A few weeks ago, we needed to travel from Kutaisi Airport. As we’re not big fans of marshrutkas, and the trains between Tbilisi and Kutaisi are slow, it became clear quite quickly that a coach was going to be the best option.
And we were in luck! Two companies offer this service: Georgian Bus and Omnibus. As both appeared to be quite similar, I headed to Google to see which one was better. And I quickly found…… absolutely nothing! Nada. Zilch. Two major bus companies, taken daily by hundreds of people, and there were no comparisons out there.
Fast forward around 15 minutes, and in my inbox were not one, but two coach tickets. A Georgian Bus ticket from Tbilisi to Kutaisi, and an Omnibus ticket for the opposite direction for our way back. The result? This.
Buying a Ticket
Without jumping too much ahead, this was ironically the area where the two providers differed the most.
My first observation was that Omnibus offers a slightly better user experience by showing the actual times of their coaches, not just a list of flights that each coach serves. That’s handy if you don’t want to go on a specific flight, but want to head to Kutaisi’s city center, or if you’re going to take a later bus than the one “assigned” to your flight (see “Travel Times” section below for why you might want to do that).
So that’s pretty minor. But what wasn’t minor is what I discovered after payment: Georgian Bus doesn’t offer seat selection!
Seriously. It’s like Ryanair but on wheels. I don’t know about you, but I kind of like my 4-hour coach rides to be next to the person or people that I travel with, as opposed to random strangers.
Bonus Tip: Note that Georgian Bus doesn’t email you the ticket, so make sure to download it on the confirmation screen, as you WILL be asked for it when you board the coach!
Easy Winner: Omnibus.
Pick Up / Drop Off Location
Here, the two companies’ offerings differ a bit, once again.
Georgian Bus leaves from Pushkin Park, which is the Rustaveli Avenue side of Freedom Square. It’s the same area where the red tourist buses usually hang around.
Omnibus, on the other hand, leaves from next to the Radisson Blu.
As for the Kutaisi side, both coaches will take you directly to Kutaisi Airport, and both also have a stop in central Kutaisi. But keep in mind that you’ll have to ask for it, as well as make sure that your luggage is stored in the correct compartment, or you won’t be able to get it out before the final stop.
Which of the two is better is hard to say objectively. I guess it mostly depends on where you’re staying in Tbilisi. We live in Vake, so for us, Radisson Blu is marginally easier to reach than Freedom Square. But for others, the Freedom Square stop is more convenient. Both places are also easy to get to by metro. The only real difference seems to be that there are fewer taxi touts and beggars near the Radisson coach stop.
Georgian Bus and Omnibus both take around the same time between Tbilisi and Kutaisi – roughly 4 hours, depending on traffic.
You’ll be taken to the airport super early, though! I’m talking 2:30 pm arrival for a flight that departs at 5:20 pm.
While I realize that it’s a “better safe than sorry” approach and things like traffic jams can and do happen, 3 hours is still a bit of an overkill, considering that the airport is the size of a match-box, with a maximum of 2 flights departing at a time.
So if you travel with just hand luggage and don’t care much about unexpected delays (that’s what travel insurance is for!), then getting to the airport 3 hours early can be quite annoying, especially in the middle of the night.
Important to note: For the Kutaisi > Tbilisi direction, both companies’ coaches leave early if the flight that they’re servicing is early.
We booked our tickets back for the 2:15 pm coach, but as the flight came in early, the coach departed a whopping 30 minutes before the scheduled time, at 1:35 pm. I can only assume that they checked that everyone who had bought a ticket was on board.
This is another uneventful category, as both providers offer the exact same pricing of 15 GEL one-way or 27 GEL return.
The only minor difference is that Georgian Bus has the additional option of purchasing a flexible ticket, which comes at a 1 GEL surcharge and lets you change the date of the ticket afterward.
For the most part, both providers operate very similar vehicles.
The coaches are new and comfortable, with plenty of legroom and free wifi, the quality of which was pretty much what you’d expect: not great, but not terrible, either. The coaches don’t have power plugs, though, so make sure your devices are fully charged or bring along a battery pack.
Note: There did seem to be an option to charge your phone at the front of the bus with a bunch of different chargers available.
Something to bear in mind, though, is that neither of the companies’ coaches feature toilets. They do make a stop near Gori, where one can use public restrooms, but considering that Gori is only an hour into the 4-hour trip (in the Tbilisi – Kutaisi direction), some pre-planning with your liquid intake may be necessary 🙂
There’s just one additional (but essential) thing to note here: while Georgian Bus operates exclusively with large coaches, Omnibus also uses minivans for some of their routes. While we haven’t tried the minivan service, others are reporting significantly reduced comfort and “marshrutka-style” reckless driving. Fortunately, you can tell based on the seat map before booking whether the vehicle used is a large coach or a minivan.
Winner: Tie (just don’t book the minivan!)
As you can see, the two operators’ offerings are pretty much identical in most aspects.
If I had to choose a winner, I’d split it into two categories:
For routes that Omnibus operates with minivans, the winner is clearly Georgian Bus, as the big coach is undoubtedly and significantly more comfortable than a Mercedes Sprinter could ever be.
For all other routes, I’d consider Omnibus the winner, as seat selection is a bit of a big deal, at least for me. On a 4-hour ride, I want to be sure that I’m able to it next to whoever I’m traveling with, without having to show up at the bus stop 30 minutes early and wrestle to be the first in the bus to snatch up seats.
So, there you have it.
Does your experience with either provider differ from mine? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll update the write-up!