Buying Airline Tickets in Russia

In February 2011 some changes were made to how you can book tickets on Thai Airways from Moscow.  The website on which the new rules are described speaks volumes about how business is conducted in Russia.

Please be informed that starting from February 1, 2011 service charge will be gathered for tickets issued in Thai Airways Moscow Ofiice.
Amount of service charge:
For Economy Class – 500 Rub per 1 ticket
For Royal Silk Class – 900 Rub per 1 ticket

Got that?  There is now a service charge for booking tickets at a ticket office.  Perhaps its primary function is to look pretty.  Or maybe they’re trying to encourage people to book online?  Oh, hang on:

If point of departure is Moscow then it is impossible to by the electronic ticket on-line via entering your card data on the web-site.

Only in Russia would you see the words “it is impossible” on the booking information page of an airline.  Before February 2011, it was quite possible.  So, what to do instead?

You can make a booking on the web-site, but further you will need to contact our office to specify the terms of payment and tariff.

How very modern.  Whilst the rest of the world embraces online booking and payment (Nigeria excepted), Russia takes a step backwards and advises that:

Payment is possible by cash or by card in our office as well as by one of the stated ways.

Oh.  So you need to go in person to Moscow (where the service charge will apply).  That’s handy if you live in Irkutsk.  Actually, it’s not.  So let’s take a look at these alternative “stated ways”:

1) By cashless settlement
2) With credit card on authorization letter (only for the tickets with Moscow as a point of origin).

Okay.

At cashless settlement you have to call +7 (495) 647 1082, or send your request on fax +7 (495) 647 1083 or by e-mail: res@thai-airways.ru.

Unfortunately, that email address does not work (as my wife found out).  That leaves you having to find a fax machine (of course, everyone has one of those these days) or making what is likely to be a long distance or international phone call which, if somebody bothers to answer – a big “if” in Russia – would doubtless involve reading bank details out over a crackly line to somebody who is completely uninterested in the whole affair.  And of course, the office only works Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm.

After money come on our account we will contact you on the phone or by e-mail to confirm issuing of air-tickets. After confirming the issuance of the tickets we will send electronic tickets to your e-mail address.

Yes, this sounds quick and easy.  Arrange a bank transfer (which in Russia normally involves standing around in a bank for a couple of hours) then wait a few days for it to be processed, then wait for a confirmation email or phone call, praying the girl on the phone heard you properly.  This is far better than completing your booking online in 5 minutes, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Okay, so that’s shite.  What about Option 2?

At credit card payment on authorization letter, the card owner will have to fill in authorization letter and send it to res@thai-airways.ru or by fax +7 (495) 647 1083, with copies of both sides of the card.

Ah, so we’re faced with the same problems as Option 1.  What’s more:

In authorization letter you need to specify exact cost of air-tickets in rubles on day of issuance the tickets. Only round up are possible.

But using the fax/bounced-email method above, this can be a couple of days later, more if it’s a weekend.  Far better to just pay a bit extra just to make sure.  Rounding up, it’s called.  As they make clear:

Receiving of credit card payment on authorization letter takes place daily from Monday till Friday till 16.00. In case of request coming after 16.00, issuance of tickets on the day when request was received is not guaranteed and could be transferred on the following day.

Sounds great.  Why isn’t the whole world doing this?

By the way, that authorisation letter is worth looking at more closely:

I __________________ authorize SRG Holdings Co. Ltd to make a charge to my card…

At which point most people would say “Who?  I thought I was dealing with Thai Airways here!”

Of course, this is one of the million intermediary companies in Russia who usually enjoy a near-monopoly on whatever product or service is on offer and charge a hefty fee for access.  Various rules and regulations make it notoriously difficult for an individual to deal directly with a foreign company (and a foreign company to deal with an individual) so you end up being pushed into going through a Russian intermediary.  This is why Russia is pretty much the only place I’ve been to where travel agents are still in business booking flights and holidays for people like we used to do in the UK before the 1990s.  I remember back in October 2007 we found that the travel agent had marked up an Aeroflot flight from Sakhalin to Istanbul via Moscow from $2,000 to $3,000.  We ended up booking it direct through Aeroflot and saved ourselves $,1000 each. 

When you look at the website of SRG Holdings, we learn that:

SRG Holdings Company Limited was founded in 2005 with the purpose of developing commercial projects to international standards in the Russian Federation…

…using the somewhat unusual methods of shunning online payments in favour of fax machines, non-functioning emails, and restrictive business hours.

More:

SRG Holdings’s highly professional and service oriented personal serves THAI customers in “smooth as silk” manner, and of high international airline standards.

SRG Holdings’ directors need to get out of Russia some day and see how the developed world works.

No wonder the Russians are so looking forward to hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2018.  By then it will be a requirement that all travelling fans bring a rock for the construction of St. Petersburg.

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2 Responses to Buying Airline Tickets in Russia

  1. Alistair Stobie says:

    Write directly to Avi d0t Aliman @ (Google’s email address) tochka com

    He has the monopoly and will sort you out.

  2. Alex says:

    Had no problems with Aeroflot. Thai is special somehow?

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