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September 28, 2023

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Scalpers rear their ugly heads as train tickets sell like hot cakes before holiday

THIS October holiday will be hugely gratifying for those who crave a break. Most people will have a combined Mid-Autumn-National Day holiday from tomorrow to October 6, a solid eight days.

This affords the homesick or those with wanderlust a golden opportunity to travel, if you are not deterred by the crowds, and if you are lucky enough to have successfully booked bullet-train tickets.

When the railway authority started selling tickets for tomorrow on September 15, a total of 22.877 million tickets were sold that day, 20.95 million through its online booking portal 12306, an all-time record for single-day sales.

With a ticket so sought-after, some third-party platforms and a new breed of scalpers are taking advantage of people lacking the wherewithal to snap up tickets online, at no small a price.

Unlike the official railway platforms, with these third-party booking system one can place multiple orders for different tickets simultaneously in terms of the train, time and seat, usually meaning a higher rate of booking success. When booking time arrives, these platforms will book the tickets automatically, at lightning speed.

As a matter of fact, the lightning speed is just one of the many multi-tiered services now being marketed to consumers.

For instance, one platform offers VIPs services at different speeds, ranging from fast to high speed, extreme speed and lightning speed, with the service charge ranging from 10 yuan (US$1.40) to 80 yuan. By providing “accelerators” the platforms allegedly enable customers to book tickets at a faster speed.

The platforms also provide a service whereby special personnel could be hired to book the tickets for customers. The service, priced at 30 yuan, is available round the clock, with a high rate of success as the booking is facilitated through multiple channels. Additional fees are charged for those who prefer a seat by the aisle or the window.

When a China News Service reporter made an inquiry with a third-party platform regarding the accelerated service, the platform’s customer support explained that the “accelerated” services being marketed can inflate the success rate by booking the tickets at greater frequency.

“To give you an example: In normal times, you might click the booking button 10 times in a second. But with our accelerated service, you can click 50 times.”

The customer support also mentioned increasing the success rate by opening “dual-channel speed booking,” whereby the platform can monitor — in real time — any addition in returned tickets and then would place the client on the waiting list automatically by submitting the information of the person in question to 12306.

But these accelerators and special personnel are no guarantee of a sure ticket, and some people keen to return home by pinning their hopes on such services have been left in the lurch.

Some of them might create good business for scalpers in this online era, helping snatch a ticket for the customer, at a price.

Advertising bills about these scalpers are highly visible on a certain platform specializing in secondhand goods.

The aforementioned reporter approached a scalper, who promised to book a ticket with a 90 percent success rate, at a cost of 120 yuan. They would book the ticket by feeding a “script” automatically.

Another seller also could reportedly book automatically, at a success rate of 80-90 percent.

Many netizens find the exorbitant scalping fee repugnant, and claim they are fed up with this pervasive ambiance where you have to scramble for nearly all and every thing.

The railway authority has sounded a cautionary note, warning travelers that 12306 has not outsourced its ticket booking services to any third party. By giving information to a third party while booking a ticket, customers not only face the risk of unexplained charges or other pitfalls, but also leaks of their personal information. All travelers are advised to book tickets only through the 12306 portal or app.

The railway authority also denied that accelerator packages touted by third-party platforms are entitled to any priority in purchasing tickets, Xinhua news agency reported.

The railway authority’s technical arm has also made due preparations to cope with the abrupt surge in visits to the booking portal, and to ensure its smooth and efficient operation during the holiday.

It also revealed that those on the railway booking portal’s waiting list for returned tickets actually have a success rate in excess of 75 percent. Passengers can inflate their chances of success by specifying multiple times, trains, seats and a longer waiting time.


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