£132m worth of ATOL travel vouchers could expire in 2022, make sure yours isn’t one of them

Nov 23, 2021

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If you’re holding an ATOL-protected travel voucher from a cancelled trip during the pandemic, don’t sit on it much longer.

The valuable ATOL-protection in your voucher expires on 30 September 2022. You’ll need to redeem and travel by this period, and if your airline or hotel goes bust before or during your travels, you are then protected.

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“With over £130m of ATOL refund credit notes yet to be redeemed, and international travel opening up again, we want to remind consumers to redeem any unused credits to make sure they do not lose out.” Michael Budge, head of ATOL explained to the BBC.

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.

The scheme applies to and protects around 20 million trips each year. It assists travellers when a travel provider ceases operations unexpectedly, as some high-profile airlines have done over the past few years. It can refund, repatriate or reimburse travellers when a travel provider is unable to do so.

The 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 the confidence to book package holidays knowing they will be protected should something go awry. ATOL protection was given to COVID-19 travel vouchers in June 2020.

ATOL has also now warned that newly-issued travel vouchers issued after 20 December 2021 will not have this valuable protection.

Remember that existing ATOL vouchers can now be converted into full cash refunds.

Travel vouchers have been a hot topic during the pandemic. Travel providers were swamped with requests from passengers for their money back as countless trips were cancelled amid lockdowns and border closures. With almost no income from new bookings and cash burn often in the millions of pounds per day, travel providers scrambled to create a solution that would work for both provider and customer. Many offered vouchers with no questions asked which could then be redeemed at a later date to reschedule the travel. Some of these vouchers have been difficult to understand and redeem, especially British Airways’ notorious Future Travel Vouchers.

Some British travellers did not realise that they were entitled to a full refund where an airline cancelled their flights and was not obligated to accept a voucher for future travel if they did not want to.

Virgin Atlantic came under fire for delaying issuing refunds as long as they possibly could in order to preserve cash. Air Canada was even taken to court over their delays and refusals to issue refunds.

Related: Civil Aviation Authority reveals the best and worst airlines for COVID-19 refunds

This is a good reminder to check all the pandemic-related vouchers you are currently sitting on (I have so many I created a spreadsheet to track them) and start thinking about how and when to use them, especially as there are plenty of deals floating around for Black Friday and Cyber Monday right now. While the expiration dates are generously several years in length, they won’t last forever and you don’t want to lose real money because you forgot about the expiry of a voucher.

Featured image by Ayhan Altun/Getty Images.

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