Travel agents selling hajj and umrah tours have hit out against airlines charging customers up to double that paid by the passenger next to them.
The hajj is an Islamic pilgrimage taking in some of the religion’s most sacred sites in Saudi Arabia at the end of the year. Every Muslim who can afford to do so is expected to make the journey at least once. The umrah is an additional pilgrimage that many Muslims undertake while on the hajj.
However, Muslims wishing to undertake the hajj must buy a visa from the Saudi government, which agents claim causes flight prices on BMI and Saudi Airlines, the only two to offer direct flights to Saudi, to soar from between £300 and £500 to more than £800.
Barket Travel and Tours director Sakina Ellam said: “It is a big difference. You get customers who opt for the cheapest fares, but 99% of the time they’re not for people who are holding a hajj or umrah visa.”
Ellam added hajj and umrah customers can’t even pre-empt the problem by booking flights as early as possible as the visas are released only 30 days before the departure date.
Abu Zarr Tours hajj and umrah sales agent Mohammed Aslam added: “The airlines are taking advantage of the hajj and umrah and it is unfair.”
Association of British Hijjaj general-secretary Khalid Pervez said: “It is very unfortunate and agents feel they are being let down. The government should take action.”
A BMI spokeswoman was unable to comment on the price discrepancies on the same flights, but added: “The seats that BMI sells itself are priced according to the competitive nature of the market and other carriers serving the route.”
A Saudi Airlines spokesman said: “We operate a yield management programme using tariffs and seat inventories for each flight. Numbers of seats are allocated by head office, to price bands according to the assessment of market needs and flight profitability.”
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