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Train Ticket Guides Buying and using tickets for Swiss rail travel

Buying and using tickets for Swiss rail travel

The Swiss national operator SBB has made some recent changes to how it sells tickets, so find out more about the new Point-to-Point tickets; and how you save by choosing an alternative!

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Welcome to ShowMeTheJourney's guide to booking tickets and using rail passes for journeys within Switzerland; the info covers the core basics of what you can expect to encounter when making bookings.
The intention is to provide context for the tickets and journey options you should encounter, in usual circumstances, when making a booking either online or at the station.
SMTJ has striven to ensure that the included advice is as accurate as possible, but a guide such as this cannot cover every combination of journey options.

If you want to go right ahead with a booking, you can go direct to the ticketing booking services on the Content menu which sell train journeys within and both to and from Switzerland.
Though before doing so, having an idea of what's available is recommended, hence the in-depth answers below to questions you'll most likely have.

Good to know

In summary the 6 things most worth knowing about tickets for long-distance train journeys in Switzerland are:

1. SBB is the national rail operator in Switzerland, with BLS and SOB being the main other operators of mainline trains; but BLS and SOB tickets are sold on the SBB website and by SBB ticket desks and ticket machines at stations.
Therefore the information on this page refers to journeys by SBB or BLS or SOB trains.

2. There also are many other smaller independent railway operators in Switzerland and a ticketing summary for those railways is available HERE.
Though most of these journeys are also sold by SBB; including journeys which involve taking a SBB train and then connecting into one or more trains, operated by those independent companies.

3. The ticket prices you will initially see on the SBB website are the prices that can be accessed by holders of 'Half Fare Cards' - so if you don't have one of these cards, the price you will pay will likely be double.

4. SBB typically places tickets on sale 60 days ahead of the travel date (the Supersaver tickets can't be booked more than 60 days ahead).

5. In effect SBB sells two different types of ticket:

  • Point-To-Point tickets (which until recently were known as 'Individual' tickets) are standard, non-discounted tickets, which can be purchased last minute at stations or online and used on any departure within a 24hr period and if purchased online, they can be fully refunded.
  • Discounted Supersaver/Sparbillette tickets, which can only be booked online and can only be used on the departures selected when booking.
    If miss the train you are booked on to you can claim a refund on the purchase for a 10CHF fee, but will then need to re-book a Point-to-Point ticket.
    These ticket can only be exchanged in exceptional circumstances, which are mainly to do with correcting the info entered when booking.
    They can only refunded if certain conditions are met, such as a 'proven' inability to travel such as illness.

6. Seat reservations are available, but optional, for journeys within Switzerland by express (IC) train services, but seat reservations cannot be added when booking tickets online; they have to be booked separately.

Also keep in mind that the prices you see on SBB will be in Swiss Francs (CHFs) and not euros.

Booking tickets for rail journeys within Switzerland:

Swiss trains are rightly renowned for their efficiency, but if you're not Swiss, booking tickets in advance for train travel in Switzerland can be comparatively quirky; though using SBB's app is simpler than using SBB's website.
If you'll be travelling long-distance on SBB trains its worth persevering with an online booking, as you can save more than 50% by booking in advance

Click on a question in the Content menu or grab a coffee and spend 5 -10 mins reading all the info and discover how to save money and confusion.

How can I make savings when booking for journeys in Switzerland?

There are THREE things to particularly look out for if you want to save money when booking long-distance Swiss train journeys.

(1) When looking up journeys opt for 'Sparbillette' tickets; the English translation is 'Supersaver' tickets.

These tickets are reduced by UP to more than 50% of the standard 'Point-to-Point' tickets' (ordinary tickets) price, but they are only valid on the specific departure/train(s) you select when making a booking.
They are available on all of the routes taken by IC and IR trains, but they may not be available on all departures.

When searching for a journey on the SBB website and app, look for the '%' symbols; they indicate that Sparbillette (Supersaver) tickets are available on that specific departure.

(2) OR if you will making a long-distance return day trip, or a long journey which involves a combination of express trains and mountain railways, then Saver Day Passes may be a cheaper option than booking tickets.
Though these passes are cheaper, the further ahead you book; and they typically need to be purchased around a month ahead to obtain them at the cheapest rate, though there's no fixed rule for this.

Though if a Saver Day Pass is a cheaper option than buying tickets, the SBB website should automatically offer you the Saver Day Pass option.
A big advantage of the Saver Day Pass compared to the Sparbillette (Supersaver) tickets is that they can be used on any train on the day on which they are valid, so you won't be tied to specific departures.
They also cover public transport, so can be used to travel to and from stations.

(3) The Half Fare Card for Visitors:

If you will be visiting Switzerland you can purchase Half Fare Cards HERE that will be valid for 1 month.
They cost CHF 120 for adults, but live up to their name and give a 50% discount on most Swiss trains and public transport networks and that includes the Swiss mountain railways; you can also use them to get a 50% discount on first class tickets and it doesn't matter whether you book online or last minute at the station

Half Fare Cards can be good value for money if you will only be spending a relatively short time in Switzerland, particularly if you want to travel spontaneously, so don't want to commit ahead to specific departures in order to obtain the Sparbillette (Supersaver) ticket rate.
Use them to book last minute tickets on around three long-distance journeys and it's likely you'll make an overall saving, particularly if you book 1st class tickets.

If you will be travelling with children aged 6 to 15 then the Half Fare Card can be particularly good value for money, because when you buy it online and add children of this age to the travelling party, it automatically becomes a Swiss Family Card at no additional cost.
The children aged 6 to 15 at the time of the trip then travel for free when accompanied by an adult; children aged 5 and under travel for free on Swiss railways in ay case.

Combining day passes with Half Fare Cards:

You can also use Half Fare Card to obtain Saver Day Passes at a 50% discount, so if you want to explore a large area of Switzerland in a single day or two and also want to make some long-distance trips, the Half-Fare card can pay off.
More info about how to use Half Fare Card for visitors together with Saver Day Passes is available on the rail passes in Switzerland guide.

Though if you don't want to commit ahead to purchasing Saver Day Passes and would rather be spontaneous to take advantage of good weather etc, Half Fare Cards can also be used to purchase last minute Day Passes at a 50% discount .
Though the flex type of Swiss Travel Pass, which is valid for three days of travel in a month, is cheaper than buying a Half Fare Card + 2 Day Passes.

What do I need to know about these discounted Sparbillette (Supersaver) tickets?

Here are ten things worth knowing about Sparbillette (Supersaver ) tickets:

(1) They can only be booked online.

(2) They are train departure specific, you can only use them on the departure you selected when making a booking.

(3) If you miss the train you are booked on so will need to take an alternative train, you will have to buy a new ticket for the other train.
(show both tickets to the conductor and you can claim a refund for your Sparbillette (Supersaver) ticket, but the process costs 10CHF).

(4) Exchanges and refunds have to be claimed on payment of an admin fee of CHF10, but for a claim to be successful certain conditions need to be applicable; in effect you can't claim a refund if you change your mind about wanting to take the journey.

(5) Whether Supersaver tickets are available on a specific departure is indicated by the presence of a % symbol on a black triangle.

(6) If you are booking a return journey, having selected a Sparbillette (Supersaver) ticket for the outward journey, the default will be that you'll want to return by using a more expensive; and more flexible, 'Point-To-Point' ticket.
Sticking with the Point-To-Point option means that you can return by any train, but it is possible to be proactive and over-ride this.
Though by selecting a Sparbillette (Supersaver) ticket for the return journey, you will then be committed to return by the specific departure, which you'l; choose when booking.

(7) On the most popular departures, particularly direct trains, these Sparbillette (Supersaver) tickets can sell out days/weeks ahead, so early booking is highly recommended.
For journeys between Zurich and both Geneve or Lausanne, they’re more likely to be available on the trains via Biel than on the trains via Bern.

(8) They're also more likely to be available on the slower IR trains when the IC trains and IR trains share the same route.

(9) A sliding scale of prices can be applied to Sparbillette (Supersaver) tickets on the more popular routes; hence these tickets being UP to MORE than 50% cheaper.

The cheapest tickets for the most popular DIRECT trains will sell out faster, so they're likely to be on sale for longer for journey options with a change of train.
Meaning that when you search, the Supersaver tickets for the direct trains, can be more expensive than indirect journeys that involve a change of train.
Or they can be sold out on the direct trains, but still available for the indirect journeys.

(10) If Saver Day Passes are a cheaper option than Sparbillette (Supersaver) tickets for the journey you are looking up, the SBB website, will automatically default to those passes; as the cheapest 'ticketing' option for a journey

What is the optimum alternative to the Sparbillette (Supersaver) tickets?

If you will be making a return long-distance journey on a single day and don't want to be committed to specific trains, or if those discounted tickets simply aren't available on the trains you need or would rather take, don't be too hasty to hit the red 'purchase' button.

On the search results you should automatically also see the difference in price of purchasing a Saver Day rail pass and the key advantage of booking the pass instead is that it de-risks the journey, because you won't be committed to taking the specific departures you selected when booking the Supersaver ticket

Though the SBB website will offer the Saver Day Passes as the default booking option if buying one of these passes is cheaper than buying tickets.

Those Saver Day passes will enable you to hop on any trains on your travel date; plus if you need to take public transport to and from a station, they're usually valid on that too.

How far ahead can I book SBB's tickets?

Tickets can be booked UP to two months ahead of the travel date

What do I need to know about ticket pricing?

When looking up journeys on SBB, don't pay attention to the prices you will initially see; these prices only apply if you have one of the half-fare discount cards.

If you don't have one of these cards, the price you will actually be paying for a journey will only become clear once you have selected a ticket; as explained on the step-by-step booking guide below

So if will be using the Timetable functionality on SBB, to compare prices of Swiss train journeys to buses/flights, OR against the cost of using rail passes, you need to take those extra steps to look up the full price of the ticket for the journey.

What are 'Point-to-Point' (Individual) tickets?

'Point-to-Point' tickets are the standard priced (non-discounted) tickets for journeys in Switzerland; until recently they were known as 'Individual' tickets
Aside from the price, the other key difference with the Sparbillette (Supersaver) tickets is that 'Point-to-Point' tickets can be used on any departure on your date of travel.
The price you will see online for 'Point-to-Point' tickets is the price that will be charged when booking tickets last minute at the station

What are 'City' tickets?

When booking 'Point-to-Point' (non-discounted) tickets online or at the station, you can add the option to be able to use the public transport networks in the cities in which you'll be starting and finishing the rail journey.
The price of the upgrade per city will be shown on the booking path, so you can opt to add one city or both

Using a combination of Sparbillette (Supersaver) tickets and then paying for the public transport will usually be (much) cheaper, but these upgrades to Point-to-Point tickets save the hassle of trying to understand the ticket machines on the public transport networks.
Swiss cities don’t have subway/metro networks (Lausanne excepted), so staffed public transport ticket offices and counters are rare.

So making the addition to upgrade a Point-to-Point ticket(s) to a 'City' ticket(s) can be a particularly good option if:

  • the Sparbillette (Supersaver) tickets aren't available when you need to travel; and
  • you won't be travelling far enough to justify purchasing a Saver Day Pass; and
  • you will be travelling to AND from the station at both end of the route by public transport, particularly if you will be making a long transfer.

How can I book seat reservations?

When booking tickets online for journeys by SBB's Intercity IC trains it isn't possible to add an optional reservation to the booking.

Instead you need to book reservations for these trains separately online on SBBs seat reservation service.

What about Child tickets on SBB trains?

If you're visiting Switzerland then the child tickets rules are different to those which Swiss citizens can benefit from.

For children under 6 years of age:

If you have a valid train ticket and are aged 16 or over, you can take up to eight children aged 5 or younger with you
More info is available here.

Children aged 6-15:

A good option if you will travelling long distances in a day is a '1 Day Travel Pass for Children'

They cost just 16 CHF for 2nd class and 32 CHF for 1st class, but are only valid when the child aged 6-15 is travelling with an adult using a valid ticket or Saver Day Pass.
An adult ticket holder can be accompanied by up to 4 child pass users.

Or if you don't opt to for this pass, children aged 6-15 and travelling with a person aged 16 and over, pay 50% of the adult rate per journey.

Or if you have purchased tickets by using a Half-Card for visitors, you can take up to four children aged 6-16 for free.

What about tickets for bikes?

You cannot just take a bike on board any train operated by SBB, you need to purchase tickets for your bikes first.

And this can be surprisingly expensive; the full details and prices are here.

What if my journey involves a combination of SBB trains + and an independent operator's trains?

SBB’s website sells tickets for many journeys that involve a combination of SBB trains + trains operated by an independent railway.

Booking the end-to-end journeys on SBB won't cost any more than booking separate tickets and will save hassle.
Most of the connections between SBB trains and the independent railways are tightly timed, so not having to book at an independent railway station against the clock is a big plus.

Some of the independent railways also don’t provide for online bookings and/or have ticket machines with little English translation.
So if your final destination is on an independent railway, it’s worth checking to see if SBB will sell a ticket(s) online for the entire end-to-end journey.

Popular destinations on independent railways that can be booked on SBB (tickets include the SBB train + the independent train) include:
Arosa, Engelberg, Grindelwald, Gstaad, Klosters, Le Chable, Scuol-Tarasp, Wengen and Zermatt:

If you look up such a journey on the SBB website, it should automatically offer Saver Day Passes as a booking option IF the pass will be cheaper than buying tickets for the end-to-end journey.

Sparbillette/Supersaver tickets can be available, but when they are, only the portion of the journey by SBB train will be discounted.
Discounted tickets are hardly ever available for the standard trains on the independent railways; even if you can book in advance online.

What about exchanges and refunds?

The terms and conditions around exchanging or refunding tickets and Saver Day Passes purchased on the SBB website have been amended recently.
The full details are on the SBB website, but in summary, what is most worth knowing is:

  • When booking tickets on the SBB website you can either opt to purchase as a guest, or you can register with the service when making a booking, but if you bother to register, it not only makes the exchange/refund process simpler, it will also be a money saver.

Refunding Point-to-Point tickets

  • If you have registered with SBB, you can log into your account and cancel 'Point-to-Point' (standard, non-discounted) tickets and therefore be automatically refunded with no additional charge.
    However, if you purchase a Point-to-Point ticket as guest, you can apply for a pre-travel refund, but will be charged a CHF10 admin fee.
  • If you registered and process the Point-to-Point refund after your travel date (because you didn't make the trip) you will also be charged CHF10.
    Note that there is no need to exchange 'Point-to-Point' tickets, because if you want to travel on a different date you can refund your original purchase and then re-book your tickets.

Refunding Supersaver tickets and Saver Day Passes

  • If you registered when booking, but purchased Supersaver tickets (or Saver Day Passes) you cannot just log-in to your SBB account and refund your tickets, you have to make a claim for your refund or exchange and there is a 10CHF admin fee.
  • If you purchased as a guest you can also make a claim on payment of the 10CHF fee; so registering won't be a money-saver if you'll be booking Supersaver tickets and Saver Day Passes, but it can be a time-saver.

So if you have booked Supersaver tickets (or Saver Day Passes) it's worth being aware of the 'conditions' which will enable a refund or exchange claim to be accepted.
What's particularly worth knowing is, if you entered all the details correctly when booking, then you cannot obtain a refund if you subsequently decide that you don't want to make the journey because you have changed your mind.
To obtain a refund need to be able to 'prove' that you can't now make the booked journey due to circumstances such as illness.

You also seemingly can't exchange your tickets to an alternative departure.
Though if you arrive at a station too late to make the departure you are booked on to and you still want to go ahead and make the journey, you can pay the 10CHF admin fee and have your Supersaver purchase refunded, at a ticket counter but you will need to re-book and purchase a non-discounted Point-To-Point ticket.

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Using rail passes in Switzerland:

Is there a rail pass that will save me money compared to buying tickets?

SBB now sells 'Saver Day Passes'.
In common with multi-day Swiss Travel Passes (which is a different pass) they can be used to travel throughout Switzerland in a single day.

A sliding scale of prices is applied to Saver Day Passes, so the further ahead you book, the cheaper the price you will pay; they need to be booked at least a day ahead of your travel.
They can be booked up to 60 days ahead and the full rate/prices start from 52CHF 2nd class and 88CHF 1st class (these are the prices if you DON'T have a Half-Fare Card).
Though if you want to purchase there or more Saver Day Passes for journeys while you're in Switzerland, purchasing a Half Fare Card for visitors to Switzerland and then using it to book the day passes at a 50% discount, can be a money saver.

So if you're booking ahead and making a return journey, it's worth checking the price of a Saver Day Passes to see how it compares to the ticket(s); the price difference between the ticket(s) and the pass can be indicated on the SBB website.

If there's a possibility that you'll want to take another train, then the Saver Day Pass is even more likely to save you money; and unlike the Sparbillette (Supersaver) ticket, you can hop on any train when using a Saver Day Pass.

Though Saver Day Passes are more likely to save you money if you want to spend a DAY exploring a large area of Switzerland, including hopping on trains operated by the independent railway companies.

Saver Day Passes vs Swiss Travel Passes:

Because the Saver Day Passes are discounted, purchasing three or four separate Day Passes can be cheaper than a Swiss Travel Pass that is valid for 3 or 4 days.

Though keep in mind:

  • The prices of the Day Passes increase between the day they are placed on sale (60 days) ahead and the day they are taken off sale (they must be booked in at least 24 hrs in advance).
  • So the further ahead you book the more likely it is that the Day Passes will be money savers.
  • The prices of the two types of Travel pass; consecutive days and Flex.
  • By booking Day Passes you'll be committing to your travel dates before you arrive in Switzerland, but with the Flex Travel Pass, you can choose your travel dates once you are in Switzerland.
  • That a Swiss Museum Pass is included with a Swiss Travel pass.
  • On the railways on which Swiss Travel Pass users travel at a discounted rate, the users of Saver Day Passes don't receive any discount if they don't also have Half-Fare Cards.

The three types of rail pass:

There are three main types of rail passes that can be purchased for nationwide train travel throughout Switzerland.

1: The Swiss Travel Pass

These can be purchased by non-Swiss citizens and can be used on very nearly all trains within Switzerland at no additional cost, including nearly all the independent railways - as well as a few short routes from and to Switzerland.

It also enables free travel on the public transport networks in Swiss cities and on Swiss lake cruises AND gives free or discounted access to many Swiss tourist attractions, including some funiculars and cable cars.
They are valid for 3, 4, 8 or 15 days of travel.

The big tick in the box for this type of pass is the inclusion of the museums/tourist attractions.
Though consider how many tourist attractions, cable cars and lake cruises you're likely to want to experience; as it's these which partially tip the balance in favour of opting for Swiss Travel Passes.

If you mainly want to take trains, Swiss Travel Passes are more likely to save you money overall if you opt for the 8 day or 15 day versions, as the cost PER DAY of using the pass will be lower.

Also think about making the first day that your pass will be valid for, the same date as your first long distance journey; you want to minimise the number of days that you'll only be using the pass to travel on the local transport networks.

2: Saver Day Passes:

They live up to their name by only being valid for a single day and unlike the Swiss Travel Pass they can be purchased at a discounted rate if you book in advance.
They can be used to hop and off the trains across Switzerland, but if you don't book a Day Pass at the Half-Card rate you won't be able to travel at a discount on these railways; The BRB between Brienz and Rothurn and The GGB between Zermatt and Gornegrat and The JB between Kleine Scheidegg and Jungfaujoch and The MG between Capolago and Generosso Vetta and The PB between Alpnachstad and Pilatus-Kulm and The SPB between Wilderswill and Schynige Platte and The WAB between Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen and Kleine Scheidegg

Though if you want to use Saver Day Passes on 3 or more days of travel, the overall cost of the Half Fare card for visitors + then buying the Saver Day Passes at 50% discount is often a money saver; and because you'll then have a Half Fare card, you can access the discounted rates on these railways.

3: InterRail Passes in Switzerland:

InterRail One Country Passes are available for use in Switzerland, and these are cheaper than the equivalent Swiss Travel Pass; and they can be used on all mainline trains in Switzerland, including SBB and BLS trains at no additional charge.

Note that unlike the Swiss Travel Pass, an InterRail pass can't be used on local/city transport networks or on buses.

However, in common with Swiss Travel Passes, InterRail passes also allow for free travel on many of the many independent railways in Switzerland, including the four largest – the MGB, the MOB, the RhB and the ZB lines.

Though they cannot be used for free travel on as many lines as the Swiss Travel Pass, while on some lines (and the lake cruises), InterRail passes only give access to a 50% discount.

One country Eurail Passes are NOT available for Switzerland.

Author

Simon Harper

I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.

ShowMeTheJourney

This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.