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.
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 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:
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.
Also keep in mind that the prices you see on SBB will be in Swiss Francs (CHFs) and not euros.
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.
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.
Here are nine 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) 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.
(7) They're also more likely to be available on the slower IR trains when the IC trains and IR trains share the same route.
(8) 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.
(9) If Saver Day Passes are a cheaper option than Sparbillette (Supersaver) tickets on the departure you are looking up, the SBB website, will automatically default to those passes; as the cheapest 'ticketing' option for a journey
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.
Tickets can be booked UP to two months ahead of the travel date
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.
'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
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, so these upgrades 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 good option if:
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.
Oi if you have purchased tickets by using a Half-Card for visitors, you can take a child aged 6-16 for free.
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.
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.
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:
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).
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:
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:
The same benefits as the Swiss Travel Pass, but they live up to their name by only being valid for a single day.
Also unlike the Swiss Travel Pass they can be purchased at a discounted rate if you book in advance.
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.
I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.
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.