With train tickets for Feb 15－Lunar New Year's Eve－going on sale online on Wednesday, hundreds of millions of Chinese will try every means to buy themselves a seat for the journey home.
The 40-day Spring Festival travel rush runs from Feb 1 to March 12. People can buy tickets online or by phone 30 days in advance, and presales at railway stations, ticket agencies and self-ticketing machines are available 28 days ahead.
From Jan 3 to 14－the first 12 days of the booking campaign－a total of 133 million train tickets were sold, with daily ticket sales reaching 11 million, an increase of 3.2 percent over the same period of last year, according to China's railway operator.
Online booking hit a record high on Friday, with page views of 12306.cn, the official booking website, reaching 81.34 billion, with 10 million tickets sold, China Railway Corp said on Monday.
The CRC said 77.5 percent of the tickets sold by Sunday were booked through the website, which has been upgraded for easier operation and a higher daily selling capacity of 15 million tickets, compared to 10 million before.
In order to grab a ticket in the national booking competition, many people are desperate to try various methods, including using third-party booking applications that have add-ons designed to help people buy seats at the railway's website.
Liu Na, who works in Beijing and wants to buy a ticket to Harbin for Feb 11, said she has been using Ctrip, the app of a Chinese travel agency, which will continue to monitor the railway's website and automatically book a ticket if one becomes available.
If the user pays extra money, the booking procedure will speed up, and the money will be returned if the attempt fails, the app said. There are five levels of speed, each costing additional money.
Liu said she paid 50 yuan (.77)－the highest level－for accelerating the purchase of a ticket home. However, she had not yet obtained a ticket by Tuesday and has frequently been browsing the railway's website to see whether there are any available.
Cai Ying succeeded in booking a ticket for Feb 14 from Nanjing, Jiangsu province to Nanping, Fujian province, from the 12306.cn app on Tuesday.
"I checked the presale time of the ticket from the railway's website in advance. I started browsing the booking page on my phone five minutes before 8 am today in a place with a stable Wi-Fi signal, and I finally got a ticket," Cai said.
The CRC said passengers should book tickets from the official website or its mobile application, instead of improper sellers, to avoid losing their money.
The railway operator will try to arrange extra trains for the routes most in demand according to presales, it added.