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Train ticket fare in China varies according to the different classes available currently as follows:
• First Class Seat – These are only available on the D (Electric Multiple Unit), G (Chinese Railway High-Speed), and C (intercity High-speed) trains. The seats are roomy and comfortable and are set four in a row. With an adjustable cushioned backrest, a small pillow and a foldable pedal, they offer a comfortable ride. See detailed sizes of first class seat.
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• VIP Seat – These are only available on the G trains and some D trains. The seats are arranged behind the glass wall of the two operation cabs of the train. Seats are as comfortable as those in the first class, one at the side of the aisle and two on the other side. The fare is higher than the first class and about twice of the second class. See detailed sizes of VIP seat.
• Business Class Seat – These are only available on the G and some D trains. The seats are usually behind the operation cabs and in carriage No.3 of the train; they are almost the equivalence of the first class seats on an airplane. The business class seats behind the operation cabs are called “Sightseeing” seats as there are large windows for viewing. Apart from two business class seats, there are also three first class seats in this area. The fare of business class is about twice of that of the first class. Business class seat sizes
Both the VIP class and business class fares are the most expensive but the former is cheaper than the latter.
• Luxury Soft Sleeper – This is the top level sleeper and the most expensive. There are only two comfortable bunks in a compartment and these are only available on a few trains. The fare is about twice that of a soft sleeper. Click to read sizes of luxury soft sleeper berth.
• Soft Sleeper - These are private compartments fitted out to a high standard. Each compartment has two upper and two lower bunks. A door separates the compartment from the aisle for soundproofing and comfort. The fare is about 50% higher than that of the hard sleeper. Soft sleeper berth sizes
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The conductor will collect the sleeper ticket on board in exchange for a card, which will then be exchange back to the ticket upon arriving at your destination. Unoccupied berths can be sold to other passengers an hour after the train left the station.
• Soft Seat - Soft seats are available in a few K (fast), T (express), Z (direct), and accommodation trains. There are no bunks for sleeping but just cushioned seats that are as comfortable as those on the first class seats in high-speed trains. There are four seats in a row with two on both sides of the aisle. The back is adjustable with a small tray table attached to it. The carriages are clean and roomy and the fare is about 1.5 times more of the hard seat. Click to read sizes of soft seat
• Hard Seat - This is the cheapest way to take a rail trip. As the name implies, it can be something of an ordeal, especially for a long or an overnight journey. Not only are the seats hard, it has less room and hence, uncomfortable than soft seats. The carriages are always noisy and crowded with passengers, especially during peak hours or peak season on the most popular railway routes. The fare is about CNY0.12 – 0.15 per kilometer. Hard seat sizes
• China Rail Pass - It is a prepaid card that enable the holders to take the bullet trains from Bejing to Tianjin, Shanghai to Hangzhou and Nanjing, Guangzhou to Zhuhai, and Haikou to Sanya without purchasing a paper ticket. Passengers only need to swipe the card on the self-service check-in machine at both the departure and arrival stations.
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• Platform Ticket – The ticket is for people seeing off or picking up friends and relatives and costs CNY 1 – 2 per ticket. However, to reduce congestion and safety in the station, many have stop selling platform tickets. Instead, it is replaced with a card, where a refundable deposit is required.
1. Children under 1.2 meters (3.9 feet) and accompanied by an adult travel for free, although they do not have their own seat or bunk. However, if a hard/soft seat is required, it can be purchased at half the full fare; whereas that of a hard/soft sleeper is the full price minus half of the hard/soft seat fare (about 75% of the full price.).
If there are two or more accompanied children under 1.2 meters in height, only one child enjoys a free ride and the rest will have to pay for child tickets.
2. Children between 1.2 meters and 1.5 meters(4.9 feet) have to pay for their journey. The fare for a hard/soft seat is half of the full fare and the child has his or her own seat. If the child takes a hard/soft sleeper and shares a bunk with the parent, the fare is still half of the hard/soft seat. However, to have his or her own bunk, the fare will be the full fare of hard/soft sleeper minus half the fare of the hard/soft seat (about 75% of the full price).
3. A child who is higher than 1.5 meters in height has to pay a full fare.
4. The real-name policy does not apply to a child ticket but the valid identity document (passport) is still required when booking a ticket. If a child does not have an identity document, the indentity of any of the parents would be acceptable.
• Student Ticket – Chinese college students enjoy discount when traveling between their hometown and the city where their colleges are located, with a valid student identity. The cost of a hard seat ticket for student is half of the full fare; the fare of hard sleeper ticket equals to the full fare minus half of the fare for hard seat ticket (about 75% of the full price.)
Other seats or berths do not have student ticket. Foreign students do no enjoy the discount.
Further Reading: How to Buy Train Tickets Ticket Collection Refund & Change Seat & Berth Sizes