It's my understanding that train tickets can not be purchased by an individual more than 10 days in advance, but that travel agents/on-line services will sell you tickets in advance for about $25 USD service fee.
I'm wondering if soft sleeper train tickets on the following trains are often sold out. Should I pay the extra $25USD fee to buy in advance? Or can I wait until I arrive in Beijing 5 days before my first train trip and ask our hotel/hostel/local travel agent to book the tickets for us? Our itintery is pretty tight, and it would be sad if we weren't able to get soft sleeper tickets for all 3 train trips. But our budget is also tight, so I don't want to pay the $25 service fee per ticket if it's not really necessary.
I appreciate your advise!
Arrive in Beijing midnight 9/6
Ideal train trips:
9/11 Beijing West - Datong #1482/1483
Leaving 8:35 - Arriving 15:03
$25 soft sleeper on-line price + $25 service fee
9/12 Datong-Pingyao #2462/2463
Leaving 23:17 - Arriving next day 6:25
$30 soft sleeper on-line price + $25 service fee
9/14 Datong-Xi'an #2669
Leaving 21:38 - Arriving next day 6:18
$33 soft sleeper on-line price + $25 service fee
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Do trains in China sell out? Should I pay a $25 fee to book in advance?