How to buy tickets for the Trans-Siberian without tour operators?
If you want to travel in the Trans-Siberian train and you do not have a lot of money, avoid to book your tickets via a tour operator. Indeed traveling via the Trans-Siberian train is really cheap, especially if you plan to travel in 3rd class (called Platskartny) and it is really easy to buy your train tickets online on the official website.
It costed me 9,455 RUB (around 130 euros) to travel from Saint Petersbourg to Ulan-Ude by train (about 6.300 km).
The only tickets you cannot book online are international train tickets. So if you want to cross Russia and go to China or Mongolia (what I did), you must go to the train station to book the train from Russia to Mongolia or China. Also, what you can do is to book all your train tickets online for domestic trains and just go to the first train station when you arrive in Russia to buy your train ticket to go out of Russia.
For all domestic trains in Russia the official website (translated in English) is https://pass.rzd.ru/main-pass/public/en. From there you can buy all your train tickets.
How to buy my train tickets on pass.rzd.ru?
On the main page, choose the departure and arrival stations and the dates and then click “Buy ticket”.
Available trains are displayed with the prices. Click on the train you want to book and on the class. Here I have selected the 13:50 train, 3rd class. It will cost me 3,239 RUB. All the cars with available seats are displayed.
Click on one car (here car N°4). A drawing is displayed to choose your seat/bed. I have clicked on bed 14 (it is a upper bed).
Then click to “Go to passenger data entry and seat selection”.
From there, you need to login or to create an account (if you do not have an account). After creating an account (or after login), you can enter the passenger data. Make sure to put your correct passport number as it will be checked before entering the train. For countries which do not have a Middle name (as France), you can simply enter “-“.
If you do not want an insurance, make sure to uncheck the insurance.
Then you can change your seat (if you want another one), pay for bed clothes (I really recommend to take them, unless if you plan to travel during the day) and confirm the booking by checking the sentence “I hereby confirm…” and clicking on “Reserve places”.
Once done, you have 30 minutes to pay your train ticket. Click on “To additional services and payment”.
There you can add meals or baggage. Do not forget to check the “I confirm that I am familiar…” and click “Proceed to checkout”.
You will be redirected to the payment page where you need to click on “OK” and not on the Masterpass logo to confirm the payment. After that, you will find your e-ticket on “My order” page. You can download it. You do not need to print it, you can just show it on your smartphone.
Have a good trip!