“ How to plan a DIY Umrah? ”
Hi, in this post, I’ll be helping you out in planning your Umrah trip on your own or what it’s popularly called, a ‘DIY Umrah’ or ‘Do-It-Yourself Umrah’. Being from the Hajj and Umrah industry makes us slightly better placed in terms of knowledge and handling of different requirements. I recommend that you try reading this complete article. And if you still have any doubts, please send us a message and we’ll surely get back to you as soon as possible.
We’ve listed steps which can help you in the planning process.
Step 1 – Know your Requirements
Before planning your Umrah, you should make a list of your requirements. Example:
- If you have a big family traveling, then the number of rooms required. Usually, hotels in Makkah and Madinah offer 4 beds in a room, so if you want to save some cost, it is advisable to opt for Quad rooms, but if yuo want privacy, you may opt for double or triple rooms.
- Whether the meals should be breakfast only or half board or full board- This depends on the type of hotels you opt for. Usually, only 4/5 star hotels offer meals, otherwise, there are various food courts and other options available in both the cities. Also, meals from the hotels are quite expensive. So, do check on the price before opting for that.
- The type of hotel you need- There are endless options available in terms of hotels. However, it is advisable to opt for good hotels with good ratings for your Umrah even if you do not intend to stay much longer in the room and spend most of your time in the Haram. We advise that the quality of hotel should be in your prime list and should never be ignored.
- Distance of the hotel from Haram- This is another important factor which comes while deciding a particular hotel. If you want your stay close to the Haram, be ready to spend more as the room rates are completely dependent on the distance factor. Secondly, if you want the hotel to be good and do not want to spend too much on hotels, you may opt for hotels that are at a distance but provide a shuttle service to and from Haram. You can contact us to choose your hotels and our executives will help you out.
- Then comes the type of transport needed- If you are traveling alone you can easily opt for public transport. SAPTCO buses are available for Makkah to Madinah and vice versa and will cost less than hiring a private cab. If the family is big and you have kids traveling with you, it would be more comfortable to opt for a private cab. For cabs, be ready to bargain a lot. Also, if you have any local contacts, do ask them to find a reliable cab for you at better price.
- The flights- Options for both direct and one stop flights are available and one stop flights are usually cheaper than the direct ones.
- Any other special need that may arise in your case.
My advice would be that you divide your requirements into two groups; the first group should contain only necessities and the second one to contain things which can be done without, depending on other constraints like your budget. So, the second one can be called as ‘luxuries’.
Step 2 – Know your Budget
It’s really important that you make an outline regarding your budget and then work out on the whole trip accordingly. The reason is that when you travel internationally, you are bound to get ups and downs in your budget. Most of the time, people end up paying much more than they planned, just because they fail to identify the places where they could have saved their money. Don’t worry; we’ll help you with that too.
Step 3 – Getting some Know-how
Umrah is a very special trip and because of the spiritual background; it makes the matter even more serious as you won’t like to face problems caused by inadvertent mistakes in the planning process. So, it is really worth putting in some time to know the places you want to travel, the hotel you would be staying in, transport arrangement, etc.
Step 4 – How to work out with you Budget Constraint
It’s a big constraint, actually and contains some technicalities which will be discussed in this article later. The first choice you’d be facing is whether you should go for Group package or not?
The best points for group departures are that they are quite economical and pocket-friendly. Also, if you have a good agent, your trip will be hassle-free as every aspect is fixed, i.e., hotels, transport, flights, and food.
The points which go against group packages are the lack of flexibility, especially if you have special requirements in terms of Hotels or transport or food or traveling dates and your duration of travel. This becomes the positive point for custom packages as everything can be customized as per your needs.
But, custom packages cost a bit more because of the extra expenses of transport and food. Also, the flight tickets for individual bookings are considerably high than those for group bookings. Next is that the hotels will be of your choice so you can be sure of their room quality and services.
Now, you have two ways of moving further.
Option 1: You have chosen Group package as your choice!
If you’ve opted for group packages, then the next step would be to find a good Umrah operator in your city of residence. You can check with your friends or acquaintances for reference or take the search online to find a good operator. Remember, this would be the most important decision you are going to take in this planning process, so take your time, do some research and choose an operator, wisely.
Once you’ve found a good operator, these are the questions which you should ask before confirming your booking;
- The duration of the total trip and the duration for which you’ll be staying in each of the two holy cities?
- The airlines used and whether the flights would be direct or not?
- The type of hotels you’ll be staying in, along with their service and most importantly, their distance from the Haram in’ meters’ and ‘not in minutes’. Always confirm the hotel name and check on Google yourself.
- The transport that will be provided with the package.
- The food (It is the most important factor as the food provided by most operators is not of good quality, as they want to reduce the cost of total package). If possible, ask for the menu in advance.
- Another important factor which you should look out for whether and representative of the tour operator will be traveling with your group or not as the ‘meet and assist at the airport’ doesn’t work as good as they want you to believe.
- Whether Ziyarat to the places of historical importance in the holy cities will be provided or not.
- Lastly, in the case of emergencies, what sort of assistance can be provided on the trip? However, my advice would be that you should opt for travel insurance, to be on the safer side.
I know, these sound to be too much of questions but that’s for your own assurance and always better be clarified in advance than repenting later.
Also, if the operator of your choice answers all these questions easily and without any trouble, it means that he has good knowledge of the industry and is fair in his dealings. Secondly, asking these many questions put you in the category of an experienced and regular Umrah traveler in his eyes and not an amateur. A businessman always looks for regular clients, and if he finds you as one, he will definitely make sure to go that ‘extra mile’ to make you feel comfortable both before and during the course of your journey.
Once, you have reviewed all the above points and are completely sure of your choice of operator, move further with your trip and pray to Allah that your Umrah is accepted and all the difficulties and hindrances are removed from your path.
Option 2: You have decided to move on with a Custom Package!
OK, so you have the experience and time to do the planning on your own and you are one of those who doesn’t like to compromise on quality. Great! Then follow these steps and Insha-Allah, you will have the basic knowledge to go further with you DIY Umrah.
Flights – If you’re looking for direct flights, only Saudi Arabian Airlines and Air India offer direct flights to Jeddah Airport from major cities of India but they keep their prices high. If you’re looking for business class seats, then make sure to book in advance, at least 30-45 days, because the number of business class seats is a few (usually only 14). So, better book in advance but only through an Umrah agent. That’s because you cannot purchase Umrah/Hajj tickets online as the fare displayed online is for other visitors only. It’s also mentioned in the details of Saudi Arabian flights going to Jeddah. So, the only options you have if you want to book online tickets for Umrah are via flights. Don’t worry; a lot of airlines are offering Jeddah as their destination these days and if you book in advance, you can get a good deal too.QUICK NOTE: The flights from major cities are usually cheaper then from non-metro cities, so if you have a big group traveling, do check the fare from the nearest Major city, in this way you can travel to the airport by car and save a decent amount of you money.
Umrah Visa – It’s the one part of this whole process which CAN NOT BE DONE without a registered Umrah agent. This is so because; you can’t apply for Umrah visa on your own, to the Saudi Arabian Embassy. Only a registered Umrah agent can help you with this. So, search online and find one in your city. It isn’t that hard these days but the tricky part is that if the agent may charge a high rate for Umrah visa? The normal visa rate for individuals in Delhi is around 4000-4500 INR, may vary in your city. The time taken for getting Umrah visa stamped on your passport is 7-8 working days, usually. The documents required for Umrah visa are mostly, the passport (valid Indian passport with 6 months validity) and 4 recent passport-size photographs with white background. Also, the original passports are to be submitted to the Saudi embassy for getting the Umrah visa done, however, the embassy has started issuing paper visa since April 2018.
QUICK NOTE: The Saudi embassy is located in Delhi and Mumbai ONLY, so if you are living in some other city, your passports will be sent to either of these places by you agent through courier. So, I would advise you to find a agent in any of these cities and send them the passports directly. This will save your time and also, you will know which agent is handling your visa process.
Hotel accommodation – So, you are done with flights and visa. Now, take some time out to search for good hotels in the two holy cities. For booking a hotel, you need to fix your priorities. You should know whether your priority is the distance (closeness from Haram) or the price. Most of the hotels close to Haram are 4 to 5-star hotels and yes, they are quite expensive. Always check the distance of the hotel from Haram before booking as a very cheap hotel may be located very far from the Haram and this may cause trouble during your stay as you need to travel to the Haram for all the five prayers and in case you need something from your hotel room in between, it may become tiresome to travel to and back to the hotel, especially, when you’re traveling with kids or elders. If you don’t want to put a burden on your pocket, you can opt for 3-star or 4-star hotels which are at a distance of 500-600 meters from Haram. Note; if you know a good agent, he may help you in getting a good deal at the hotel as many agents have tie-ups with some good hotels. But do the check the price online before confirming your booking with the agent. Trick: this is very important to note as most of the online sites offering hotel rooms show you the price in Indian Rupees, however, they charge you in local currency which in this case is Saudi Arabian Riyals. The exchange rate which they use to show the prices and the rate which your bank will be charging when you make the payment is usually, very different and you end up paying much more than the price shown on the website. Also, they show room rates without taxes and those taxes add up to an even higher price. So, beware of this trick of online sites and make a booking smartly.
Food – I would advise you to book your room with breakfast as searching for breakfast, first thing in the morning is not a good idea. Depending on your budget, you can choose your room on half board (with breakfast and lunch/dinner) or full board (with breakfast, lunch or dinner) basis. The trick here is that if your hotel is close to Haram, you can take more meals from the hotel as commuting back to hotel from Haram is easier but if your hotel is located at a distance, then better take only breakfast from the hotel and have your lunch and dinner at the food courts present near to Haram. All good hotels have well-dedicated food courts, serving global cuisine. I can also help you out in getting a list of the best places to eat in Makkah & Medina.
Local transport – There are 3 mandatory local-transfers which you’ll need, first, on your arrival-from the airport to your hotel, second, from Makkah Mukarramah to Madinah Munawwarah or vice versa and lastly, on your departure – from the hotel to airport. Important information is that your transport from the airport to your hotel on your day of arrival is included in the Umrah visa fees that you have paid. Yes, it’s true. But the transport that will be provided to you will not be personal but AC coaches and the buses may take more time to arrive at the airport. So, if you don’t want to wait, you can book a cab outside the airport and reach earlier. The rest of the two transfers can be booked once you reach there. But if you are traveling with kids or elders, I again advise you to pre-book a cab with your Umrah agent as last minute bookings may become a hassle for you. Lastly, you can easily book local cabs for local tours which are called Ziyarat. Just bargain with the driver as much as you can. QUICK NOTE: We would advise you to opt for drivers from India/Pakistan as the language barrier is not there and they do help you with the basic knowledge of the various places.
Sim cards – Sim-cards are easily available in the city but I would advise you to buy one from the registered counter at the airport itself because sometimes there are long queues at the counters in the city. A sim-card usually costs 30SAR and don’t pay more than that. If you stay at a good hotel, you’ll get free Wi-Fi service which you can use to call your friends and family back home(please check at the time of booking). Keep the sim-card for emergency use, as the call rates to the home countries are usually very high. Note: Take at least 2 photocopies of your passport with you when traveling, as it is mandatory to give a photocopy of ID when purchasing sim-cards.
Laundry – Instead of taking laundry service from the hotel, it is advisable to check local laundry stores. These stores are located everywhere near Haram and their charges are quite nominal.
How we come into the picture?
- Flights – We can help you out with your tickets and subject to availability; we can even provide you Saudi direct flights at lower rates. Yes, it’s possible! We can also help you with Via flights, if that’s the case, with better than online prices. All due to our direct tie-up with various airlines.
- Visa – We do provide our clients with Umrah visa, Visit visa as well as business visa, and our prices are unbeatable.
- Hotels – We make available some of the best hotels at best rates, including 3, 4 & 5-star hotels. Also, because of our experience, we can help you with location and service of various hotels.
- Food – We give our clients, the option for meal plans, as they like. Also, our fixed departure packages include all meals with a buffet.
- Transport – We have reliable and close contacts with transport agencies in Makkah & Medina to provide best possible services to our clients.
- Sim-cards – Sim-cards are made available to our clients at their respective hotels, at reasonable prices, without any hassles or queues.