Why is Hajj getting so expensive-Part 2

Why is Hajj getting so expensive-Part 2

June 01, 2017 Abu Muneer Ismail Davids
Tags: hajj

This is part 2 of my article discussing the cost of Hajj and specifically why it is getting so expensive. If you haven't yet read Part 1, then please take a few moments and read it here. My information is based on my experience with regards to pricing mainly in the Western countries. However, I have found that the same logic applies to the local pilgrims in Saudi Arabia. So my guess is that it can be generalised for most countries.

Let’s look at the last 6 to 8 years, only in Australia, for example. The prices have increased by more than 30%, and in some cases, almost doubled. In 2009, the average price for 1 person in a 2-shared room (for the higher-end packages) with breakfast and dinner, was = +-$9,500.00AUD. In 2016, a similar package costed +-$15,000.00AUD. The lower-end packages (breakfast only, 4 per room, 4 star hotels etc.) costed +-$6500.00AUD in 2009, yet the 2016 equivalent was priced at +-$10,000-$11500AUD per person.

In Saudi Arabia itself, if you were in Jeddah and signed up with a local Hajj operator; in 2004, it would have cost you +-SR2000 per person for the 5 days. In 2011, the cost was about SR8500; and in 2016, +-SR14500. And that is for 5 days only!

So my dear pending pilgrim, I am afraid to advise you that the Hajj price has not come down even once in the last 25 years (to my knowledge). The only time I know where you would have been able to get a cheaper price than the year before is when some new group or fly-by-night operator ventured out into Hajj packages. Sadly though, they only last 1 year, or end up having to increase their costs the following year as they couldn’t operate sufficiently on their low pricings. Their costs were sometimes higher than their competitors in that following year to make up for their financial loss in the previous year.

Okay, let us now look at some of the major components that I believe contribute to the overall and varied prices. I may have missed some as I have never actually calculated this myself. But, this list should give you a fairly good idea. Some items are obvious, but many people don’t actually realise some of the variables that affect the prices. Imagine if each item is increased by only 1%, you can see how easily the price can go up. Food for thought: Can you think of any precious commodity or item, where the price actually comes down? Also, remember the simple rule in buying and selling; supply and demand. The demand is there and will always be there, so the supplier will always be in the ‘box seat’.

Hajj is no different, unfortunately. How much do you think it’s worth paying to be a guest of Allah?

Contributors to Hajj pricing:


1. Hajj Company (group) - Is the group a travel agent or a mosque or an individual etc? IATA* travel agents have business overheads and make no apologies that they provide the Hajj packages as part of their travel business. Groups from mosques and Islamic centres have intentions of using the money/funds towards their mosques/centres. Some individuals believe it is easy and agents rip people off, so they decide to do it themselves of which many only last one or two trips (with many new enemies).

Cost Implication - Normally cost slightly more, but you have legal financial ‘protection’ if something goes wrong. Individuals running it, may be marginally cheaper, but very risky.


2. Own Hajj Visas - Does the group have its own official Hajj visas, or are they ‘buying’ from another agent. There are only limited Hajj agents approved by the Saudi government that have Hajj visa allocations. Some agents, who have large quotas (400-600), on-sell their packages (incl. visa) to smaller operators/mosques/individuals etc. Normally the agent with the visas will have their own Hajj package and also sell visas/package to other smaller agents.

Cost Implication - The smaller operator’s price may be higher than the actual agent’s own package.


3. Flight cost - The distance from Saudi Arabia you need to travel?

Cost Implication - The further you are; the higher the airline price.


4. Flight (airline) - There are various airlines and various routes with many or no stops. Some groups book on the cheapest airline, which means you may have to stop over in many places before you get to Saudi. This information is normally not disclosed until close to the travel date.

Cost Implication - The more reputable the airline; the higher the cost. Direct flights also cost more.


5. Flight (season) - The time of the year Hajj is in, in relation to normal travelling seasons (of which there are low, shoulder and peak seasons).

Cost Implication - Dependent on Hajj dates. When Hajj is in the Dec/Jan timeframe, the airline costs are very high.


6. Flight (arrival city) - Arriving in Madinah or Jeddah? Many airlines now fly direct to Madinah, which is better as the arrival process in Madinah is much better than Jeddah.

Cost Implication - Arriving in Madinah may cost a bit more depending on the airline chosen.


7. Flight (side trips) - Many pilgrims have stop overs in other countries before and/or after Hajj. So if you are certain about it, book your flights as early as possible.

Cost Implication - The cost will be higher. Some airlines also charge fees for stop-overs.


8. Duration - Many pilgrims insist on spending 8 days in Madinah. The longer you stay; the more it will cost. Last year, the Hajj ministry introduced a new rule: No pilgrims are allowed to depart before the 15 th Dhul-Hijjah and all hotel contracts are to be calculated on the basis that Dhul-Qadah is 30 days. This meant that almost all packages had to extend their itinerary by at least 2 days.

Cost Implication - Increased cost.


9. Side trip close to Hajj days or after Hajj to and from Muslim countries - If you plan to go to a country that has large numbers of pilgrims (Muslim countries) then bookings close to or after Hajj can be very difficult to confirm. So if you are certain about it, book your flights as early as possible.

Cost Implication - The cost will be higher and it increases the closer you get to Hajj.


10. Hotels (Madinah) - Is the Hotel a well-known brand? Is the hotel 3, 4 or 5 star? Distance from Haram? Most groups claim they are 100m from the Haram. I recommend you Google it first!

Cost Implication - The well-known hotel chains, a higher rating, and the closer you are to the Haram; the higher the cost.


11. Hotels (Makkah) - Is the Hotel a well-known brand? Is the hotel 3, 4 or 5 star? Distance from Haram? Most groups claim they are 100m from the Haram. Google it!

Cost Implication - The well-known hotel chains; higher ratings, and closer proximity to the Haram all equal higher costs.


12. Hotels (season) - Now this is unique in itself, which only happens in Saudi. The hotels have seasons for Hajj (Makkah and Madinah). So it all depends on what dates you are in which city. Madinah also has seasons, but not as extreme as Makkah. Let me give you an idea of the season breakdown for Makkah hotels. The season titles are my own words:

1-25 Dhul-Qadah – Normal (higher than outside Hajj)

25 Dhul-Qadah – 5th Dhul-Hijja – Above normal

5th – 8th Dhul-Hijja – Extreme

8th – 13th Dhul-Hijja – Crazy

13th – end Dhul-Hijja – Above normal

This is one reason why the Hajj itineraries revolve around these dates. It is also why some shorter packages cost more than longer packages (as they’re normally in Makkah between the extreme to crazy dates).

Cost Implication - The group’s itinerary will affect the pricing. Example: Makkah Or Madinah first, in Makkah 8th-13th, etc. There will come a time in the not-too-distant future that affordable packages will not be available for Makkah at all.


13. Group size - Larger groups can book more rooms and sometimes entire hotels. They also have better bargaining power.

Cost Implication - Larger groups can be cheaper.


14. Number per room - For Hajj, the accommodation is sold per bed. So the lower the number per room; the more the cost. So when you compare Hajj prices, always look at the numbers in ‘per room’. If it says ”quad”, it means 4 per room (i.e. you will share a room with 3 other people). Obviously then, 2 per room (you and your spouse) will cost more. Some people book just 1 per room. Expensive!

Cost Implication - Quad is the cheapest. Some hotels don’t allow quad as the rooms are not big enough.


15. Food (breakfast) - Breakfast is included in almost all of the 4-5 star hotels and has been for many years.

Cost Implication - Can be cheaper if breakfast is not included.


16. Food (lunch) - Lunch is normally not included in the packages, but some groups do have it included. In most 4-5 star hotels, food is buffet style and cost on average SR120 per person. So it adds up quickly for 10 days.

Cost Implication - Much cheaper if not included.


17. Food (dinner) - Dinner was normally not included in the packages. But for the last 3 years, the Hajj ministry has enforced all agents from western countries to include breakfast and dinner. As with lunch in most 4-5 star hotels, food is buffet style and cost on average SR150 per person. So it adds up quickly for 10 days.

Cost Implication - Much cheaper if not included.


18. Visa cost (admin) - Although they say the Hajj visa is free, the agents/groups that need to process the visa papers do require staff/time/travel to do this. Despite many calls and emails, paperwork is often not submitted on time by the pilgrims. Once that is all in, the staff then have to assess all the paperwork and enter it into the Hajj Visa system. Once entered (100 calls later to pilgrims and the Saudi embassy due to system problems), they have to send the passports to the embassy (costs money). Many times the entire batch is returned because some pilgrims left out vital documents, and so the process needs is repeated. Many times the agent needs to spend an entire day at the Saudi embassy and still ends up leaving empty-handed. This all costs money.

Cost Implication - Increased cost.


19. Muassah fees - Now I am sure many of you did not know this. But since day dot, there has been a SR1029.00 fee per pilgrim. Yes, it has always been there and is for the bus services, and Mina and Arafat services. Many groups include this in their price, so you may not have seen it.

Cost Implication - Increased cost and some packages do not have this included in their advertised price.


20. Hady - This is the Sacrifice for the Tamattu and Qiran pilgrim. Most groups include this in their overall price.

Cost Implication - Increased cost and some packages do not have this included in their advertised price.


21. Ziyarah (visit) - This is for tours to the historical places in Makkah and Madinah such as Uhud, Quba mosque, Arafat, Mina, etc. Most groups include this in their overall price.

Cost Implication - Increased cost and some packages do not have this included in their advertised price.


22. Mina - The Muassah fees above cover most expenses for Mina, but if your group requests some extra services from the office that looks after them, additional costs apply. “Like what?” you may ask. Carpets on the floor, better bedding, etc.

The Hajj groups are broken into countries and also into different Hajj offices. Each Hajj office is allocated a certain number of pilgrims from a given country and they are free to provide any additional services as they deem fit. So pilgrims from the same country are not normally in the exact same camps in Mina and Arafat as it depends on which office they are allocated to. The local Hajj agent is the one who negotiates the deals with the offices. This includes, the type (if any) food you will get during the days in Mina.

Cost Implication - Increased cost.


23. Arafat - Same as Mina

Cost Implication - Increased cost.


24. Aziziyah/Shisha - Where in the world is Aziziyah and why do pilgrims stay there?

Aziziyah is a suburb of Makkah about 5km from the Haram. Because of the exorbitant cost of the hotels in Makkah from 5th Dhul-Hijjah, many groups now move to Aziziyah in apartment blocks where most share 6-7 per room. Shisha is next to Aziziyah. If your apartment is close to the Jamarat then it is an added bonus as this is logistically great during Hajj. Don’t be fooled by the groups who advertise, ‘no Aziziyah’. It is actually more difficult if you stay in Makkah during the Hajj days. Will do an article on why Aziziyah is a good option insha Allah. The quality of the accommodation in Aziziyah also contributes to the cost (up or down).

Cost Implication - Reduced cost in most instances. There will come a time soon where all the affordable packages will stay in Aziziyah for the entire duration.


25. Aziziyah (food) - Most groups that have the Aziziyah option are there from 5th Dhul-Hijja until after Hajj. Some people don’t realise they still need to eat during this stay! Yet some packages have all food included, and some don’t.

Cost Implication - Food provided: Increased cost. Food not provided: Decreased cost for package but you will still have to pay for food yourself.


26. Transport (other) - The Muassasah fees (SR1029) covers all of your transport from:

-Airport to Hotel (and vice versa)

-Madinah to Makkah (and vice versa)

-Hotel to Mina camp (and vice versa)

All other transport such as Aziziyah and Mina to Makkah and back are not covered in the above cost. Some groups include this in their price and they arrange the transport for you.

Cost Implication - Included: Increased cost. Not included: Decreased cost for package but you will still have to pay for transport yourself.


27. Special Services - The South African Hajj agents and offices in Makkah started this more than 15 years ago and they have mastered it. Other countries/offices are now following suit. These special services are in Mina and Arafat. So it is another level up from the basics and extras I mentioned earlier. Examples include sofa beds, pillows, proper blankets, and water and juice around the clock. Even, buffet meals. Yep, that’s what it is.

Here is an idea of what we include in our extra services. As of last Hajj, due to the extreme heat during the Hajj days, we had proper air-conditioned facilities in Mina and also fully air-conditioned enclosed tents in Arafat.

And, wait for it… our own toilets in Arafat. Actually, I do not deem these air-conditioned services as a luxury anymore, but a necessity in order to be able to fulfil your acts of ibadah in a comfortable manner with full concentration.

The American/Canadian groups also now have excellent special services to rival the South Africans. The local Saudi and Gulf agents/groups are at a completely higher level which is why their prices have also skyrocketed.

Cost Implication - Included: increased cost. Not included: decreased cost.


28. Location in Mina - Location, location, location. The Hajj ministry rents out the tents to the Hajj offices and the price varies depending on your location in Mina. The closer you are to the Jamarat; the more the cost. The Locals, and American and South-African special services camps are very close, so they pay extra compared to the Australian special services camps, which are on the complete opposite end.

Cost Implication - Included: increased cost. Not included: decreased cost.


29. Hajj days (food) - This again depends on the agreement your Hajj group has with the Hajj office as to what quality of food you will get during the Hajj days. Some groups have no food included.

Cost Implication - Included: increased cost. Not included: decreased cost.


30. Extras - Then there are some extras such as umbrellas, fans, prayer mats, Ihraam, Zamzam, mobile phone and sims, etc. All of this costs money. So if your package offers all of these, they are already included in the price.

Cost Implication - Included: increased cost. Not included: decreased cost.


31. Guides - All groups need to have a Sheikh and guides to help and assist the pilgrims. Most groups factor in the cost or request the guides to pay at least the net cost.

Cost Implication – Increased cost.


32. Profit - In order for the agents/groups to continue to provide this service, they need to make a profit. Even the mosque groups make a profit as the funds go towards the mosque. The groups that claim they don’t make any profits are very few and normally don’t survive for very long.

Cost Implication – Increased cost.


33. Exchange rate - As all contracts are done in Saudi Riyal, the exchange rate of your currency at the time the agent pays or calculates the package cost will help determine the overall price. As the Riyal is fixed against the American dollar, this does not affect any agencies that operate in American dollars.

Cost Implication – Increased cost if there is a major fluctuation downwards in the exchange rate. It can also go the other way i.e. if there is a major fluctuation upwards in the exchange rate.


34. Buffer - It is wise for any agent/group to factor in a ‘buffer’ cost for any unexpected events in which they may need to outlay money.

Cost Implication – Included: increased cost. Not included: decreased cost.


35. New rules - So far every new rule introduced by the Hajj ministry or Saudi government has resulted in a higher cost. Examples mentioned above include compulsory dinner, the new visa cost, extension of days, etc.

Cost Implication – Increased cost.


36. Inflation, CPI, Greed - Like everything else, all hotels increase their prices year upon year; whether it is called ‘inflation’, ‘CPI’, or simply just greed. Regardless, it goes up.

Cost Implication – Increased cost.


So, there you have it. At least 36 line items that I believe affect the price of the Hajj packages and I still may have missed some.

I conclude by reminding the reader that this article is not meant to justify the cost, but merely to give you an idea of the large amount of variables that cause the increase in prices year after year.

I conclude by asking you again, “How much do you think it’s worth paying to be a guest of Allah?”