This instalment will explain the several methods where you can purchase a High-Speed Rail ticket to and from Hong Kong. You have the option to either purchase these tickets online or offline at a ticketing location. Offline Ticketing channels vary depending on if your location of ticket purchase. You will be able to find all the relevant links to various booking channels in and at the end of this article. Note: All High-Speed TrainTickets is only sold 30 days in advance online and 3 days in advance at stations.
Update on 26th Sept: Trip.com Hong Kong English site is now reflecting High-Seed Rail tickets to and from Hong Kong and is purchasable. However, other versions of the site have yet to reflect this change.
The Basics – High-Speed Rail Fare Type
There is four classes of service: Second, First, Premium, and Business.
Second Class is similar to economy class on a flight. Seats are arranged in a 2-3 configuration on all trains with very little legroom and feature only some recline. It is the cheapest class of service on a High-Speed Rail.
First Class offers a recliner big seat that is similar to domestic/regional First Class on planes. Seats are arranged in either 2-1 configuration or 2-2 configuration depending on different train services. First Class Passengers receive one free drink onboard and no special services.
Premium Class is an enhanced First Class hard product that is only offered on Trains with two classes of service (Second/Premium). its price is slightly higher than First Class and receives an identical soft product.
Business Class is the highest class of service on a High-Speed Rail. The seats are either in a 1-1 configuration featuring full recline. Complimentary drinks and meals are served and Business Class passengers have a dedicated attendant allocated to provide services. It is also separated from the rest of the cabin by an automatic glass door to provide more privacy. Business Class passengers receive priority station service and lounge access in some train stations. Business Class passengers can board their train directly from these lounge locations. The fares for Business Class is always significantly higher than other classes of service.
Child Fare is applicable to children between the height of 1.2m to 1.5m (3’11” to 4’11”). The price of a child fare is 50% of those of adults, and they can enjoy the same seats and onboard amenities. Children under the height of 1.2m (3’11”) do not need to purchase a ticket as long as they do not occupy a seat, and those over the height of 1.5m (4’11”) must purchase an adult ticket.
Purchasing High-Speed Rail Tickets Online
Personally, I highly recommend you to purchase tickets online. Ticket availability may sometimes be limited especially during weekends and holidays. Public holidays in Hong Kong and China are drastically different so it is worth checking online for availability as well.
There are two official channels for online purchase of High-Speed Rail tickets. One of which is through Hong Kong’s MTR website, the other is through the website of China Rail Corporation 12306.cn. The best OTA to book train tickets will be CTrip (Trip.com in its English version) as it offers many different language selections.
Tickets can only be booked between 6am to 11pm Hong Kong time (GMT+8) on any channels. With no discrepancy between online and offline channels. Bookings placed outside the given hours on OTAs will enter a queue that will be automatically processed the next morning.
Ticket collection is always required for online ticket purchases. If you hold a passport as your travel document, you are required to collect your tickets at a ticketing counter. In stations in Mainland China, this will incur a small handling fee of 5CNY (6.5HKD/0.75USD).
Important: Make sure you are booking services to and from “West Kowloon” for High-Speed Rail Services. Hong Kong’s “Kowloon Station” also provides train service to Mainland but it is not the High-Speed Rail. High-Speed Rail Services begins with the letter “G” in their train number.
Booking via MTR website – The Basics
MTR site will be the best choice to look at for foreigners visiting Hong Kong and Mainland China. The site accepts all major credit cards with the exception of American Express and JCB. Although all High-Speed Rail prices are priced in CNY, MTR website will display prices in HKD. The exchange rate on the MTR site will update each month.
You must have one the following travel documents to purchase the high-speed rail ticket with theMTR site:
- 1.Mainland Travel Permit for Hong Kong and Macau Residents
- PRC Resident Identity Card
- PRC Exit/Entry Permit to and from Hong Kong and Macau
- Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan Residents
- Foreign Passports recognized by the PRC government (What I discover is that any passport will be fine. In fact, I was able to go through will my booking even using a made-up passport number)
You are unable to process any bookings after 11pm and before 6am but you can still enquire ticket availability and price. You can purchase a maximum of 8 tickets each time on the MTR site.
The biggest issue with the MTR website is that they do not display the number of available tickets. Instead, the MTR website only shows train service with available tickets based on your searching criteria and services that are sold out will not be displayed. The full train schedule is also available on their site but via another link. Another limitation is that MTR is only able to search for direct services to and from Hong Kong. Services and connections within Mainland China are not available on the MTR website.
MTR Site Booking Process
The process to purchase tickets on the MTR site is very simple. You can find the link to the MTR site here. First, enter your trip information on the left-hand side of the interface and key in the Captcha code to search for the schedule. Then you can see the available selections on the right.
Clicking on each different services will reveal the price. MTR only shows available tickets and its price. The website omits search results of any service with no tickets left. Prices should be the same for any train services as China Rail Corporations price tickets by route. The exception will be some of the special service trains.
Select the train service and cabin class you would like to book by clicking on the green arrow. The next page will be your itinerary overview. Confirm your itinerary by clicking on the continue button below.
In the next step, you will be required to put in your name and travel document information. Railway services in China require real-name registration on any tickets. You will be required to carry an acceptable travel document with matching names with no exception. Random document checks may be performed on the train.
Then you will see your full trip detail, including the name and document type of the travelling passenger. In the box below, you have to set a ticket collection password (6 to 10 digit number) as well as either an email or a Hong Kong phone number for contact.
After checking the box to agree to the terms and conditions, you will be redirected for payment.
Booking with 12306.cn
12306.cn is not the best site to look for when it comes to usability. It only offers a Simplified Chinese version of their website and does not accept credit card issued outside of China. You also have to register for an account in order to use with this site, and this requires a mainland phone number.
I would not recommend going through the hassle unless you have a Chinese friend that can help you with. That being said, 12306.cn has its benefits that the MTR website does not.
12306.cn shows all available train routes instead of only those available. You may also search for train connections where MTR only offer tickets to direct destinations from Hong Kong. 12306.cn also has a more detailed interface where it displays all the information at once, which makes it very convenient.
Booking with Ctrip (Trip.com)
CTrip is the largest OTA in China and owns Trip.com. Ctrip’s Mainland China website accepts all foreign credit cards, including Amex and JCB. However, you have to use a Mainland phone number to receive your ticket information. Foreign users are often redirected to Trip.com instead, which supports foreign contact numbers.
Trip.com has updated and reflected the new High-Speed Rail tickets on sale for services both to and from Hong Kong. The catch is that it only shows on its Hong Kong English site and not others. The pricing is the same as any other sources and they price these tickets in CNY instead of HKD. Trip.com will be my most recommended way of booking as using this one singular site allows you to access train tickets all over Mainland China and Hong Kong. Unlike the MTR website only sells tickets directly to and from Hong Kong. Trip.com also accepts more payment methods, making it a well-suited site for foreign travellers.
Ctrip offers the ability to search for train connections in Mainland China but this feature has not been expanded to train services to and from Hong Kong. However, I believe they will ultimately enable this for Hong Kong passengers as well. It is also interesting to see when they will update Trip.com to reflect Hong Kong services.
Other Booking Channels
There are numerous ways to book High-Speed Rail tickets in-person or via phone as well. There are numerous ticketing channels both in Mainland China and Hong Kong. Unless you purchase your ticket in person, you are still required to collect your tickets at your respective departure train stations.
In Hong Kong
At Hong Kong West Kowloon High-Speed Rail Stations, you can find ticketing counters and machines where you can purchase your tickets. The operating hours of in-person ticketing are also from 6am to 11pm each day. You can also call the MTR ticketing hotline at +852 2120 0888. Tele-ticketing hours are from 7am to 9pm every day.
The following travel agents are also certified to provide ticketing services in Hong Kong:
All ticketing channels in Hong Kong should provide the price quote in HKD. Foreigners have to use the counter in Hong Kong West Kowloon station as the machines do not recognize passports. In addition, West Kowloon Station only issues tickets 28 days in advance instead of the usual 30 days. Below is a summary of information regarding various ticketing channels in Hong Kong:
|Hong Kong Ticketing Channels||Advance Sales date||Booking cut-off time before scheduled departure||Payment Methods|
|West Kowloon Ticket Counter||28days||45 minutes||Cash: HKD/CNY|
Visa, MasterCard, UnionPay, Octopus, EPS, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Alipay, Alipay HK, Wechat Pay, Wechat Pay HK
|West Kowloon Ticket Machine||28days||45 minutes||Cash: HKD|
Visa payWave, MasterCard contactless, Octopus
|MTR Website||30days||120 minutes||Visa, MasterCard, UnionPay Online|
|MTR Tele-Ticketing||30days||120 minutes||Visa, MasterCard|
Individual agent arrangements
Note: Octopus and Contactless Payments has a maximum limit of 1000HKD per transaction.
In Mainland China
If you are already in Mainland China, my best recommendation is to seek help from your places of residence such as hotels or hostels to book these tickets online. Most of the booking channels in Mainland China accepts only Chinese-issued credit cards for booking, so I strongly recommend making bookings in Hong Kong instead.
In-person ticketing is available at all train stations. It is worth noting that ticketing agents in Mainland China’s train stations do not have the best command of English. The language barrier is sure to be something to be aware of. Ticketing Machines is also available at most stations in Mainland China. The same case as in Hong Kong, however, is that it does not accept passports and only select travel documents.
Apart from 12306.cn, China Railway Corporation also runs a ticketing hotline. You have to be in Mainland China is able to use this hotline. The number is 12306, and it works best by using a landline. The hotline claims to have English service but I was unable to find the selection after calling.
Travel Agents in Mainland China can also provide bookings for all train services, including High-Speed Rail services. The benefit is that the big travel agencies mostly offer English services both online and offline. The three best travel agency in China that offer English services are China Youth Travel Service(CYTS, available across China), China International Travel Service(CITS, available across China) and Spring Tours (Shanghai-based).
There are many methods to book the new High-Speed Rail Services to and from Hong Kong. Overall, I do not have a favourite method of booking. It all depends on the circumstances and the location I am in. Online, I would definitely recommend Trip.com, this site is versatile and accepts the most payment methods. If you are in Hong Kong and holds a foreign credit card, your best bet will be with one of the Hong Kong Ticketing channels. If you are in Mainland China and does not speak English, your best chance will be with one of the Travel Agents that can assist you in English. Leave a comment below if you have any questions and feel free to drop me an email if you need any travel arrangments. You can find me at [email protected]
Some useful Links:
- Train Timetables to and from Hong Kong West Kowloon Station
- Train Pricing Table to and from Hong Kong West Kowloon Station
- MTR High-Speed Rail Booking Site
- MTR Explaining China Railway Real-name policy