Traveling by train in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and other former Soviet countries usually is the most affordable (--> cheap train tickets) and common type of transportation, especially in terms of budget travel options and accessibility. Even more, rail transport in many cases is almost the only mean of transportation within reasonable time-money-number of changes framework. At the same time traveling by train in Russia (as well as in other post-Soviet countries, which are more or less all have similar rail systems) is quite a different experience if compared to European rail travel. Those few key features of Russian rail system are: a) due to longer distances most of the connections are served by night trains with sleepers and only in a few instances passengers can count on a daytime high-speed trains (like route Moscow - Sankt Petersburg with Sapsan train); b) European train passes (like Eurail Pass) are not valid for train travel in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan etc., as result passengers must rely pretty much on standard point-to-point train tickets; c) buying Ukrainian/Belarus/ Russian train tickets can be quite a hassle, since though rail companies do have some kind of English language version of their website, but in most cases it is not very functional and not suited for buying train tickets online, unless you speak Russian or Ukrainian; d) cheap train travel is definitely a characteristic feature of Ukrainian Rail (as well as Belarus Rail) and maybe a bit less in case of Russian Rail, nevertheless majority of rail companies in addition still do offer a number of train ticket discounts, most of them though are a bit different compared to promo offers and discounts given by European rail companies.
Few tips on cheap rail travel in Russia and Ukraine:
- Timing of ticket purchase does matter. Russian rail company (RZD) already for a number of years runs special campaigns promoting ticket purchase in advance. Lately the conditions of the offer were: buy your 'kupe' ticket 45-31 day before departure and get 50% discount. Usually it's offered during low-seasons (Jan.-April and Oct.-Dec.), so for instance this year passengers will have a chance to save 50% in case they travel between 01.10 and 26.12.2012. But at the same time buying <10 days before departure is 10% more expensive. Ukrainian Rail company (UZ) lately also stated about plans to introduce similar ticket sale system.
- Season matters. Both Russian (RZD) and Ukrainian (UZ) rail companies have special seasonal coefficients applied to a ticket fare when traveling during this or that period of the year - on 'low' periods passengers pay less, on 'high' - more. Full coefficient tables you can find on our Russia and Ukraine pages, but as an example: on RZD passengers will pay Tariff * 1,2 when traveling during period 13/07/2012-2/09/2012, but at the same time Tariff * 0,8 when using train during period 6/11/2012-20/12/2012. Same thing with Ukrainian rail company (UZ): between 01/06/2012 and 31/08/2012 ticket will cost more (Tariff * 1,07), but on dates between 01/10/2012 - 24/12/2012 it will be Tariff * 0,93 etc. Similar seasonal coefficient schemes also applied for interstate connections (like Ukraine-Russia, Russia-Belarus etc.)
- Day of the week matters. When traveling in Ukraine by train take into consideration that for train departing on Tuesday and Wednesday passengers pay less (lowering 0,9 coefficient applies), but for the ones departing on Fridays and Sundays it's vice versa - coefficient is 1,1. Also similar discount can be found on Russial rail (RZD), at the moment it applies only for trains on connection Moscow-Sankt Petersburg and back - passengers get 5% off on train departing on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays towards SPb (while on Thursdays and Fridays you pay extra 10%) and Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays towards Moscow (while on Mondays and Sundays you pay extra 10%).
- Promo campaigns. Besides the above system of additional coefficients and discounts Russian rail company (RZD) also time to time runs special short time promo campaigns. For instance, for train travels between 01/05/2012 and 30/09/2012 passengers get 10% when buying 'kupe' ticket for their journey there and back. Or 20% when buying all 4 beds in 'kupe' compartment. Or 30% off when buying all 4 beds for journeys there and back etc.
- For the interstate journeys (like Ukraine-Russia, Russia-Belarus, Kazakhstan-Russia etc.) in many cases it does make sense to 'break' the ticket via border, thus to get two separate tickets, one till last/first station before the border and second from last/first station after the border. The idea behind such 'trick' is that domestic tariffs in countries like Belarus or Ukraine are much cheaper than international/interstate tariff for connections like Russia-Belarus or Russia-Ukraine, thus in order to save passengers just need to avoid paying international tariff for Ukrainian or Belarus domestic segment of their journey. It doesn't win you a lot in case Belarus or Ukrainian segment is short, but if it is rather decent, then why not to save? As an example let's take Moscow-Brest connection. First you buy Moscow-Orsha (first Belarus station after the border), currently 1880 RUB ('kupe'), while then domestic Belarus ticket Orsha-Brest for the same train is 42 000 BYR (app.150 RUB) vs. one interstate tariff ticket Moscow-Brest for the same date and train cost 3200 RUB. See the difference? Passenger can >30% out of nothing by simply 'breaking' ticket via border. Or same thing with Lviv-Moscow connection: 'kupe' ticket Lviv to Khutir-Mykhailvskyi (last UZ station before Russian border) bought in Ukraine cost 130 UAH + ticket Khutir-Mykhailvskyi-Moscow for the same train is 600 UAH vs. 1050 UAH for direct international ticket Lviv-Moscow. The best thing is that in most cases you won't even need to leave train, just show one tickets first, while afterword present the second one to the conductor and stay on the train (if you lucky it can be even the same beds for both tickets)
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