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-   -   Booking a train ticket out of Xian in advance (https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/china/585388-booking-train-ticket-out-xian-advance.html)

iahphx Aug 1, 06 7:56 am

Booking a train ticket out of Xian in advance
 
My family would like to take the Z20 soft sleeper out of Xian to Beijing later this month. I've read in Lonely Planet and elsewhere that it can be difficult to obtain seats if you only buy them a day or two in advance. I've also read that you can only buy China train tickets in the city from which you are leaving. Since we will only be in Xian a couple of days, that presents a problem.

I've emailed my fancy Western hotel in Xian and asked them if they could buy the tickets for me in advance and, to my surprise, they said they couldn't help me.

The only other service I know of is chinatripadvisor, and their commission appears to be pretty steep.

Are there any other alternatives? Are the fancy "Z" trains perhaps somehow different, so perhaps I can buy them elsewhere? For instance, I have contacts in Beijing who I could ask to buy the tickets for me, if that were allowed.

AandT Aug 1, 06 9:43 am

Buying China train tickets is a pain right in the rear if you ask me... The only way I know of to buy of in advance is tripadvisor.com, or be in the city of departure 10 days in advance which is generally when they go on sale. They really need to make their system more user/tourist friendly. I would think the Xian-Beijing route would go on sale 10 in advance. Some routes are only 3 or 5 days in advance. I just recently was trying to buy a ticket for a friend 4 days in advance and was told "tickets don't go on sale for that train until tomorrow..." I called back the next morning and they said the train was sold out.... :mad:

phillipas Aug 1, 06 10:43 am

Pain in the arse is a fair comment for buying train tickets in China.

Tickets go on sale something between 20(ish) and 3 days in advance. Sometimes you can buy a ticket XXX-YYY in YYY. Sometimes you can't.

And the queues at stations can be daunting. Especially during Spring Festival.

To the OP - options are chinatripadvisor and their inflated comissions, or take a chance. If you take the latter option you'll be pleased to hear that it does generally work out in the end.

iahphx Aug 1, 06 11:32 am

Thanks for the tips. I guess I'll ask my friend in Beijing to see if this one can be bought there. I'm doubtful it will work, but I will try.

If I can't get the train tickets, I can always fly. Hopefully, those stay available. On yoee, there's only a 25% discount for my days, so hopefully I can get it for that price (or better) if I have to.

moondog Aug 1, 06 11:55 am


Originally Posted by iahphx
Thanks for the tips. I guess I'll ask my friend in Beijing to see if this one can be bought there. I'm doubtful it will work, but I will try.

imo the odds of success are low enough and the hassel factor (for the friend) is high enough that i would advise you to stop this idea in its tracks.

fwiw, i predict you will be successful if you have the ability to ticket 2 days in advance (day before, i'd drop my confidence level to 65% or so; day of, 50%).

heathius Aug 1, 06 8:54 pm

My information matches what everyone else is saying. A lot of train tickets go on sale 3-4 days prior, but some routes allow more time. I'm afraid that the only way to get any accurate information would be to go to the Xi'an or Beijing train stations and ask. It is better to ask in Chinese as to avoid the "I can't be bothered trying to speak english, so I'll just say NO" syndrome that is common at key transportation hubs in China.

moondog Aug 1, 06 9:44 pm


Originally Posted by heathius
I'm afraid that the only way to get any accurate information would be to go to the Xi'an or Beijing train stations and ask.

Chinese train stations hold a special place in my heart adjacent to the DMV place (in my heart); they are, hands down the least pleasent part of train travel (actually, waiting in the Beijing station taxi queue at 7a in Jan is the single worst part of the experience, but I digress).

In any event, as a general rule, I try to keep train station visits to an absolute mimimum. In other words, I don't go unless I'm actually taking a train. Fortunately, in most cities, it is possible to buy tickets elsewhere.

And even when this is not the case, it's well worth a few kuai to delegate the ticket purchasing task to a third party. Hotel concierges are quite useful in this respect. Tell them where you want to go, let them get on the phone, give them money, and spend your time engaging in more pleasent activities.

jesus4jets Aug 2, 06 12:20 am

For the "Z" trains, you should be able to purchase 20 days in advance, and purchase any city-pair at any station selling "Z" train tickets. Thus, within 20 days in advance, your friend should be able to buy two tickets for you in Beijing for the train Xian-Beijing. In fact, I did this exact transaction last week. You can either go to the city ticket office that speaks english (5Y surcharge per ticket) or just go to the train station.

Let us know if your experience is different.

moondog Aug 2, 06 12:44 am


Originally Posted by jesus4jets
For the "Z" trains, you should be able to purchase 20 days in advance, and purchase any city-pair at any station selling "Z" train tickets.

I didn't know about this (quite obviously, if you look at my post #5). I am impressed that the train people managed to pull off that feature (on an IT platform isn't exactly cutting edge).

Peter N-H Aug 2, 06 1:11 am

The posting immediately above has it about right. The difficulty of obtaining train tickets varies from place to place and time to time, but in general is overstated. I almost always buy for myself at railway stations, and can't remember the last time I failed to obtain the ticket I wanted, typically for travel the next day.

The advice to use the ticket bureaux scattered around all major cities (and usually marked on locally produced maps with the railway symbol) is sound, with, as said, a standard Y5 surcharge for those with a terminal on the railway system. But there are travel agencies all over the place that will obtain the tickets for you by going to the station themselves. The service charge is typically Y20 per ticket, and will include delivery to your hotel. (Hotel-based agencies may try for Y60 or Y80 per ticket, however.)

In Xi'an most branches of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China sell railway tickets for Y5, making obtaining them easier than in many other cities.

It's the obsession with booking everything in advance (hotels and transport) that makes travel in China seem tricky. This isn't how China works, and you are best to book as you go. There are very many agencies willing to do the running about for you for a modest fee.

Peter N-H

phillipas Aug 2, 06 1:12 am


Originally Posted by moondog
I didn't know about this (quite obviously, if you look at my post #5). I am impressed that the train people managed to pull off that feature (on an IT platform isn't exactly cutting edge).

He's quite correct - but the key word in his post is should as it doesn't always work quite as it's meant to. And even for non Z trains it's often possible to buy a 'return' ticket.

It really is a bit of a vlack art though knowing the best way to get tickets for a particular train. My regular train from my little town into Lanzhou is an absloute sod to get tickets for. I have never managed to buy tickets anywhere other than on the train - 4 days in advance and they are not on sale yet , 3 or 2 days they are sold out, 1 day and they've stopped selling them (seeing the train has already started from it's origin?).

Invariably the train is near empty - perhaps somethign to do with the reluctance to sell tickets! :D

iahphx Aug 2, 06 7:43 am


Originally Posted by jesus4jets
For the "Z" trains, you should be able to purchase 20 days in advance, and purchase any city-pair at any station selling "Z" train tickets. Thus, within 20 days in advance, your friend should be able to buy two tickets for you in Beijing for the train Xian-Beijing. In fact, I did this exact transaction last week. You can either go to the city ticket office that speaks english (5Y surcharge per ticket) or just go to the train station.

Let us know if your experience is different.

From what I have heard so far, your information appears to be correct. While I have not yet received confirmation that my tickets have been bought, my friend in Beijing says her travel agent said they could buy the Xian-Beijing "Z" train tickets (I apparently have to pay an extra 10 yuan commission because somebody has to physically go down to the railway office to get them). At the same time, they said they could not get the Suzhou-Xian tickets. While apparently quite modern, that train is only classified as a "T." I'm still asking around and seeking a solution for that one.

Peter's comments that Americans have a needless "obsession" with booking Chinese arrangements in advance no doubt has an element of truth. But, at the same time, there seem to be numerous reports of folks having some difficulty buying the tickets they need only a day or two in advance. As most Americans (and other foreign tourists) are typically "on the go" in China -- trying to see as much of vast China on a limited time schedule -- a little advanced planning, if it's possible, seems like a decent idea.

AandT Aug 2, 06 8:14 am


Originally Posted by iahphx
Peter's comments that Americans have a needless "obsession" with booking Chinese arrangements in advance no doubt has an element of truth. But, at the same time, there seem to be numerous reports of folks having some difficulty buying the tickets they need only a day or two in advance. As most Americans (and other foreign tourists) are typically "on the go" in China -- trying to see as much of vast China on a limited time schedule -- a little advanced planning, if it's possible, seems like a decent idea.

I agree with Peter's statement about American's obsession with booking in advance and that it does not work that way in China. Most people just can't imagine that you can actually get around by booking things like planes and trains 1 or 2 days in advance, that just goes against everything that we are used to in normal travels. That being said I also agree that the train system should be more standardized and more toursist friendly. Too bad there isn't much we can do about it! There has to be ways to book tickets in advance because I have had times trying to book tickets in advance because I have had occasions of trying to book a ticket first thing on a day when the train just went on sale, and found it practically full with local officials on their way to or from some big meeting. Not that anyone could ever get the same kind of "official perks" :) I know there are some agencies who have some extra special "guanxi" (Chinese for favor through relationship) that seem to be able to find a ticket even when everyone else says there are none. Just the way things work, there is always a way it seems you just have to know the right people/person...

Peter N-H Aug 2, 06 5:57 pm


Originally Posted by iahphx
Peter's comments that Americans have a needless "obsession" with booking Chinese arrangements in advance


Originally Posted by AandT
I agree with Peter's statement about American's obsession with booking in advance

Perhaps people might read my posting and confine themselves to agreeing (or disagreeing) with what I actually said, rather than putting words in my mouth.

Peter N-H

AandT Aug 2, 06 6:28 pm


Originally Posted by Peter N-H
Perhaps people might read my posting and confine themselves to agreeing (or disagreeing) with what I actually said, rather than putting words in my mouth.

Peter N-H

I apologize Peter, I had read your statement but in responding to the statement in-between it got "tweaked" a little I guess, which I am sure was also unintended. What I meant to say was I agree with this statement.


Originally Posted by Peter N-H
It's the obsession with booking everything in advance (hotels and transport) that makes travel in China seem tricky. This isn't how China works, and you are best to book as you go. There are very many agencies willing to do the running about for you for a modest fee.Peter N-H

Sorry for the confusion

iahphx Aug 3, 06 7:47 am

As a follow up, my friend was indeed able to get advance Xian-Beijing "Z" tickets in Beijing. There definitely seems to be some sort of modernized reservation system in place for such trains. A true godsend for the international traveller.

Buying "T" tickets, however, seems to still be tricky -- especially if your're not boarding at the train's origination (like trying to board the Shanghai-Xian train in Suzhou). There are very few seats allocated for intermediate stops (even in an important city like Suzhou), and they only go on sale at a magical, probably inconvenient time (I've been told the Suzhou tickets go on sale 8 days in advance). I have arranged contact with a travel agency in Suzhou to try to buy these tickets when they go on sale, but I'm not sure it will work.

This website is helpful in sorting some of this stuff out (although some of the information is inaccurate: for example, the child's discount is not as good as mentioned, and it also doesn't cover these ticketing issues).

http://www.seat61.com/China.htm#Shanghai%20-%20Xian

I must say that my willingness to travel by train is aided by the fact that there are 4 of us: meaning that we can get our own "private" soft sleeper. There are also even more deluxe 2 person soft sleepers on some of the major runs, for only a little more money. I'm not sure I'd be as eager to take the train if I had to share the sleeper with strangers -- although I suspect that would actually be more culturally interesting.

FWIW, the train also does save you some money over flying, in addition to saving a hotel expense. And since the opportunity to take an overnight train in America is so limited (and increasingly inefficient in Europe, due to the spread of low cost airlines), China seems like a good place to do it.

Peter N-H Aug 3, 06 11:09 am


Originally Posted by iahphx
I must say that my willingness to travel by train is aided by the fact that there are 4 of us: meaning that we can get our own "private" soft sleeper.

A further unwarranted assumption that things work as they do at home.

You may turn out to be together in one compartment, or you may be divided two and two or three and one. The tickets are often just sold consecutively.

The information on child prices on the web site quoted is correct, however. Half price is payable by children who meet the height criteria, regardless of age.

Peter N-H

moondog Aug 3, 06 11:15 am


Originally Posted by Peter N-H
You may turn out to be together in one compartment, or you may be divided two and two or three and one. The tickets are often just sold consecutively.

IME, if you ask, they will accomodate (4 people in same cabin). Furthermore, I can only assume that the friend who purchased the tickets for the OP stipulated the same cabin requirement when purchasing. (If you asked me to buy tickets for your family of 4 and I couldn't deliver the same, you can bet you'd get a phone call before any cash changed hands.)

iahphx Aug 3, 06 11:58 am


Originally Posted by Peter N-H
The information on child prices on the web site quoted is correct, however. Half price is payable by children who meet the height criteria, regardless of age.

Peter N-H

Are you 100% certain of that? Could there have been a recent change in policy?

On all 3 routes I have tried to book, with different Mandarin-speaking individuals calling different agencies, I have not been able to secure a full 50% discount for children under 140 cm. At the same time, I have received the listed prices for adults. While I certainly don't underestimate the Chinese ability to fleece foreigners for all they can, I'm skeptical that there's some sort of widespread "conspiracy" to overcharge "solely" for childrens' tickets.

moondog Aug 3, 06 12:27 pm


Originally Posted by iahphx
Are you 100% certain of that? Could there have been a recent change in policy?

On all 3 routes I have tried to book, with different Mandarin-speaking individuals calling different agencies, I have not been able to secure a full 50% discount for children under 140 cm. At the same time, I have received the listed prices for adults. While I certainly don't underestimate the Chinese ability to fleece foreigners for all they can, I'm skeptical that there's some sort of widespread "conspiracy" to overcharge "solely" for childrens' tickets.

although i've never traveled with children on a train, i have always been under the impression that kids only qualify for those discounts in cases where they share a bed with {mom, dad, sis, bro,..}

iahphx Aug 3, 06 3:34 pm


Originally Posted by moondog
although i've never traveled with children on a train, i have always been under the impression that kids only qualify for those discounts in cases where they share a bed with {mom, dad, sis, bro,..}

Well, in the soft sleeper class, they definitely get a discount on their own bed. But the discount I have been repeatedly quoted has been between 25 and 33%. Peter and seat61 say I'm entitled to 50%, and that's what I've been asking for. Like so many other things about travelling in China, this one is inscrutable. No doubt somebody will figure out the mystery some day (either I'm being fleeced or the rules have changed). As far as I'm concerned, I'm mostly glad just to have the tickets, given the difficulties in reserving them. We're only talking about a $15 difference for each kid's ticket.

Peter N-H Aug 3, 06 4:11 pm


Originally Posted by iahphx
Like so many other things about travelling in China, this one is inscrutable.

As has already been said:

Originally Posted by Peter N-H
It's the obsession with booking everything in advance (hotels and transport) that makes travel in China seem tricky.



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