Net Savings is a regular series in which we spotlight businesses and services that accept mobile payment methods like online banking, Alipay, WeChat Wallet, and Baidu Wallet to help you get the most out of life in Beijing.
Back in 2010, when I was still a student at Renmin University, buying train tickets was a pain in the tunbu. Not only was the pre-sale period for regular trains a paltry 10 days (meaning you could only purchase tickets 10 days before departure), but we had to line up for hours at a hole-in-the-wall ticket window ahead of major Chinese holidays.
What a difference five years make! The pre-sale period is now 60 days before departure on the official China Railway website and 58 days at railway stations and ticket outlets. With mobile payment methods like WeChat Wallet and Alipay, you don’t even have to leave the house anymore.
Last month, I used WeChat Wallet to buy train tickets for an upcoming wedding in Wuhan. The interface was a bit clunky – I couldn’t buy roundtrip tickets in a single transaction – but the tickets were painlessly delivered to my house the very next day.
First, go to “Wallet” under “Me” and select “Rail & Flights.”
The interface switches to Chinese here, but it’s nothing complicated. At the top, you’ve got your departure point (Beijing 北京) and your destination (Shanghai 上海). Choose a departure date, then tap the green button.
There are a number of ways to refine the search results at the bottom of the screen. By default, they’re ordered by departure time (出发时间, chufa shijian). You can also order the trains by travel time (耗时, haoshi). The third option, 筛选 (shaixuan) offers some nifty filtering options.
Tapping it brings up this menu. I recommend only looking at high-speed trains (that’s the option with the check mark next to it). G stands for gaotie, the fastest rail class.
The menu on the left-hand side also gives you the option of filtering the trains by departure time, arrival time, departure train station, and arrival train station. When you’re satisfied, click the green confirm (确定) button.
The next step is to select your seat type (second class, first class or business class). That is, if you want to pick up the tickets yourself.
But since we’re lazy, we’re going to select the home delivery option (送票上门, song piao shang men) right off the bat. The service costs an extra RMB 30 per passenger but it’s so worth it.
You’ll be taken to this screen, where you can change your seating type at the top (default is second-class). To add passengers, click on the green words with the + sign.
For each passenger, first enter the name and surname without any spaces (e.g. SijiaChen).
If you have kids, tap the second dropdown menu and select 儿童票 (ertong piao). Otherwise, leave it as “adult ticket” (成人票, chengren piao).
Under “ID Type” (证件类型, zhengjian leixing), make sure “Passport” is selected as in the above screenshot. Enter the passport number in the next field, followed by the date of birth and sex (男 for male, 女 for female).
Each passenger’s details will be automatically saved in case you buy plane or train tickets in the future.
You’ll be taken back to this screen. Now to enter an address; tap 配送地址 (peisong dizhi).
You can use any addresses already on file in WeChat Wallet or add a new one. Click “Done” on the top right.
Check out as usual using WeChat Wallet, then repeat the procedure to buy return tickets. Yes, it’s annoying, but think about how much more annoying it was five years ago and be grateful. The layout is pretty much exactly the same on Alipay, so I won’t go into that.
Ta-da! The tickets should arrive within three business days. Happy travels!
Sijia Chen is a contributing editor at beijingkids and a freelance writer who has covered travel, tech, culture, parenting, and the environment. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, The Independent, the Beijinger, Midnight Poutine, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @sijiawrites or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo and screenshots: Sijia Chen