covers is available here: https://www.caa.co.uk/ATOL-protection/Consumers/About-ATOL/
• Which travel company is providing the ATOL protection? This may be different from the company you are dealing with or booking the holiday from. You should ask who will be providing the ATOL protection for your package holiday before you book. This will be confirmed on your booking documentation.
• Where is the travel company based? There are some non-UK travel companies which offer travel to UK consumers, but these will often not be ATOL protected, even if they have offices in the UK or a UK web address. Do your research and check what financial protection they provide and, if in doubt, book using a credit card, ensuring you are protected up to the value of £30,000 under UK law. More information can be found on https://www.caa.co.uk/ATOL-protection/Consumers/Booking-with-European-travel-businesses-who-do-not-offer-ATOL-protection/.
Andy Cohen, Head of ATOL at the UK Civil Aviation Authority:
“Mystery travel deals are a new and exciting way to see parts of the world you may not have thought to visit. However, part of that mystery should not be whether you will be financially vulnerable. Without knowing which company created the package holiday, you may not be able to confirm if your holiday is ATOL protected before purchasing. The best way to avoid this is to ensure your travel company is ATOL protected and to take out travel insurance straight after booking to cover the rest.”
ATOL is not a travel insurance, travellers are advised to check the details of their insurance policy.
Visit www.packpeaceofmind.co.uk for more information about ATOL protection.