Repatriated travellers may be back safely in Britain, but the fallout from Thomas Cook’s dramatic collapse in September is still on the mind of thousands of holidaymakers, particularly those who are thinking of booking a cruise package holiday.
“The failure of Thomas Cook, one of the oldest and best-known brands in the travel industry, has highlighted to customers the need to ensure that their money is protected,” says an ABTA spokesperson.
Along with resort holidays and flights, Thomas Cook also sold cruises, putting together packages with lines such as Celebrity, P&O, Marella and Royal Caribbean.
While there’s no doubt this has been a huge blow to the industry, travellers need to be aware that good safeguards are in place – it’s just a matter of ensuring that your particular booking is covered by them. So how do you book a cruise with complete peace of mind, even in these uncertain times? Here are our top tips…
It may sound obvious, but make sure your cruise holiday is ATOL-protected before booking. ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licence) is a government-run financial protection scheme operated by the Civil Aviation Authority, covering package holidays that include flights. It ensures that you are financially covered if an airline or travel company goes bust.
According to the CAA, flights booked individually (ie separately from a cruise) may not have this protection, so it is important to book your flight through an ATOL holder (directly or via a travel agent) and get an ATOL certificate on payment.
If you book flights through a travel agent, also ensure that you get your e-tickets as soon as you pay, as the airline will then honour your booking.
2. …and don’t forget ABTA
Along with ATOL, ABTA – the travel agents’ association – provides protection for your cruise holiday, making sure the money you’ve paid is safe and that you’ll be repatriated should something go wrong.
If your package holiday was sold to you in the European Economic Area (EEA) by ABTA, you’ll be protected if your travel company fails. According to the association, those with this protection will be able to go ahead with their holiday as planned or get their money back.
“Legally, cruises are treated as package holidays, since they are made up of transport, plus accommodation and other services. Where a flight is sold by the cruise company as part of the package, cruises are protected through ATOL, but where there is no flight involved, ABTA provides protection,” the association advises.
3. Book with a credit card
Despite possible surcharges, the best way to book a holiday is by credit card. Under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, credit cards provide protection for purchases of £100 up to £30,000, and your credit card company will refund your payment if your intended holiday or flights don’t go ahead.
To be covered, you must have paid more than £100 for the holiday and have used your credit card to book with the line directly, although some companies allow you to book with a travel agent.
4. Get insured
You may have booked on your credit card, but your travel insurance is equally important, especially with more expensive, or expedition, cruise holidays. It’s important to remember to buy a travel insurance package that specifically protects you from
the risks that come with a cruise holiday.
Credit cards only offer protection of up to £30,000, so if you’ve splashed out on a long-haul cruise or a round-the-world trip, then a separate travel insurance policy with higher protection is essential.
5. Check the small print
Comprehensive travel insurance often slips under the radar for travellers, with many opting to use included policies packaged by their bank or credit card. However, it’s worth avoiding cheap or free travel insurance, as many policies don’t include scheduled airline failure insurance (‘Safi’) or cover for travel-company failure. Safi insurance offers protection against an airline going bust before you fly, and will ensure that you aren’t left out of pocket.
6. Use a reputable travel agent
A travel agent is still one of the best ways to book a cruise package holiday, as they can put together the best deal for your personal requirements. Make sure you book with an agent who is both ABTA and ATOL accredited, as not only will you be protected, you’ll also be provided with extra support if something goes wrong.
“The added advantage for those booking with an ABTA member is that they will get access to our Customer Support team
and Arbitration scheme while the company is in business,” explains ABTA.
7. Talk to your cruise line
If you prefer to book your cruise directly with the cruise line, check with them that they are ABTA/ATOL-protected before you sign up for your trip. They will also be able to advise you on what type of travel insurance to take out, so you can book your next cruise holiday with complete confidence.