In general, it’s always a good idea to compare different packages, seek advice from others, make istikhaarah, and then put your trust in Allah. Here are some important points to consider:
No doubt having a guide that is knowledgeable, experienced, trustworthy, humble, caring, and patient is extremely important. If your guide is not well trained then you’ll run into some serious issues especially during the days of Mina and on the day of Arafah, which is the essence of Hajj.
2) Female guide
Many times we forget about our sisters. Does the travel agency have a sister who will provide spiritual guidance and service the female pilgrims?
Does the travel agency take 2-5 additional coordinators/organizers from the US to assist the pilgrims? Are they practicing Muslims? Do they seek advice from their guide and pilgrims?
Who else from the community are accompanying you on this journey? Are they going to remind you of Allah? Do they have a positive outlook? Are they patient? Having bad company can ruin your Hajj very quickly.
5) Approved Travel Agency
Is the travel agency registered with the Ministry of Hajj or is it a sub-group of another travel agency (3rd party)? You can check the list of approved agencies in alphabetical order by visiting http://www.hajinformation.com/hajj_agents.php?id=54
Usually some 12000 to 15000 pilgrims travel every year from America for hajj. By most current data (2011) received from Ministry of Hajj, only around 40 agencies in the United States are licensed directly with the Ministry of Hajj to arrange groups. That means all these 12000 to 15000 pilgrims from America ultimately have to go with these 40 agencies only. All other agencies, sub-groups or sub-agents belong to these authorized agencies directly or indirectly. Some of the advantages of going directly with an authorized agency rather than a sub-group or sub-agent are:
If there is a problem with any arrangement in Saudi Arabia, the authorized agency can contact the Ministry of Hajj for intervention and resolution. Sub-agents or sub-groups are not recognized by the Ministry of Hajj and so cannot deal with the Ministry of Hajj directly. Also, if pilgrims face any trouble with their arrangements, they can hold the authorized agency accountable in front of the Ministry of Hajj. On the other hand, if a sub-group or sub-agency doesn’t deliver on its promises, there is usually not much pilgrims can do.
Your hajj visa will show the authorized agency’s name on it. The Ministry of Hajj, its affiliate agencies and the Saudi consulate in Washington DC only recognize this authorized agency. Again, if you go with a sub-group or sub-agent, their name will NOT appear on your hajj visa; only the authorized agency under which your sub-group is operating will be listed on your hajj visa.
Since authorized agencies are directly involved in the process, they are fully aware of the rules and regulations of processing visas, making airline, hotel and transportation arrangements. Sub-agents and sub-groups often end up promising services that are not deliverable or failing to explain the rules to pilgrims.
9) Cost of package
By laws enforced by the Ministry of Hajj in Saudi Arabia, all travel arrangements in the kingdom are done by authorized agencies only. Sub-agents or groups buy services from these agencies. That means services become more expensive because more agents are involved and each sub-group adds their own mark-up.
All authorized agencies attempt to provide the best services to the pilgrims who have signed up directly through them, but they cannot provide the same level of service to pilgrims who go with a sub-group or sub-agency because the sub-groups become responsible to deliver instructions and services to the pilgrims who signed up with them.
11) Full time Staff
Does the travel agency have full-time employees in the US and in Makkah and Madinah? Many agencies partner up with other groups from around the world and piggyback on each others’ resources. The more dependencies and links there are in the chain, the more likely it is that something can go wrong. It's best to deal directly with staff who are directly representing an authorized agency.
12) Travel Agency Experience
How long has the travel agency been in business? How many years of experience does the travel agent have in the Hajj business?
Obviously, you are not going to Makkah/Madinah to indulge in luxury. However, the extra cost for quality and convenience is worth it when it helps you focus on your ‘ibaadah. Inquire about the distance of the hotel from the Haram. How many people per room in Makkah and Madinah? How many meals are included in the package?
14) Additional services
Does the travel agency process Umrah visas under their name? Do they have access to booking flights?
15) Support local community.
Does the travel agency support/promote their local Muslim community?
May Allah guide you in making the best choice, and give you the patience necessary to have an accepted hajj, in shaa Allah !