Around 16,000 Britons were abroad when the specialist in travel to Turkey and Greece went into administration on Friday, while a further 2,000 were scheduled to fly from the UK this weekend. As the school holiday season gets under way, it is estimated 50,000 people booked to travel with Goldtrail could be affected over the summer.

For a holiday company to collapse at the start, rather than the end, of the summer holidays is unusual, as failures usually happen in September or October when bookings are no longer coming in, but bills are.

In one sense, though, the timing of the fall of Goldtrail, a budget operator based in south-west London, was predictable: travel companies tend to go bust at teatime on Friday. The owners spend a week trying to find a buyer or a bank prepared to prop the enterprise up, then call in the adminstrators at the end of the working week.

On Saturday morning, disappointed travellers arrived at airports across Britain to be told their flights were cancelled. But several of those jets took off, empty, and flew to Dalaman in Turkey to bring back Goldtrail passengers. The people that some have referred to as "stranded" abroad were the lucky ones: they continue their holiday and fly back more or less as normal, perhaps with a minor change in time and the inconvenience of arriving in, say, Luton rather than Gatwick.

A team of travel industry experts has been working through the weekend on repatriation, in effect setting up a shadow airline of chartered jets to mimic the original Goldtrail flight plans. But that is the one part of this dismal business that can be counted a success. Every other aspect combines to expose the many flaws in consumer protection for Britain's travellers.

Goldtrail is an unfamiliar name to many travellers; the company did not figure on the radar of mainstream holidays because it offered rock-bottom rates and sometimes questionable quality. Its customers bought on price, and are likely to be the travellers least able to afford a replacement holiday..

Thousands more are discovering that their holidays do not matches the strict legal definition of a package: a flight plus at least one other element bought as a single entity. They have even less chance of recovering their holiday investment.