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 Central Europe. Those couple distinctive features of the 'Russian' rail system are: a) because of the longer travel distances most of the connections are served by night 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 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 rail companies in the region still offer certain train ticket discounts, although these offers and discounts usually are a bit different compared to promo offers and discounts given by European rail companies.
Few tips on cheap rail travel in Russia & Ukraine:
- Timing of ticket purchase matters. Russian rail company (RZD) for number of years runs special campaign promoting ticket purchase in advance. Lately conditions of the offer had been - purchase your 'kupe' train ticket at least 16 days in advance and get up to 30% discount from the standard fare. This discount usually offered only for low-season (January to April and September to December, excluding holidays), while for holidays and summer season discount is also available, but it is lower. So when you plan your train journey in Russia pay attention to the timing of ticket purchase.
- Season 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 passengers pay less, during 'high' - more. Full coefficient 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" * 0,9 when taking trains during in October & November, and so on. Same deal with Ukrainian rail company (UZ): between June 01 and August 31 ticket will be more expensive ('standard tariff' * 1,07), but for 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 Ukraine by train take into consideration that for 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%
- 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 certain 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' the ticket via border - i.e. buy 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 tariffs, so why to pay for Belarus or Ukraine segment of the trip with 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? 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 border) interstate tariff ticket (at the moment between 3500 and 3800 RUB for 'kupe' depending on connection), while at the same time you also purchase domestic Belarus ticket Orsha-Brest for the same train and, if lucky, even same carriage & berth for 150 000 BYR (about 500 RUB), total with such combination would be 4000-4300 RUB. Now compare it with direct interstate tariff ticket ticket Moscow-Brest for the same date and train which cost 6000+ RUB. Do you see the difference? Passenger here can save roughly 30% out of nothing by simply 'breaking' ticket via border station. Or the same trick with Ukraine to Russia - Odesa to Moscow relation - 'kupe' ticket Odesa to Konotop (last UZ station before Russian border) bought in Ukraine cost around 200 UAH, while ticket Konotop to Moscow for the same train is around 1800 UAH, thus making it in total roughly 2000 UAH vs. 3400 UAH for the direct interstate tariff ticket Odesa-Moscow. Now it's around 40% which you can save with 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 afterwords present second ticket to the conductor and continue your journey on the same train.
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