LAHORE - After ban of almost 15 days Saudi Arabian government has opened Umrah visa but it has become three times expensive than earlier, only rich are availing offer of Saudi government while other people have postponed their Umrah plans, said a travel agent here on Wednesday.

He said that earlier Saudi government was charging SR 500 per Umrah visa while after ban it costs SR 1710.

He said if we convert Saudi currency into Pakistani it becomes Rs 70,000 to Rs 80,000 while ticket, hotel and transport are not included.

He said that including all expenses an Umrah costs Rs. 1,35000 to 1,40000. Before Rajab 15, hotel was costing SR 40 per day per passenger now it will cost SR 90 and during Ramazan it can go higher. Sources in Ministry of Religious Affairs said that Saudi government due to its expansion plan was discouraging Umrah pilgrims from across the Muslim world.

Saudi Embassy was issuing less visas while demand was more due to which rates were increased.

On the other hand PIA has reduced its Umrah fare when all the business in this regard has been done by other carriers with low fare. National flag carrier kept its Umrah fare at Rs 66,000 per return ticket from May 15 to onward till now. The pilgrims who had got visas issued by Saudi Embassies in Pakistan were transported by other airlines since at that time PIA was charging Rs 66,000 per return ticket, whereas other airlines were providing same facility against the charges of Rs.56,000. So, all the Umrah passengers and travel agents preferred other airlines like Shaheen Airlines, Air Blue and Saudi Airline to travel to the Holy Land.

The Pakistan International Airlines was operating under-load Pakistan-Saudi Arabia flights because of its high fare which was also not noticed by MD or Chairman PIA.

Now though PIA has reduced fare but other carriers have reduced more than PIA, like Air Blue was also charging Rs 38,000 Umrah fare for few days. Now PIA has reduced its fare to Rs 56,000 and other airlines were also charging almost same fare but now there was no rush in this regard.

A travel agent, on the condition of anonymity, said that the PIA marketing department has also not finalised its Haj fare and flight schedule so far, providing other airlines golden opportunity of having booked a good number of intending pilgrims.

“A travel agent having Haj quota of more than 500 pilgrims has booked 400 via Shaheen Airlines,” PIA sources said. Moreover, other airlines have also cashing in on PIA’s high Umrah fare, it has been learnt.

When contacted, PIA spokesman Mashood Tajwar said: “Since the PIA has overhead expenses and operating B-777 planes, its fare is higher than other airlines. “We have cancelled our certain flights on said sector due to which our fare is high,” he said, adding, that Haj flights schedule and fare would be announced shortly.