The Importance of ATOL and Financial Protection

I will be upfront and admit that 2016 was a difficult trading year for various reasons, but the collapse of LowCost Holidays was catastrophic, not just because they were a big company but also because the announcement was made at the very height of the season when it had the biggest impact.

Travel Counsellors used their bedbank arm LowCostBeds . This alone affected a staggering 4,000 of our customers. It was this situation that made me feel thankful that I work for a company that cares and also that offers the financial security and the manpower at head office to keep on top of the situation. Many of them gave up their own time and worked through the night to offer solutions and pay the hoteliers to make sure that our clients could go ahead with their holidays as planned

I personally had no clients booked with LowCostBeds as I wasn’t happy with their levels of customer service so I tried wherever possible to book I slightly more expensive option and I often absorbed the difference myself.

Even though I wasn’t in the difficult position of having clients with LowCostBeds, I still got the fallout from several of those that had booked their holidays with LowCostBeds. They got in touch with me mostly via Facebook messenger to ask me to find alrternative accommodation as they were left with flights but no accommodation and no refund.. In most of those cases I was unable to find cheap alternatives as it was high season and there wasn’t much available and of course the hoteliers in most cases resold their accommodation at the going rate rather than the early booking contract rates and who can blame them? The fall in exchange rate post Brexit didn’t help either. The ones that booked early saw the benefits of paying just a deposit and securing a more beneficial exchange rate.

So here’s a reminder of how the LowCostHolidays situation arose. In 2013 a new law was passed which required any flight to or from the UK combned with car hire and or overnight accommodation overseas must be ATOL protected. LowCostHolidays moved their base to Palma which meant they never agreed to ATOL so when they went bust most of the flights were protected as these have to be paid for in advance but they did not pay the hoteliers so most of their clients lost their accommodation. With ATOL both the flight and the accommodation is protected.

Travel Counsellors were the first agency in the UK to agree and sign off our ATOL certificate. We agreed terms over and above the minimum required in that we don’t have to add accommodation within 48 hours. We have no limit but as soon as we add on accommodation we also add ATOL protection, whether this is a business or leisure trip.

If you book on the internet with Ryanair and Booking.com, Trivago or Late Rooms separately there is no such protection so if the accommodation in that instance had been booked through a company that went bust in many cases they would have no protection and there isn’t a compulsory regulatory body for hotels as there is with package or flights. Most of these companies are brokers so they just search the cheapest options. I do this as well but manually which means I check reviews through Trust You and out own clients and I check location as well. There have been a lot of cases of clients who have had to pay their hotel bills again or that have been scammed by accommodation that didn’t exist even with well known and heavily advertised  sites

So what happens if it’s not covered by ATOL eg if the journey starts in Bordeaux for one of my French clients or if the entire journey is by rail or coach. Travel Counsellors has a special insurance in place to cover these and this is what we used to reprotect our clients who were booked with LowCostBeds and Holiday Brokers.

Sometimes other events happen, bad weather, natural disasters or illnesses and we on hand to help with those situations too. Our Duty Office sometimes even email us before it is on the news and monitor which clients would possibly be affected.

Many hotels and airlines overbook during busy times. This is one reason why I always email hotels in advance to remind them of special requests birthdays or anniversaries, first timers, repeat customers, any excuse really for contacting them and just reminding them that we care.

So how about booking flight only online?

If there is a proposed strike we can keep on top of the situation and offer solutions. As we use a live system we can often bypass having to phone the airline and request

If an airline goes bust we have insurance in place to reprotect or refund or clients. The last huge failure was XL but more recently Monarch had an 11th hour reprieve. We had all the tools in place for a bail out but thankfully we didn’t have to use them and Monarch lives on.

First of all I would say if you do book a flight online, at least use the direct airline website and not a third party website. These are rarely live and you don’t know who you are booking with. Furthermore there is nothing to stop them increasing the fare after it has been booked.

I had a phone call recently from a lady who searched “cheap flights” on the internet and is now worried that the company she has paid a hefty deposit to doesn’t exist. I did some digging. The parent company that she named is based in Hyderabad in India and the subsidiary she booked through is a call centre apparently sharing its ATOL number with 2 other agencies so I would question whether this is even their own ATOL licence. I called the “agency” with a London phone number. The website invites you to to leave a massege on their contact details. This also told me that their website had not been professionally done, another warning sign. I asked them where they were based and for their ATOL number and they wouldn’t divulge either of those things. They may be quite legitimate but it would certainly ring alarm bells with me. I would certainly question where my money was going, as did this lady but too late unfortunately.

Currently the market is highly volatile with currency exchange rates and it is highly likely that many companies are on a knife edge and will fail particularly if they are working on tiny profit margins. Travel Counsellors has a failure insurance, its own ATOL licence and two IATA licences depending which fare structure we use so I can book your flight with peace of mind at a competitive rate.
If you are going to Australia I can offer a visa free as part of the service, otherwise I do offer advice about entry requirements but it is up to you to check your passport is valid and that you have the correct entry requirements.

I also had a client during the summer that had booked online and needed to change her flight. This proved to be really difficult as we had to track down the agency to get the reference numbers and then they didn’t want to help. They also wanted to charge her much more than I would have done.

Very few online agencies will offer you any advice about entry requirements, prebook your seats for you or book special meals or help with check in.

Surely the internet is cheaper? Surely travel agents must be making a huge profit? Well these are questions I can answer. The internet is sometimes cheaper, but not always and yes we do make a profit, but probably not as much as you think. Does anybody work for nothing? I’m pretty sure you don’t. In fact I work very long hours to ensure that you have a suitable and secure holiday at a competitive price and I know speak for most of us who work in travel. We are on hand 24/7 to sort out any unexpected problems.

If you would like a hassle free and fully protected holiday please contact me cathie.odea@travelcounsellors.com

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