AA Legal Documents
Law guide

Consumer bodies for holiday complaints


A number of bodies exist to promote the consumer's interest. These bodies are either trade associations or government organisations which have a duty to the travelling public. If things go wrong on holiday and the consumer has not been able to resolve the matter with the individual holiday company, these consumer bodies can be approached to try and resolve the matter. The very fact that a holiday company is a member of a particular organisation does mean that the company has met some standard of service which the consumer can rely upon.

Since holidaymakers invariably have to rely on the representations of the tour operators and carriers, and have to pay for the full cost of the service some time before it is delivered, it is not surprising that a number of organisations exist to protect their interests.

ATOL (Air Traffic Organisers' Licensing)

ATOL is a financial protection scheme managed by the Civil Aviation Authority ("CAA"). All companies selling holiday air packages and air flights in the UK must hold an Air Travel Organisers' Licence (somewhat confusingly, also commonly referred to as an 'ATOL').

In the event of an ATOL holder's failure, the ATOL Scheme ensures customers who booked and contracted with the ATOL holder for an air holiday package or a flight, do not lose the money paid over or are not stranded abroad.

ATOL is the only UK scheme that protects the vast majority of flights and air holidays. If a holiday is booked through an ATOL holder, you are protected from losing your money or from being left stranded abroad if a travel firm goes out of business, either before you travel or while you are on holiday. If you book through an air travel agent and you receive your ticket confirmation immediately after paying your deposit or the full fee, usually you won't be covered. You should always ask for an ATOL confirmation certificate so that you'll be protected, regardless of whether the ticket has been issued or not. It will also establish whether the tour operator or air travel firm has a licence under the ATOL scheme.

ATOL will not protect a consumer who books directly with an airline, nor will it do so if the ticket is booked abroad. ATOL cannot intervene in issues about the quality of holidays or flights. You should always check the ATOL number of the tour operator you are booking with.

ATOL's contact details can be found on the CAA's website


The Association of British Travel Agents is a trade body which aims to ensure that its member tour operators and/or travel agents are financially sound, that the descriptions in their brochures are accurate, that they provide a high quality of service to consumers, that the money paid by customers is safe, and that the consumer will not be left stranded abroad. ABTA has a 'code of conduct' which members must adhere to. Members can be fined, required to make undertakings about future conduct or have their membership terminated or suspended. However, the most important weapon in ABTA's arsenal is the ability to publish the results of disciplinary hearings if they feel it's necessary.

If you buy a flight-based package or seat through an ABTA tour operator, the financial protection will normally be provided by ATOL, which itself is operated by the Civil Aviation Authority. ABTA has its own discretionary financial protection scheme for non-air holidays such as ferry and coach travel. In order to benefit from the protection of ABTA, the consumer should ensure that the tour operator is a member of ABTA, not just the travel agent.

In addition to the financial protection described above, ABTA provides a low-cost, independent arbitration service to resolve disputes about the quality of a holiday provided by one of its members. This service is administered by the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. It does not involve a personal appearance, since all is done on paper. The decision of the arbitrator is final and legally binding. If consumers use this service and they are not satisfied with the result, they can appeal the decision for a further fee or take the matter to the High Court. You must appeal the arbitrator's decision within 21 days, and if you resort to court action, it must be referred to the High Court within 28 days. These time limits are strictly enforced.


Some tour operators are members of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO). AITO has an independent mediation service that you can use to resolve a complaint with a member firm. If you want to use this service, there is a non-refundable fee.

Bonded Coach Holidays runs a scheme to protect customers who have booked a package holiday which includes coach travel. The scheme ensures that you will get either your money back, or will be provided with alternative transport if your coach company goes out of business. There are also conciliation and arbitration schemes to deal with complaints against member firms.

The Confederation of Passenger Transport

The Confederation of Passenger Transport runs a bonding scheme to protect customers who have booked a package holiday which includes coach travel. The bonding scheme ensures that you will get your money back if the coach company goes out of business. The Confederation also runs a conciliation and arbitration scheme to deal with complaints against member firms.

General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland

Complaints about a rail operator in Northern Ireland should first be made to the relevant rail operating company. If it is not dealt with satisfactorily, the complaint can be referred to The Consumer Affairs Officer of the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland.


HolidayTravelWatch is an organisation which offers advice and help to people who have had problems with holidays run by UK tour operators.

Special needs organisations

Tourism for all

Tourism for all provides holiday and travel information, support and a booking service for older people and people with a disability.