In September 2019, Thomas Cook, one of the world’s longest running travel agencies, collapsed. The company ceased trading at the most opportune time, when the largest number of its planes were on the ground, but the company still left chaos in its wake. An expected 150,000 passengers and customers were left stranded abroad as a result of the collapse, which forced the Government to coordinate the largest peacetime repatriation to bring holiday makers home to the UK. The action required 45 aircraft to operate around 1000 flights all over the world. Flights came from 53 airports in at least 18 countries.
Passengers were worried about how they were going to get home but notice of Thomas Cook’s collapse also caused hotels and tourism providers to worry about their own payments due from the travel agency. As a result, holidaymakers report that their hotels were demanding money from them, despite booking an all-inclusive or package holiday deal, which means the hotel and flights should have been paid for in one lump sum at the point of booking. Many anecdotal reports indicate that worried guests were asked to pay or they would be kicked out of their rooms, one passenger said “we don’t have that kind of money” after being presented with a bill of what was owed by Thomas Cook for approximately £1000.
This chaos comes after a summer of pilot strikes, flight delays and chaos, primarily across Europe. This was a result of other major players in the travel industry struggling to adapt to changes to fuel prices as well as fluctuating revenues, including RyanAir and British Airways. According to some industry experts, it seems that there could be fallout following Thomas Cook’s collapse, with concerns of a “domino effect” across the sector.
What Does This Mean For Travellers?
Unsurprisingly, travellers, passengers and guests have been left worried and apprehensive about their upcoming travel plans. The most important thing to do if you have an upcoming holiday or you are planning to book a getaway is to ensure that all your services are covered by the recognised UK travel regulators, namely ABTA and ATOL. These companies could help you avoid an emergency situation in which you are left stranded or out of pocket and in-need of urgent finance like a short term loan to get you home! Our guide is here to talk you through the people you can trust if you are in trouble right now or what to look out for when you are booking your next trip.
ABTA are the Association of British Travel Agents and therefore regulate all the booking companies with a membership that consumers can book through. When a travel agent is a member of ABTA (which most major players are as they have 4,300 travel brands under their protection), their customers are entitled to legal and financial security if something goes wrong, for example, the company goes bust and stops trading. If a consumer is already on their holiday when this happens, ABTA will cover the financial cost of bringing them home. If they have not yet departed, ABTA will simply finance their refund. If this is not the case, travellers without a back up plan may need a short term loan from providers or loved ones to make it home, without major disruption.
ABTA protection also protects consumers against ‘mis-sold holidays’. For example, this can mean if you have booked a specific hotel because of its disabled access but there is something preventing you from using the necessary facilities, consumers can enquire with ABTA for a replacement holiday or compensation. ABTA promise to:
- Provide advice and assistance to all consumers
- Refund your holiday if there is significant delay and you do not want to travel
- Respond to any complaint in 28 days
It is important to note that ABTA will cover package-based holidays that do not include air travel, but can cover hotel or accommodation issues, cruise holidays, train and other means of travel. Members of ABTA will always display their badge to show their customers they can be trusted, if you are unsure you can enquire with the travel agent or ABTA before you book.
ATOL are the Air Travel Organiser’s License; Unlike ABTA, all operators within the travel industry that provide package holidays or flights, are legally required to belong to ATOL, which is a scheme set out by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). A package holiday must include a combination of at least two of the following:
- Flights – In situations when you have an ATOL certificate (which you should receive after payment is received)
- Other transport (i.e. car hire, cruise, ferries or train travel)
- Excursions or additional trips within the holiday
The primary difference between ABTA and ATOL is that ATOL cover holidays with flights if your travel plans are cancelled or impacted by a company going bust. This means you can fly home at no personal cost.
When you pay for your holiday, you will receive and ATOL certificate. This is vital to keep a hold of, as it will detail how to claim a refund on protected travel. Follow the instructions given to you on the certificate and fill out a claim form, which will require evidence of booking, for successful remuneration. If you are away on holiday when you realise you need ATOL’s help, they will provide information and arrangements to make your journey home.
Claiming on Delayed Flights
It is also possible to get refunds or compensation if your flight is simply delayed for reasons that could have been preventable by the airline. The amount of compensation you are entitled to is calculated on two variables:
- The duration of the delay
- The distance of the flight
This is how consumers were getting refunds as a result of the pilot strikes in the summer, as the airline hadn’t gone bust, ATOL were not required to become fully involved. There are template letters of complaint available from both Which? and Citizen’s Advice, as well as information about how much money you could expect to be returned to you.
If you have made a compensation complaint with the airline you were travelling with but have had no response, you can get in touch with the CAA, who set up the ATOL scheme. These are the Civil Aviation Authority and will be able to investigate your claim and potentially escalate it.
If you booked your holiday with a credit card, you also have extra financial protection, as opposed to booking with a debit card. Section 75 of the consumer credit act means your credit card company shares responsibility with the holiday provider to protect your money if they go out of business, as long as the payment made was over £100 while using your credit card. Generally it will cover situations where you did not get a product or in this case the service that you paid for, or you have been misleading and given incorrect information about what you would receive. You will need to show that you have already tried to resolve the issue with the merchant (in this case the airline) and requested a refund but been unsuccessful. You should check with your credit card provider the process and what they will need in order to claim on Section 75.”
Holiday Protection Insurance
ABTA and ATOL are schemes set out to protect the major financial costs of your holiday, but they might not cover the costs of extras. Additionally, you should always be aware that there are limitations to what the two schemes will cover, which is why consumers might also consider taking out Holiday Protection Insurance. ATOL and ABTA are free, consumer-rights agencies but holiday protection insurance will need to be bought at an additional cost, but could protect you from:
- Consequential Losses – i.e. if your flight is cancelled and you are forced to cancel your hotel, at a considerable cost to yourself.
- Baggage losses
- Money spent on excursions or pre-booked activities in the destination
You can compare holiday protection insurance and look into annual memberships with providers like the Post Office to ensure all aspects of your trips are protected. The cost of these packages will depend on your circumstance, including your age and health. You will be required to declare any medications you travel within the interest of full disclosure.
Brexit And Your Travel Plans
Throughout 2019, Brexit plans were ever-uncertain, and even now experts cannot predict what the pound will do in the coming year. As a result, many tour operators are bracing for a tight year, with some industry operators expecting smaller companies to go bust. In fact, it is anticipated that holiday companies could experience a 58% increase in their losses.
All consumers should be confident they are going to enjoy their holiday and book with an accredited member of ABTA and look after their ATOL certificate. This could help you avoid financial emergencies. However, if you do find yourself with an unavoidable bill or stranded somewhere, without immediate help or assistance, Wizzcash are a direct lender and could provide the financial support you need with same day loans, subject to a successful application.