Are you sitting on a holiday refund credit note? Redeem or cash it in or you could risk losing it

Apr 27, 2022

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Was your holiday cancelled during the pandemic? Did you receive a refund credit note to claim your money back when travel resumed?

Well, now is the time to call in that debt lest you lose it forever, Britain’s air travel’s watchdog has warned.

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The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says £85 million tied up in unspent refund credit notes (RCNs) could be at risk when they lose their ATOL protection later this year.

In July 2020, at the height of the pandemic, ATOL launched a scheme to protect holidaymakers’ losses from 10 March 2020.

It became a godsend for thousands of British holidaymakers who saw their holidays scrapped as the travel industry collapsed under the weight of COVID-19.

But that safeguard had a shelflife, and it is set to expire on 30 September 2022.

According to the CAA, though you can still collect your refunds after that date if the company you booked with goes bust, the money could be lost forever.

“Millions of holidaymakers have missed out on travel over the past two years, with many being offered refund credit notes during the pandemic,” said Michael Budge, head of Atol at the CAA.

Related: Half a century of aviation advancements – the UK Civil Aviation Authority celebrates 50 years

“As demand for travel continues to grow again, we want to make sure consumers are making the most of the financial protection available to them.

“If you have a refund credit note, make an Atol-protected booking or request a refund well before 30 September 2022 to avoid putting your money at risk.”

What does “ATOL protected” actually mean?

ATOL stands for “Air Travel Organiser’s Licence”, and it’s operated by the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). It was created in 1973 and is a financial scheme that protects British travellers who purchase air package holidays from travel businesses based in the United Kingdom.

What is defined as a package holiday?

  • Flights and accommodation (including a cruise);
  • Flights and car hire; or
  • Flights, accommodation and car hire.

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The scheme also covers some charter flight-only bookings where tickets are not received immediately upon purchasing. This does not apply to flight-only bookings on regularly scheduled flights booked directly with airlines. If you are unsure if your travel is ATOL protected or not, check with your travel provider.

Essentially, the scheme assists travellers when a travel provider ceases operations unexpectedly (i.e. goes bust). It can refund, repatriate or reimburse travellers when a travel provider is unable to do so.

Related: Inside a Thomas Cook repatriation flight on the world’s largest passenger jet

The ATOL scheme is funded through a £2.50 fee, paid by each travel provider for each trip ATOL covers. The fee is usually rolled into the overall cost of a package holiday.

Think of it as paying a very small insurance premium for the protection of your trip. It gives British travellers to confidence to book package holidays knowing they will be protected should something go awry.

Related: ATOL-protected travellers can now convert COVID-19 credit vouchers into cash refunds

Once you purchase your package holiday, you will be issued with an ATOL Certificate, confirming your travel is covered by the scheme. This will usually be issued by email — keep this handy as you commence travel. If, for any reason, you understood your holiday to be ATOL protected but were not issued with an ATOL certificate, first contact your travel provider, otherwise email the CAA here.

In 2019, the failure of Thomas Cook showed just how important and valuable ATOL protection can be. Thousands of travellers were stranded abroad, mid-way through Thomas Cook-issued package holidays. The CAA, using the funds of the ATOL scheme, stepped in to return all of these passengers to the U.K. It was then the largest repatriation effort since World War 2.

Featured photo by Sakkawokkie / Getty Images.

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