For every Muslim, Mecca and Medina are special places. For my husband and I, even more so because this was the place where we ran into each other and realized we were being given a divine sign it was time to wed.
For most of us, it seems a daunting, elaborate and expensive task to be able to plan an umrah alone. I recently learned, its much cheaper (and still as accessible) to do Umrah on your own, than through a travel agency.
Here are the travel hacks I used to save over $1200/pp on our umrah,
It all starts with an intention.
Before getting started, you have to identify when you want to go. For myself, this was more than the “niyyah”. I needed to understand my budgetary limits and start to search flights. The best prices are obtained ~6 months in advance.
Once you have a rough estimate of when you want to go, you should do a casual search on hotels.com to see what the rates are. Certain weeks and time periods are completely blocked out because travel agencies purchase all the hotel rooms in advance. So prior to booking your flight, you should do this search to ensure both ends of your travel are planned for.
Making travel arrangements
Do a preliminary search on Google Flights. It is easiest to fly into Medina for immigration purposes. Your flight search should look as follows --> MED --> JED (Jeddah with transfer to Mecca) --> Washington DC and NYC are both hubs for Saudi Airlines. While not the world’s most glamorous. While not the world’s most glamorous airline, you can find a direct flight to Saudi which will make the best use of your time.
Once you have identified the flights you want to take, cross reference them on momondo.com On Momondo.com you will find a link to various booking sites, normally these will price out cheaper than Google Flights.
Remember that you will need to provide all flight information to a travel agent to help with the Visa Process.
On to Hotels. There are many chain hotels in the area. Although some people have suggested its easy to use your points here, I haven’t had that experience. When deciding which hotel to select, the most important characteristic is the relative location to the mosques. In Medina, you want something close to Masjid Al Nabawi and in Mecca, something very close to the Kaaba.
Here is a list of the closest hotels in both cities:
Dar Al Taqwa
Al Ansar Golden
Shaza Al Madina
Hotel Majlis Grand Mercure
Hotel Pullman Zam Zam
Dar Al Tawhid Intercontinental
Makkah Hilton Towers
Hotel Pullman Zam Zam
Dar Al Ghufran
Royal Dar Al Eiman
You can wait to book your hotel until you are about ~4 months out for the best rates. Another good idea is to make a “refundable” or cancellable reservation as soon as you book your flight, and then revisit to see if the rates have gone up or down. Unless you know there is a specific hotel you want, in which case book early. I recommend tripadvisor.com or Booking.com for the best rates.
In order to enter Saudi Arabia, you have to have either a Business, Umrah or Hajj visa. They do not currently offer a tourist visa. Moreover, you NEED a travel agent in order to obtain said Umrah visa. I crowdsourced this information from friends and found a reliable agent at Cricket Travel ([email protected]) You cannot submit your passport for a Visa any sooner than a week before your travel unfortunately. The Saudi Visas are only valid for 2 weeks! That has to cover the time period you are there.
Keep plenty of cash on you, and request the Meter always in either city. You should only need a taxi to travel to and from the airports. Otherwise, you can walk everywhere. Inshallah may you all be blessed! You can email me for questions at [email protected]