Travellers buying 'surprise holiday' packages beware, says ATOL

woman in Bali
Bali is one of the many destinations offered up through so-called mystery deals Credit: Getty

You pick the dates, the departure airport and, if you prefer, some parameters as to where in the world you’d like to travel. Then you are told where to be and at what time before you are whisked off to an unspecified destination.

This is experience tourists with a penchant for spontaneity sign up for with a mystery holiday – something that a number of companies now offer.

However, before forking out for one of these deals it pays to check if you’re financially protected. 

Andy Cohen, head of ATOL at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “Mystery travel deals are a new and exciting way to see parts of the world you may not have thought to visit.

“However, part of that mystery should not be whether you will be financially vulnerable. Without knowing which company created the package holiday, you may not be able to confirm if your holiday is ATOL protected before purchasing. The best way to avoid this is to ensure your travel company is ATOL protected and to take out travel insurance straight after booking to cover the rest.”

Telegraph travel tested out a mystery break that took our writer to Madrid Credit: Getty

Mystery travel deals see consumers paying for a package holiday, with accommodation and flights included in the price. Under UK law, package holidays put together by UK tour operators must be ATOL protected.

However, UK travel agents can offer package holidays from UK and non-UK companies without being ATOL holders. As a result, depending on which company packaged the holiday originally, consumers booking a mystery break could be left without financial protection.

The ATOL protected companies that offer mystery deals to UK travellers include Weekender Breaks (often sold through Wowcher and Groupon), Mystery Break, Wix Squared and BRB, which offers a subscription service. However, see ATOL's advice below as to which aspects of your trip will be covered by this protection. 

One of the largest providers of mystery travel is Dutch company Srprs.me

As it is not UK-based, it is able to sell package holidays to British consumers without ATOL protection. 

However, a Srprs.me spokesperson said while it that does not offer ATOL protection, as a Dutch-based company it does offer all customers (including UK customers) the Dutch equivalent – SGR. They said Srprs will correct or compensate a traveller if an aspect of their trip (such as a flight or their accommodation) goes wrong after they have booked the trip.

When an ATOL holder ceases trading, travellers on ATOL-protected packages can complete their holidays or will be reimbursed for the charge for replacing parts of their holiday or receive a full refund.

Under these protections, consumers have support if their travel company ceases trading. Plus, they are important for travellers to be able to identify who is responsible if part of their mystery travel deal becomes unavailable.

ATOL added that as there are a number of travel agents and tour operators offering this kind of package, it’s difficult to know how many people knowingly or unknowingly booked non-ATOL protected packages.

New York is another destination offered up through mystery break providers Credit: Getty

ATOL advises that travellers check the following before booking a mystery deal:

  • If the company is an ATOL holder – check their website, or search for a company name or ATOL number on the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s website
  • If the holiday is ATOL protected: if a company is an ATOL holder is does not mean that everything they sell is ATOL protected. ATOL protects package holidays and some flight-only bookings. Check, before booking, if your holiday or flight is ATOL protected
  • Which travel company is providing the ATOL protection: this may be different from the company you deal with or book the holiday with – ask who will be providing the ATOL protection for your package holiday before you book
  • Where the travel company is based: some non-UK travel companies offer travel to UK consumers and these will often not be ATOL protected, even if they have a UK office. Check what financial protection they provide – if in doubt, book using a credit card and you are protected up to the value of £30,000 under UK law.

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