Industry players have pointed the finger at parties involved in the resale at higher prices of flight tickets to Mecca and Medina as one of the factors behind the increase in the cost of performing the umrah or the so-called lesser pilgrimage.
Razali Mohd Sham, president of the Association of Umrah and Hajj Travel Agencies, said such activities had been detected as far back as five years ago.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said agents would buy tickets to Mecca from airlines at wholesale prices, thus preventing umrah agencies from buying the tickets themselves.
The tickets would then be kept and resold at nearly double the price.
"They will sell the tickets at the last minute, at cut-throat prices," he said.
"Even in February, they will have begun their sale of tickets, little by little."
Umrah package prices are expected to hit RM10,000 per person in the near future, from the current level of about RM8,000.
Razali said travel agencies would find that tickets to Mecca and Medina could not be purchased through the airline systems, adding that it was understood that they had been bought in advance.
Checks nevertheless revealed that some flights to Mecca or Medina were almost empty, despite the system showing that seats had been purchased.
"Say there are 70,000 seats available for sale," he said.
"They buy about 50,000. So there are only 20,000 spots left."
Razali said his party had recently met with the tourism, arts and culture ministry to discuss the issue.
He said meetings had also been held with airlines, but that no further action had been taken.
He suggested that the umrah ticket purchasing system be upgraded.
"They should make it a condition that the passenger's name is required for the purchase of tickets," he said.
"If there is no name, the ticket should not be sold."
Nearly 300,000 pilgrims from Malaysia head to Mecca and Medina every year.
MalaysiaNow previously reported that the numbers showed no sign of abating despite the rising costs.