Whoever is planning for this epic Trans-Siberian journey (Read Here: Basic Information about The Trans-Siberian Railway ), has a significant concern to get a good deal on the train tickets. Prior reservation is mandatory to board any long-distance train in Russia. It means, you can’t just buy a ticket from Moscow to Vladivostok and hop on and hop off at the different places en-route. You have to plan your trip for every single pair of departure and destination. Therefore, The train tickets should be bought for fixed dates and all stops must be planned in advance. Actually, as per the rules, you can take a single stop during your journey, but it requires some paperwork while in the train. Since, it’s a very tough task to carry out, if attendant don’t understand English, better to leave this option at all. Plan each stop individually and reserve ticket for every section of your journey accordingly.
Reserving the tickets at good prices for Trans-Siberian Railway is very crucial and needs an extensive research. I did some sort of research on this and bought the tickets online during my trip. The train tickets for the Trans-Siberian Journey are available offline as well as online.
How Many Days in Advance? You can reserved a seat before 45 days in advance from your date of journey. However, for the travel agencies, this window is upto 60 days in advance, so during the peak travel season, these agencies buy the tickets in bulk and then sell at high prices later on. The important point to note here is that if you approach a travel agency 60 days prior to your departure, you should know that they can not reserve a seat for you before the 60 days of your departure date. In this case, they accept the orders from their customers, make their own waiting list and book the tickets, once the booking gets open.
Cost of the Tickets: The price of a ticket is not fixed for a given day. It may vary dynamically just like an airline, if demand is more. It may not necessarily always. The journey in winter is cheaper than the journey in summer. There are few days in a year, when you can expect a huge discount, sometimes upto 50 %. Victory Day (May 9) is a good day to buy a cheap ticket. You can also get a discounted ticket, while booking the top berths in the coupe, when buying a ticket for 11-45 days before departure on Moscow-Vladivostok route.
Just to give an idea, I checked the fare for Sept 3, 2015 (that is, one month later) from Moscow to Vladivostok and it is:
Train No. 100: 9724 Rubble for Platzkart (Third Class) and 14756 Rubble for 4-berth coupe. First class is not available on this train.
Train No. 2 (Rossiya): 14398 Rubble for Platzkart (Third Class) , 20952 Ruble for 4-berth coupe and 48055 Rubble for the First Class.
To know about the different types of train and coaches, read this post:Trains and Coaches on Trans-Siberian Railway)
Buying Tickets Offline, At the Railway Stations: This option allows you to stay free and flexible with your trip. You can buy tickets from the ticket counter at the railway station as you go along from one city to another. This is the easiest as well as the cheapest way to buy a ticket, because there is no mark-up or travel agency fee. You can buy a ticket for any pair of departure and destination of Russian Railway (that also includes some countries of Ex-Soviet Union) from any station within Russia.
A train ticket is available for general public upto 45 days in advance. Most of the time, you can get the required ticket without any problem , even one or two days in advance. But, it may not happen always. A particular train or coach choice may not be vacant, if you are booking that just before the departure. So the trend is that for a ticket between the cities located at shorter distance from each other, e.g., Ulan Ude to Irkutsk, you can expect to get a ticket on the day of departure. But for the cities located too far from each other, e.g., Moscow to Vladivostok, you should book your ticket as soon as possible, before the demand exceeds the supply.
How to buy a ticket at the railway station: Two things to keep in mind:
1. Nobody at the booking counter understands English, only Russian.
2. Carry your passport in original.
Language barrier can play a crucial role, while booking the tickets at the stations. If there is any mistake, you may end up paying for a different class or different train. It’s better to have some understanding of Russian Language. You can keep some basic phrases in written form to communicate with the booking clerk. It is better to write down the details e.g., train number, departure date, departure time, class of travel etc on a piece of paper. Just handover that details to the booking clerk and they will book the right ticket for you.
Online Bookings: This is the most convenient option to buy the train tickets. Just like in India, where online train tickets can be purchase on IRCTC website as well as other portals like, Yatra, MakeMyTrip etc, there are many websites offering the train tickets for Russian Railways. For the sake of simplicity, I am explaining some of them:
1. Official Website of Russian Railways: www.rzd.ru
Pros: Cheapest place to buy a train ticket online. The website is available in English also.
Cons: They have only one option for the payment, through the Credit Card. I tried to book the tickets using the credit cards from three banks including Citibank, Standard Chartered Bank, HDFC Bank, but the transaction got rejected always. I even tried with Debit Cards, but couldn’t get through. These cards included VISA as well as MasterCard. I asked the customer care of my banks, if they were declined the transactions in Russian currency, but they told there was no problem at their end. The official website doesn’t recognise majority of the Indian Credit and Debit Cards ( I heard similar thing about the American as well as the Canadian Cards), but it accepts majority of the cards issued by the European Banks (I found this information online). One of my Indian friend told that he also booked tickets online using his Indian Credit Card, while he was in Russia, But I don’t know the name of card issuing bank.
2. European English Website, recommended by Seat61 and Many Others: One of the most expensive place to buy the ticket.
Pros: Easy to use, Easy to navigate, Completely in English, Easy to plan, Accepts all major International Card
Cons: Mark up and their charges is as high as upto 40 % of the ticket price. So the actual price of the ticket is very high.
3. A Russian Website, www.tutu.ru: The best place to buy the tickets in my opinion
Pros: Markup is only upto 10 %. On cheaper tickets and for shorter distances, this mark up can be even less than 10 %. It accepts payment through PayPal also. If you have a PayPal account, there is no issue related to the credit cards.
Cons: Earlier this website was in Russian only. But now, English version is also available. So, it is just a perfect place to buy the tickets.
The most important thing to remember, while booking tickets or traveling on Russian Railways:
1. The time indicated on the reservation counters, reservation websites, railway stations, train tickets..all are in Moscow local time. So, if your train departure station is say, Vladivostok (Local Time = Moscow Time + 7 Hours), and departure time mentioned on the ticket is 1600 Hrs, the actual departure time of that train from Vladivostok is 1600 hrs+7 hrs, i.e. 2300 hrs in Vladivostok local time. Be very careful about your departure time from the station while booking the ticket.
2. At a time only 4 passengers can be booked on a single ticket including the children (between 5 to 10 years) and the babies (below 5 years). The children can not travel unless there is an adult with them. If you want to book more tickets, book separately in the group of 4. Children tickets are discounted by 35-50 % of adult tickets price.
3. Reserved Seat (Плацкарт ) is Third Class Dormitory Set Up (with AC facility), Compartment (Kyne) is 4-berth coupe and Luxury (Люкс) is the First Class.
4. You can also choose a specific berth, just like an aeroplane. In my opinion, lower berth is very good for this journey.
5. You can also choose the option for the linen. Its cost is 131 Rubble and if not booked online, you can get it after boarding the train also.(by paying directly to the coach attendant).
6. In document type, choose foreign (non-Russian document) and enter your passport number accurately. One wrong digit in your passport number printed on the ticket can mostly likely prevent you from boarding the train.
7. If you do not plan to visit the Lake Baikal separately during your journey, try to plan your journey between Ulan-Ude and Irkutsk in the broad daylight to get some stunning view of this freshwater lake, also a UNESCO Heritage Site.
How does this ticket look like? The ticket issued by tutu.ru is looked like this:
The important features of the train are written in Russian as well as in English. You can understand it easily. On the top corner is your personal details. Verify all the details of the ticket, once you get it.
As per tutu.ru website, this ticket is good enough to board the train with the original passport. But, I was in no mood to take any chance. I went to the booking counter at Vladivostok Station on the day of my departure and exchanged all the printed copy of my ticket with the original paper printed ticket of Russian Railways without any cost. It was just a precautionary measure and advisable too.
In the next post, I will explain about the various facilities available on a Trans-Siberian Train.