Train travel in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus etc.
Traveling by train in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and other former Soviet countries in most cases is very affordable (--> relatively cheap train tickets) and common type of transportation, especially in terms of budget travel options and accessibility for ordinary passengers. Even more, rail transport in many instances is the only mean of transportation in terms of reasonable time vs. money vs. number of changes framework. However, traveling by train in post-Soviet countries can be quite different rail experience compared to train travel in Western or even Central Europe. The few distinctive features of the 'Russian' rail system are: a) due to longer travel distances most of the connections are served by overnight trains with sleepers & couchettes only, while on very few occassions passengers can count on a daytime high-speed trains (like route Moscow to Saint Petersburg with Sapsan train); b) European train passes (like Eurail Pass or InterRail) are not valid for train travel in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, etc., as result passengers must rely more or less on the old style point-to-point train tickets; c) buying Ukrainian/Belarus/Russian train tickets can be quite tricky, because although rail companies do have some kind of English language versions of their websites, but it can be not always very functional unless you can read in Cyrillic; d) cheap train travel is definitely characteristic feature of Ukrainian Rail and Belarus Rail companies, but maybe it is less so in case of Russian Rail. Nevertheless majority of train companies in the region still offer certain rail ticket discounts, although these offers and discounts usually are a bit different compared to promo offers and discounts given by European rail companies.
So, here we offer you a few tips on cheap rail travel in Russia & Ukraine:
- Ticket purchase timing matters! Russian rail company (RZD) already for years runs special campaigns promoting ticket purchase in advance. For any potential passenger most important info to know in this regard is that RZD ticket fares work based on the so-called "dynamic tariff" system. Meaning that rail ticket price depends on whether your chosen train is "popular" (less seats left --> more expensive the ticket is), thus buying as early as possible gives you better chances to purchase cheaper ticket. So when you plan your train journey in Russia pay attention to the timing of ticket purchase.
- Season also matters! Both Russian (RZD) and Ukrainian (UZ) rail companies have special seasonal coefficients applied to the ticket fares when traveling during one or the other period of the year - during 'low' periods (low season) passengers pay less, during 'high' (high-season) more. The exact coefficients tables you can find on our Russia and Ukraine pages, but as an example: on RZD passengers will pay "standard tariff" * 1,15 when traveling during peak summer period, but at the same time "standard tariff" is multiplied by 0,9 when taking trains during low season period, i.e. in October & November, January & February and so on. Same deal is with Ukrainian rail company (UZ): between June 01 and August 31 ticket will be more expensive ('standard tariff' * 1,07), but for the dates between October 1 and December 24 it will be cheaper ('standard tariff' * 0,93). Similar seasonal coefficient schemes also applied for interstate connections (e.g. Ukraine to Russia, Russia to Belarus, etc.)
- Day of the week matters! When traveling in Russia and Ukraine by train take into consideration that for instance on UZ trains departing on Tuesdays and Wednesdays passengers pay less (lowering 0,9 coefficient applies), but for trains departing on Fridays and Sundays it's vice versa - coefficient is 1,1 - meaning that passenger pays extra 10%, similar logic works in Russian case (--> peak days & times mean higher ticke prices).
- Promo campaigns. Besides the above system of coefficients and discounts Russian rail company (RZD) also time to time runs special promo campaigns. For instance "Lucky Tuesday", when every Tuesday go on sale tickets for a number of domestic connections.
- For the interstate journeys (Ukraine to Russia, Russia to Belarus, Kazakhstan to Russia, Belarus to Ukraine etc.) in many instance it makes sense to 'break' your ticket via border - i.e. buy two separate tickets (one till last/first station before the border and another ticket from last/first station after the border). The idea behind such totally legit 'trick' is that domestic tariffs in countries like Belarus or Ukraine are much cheaper than international/interstate tariffs, so why to pay for Belarus or Ukraine segment of your trip with the expensive international/interstate tariff? With ticket 'break' passengers won't win a lot in cases when Belarus or Ukrainian segment is short, but if it is rather long, then why not to save by using a combination of domestic & international ticket on your international journey? For example, let's take Moscow to Brest connection. We know that Belarus domestic tickets are very cheap, so what we need is to travel Belarus segment using Belarus domestic tickets. In order to do so first you buy Moscow-Orsha (first Belarus station after the RU-BY border) interstate tariff ticket (at the moment it will cost you between 3400 and 3700 RUB for 'kupe' depending on connection), while at the same time you also purchase domestic Belarus ticket Orsha-Brest for the same train and, with a bit of luck, you do it even for same carriage & berth around 15 BYN (about 450 RUB), total with such combination would be 3900-4200 RUB. Now compare it with the direct interstate tariff ticket ticket Moscow-Brest for the same date and train which cost 5200-5700 RUB. Do you see the difference? Passenger can save roughly 25-30% out of nothing by simply 'breaking' ticket via border station. Or the same trick with Ukraine to Russia, e.g. Odesa to Moscow relation - 'kupe' ticket Odesa to Konotop (last UZ station before the Russian border) bought in Ukraine cost around 220 UAH, while ticket Konotop to Moscow for the same train is around 2300 UAH, thus making it in total roughly 2500 UAH vs. 3750 UAH for the direct interstate tariff ticket Odesa-Moscow. Now it's around 30-35% which you can save with the ticket 'break' trick. The best thing about ticket 'breaks' is that in majority of cases you won't even need to leave the train or change the carriage, but just show one of your tickets first, while afterward present your second ticket to the conductor and continue your journey on the same train as nothing happened.
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