Chinese New Year: When Buying A Train Ticket Feels Like Winning The Lottery

By Clement Tan

Jan. 31 (Bloomberg) — In China, getting a ticket home for the Lunar New Year can feel a bit like winning the lottery. First, there’s competition for plane, train and other passenger seats for almost 3 billion voyages. Then there’s the quiz to prove you’re not a Web robot.

Beijing hairstylist Yang Mingyue learned how high the odds are in November, when she stayed up past midnight to buy train tickets online as soon as they became available. After finding the best fares for the 20-hour trip home to Heilongjiang province, Yang hit a snag: cryptic questions she had to answer correctly before her booking would be accepted.

The puzzles are part of new cybersecurity measures designed to thwart scalpers from snapping up seats to resell at inflated prices. But in attempting to block scammers, the perplexing process is catching innocent web users such as Yang.

“Those questions were so ridiculously difficult, and even when I managed to get them right after a few tries, the seats I wanted were no longer available,” the 21-year-old said. “It’s too late now. Even standing tickets on the dates I wanted are all sold out, economy class air tickets, too. Business class is too expensive.”

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