360Buy Now Sells Train Tickets Online, At a Price

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The major Chinese e-commerce site 360Buy has expanded its travel offerings even further today, launching a service for buying train tickets online. The new ticketing portal might take the strain off of the government’s own online train reservations site, 12306.com, which has been plagued by slowdowns, web crashes, and other problems since its inception.

But 360Buy’s train ticket service - see it here - won’t come cheap, costing 20 RMB (US$3.18) on top of the price of the ticket to cover admin and home delivery. That might prove off-putting to the migrant workers, students, and some lower-paid office workers, who are the kinds of folks who scramble most desperately to get train tickets during major Chinese holidays - especially Chinese New Year. 12306.com, in contrast, just charges the flat ticket fee, while bricks-and-mortar ticket vendors generally only charge a 2- or 3 RMB admin fee. Perhaps 360Buy’s solution is more aimed at middle-income locals who’d like to avoid the queues and the hassle.

Just last month, 360Buy added hotel bookings to the air tickets that it already offered on its site, making it a threat to established travel sites in China such as Ctrip (NASDAQ:CTRP - News) and eLong (NASDAQ:LONG - News). Last week we head a rumor that authorities in Beijing might persuade a Chinese web giant such as Baidu or Alibaba to run its current booking site. That might still be on the cards, however, as today’s roll-out on 360Buy is not really about helping the struggling 12306.com.

One other way in which 360Buy’s train ticketing system is different, is that it’ll try to get you a ticket even if one is not immediately available. If the ticket destination and date you desired does suddenly appear in the system (because, say, somebody somewhere cancelled theirs), 360Buy will snag it for you. If not, you’ll get a refund.

[Hat-tip to Techweb (article in Chinese) for spotting this]

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