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What to do if your Hajj Package is cancelled

What to do if your Hajj Package is cancelled

First Published 17th June 2020

The following advice is for British pilgrims booked for Hajj 2020

As the Hajj days near, and the uncertainty of Hajj looms due to the global prevalence of the Coronavirus pandemic, we have seen a number of countries starting to cancel their Hajj plans for their citizens. Here in the UK, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hajj & Umrah met key industry stakeholders last Thursday to discuss Hajj for British pilgrims, and possible scenarios from Hajj with full quota, reduced quota, or no Hajj and agreed to wait for instructions from the Saudi Authorities giving companies time to weigh up their options whilst ensuring consumers are protected.

Since then, a number of UK Hajj Tour Operators have made their own decisions to cancel their Hajj package citing concerns over the health and wellbeing of their pilgrims ahead of the official announcement from the Saudi Ministry of Hajj.

Whilst the measure taken by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been forthcoming through a rigorous sensitization program of the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah and health regulations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to limit the spread of the virus. Despite their best efforts the virus continues to spread.

Naturally, we have received many enquiries from the public on whether or not they should cancel. In this article, we try to answer the common questions being posed.

What has the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised and why the FCO warnings are essential, your rights if packages are cancelled or disrupted, and what situations travel insurance will and won’t cover.

Important. The guide below is based on the best information we have and the common questions being sent in to us, but the situation is fast-changing. We’ll be constantly be updating this guide over the coming days. If you have a question on something we’ve not covered, or would like to offer feedback, then please email info@cbhuk.org

What is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a new respiratory disease illness that can affect your lungs and airways and is also known as COVID-19.

COVID-19 has flu-like symptoms – including a fever, cough and shortness of breath. Because it’s a new virus, there is currently no vaccine and little is known about how it spreads from person to person.

However, similar viruses spread in cough droplets.

Anyone who has recently travelled to an infected country and is worried they may have contracted the disease, should call NHS 111 immediately.

What is the UK Government’s response to Coronavirus?

The UK went into lockdown on 23rd March 2020 over the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Read the latest information about the situation in the UK, along with guidance for what to do if you think you’re at risk.

Go to NHSUK/coronavirus for information about the virus and how to protect yourself. Use the 111 online coronavirus service to check if you need medical help.

The government has published its coronavirus action plan and expanded its public information campaign.

Number of UK cases and latest test figures.

Read Public Health England’s blog posts about its response to coronavirus and how it uses contact tracing to prevent the spread of infection. Public Health England is working to contact anyone who has been in close contact with people who have coronavirus through the “track and trace” programme.

What about social distancing?

Guidance on Social Distancing in the UK was introduced by the government on the 16th of March: (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancing-and-for-vulnerable-people/guidance-on-social-distancing-for-everyone-in-the-uk-and-protecting-older-people-and-vulnerable-adults).

This was then withdrawn and updated on the 1st of May: (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others).

It was updated again on the 11th of May: (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing/staying-alert-and-safe-social-distancing).

We will continue to monitor further updates and follow the guidelines outlined to ensure we have the required safety measures in place during various aspects of the services provided.

How does the UK COVID rates compare to KSA?

The Saudi Centre for Disease Prevention and Infection Control documents daily COVID cases via an Interactive Map and allows you to compare this with other country’s including the United Kingdom (see link below).

https://covid19.cdc.gov.sa/daily-updates/

My Hajj Tour Operator has cancelled my Hajj Booking, what should I do?

If your tour operator cancels your bookings then you are entitled to a full refund (without any deductions) within 14 days of your cancellation. Your tour operator should be proactive and keep you updated (Read More) . If they are not, please contact them in the first instance to find out more about your Hajj booking and options available to you.

You should also check that you have been issued with an ATOL Certificate (see ATOL section below) which offers you financial protection in the event the company goes bust and is underwritten by the Civil Aviation Authority. You should also check that you have all the necessary paperwork and receipts of payments made.

Given that these are unprecedented times, and the travel industry has been hit hard, please do work with your tour operator to get the best for you and your family. It may mean that you have to wait longer than the statutory 14 days to get your refund as they themselves will be waiting on refunds from their supply chain such as airlines and hoteliers.

What are my options when my Hajj package has been cancelled?

The tour operator may offer you a number of options if your Hajj package has been cancelled.

  1. Full refund within 14 days
  2. Full refund (over 14 days)
  3. Refund Credit Note
  4. Rebooking for Hajj 2021
  5. The agent is not responding or offering part refund only

1. Full refund within 14 days

This is in-line with the Package Travel Regulations and you should accept this offer.

2. Full refund over 14 days

This is not in-line with the Package Travel Regulations. However, there may be genuine reasons for the delay in processing your refund, such as cash flow, or that the tour operator themselves are waiting to be refunded by their suppliers such as airlines and hoteliers. The time taken could vary anything from a few weeks to a few months. We advise that you work with them to obtain a timely refund. You should make your own judgement call based on your own experience and interactions with the agent in question to date.

3. Refund Credit Note (RCN)

This is an initiative of ABTA for its members. A Refund Credit Note (RCN) entitles you to rebook a holiday (in this case a Hajj package) or receive a cash refund at a later date, up until the expiry date of the note. It is valid for 9 months from the date of issue. It also retains any financial protection that you may have had with your original booking though it is not underwritten by the Civil Aviation Authority and you should check you have a valid ATOL certificate that coves the period at least until the expir of the RCN.

If your original booking, for example a package holiday with flights, came with ATOL financial protection, the RCN will still provide this protection. If your original booking came with ABTA financial protection, for example a cruise holiday or other package holiday including rail or coach travel, the RCN will still provide this protection.

A guide to Refund Credit Notes (RCNs):

  • A Refund Credit Note entitles customers to rebook a holiday at a future date or receive a cash refund up until the expiry date of the note.
  • The expiry date on an RCN lets you know when that company’s financial protection runs out. If you wish to receive a refund before the expiry date, you should make this clear to your travel provider.
  • An RCN retains the financial protection that came with the original booking – for a flight-package this is ATOL, for a non-flight package this is likely to be ABTA.
  • Holiday vouchers are NOT the same as Refund Credit Notes and do not come with financial protection of ATOL or ABTA.
  • RCNs only cover package holiday bookings. If an airline offers you a voucher for a cancelled flight, check the terms and conditions with the airline, it’s not the same as an RCN.

4. Rebooking for Hajj 2021

You may be offered or decide to transfer your existing Hajj 2020 booking to Hajj 2021. If you decide to accept this option, ensure you have a valid ATOL certificate which reflects the travel departure date changes and that you have everything in writing including full itinerary, costs etc. Package Travel Regulations will still protect you from a price increase and you will still be able to cancel and obtain a full refund at that point. This option will clearly help businesses during these unprecedented times allowing them to refund more needy customers whilst they themselves recover monies from their suppliers.

5. The agent is not responding or offering part refund only

This is in breach of the Package Travel Regulations and after exhausting all efforts to remedy the situation with them you should report them to the following agencies for the matter to be escalated:

Competitions and Markets Authority
If you feel the tour operator is behaving unfairly during the Coronavirus Pandemic you can report them to the Competitions and Markets Authority: https://www.coronavirus-business-complaint.service.gov.uk/

Action Fraud

If you believe you have been the victim of a Hajj related fraud or you are aware of such scams being carried out you should call the police to report it

https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/

When am I entitled to a Refund?

If your package holiday (in this case your Hajj package) is cancelled or any part, such as the hotel, is changed significantly before you leave, you have the right to:

  • a refund, with no cancellation fee
  • accept an inferior quality substitute and get a refund for the price difference
  • accept an equivalent or superior holiday without having to pay more.

Furthermore, you will be entitled to a full refund if:

  1. There is a price increase beyond 8%*
    *Note: A tour operator has a right under PTR to charge you upto 8% of the cost of your Hajj/Umrah package due to a price increase on your travel services, so long as they have declared this in their t&C’s at the time of booking or any increase if they failed to declare.
  2. There is a major change to your itinerary/package
    e.g Visit to Madinah has been cancelled, but you were sold this as part of your package or a 5 Star Shifting Package has now changed to a 4 Star Non-Shifting Package
  3. the Agent cancels
  4. The FCO Travel Advice is “against all but essential travel”.

My Hajj Tour Operator has cancelled my Hajj Booking, and I have been issued a refund. Should I rebook with another agent?

NO! The fact that your tour operator cancelled should send a clear message that your health, safety and wellbeing is being put ahead of everything else and a decision to cancel was not taken lightly. On the 31st March, the Saudi Minister for Hajj asked all prospective pilgrims and tour operators not to engage in any Hajj bookings until there was a better understanding on the Coronavirus pandemic. We advise you to wait for further instructions from the Saudi Autorities which we will publish on our website and social media. Read the Ministers Statement Here

The Tour Operator is insisting on issuing a Refund Credit Note or a Travel Voucher, Am I obliged to accept?

In short No! Under Package Travel Regulations 2018, If the package has been cancelled you are entitled to a 100% refund of monies paid – also see above points on options.  

I have not heard from my tour operator or they are waiting for an official announcement from the Saudi Authorities, Can I cancel my Hajj package?

If you decide to cancel, then you may be subject to a cancellation fee as per your booking terms and conditions.

Each Hajj package differs from agent to agent and you will need to check what you paid for. In general terms, a package as defined in the Package Travel Regulations 2018 consists of any two components and these could include:

  • Flights
  • Hotel Accommodation
  • Internal Transfers
  • Hajj Transportation
  • Hajj Visa & Draft
  • Ziyarat (visit to the holy city of Madinah Al Munawarrah, though this is not part of Hajj, most will include).

It will depend on exactly where you’re travelling to, which airline or travel agent you’re travelling with and, most crucially, what the official advice is from the FCO.

It is the advice from the FCO that airlines, travel agents and travel insurers follow. When the FCO issues advise against ‘all but essential travel’, airlines and travel agents will cancel flights and holidays, and issue refunds or offer alternatives. It also becomes easier to claim from your travel insurer for consequential losses, such as hotel rooms you booked or car hire.

Read the latest FCO Travel Advice to a specific country

As of the date of this article (16th June 2020) the majority of Saudi Arabia including Jeddah, Makkah, and Madinah fall into this category.

Read the latest FCO Travel Advice to Saudi Arabia

Screenshot of the FCO Travel Advice - taken 16th June 2020 advising British nationals against all but essential international travel to Saudi Arabia.

Screenshot of the FCO Travel Advice – taken 16th June 2020 advising British nationals against all but essential international travel to Saudi Arabia.

The key trigger for travel insurance is FCO advisories

The key trigger for travel insurance covering you cancelling your holiday is if the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises “against all but essential travel”, or the even more serious “against all travel”, even if your flight and hotel are still available.

Will my travel agent let me cancel because of Coronavirus?

Without the FCO warning, you’re reliant on your travel operator’s goodwill if you want to arrange an alternative Hajj or Umrah package or rebook at a later date. The Licensed Hajj Organisers told us “their members had been advised to cooperate fully with Package Travel Regulations to rebook or refund their customers who had booked a Hajj or Umrah package”.

Read the latest FCO Coronavirus Travel Advice

Is Coronavirus covered by my travel insurance?

The Association of British Insurers said: ‘In general, cancellation or travel disruption, cover will activate when the FCO advises against all travel or all but essential travel to an area.

‘Travel insurance is NOT designed to cover “disinclination to travel” where the FCO advice has not changed to advise against travel.’

IMPORTANT NOTE: You WON’T be covered if denied entry to a country because your previous travel history is affected by Coronavirus. This would apply if, for instance, you’re unable to travel to the Saudi Arabia because you’ve recently visited a country affected by Coronavirus and are refused entry as a result. Check with your agent before booking, and if you have already booked, check the entry requirements.

The Saudi Embassy in the UK is already asking for information if you have travelled to a Coronavirsu infect country in the past 14 days and any other country in the past 14days when applying for a visa.

Should I rely on information sent via WhatsApp/SMS messages?

Do not rely on WhatsApp or SMS messages, nor should you circulate them. Always verify the information being sent on Official websites/Social Media Accounts and don’t be afraid to challenge by asking to see proof and source of the information you are being told.

We have in recent days dealt with calls claiming “I was told by by agent/shaykh that….. can you confirm this” or “Umrah will open on a particular date, can you confirm this”. Such statements are subjective. These are unprecedented times, and the bottom line is no-one knows the date on when Umrah suspension will be lifted or whether Hajj is going ahead or not. In most cases people are misinterpreting official notices and coming up with their own meaning. You should exercise caution to such messages, remain calm and make dua. Remember, when the divine calling comes you will go for Hajj & Umrah, Inshallah – God Willing!

Which sources of information should I be following:

News Agencies: BBC News / Arab News / Saudi Gazette etc

Organisations Twitter Handle Website
All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hajj & Umrah @appghajjumrah http://appghajjumrah.org/
British Embassy in Saudi Arabia @UKinSaudiArabia www.gov.uk/world/saudi-arabia
Foreign & Commonwealth Office @FCOtravel https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice
CBHUK – Council of British Hajjis @cbhuk http://cbhuk.org/
National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) @NaTHNaC https://nathnac.net/
Public Health England @PHE_uk https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england
Saudi Embassy London @SaudiEmbassyUK http://embassies.mofa.gov.sa/sites/uk/EN/Pages/default.aspx
Saudi Ministry of Foreig Affairs @KSAmofaEN www.mofa.gov.sa/sites/mofaen/pages/default.aspx
Ministry of Hajj & Umrah @HajMinistry www.haj.gov.sa/
Ministry of Hajj & Umrah (Customer Services) @MOHU_CSC www.haj.gov.sa/
Makkah Municipality @makkahregion www.makkah.gov.sa/
Ministry of Interior @security_gov www.moi.gov.sa/
Saudi Ministry of Health @SaudiMOH www.moh.gov.sa/
Saudi Ministry of Health (Makkah) @makkahhealth1 www.mrhb.gov.sa
Licensed Hajj Organisers @OfficialLHO licensedhajjorganisers.com/

When will the current restrictions on Umrah be lifted?

The current suspension is place until further notice. We will advise you once we know.

Is travel Insurance Permissible in Islam?

Please seek further clarification with your local Islamic scholar pertaining to the Sharia ruling on Travel Insurance.

UK Government
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises overseas travellers to take out comprehensive travel insurance before you go.
Further Reading: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/foreign-travel-insurance

What is Air Travel Organiser’s Licensing (ATOL)

ATOL is a consumer protection scheme for air holidays and flight, managed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Hajj & Umrah packages can only be sold by an ATOL holder who has been authorised by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj & Umrah.

How ATOL protects you

The scheme protects you from losing money or being stranded abroad when an ATOL holder goes out of business.

The law says your holiday must be protected if it is a package holiday. ATOL protects most air package holidays sold by travel businesses that are based in the UK. ATOLs are only issued after a firm has met the CAA’s criteria. Licensed travel firms must also contribute £2.50 for each person booked on an ATOL protected holiday to a financial protection fund controlled by the Air Travel Trust (ATT). In the event of an ATOL travel firm’s failure, the CAA uses the fund to ensure people abroad are able to finish their holidays and fly home, while those unable to travel on future bookings are able to receive a refund.

How you can get ATOL protection

When you make a package holiday booking that includes a flight, make sure the travel firm has a licence. Firms have to display their ATOL number on websites and in brochures.

When you book, the ATOL holder or their agent must provide an ATOL Certificate confirming you are ATOL protected immediately when you pay any money (even a deposit). This should include the name of the licensed firm you’ve booked with, their ATOL number and details of what’s protected. Take these documents with you when you travel.

You will not be protected by ATOL if you:

  • are not buying a package holiday from an ATOL holder or its appointed travel agent
  • buy a Linked Travel Arrangement (LTA). This is where a business “facilitates” the sale of two or more travel services (e.g. a flight and hotel booking) but does so in a way that it is not classed as a package. If a travel business sells an LTA, it must inform you that this is the case and what protection you may have
  • buy your flight and accommodation separately from different suppliers, such as an airline and a hotel company

You can check whether a business holds an ATOL on the CAA website.

Source: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/foreign-travel-insurance

Below is a sample of what an ATOL certificate looks like, whch you should have been issued with at the time of booking completed with your travel details.

Background Info
Effective from the 27th of February 2020, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has temporarily suspended Umrah and Tourist visas for all nationalities (including Britons) for the purpose of Umrah pilgrimage and Tourist visa for those with an outbreak of Coronavirus. On 4th March, Umrah for local Saudis was put in place including the Prophets Mosque in Madinah.

On 3rd March 2020, Saudi Airlines announced cancellations with full refunds for flights booked until 31st March for those with Tourist Visa and Umrah Visa and those who had booked to travel to a specific area/country. Earlier this week (14th June), Saudia (Saudi Arabian Airlines) confirmed International flights remain suspended until further notice.

This article is being updated regularly.

The information has been derived from published articles already in the public domain, CBHUK, MSE, Which, Licensed Hajj Organsiers, and Official government agencies.

Thank you to everyone who assisted us in compiling this guidance.