How to get to the Olympics in Sochi on the cheap
With an estimated price tag of more than $50 billion, the Sochi Games are expected to be the most expensive Winter Olympics to date. And it’s not just Putin who’ll pay up: For travelers, the price of attending the games is likely to be hefty. The good news: There are some (relatively good) deals to be found.
That said, “there are hoops to jump through if you want deals,” says Christopher Dworin, the founder of travel site Trekkel.com. And with the games beginning in less than a month (opening ceremonies are on Feb. 7), “you better jump through those hoops very quickly,” he says.
Still, Dworin points out that you can find relatively inexpensive flights, tickets and accommodations if you know where to look.
If you haven’t already booked your flight, don’t wait much longer, as prices will likely go up, says Mark Drusch, chief supplier relations officer at CheapOair. Warren Chang, vice president and general manager of Fly.com, says that while flights from some U.S. cities to Sochi cost $5,000 to $7,000, flights out of New York and Los Angeles can be significantly cheaper. Indeed, data from TripAdvisor Flights reveals fares in the $834-to-$972 range for economy-class roundtrip air travel from New York City to Sochi from Feb. 6 to Feb. 25; however, those returning to the U.S. on Sunday (Feb. 23) or Monday (Feb. 24) will see fares spike to more than $1,300. “If you can hold off until the following Tuesday, Feb. 25, prices begin to stabilize at around $927, or potentially go even lower, the further out you get based on current pricing,” a spokesperson for TripAdvisor says.
To save extra dough, Drusch says, take a flight to Moscow (which can cost about $700 roundtrip) and then take the train to Sochi (tickets start at $60). Just be aware: It’s a 26- to 32-hour ride, though special double-decker train cars were built for the Olympics.) “The fares are decent right now because it is off season, partially due to winter weather,” says Drusch.
Another option may be to fly to Istanbul. “We’ve found that flying into Istanbul could be a cost- and time-saver, as it is 500 miles closer to Sochi than the Moscow airport and offers nonstop flights 6 days a week,” says Jaime Freedman, Travelzoo’s group publisher for North America. “We’re seeing strong Turkey deals, and Turkish Airlines expanded into Sochi last March.”
Finally, while it’s a gamble, you may want to consider using airline miles, says travel consultant Ryan Lile, founder of the travel site Frequent Flyer Academy. “Airlines tend to release unsold seats into mileage award inventory as the flight date approaches,” says Lile. “Check your desired flights at least once per day, and you may luck out and be able to score a business class seat using miles.” He adds that Russian airline Aeroflot is one of Delta’s partners and S7 is partners with American, so you can use your Delta and American miles for flights on those carriers, he says.
While many hotels in the area are pricey — “hotel rooms can cost $4,500 a night and it’s common to pay $1,000 or more,” says Dworin — you can find deals. While most of the four- and five-star inventory is booked up, according to Priceline.com data, there are deals on one- to three-star hotels, says Leslie Cafferty, the vice president of communication and head of editorial for Priceline.com. Three-star hotels are averaging just $130 to $230 a night.
Dworin recommends looking for budget accommodations through Airbnb. Indeed, a search of available accommodations in the area reveals more than 300 rentals during the Olympics with some private rooms for less than $100 a night. Dworin adds that some hostels in the area also have openings and they too have basic accommodations for under $100.
Travelers may need to be flexible to get deals though. If you’re staying for an extended period of time, you may have to move hotels, as many aren’t available for long blocks of time. And to get affordable accommodations, you may have to stay well out of town; Dworin points out that, in that case, “you’re going to have to leave lots of time for transit to the events,” as the roads will likely be jammed.
Dworin adds that to obtain a Russian visa, which you will need in addition to your passport to enter the country, you will likely need to show documentation of your hotel or accommodations. U.S. travelers who show a ticket for the Games can get a one-month Russian visa within a day, but you will need to bring the proper paperwork — including photo, passport (valid for at least six months beyond your stay), ticket to the games, medical insurance that’s valid in Russia, and a so-called “reception of the foreign tourism” document, which you obtain from a Russian tour operator or a travel agency that works with the Russian Federation— with you. Dworin says that you can obtain the necessary “reception of the foreign tourism” documentation from your hotel or from companies like Way to Russia, VisaHouse, GoTo Russia, iVisaonline.com or Godzillas Hostel, which provide visa support online (the standard price is $30 for a tourist invitation that is ready in one business day) — you simply receive it by e-mail or fax and then bring it along with other documents needed to the Russian consulate.
Tickets and events
Ticket prices and availability, not surprisingly, vary widely. There are tickets to be had for a mere $15, for events like the U.S. vs. Finland ice hockey match, and tickets to some skeleton and luge races run $21. Tickets for some alpine and freestyle skiing and figure skating, as well as other sports, can be had for about $45; opening ceremony tickets start at about $180 and closing ceremony tickets start around $135. You can search available tickets at www.sochi2014.com/en.
Note that in addition to your ticket, you will need a spectator pass pass.sochi2014.com (free) to get into the Olympic Park and that only cash and Visa credit cards are accepted inside the park. Buses and trains take commuters between events. “Keep in mind that all the events take place in one of two clusters — the Mountain Cluster and the Coastal Cluster, which are a half-hour apart using the special train that leaves once an hour,” says Dworin. “They recommend that you leave at least two to three hours’ time between events you plan to attend, unless they’re in the same cluster.”