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Train Ticket Guides Using Rail Passes in and to/from Switzerland
How to use rail passes in Switzerland

Using Rail Passes in and to/from Switzerland

All you need to know about using rail pass passes to explore Switzerland on any Swiss train; and on trains to and from Switzerland

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Switzerland is a country where the train journey can be as fabulous as the destination, so exploring the country by train can make for a fantastic holiday.
Using rail passes to explore Switzerland allows you to follow your own itinerary and they can also make it easier to see Switzerland by train.
The Concierge Service can help with planning a rail pass itinerary, either using Swiss Travel Passes, or for including the best of Switzerland on an InterRail or Eurail holiday.

Another tick in the box for using rail passes to travel around Switzerland by train is that reservations aren't necessary on the express trains between cities, including when travelling within Switzerland on international trains - though if possible avoid travelling between and from the major cities at business hours.
Reservations are also not typically available on the standard trains which operate on the network of independent mountain railways.

How to use rail passes in Switzerland

Introducing the three core types of pass.

More than two dozen companies operate Swiss railways, so the big tick in the boxes of using rail passes in Switzerland, is that they more often than not enable travellers to hop on and off any of these trains, irrespective of which company is providing the service.

Though the number of railways that you can travel on for free, or at a discounted rate, varies according to which pass you are using; hence a snapshot of where you can and can't use the various passes is available on our guide to Swiss Mountain railways.

In summary the three core types of pass which are also valid on any train on the national network, so will save money when exploring Switzerland by train are:

  1. Swiss Travel Passes are valid for 3, 4, 8 or 15 days of travel on nearly all of Swiss Mountain railways, and they also include public transport, museum/gallery entry to 500 attractions and some mountain excursions by funiculars, cable cars and rack railways.

  2. Saver Day Passes, which as their name suggests are valid for one day of travel.

  3. InterRail Switzerland passes, which are valid for 3, 4, 5, 6 or 8 days of rail travel including the primary mountain railways, which operate the longer cross-country routes.
    Eurail does not offer a one-country pass for Switzerland.

Using a Swiss Travel Pass:

The Swiss Travel Pass is the relatively new replacement for The Swiss Pass; which is now the name of a different ticket, that’s relevant to Swiss citizens only.
Though the core benefit of the ability to hop on virtually any train in Switzerland*, including the independent railways, without incurring additional charges has been retained,

An additional feature is that the Swiss Travel Pass is also valid on virtually all trams and buses across Switzerland, as well as some funiculars and cable cars/gondolas.
*The Swiss Travel Pass is also valid for some international train services, namely;

  • SBB trains (not the EC trains) from Brig to Domodossola;
  • The TER trains between Vallorcine and Chamonix-Mont Blanc;
  • The ‘Centovali’ trains from Domodossola across the border – and on to Locarno.
    How to use rail passes in Switzerland and on the Centovali trains in Italy

The Swiss Travel Pass is valid for free travel on more independent mountain lines than Eurail or InterRail passes.
For example, the Swiss Travel Pass is valid on both of the railway lines up Mount Rigi and the Pilatus Bahn.

Not quite every line is included, but The Swiss Travel Pass gives a 25% discount on the particularly expensive lines in the Bernese-Oberland that connect Interlaken with Jungfraujoch - (but Saver Day Passes and InterRail pass users can also access the 25% discount on these trains).
Though the Swiss Travel Pass provides a 50% discount on many other lines on which InterRail pass users don't receive a discount, including the CGB and BRB lines.

Whether the Swiss Travel Pass will save you money also inevitably depends on how far you travel, it is best put to use facilitating fabulous multi-destination day trips across Switzerland; see below for some itinerary ideas from Basel and Zurich.
Swiss Travel Passes can be purchased for 3, 4, 8 or 15 days of travel, though you're more LIKELY to save money on the train travel element of your trip if you opt for an 8 or 15 day pass.

Also worth knowing about using Swiss Travel Passes:

  1. The Swiss Travel Pass will cost the same if you make the purchase when you are in Switzerland, so there's no need to be concerned about exchanges or refunds if you have to alter your travel plans.

  2. There are in effect two types of Swiss Travel Pass:

  • Passes which are valid for consecutive days of travel
  • 'Flex' which provide the freedom to choose travel days at the last minute, they're more expensive, but can ensure you're only travelling on good weather days etc.
  1. A big tick in the box for opting for a Swiss Travel Pass is nothing to do with rail travel, it's the fact that it includes the benefits of a Swiss Museum Pass so also allows for free admission to 500 visitor atrractions
    So keep this in mind when deciding whether Swiss Travel Passes are value for money compared to the other 'rail pass' options.

Using Saver Day Passes

SBB also now sells 'Saver Day Passes'.
They can be used to travel on TRAINS in the same way as Swiss Travel Passes, so allow for the same free or discounted travel on the Swiss independent railways as those passes.
How to use rail passes on trains in Switzerland

The core difference between a Swiss Travel Pass and the Saver Day Passes, is that the latter live up to their name, so they can be used to travel throughout Switzerland in a single day; meaning that you don't now have to commit to a minimum of three days of travel in order to experience multiple thrilling journeys.

A sliding scale of prices is also applied to Saver Day Passes, so the further ahead you book, the cheaper the price you will pay; this sliding scale of prices doesn't apply to Swiss Travel Passes.

The Saver Day Passes can be booked up to a month 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.
(If you will be visiting Switzerland you can purchase Half Fare Cards HERE that will be valid for 1 month).
The Saver Day Passes can't be purchased last minute on your travel dates, so you'll need to purchase them at least a day in advance.
Though be aware that to obtain a refund of a Saver Day Pass once purchased, you'll need to apparently prove that a reason, such as illness, has prevented you from making the trip.

Though it's less likely that Saver Day Passes will save you money for journeys between two destinations on which you will ONLY be travelling on SBB trains.
That's because discounted Sparbillette/Supersaver tickets are LIKELY to still be available for journeys by SBB's express trains
These Saver Day Passes are more likely to save you money if you want to spend a whole day exploring a large area of Switzerland, including hopping on trains operated by the independent railway companies.

Travel Pass vs Saver Day Pass:

If you'll be using a Travel Pass valid for 8 or 15 days of travel, it will undoubtedly be a money saver, but for Travel Passes valid for 3 or 4 days, booking multiple Day Passes in advance can be a cheaper option, particularly in comparison to the Flex Type of Travel Pass.

Though as can be seen below, what's crucial is how far ahead in advance you book the Day Passes, because the prices of the Day Passes are discounted, so the further ahead you can book, the more you will save, but the prices of the Travel Passes are fixed.
The prices of the Day Passes can rise by more than 50 francs, between the date on which they are placed on sale (60 days) in advance, and the day before travel (they need to be booked at least 24 hrs in advance).

Therefore note that the Day Pass prices on the comparison below are not fixed, it depends on how quickly the passes at the cheapest price are selling out, so they've been included here as an indication of the potential for Day Passes to be money savers.

3 days of 2nd class travel:
Swiss Travel Pass Consecutive Days = CHF 232
Swiss Travel Pass Flex = CHF 267
Saver Day Pass x 3 booked 3 weeks ahead = CHF 183
Saver Day Pass x 3 booked 2 days ahead = CHF 318

3 days of 1st class travel:
Swiss Travel Pass Consecutive Days = CHF 369
Swiss Travel Pass Flex= CHF 514
Saver Day Pass x 3 booked 3 weeks ahead = CHF 291
Saver Day Pass x 3 booked 2 days ahead = CHF 534

4 days of 2nd class travel:
Swiss Travel Pass Consecutive Days = CHF 281
Swiss Travel Pass Flex = CHF 424
Saver Day Pass x 4 booked 3 weeks ahead = CHF 244
Saver Day Pass x 4 booked 2 days ahead = CHF 424

4 days of 1st class travel:
Swiss Travel Pass Consecutive Days = CHF 447
Swiss Travel Pass Flex = CHF 514
Saver Day Pass x 4 booked 3 weeks ahead = CHF 388
Saver Day Pass x 4 booked 2 days ahead = CHF 712

In summary:

  • It's worth looking up the prices of the Saver Day Passes before you commit to a Travel Pass.
  • But there will typically be tipping point at which the Travel Pass becomes better value for money.
  • The Saver Day Passes do not include the free admission to more than 500 museums, so when comparing the savings, factor in the number of attractions of you'll want to visit.
  • Book a Saver Day Pass and you won't be able to claim a refund if you simply change your mind, you'll need a proven reason as to why you couldn't make the trip such as illness, but with Travel Passes ,you'll be purchasing when you get to Switzerland; so pre-trip, there's no need to be concerned about T&Cs around refunds and exchanges.
  • Note that the Day Passes offer greater savings against the Flex type of Travel Pass, but by booking the Day Passes in advance, you'll be committing to using the pass on that specific day before you'll have arrived in Switzerland.
    You could find yourself having to ride up a mountain on a foggy day etc, when a Flex type of Travel Pass would have given the freedom to wait a day or two for the weather to clear.

Using Eurail and InterRail passes:

As tickets for certain journeys in Switzerland can be comparatively expensive, adding multiple Swiss destinations to an InterRail or Eurail pass itinerary, can go a long way to ensuring that a Eurail Global or an InterRail ‘Global’ pass will save you money.
*Eurail does NOT offer a one country pass solely for travel in Switzerland by train, but InterRail offers a pass that can solely be used in Switzerland, plus Switzerland is also one of the countries in which pan-European 'Global' passes can be used.

You are more likely to make savings with these passes, in comparison to buying tickets, if you travel on the independent railway networks on which Eurail and InterRail passes ARE valid.

Fantastic independent lines on which Eurail and InterRail passes CAN be used at no additional charge include:

  • the RhB network (Chur, St Moritz, Tirano, Kolsters, Davos)
  • The Golden Pass (MOB and ZB) route between Montreux and Luzern.
    How to use rail passes on Swiss trains
  • the ‘Centovali’ Line between Locarno and Domodossola.
  • the MGB lines including the Disentis/Muster – Andermatt – Brig – Zermatt route.

So InterRail and Eurail Passes can now be used on the four longest routes, on which Swiss Travel Passes also enable free travel.

A tip if you'll be in Switzerland with a Eurail or InterRail pass is to avoid paying the comparatively expensive charges, for a journey or two on the lines on which Eurail and InterRail passes don't allow for free travel.
Yes these other lines are also fabulous, but not (IMHO) so exponentially more wonderful to justify the (high) costs of using a Eurail or InterRail pass to travel on them.

Eurail and InterRail Passes are also valid on all Swiss mainline (SBB and BLS) trains, including the local trains AND the express IC and IR services; you can hop on any of these trains with your valid pass, as seat reservations aren't required.
This also applies when German ICE trains travel in Switzerland on the Basel ↔ Chur and Basel ↔ Interlaken routes.

There’s also no need to pay reservation fees for journeys WITHIN Switzerland, if you travel by a train service on which reservation fees apply to international journeys.
Some examples of routes on which this applies includes:
(1) Basel ↔ Zurich by TGV-Lyria trains,
(2 Geneve/Lausanne ↔ Visp/Brig by EC trains,
(3) Basel - Olten - Bern - Thun - Spiez - Visp - Brig by EC trains,
(4) Zurich ↔ Bellizona/Lugano by EC trains.

Comparing an InterRail country pass with a Swiss Travel Pass:

Considering these FOUR factors can help decide which pass is the right option for your travel needs:

(1) A one country InterRail Pass for Switzerland is around 40% cheaper than an equivalent Swiss Travel Pass (in terms of numbers of travel days that a pass is valid for).

(2) The price difference reflects the fact that the Swiss Travel Pass is valid on more independent railways, than the InterRail Pass – and also gives access to free or discounted travel on many funiculars and cable cars.

(3) And the fact that the Swiss Travel Pass is valid on public transport networks, most Swiss lake cruises AND has free or discounted entry to many more museums/galleries and attractions than InterRail passes.
So if you'll have to time to visit museums, galleries etc, then the balance can tip towards the Swiss Travel Pass.

(4) Though if your itinerary is focused primarily on train journeys and you’re happy to NOT include these popular lines...
(a) The lines up Mt Rigi
(b) Zermatt – Gornegrat
(c) the PB line up Mount Pilatus
(d) the AB and BRB and TPC lines.

...on your itinerary, the balance can tip in favour of a one country InterRail pass.

Using Eurail / InterRail on The Bernina & Glacier Expresses:

How to use rail passes in Switzerland

If you have a Swiss Travel Pass, or a Eurail or InterRail pass that’s valid in Switzerland, you now only have to pay the reservation fee for journeys on the The Glacier Express or The Bernina Express.
The reservation is a fixed rate, irrespective of the distance you travel on The Glacier Express or The Bernina Express; so using any of these passes to travel the entire journey on these trains is a great deal!
Rail pass users can book reservations without journey tickets on the Glacier Express website.
(Select your rail pass from the list of 'reductions').

If you have a Swiss Travel Pass, or a Eurail or InterRail pass that’s valid in Switzerland, you also only have to pay the reservation fee to travel in the observation cars on The Bernina Express.

Itineraries from Basel:

If you want to tick off the ‘Grand Tour of Switzerland' railway routes, then Basel is an ideal base for a rail pass itinerary, particularly in the summer when the daylight hours are longest.

If you want to take one, two, or three of these itineraries, a Saver Day Pass for each day of travels will be a money saver.

If you want to follow more than three of these routes you will save with a Swiss Travel Pass; and if you'll want to make the most of the other inclusions on the Swiss Travel passes, the lake cruises, funiculars, galleries and museums etc, the Swiss Travel Pass can also be good value for money if you follow just three of the suggested routes.

All of the routes below can be accomplished in a day.
The schedules may seem daunting, but virtually all the connections are as simple as possible.

Journeys with a single * are those which Eurail/InterRail users have to be a reduced fee
Journeys with a double** are those on which all rail pass users have to pay a reduced fee.

1: The Golden Pass route : Basel – Visp – Montreux – Zweisimmen – Spiez – Interlaken Ost – Luzern – Basel

2: The Glacier/Bernina Express Route #1: Basel – Chur – St Moritz – Chur – Zurich – Basel

3: The Glacier Express route #2: Basel – Visp – Zermatt – Visp – Andermatt – Disentis/Muster – Chur – Zurich – Basel

4: The Centovali and The Gotthard Express route: Basel – Domodossola – Locarno – Bellinzona – Basel

5: Mount Rigi: Basel – Luzern → boat to Vitznau * → Rigi * → Arth-Goldau* → Fluelen → boat to Luzern* → Basel

6: The Bernese-Oberland: Basel – Interlaken Ost - Lauterbrunnen **→ Kleine Scheidegg **→ Jungfraujoch **→ Kleine Scheidegg → Grindelwald ** → Interlaken Ost – Basel

7: The Voralpen Express and Schaffhausen Falls: Basel – Luzern – St Gallen – Schaffhausen – Zurich - Basel

8: Mont Blanc and The Lotschberger: Basel – Biel – Lausanne – Martigny – Vallorcine – Chamonix-Mont Blanc – Vallorcine – Martigny – Brig – Thun/Bern via Kandersteg - Basel.

Itineraries from Zurich:

It may not seem obvious from looking at a map, but if you want to tick off the ‘Grand Tour of Switzerland' railway routes, then Zurich is a good base for a rail pass itinerary, particularly in the summer when the daylight hours are longest.
Basing yourself in the city saves you the bother of having to switch hotels during a holiday.

If you want to take one, two, or three of these itineraries, a Saver Day Pass for each day of travels will be a money saver.

If you want to follow more than three of these routes you will save with a Swiss Travel Pass; and if you'll want to make the most of the other inclusions on the Swiss Travel passes, the lake cruises, funiculars, galleries and museums etc, the Swiss Travel Pass can also be good value for money if you follow just three of the suggested routes.

All of the routes below can be accomplished in a day.
The schedules may seem daunting, but virtually all the connections are as simple as possible.

Journeys with a single * are those which Eurail/InterRail users have to be a reduced fee
Journeys with a double** are those on which all rail pass users have to pay a reduced fee.

1: The Golden Pass route : Zurich – Lausanne via Biel - Montreux – Zweisimmen – Spiez – Interlaken Ost – Luzern – Zurich

2: The Glacier/Bernina Express Route: Zurich– Chur – Samedan – Pontresina – Tirano – Pontresina – Samedan – Chur – Zurich

3: The Glacier Express route #2: Zurich – Visp – Zermatt – Visp – Andermatt – Disentis/Muster – Chur – Zurich

4: The Centovali and The Gotthard Express route: - Zurich – Brig – Domodossola – Locarno – Bellinzona – Erstfeld – Zurich

5: Mount Rigi and Wilhelm Tell Express route: Zurich – Luzern → boat to Vitznau * → Rigi * → Arth-Goldau* → Fluelen → boat to Luzern* – Zurich

6: The Bernese-Oberland: Zurich - Bern – Interlaken Ost →Lauterbrunnen **→ Kleine Scheidegg **→ Jungfraujoch **→ Kleine Scheidegg → Grindelwald ** → Interlaken Ost – Bern – Zurich

7: The Voralpen Express and Schaffhausen Falls: Zurich – Luzern – St Gallen – Schaffhausen – Zurich

8: Mont Blanc and The Lotschberger: Zurich – Lausanne via Bern – Martigny – Vallorcine – Chamonix-Mont Blanc – Vallorcine – Martigny – Brig – Thun/Bern via Kandersteg - Zurich

To and from Switzerland with Eurail & InterRail:

How to use rail passes on trains from and to Switzerland

You can avoid having to pay rail reservation fees/supplements by taking trains from and to Switzerland on which reservations aren't available.
These are all of the cross border local trains PLUS these regional train services:
(1) to/from Germany - Regio
(2) to/from France - TER
(3) to/from Italy - Regionale

Routes with optional reservations:

Rail pass reservations are also optional on these DAYTIME express trains from/to Switzerland:

(1) international ICE and IC trains between Switzerland and Germany
(2) on the EC (EuroCity) trains between Switzerland and Germany/Austria
(3) the Railjets between Switzerland and Austria/Hungary

Booking these optional rail pass reservations:

The availability of seats isn't guaranteed for the entire journey, particularly when travelling in 2nd class on the ICE and EC trains to/from Germany, so opting to reserve is recommended for long journeys.
However, you will charged a booking fee of more than 11-CHF per reservation, if you book seats for international trains at a Swiss station.
Rail pass reservations for INTERNATIONAL journeys from Switzerland also CAN'T be booked on SBB's online seat reservation service.

The reservations for journeys from Switzerland to Germany can be purchased on the DB (German national railways) booking website up to 6 months ahead and cost €5.30 when using 1st class passes and €4 when using 2nd class passes.
How to do this is explained here.

The optional reservations for journeys by Railjet train from Switzerland to Austria can be booked up to 6 months ahead online with OBB - the fee is €3, whether you have a 1st or 2nd class pass.
How to do this is explained here.

Journeys with mandatory reservations:

If you know that you will want to reserve on a train with compulsory reservations – which are:

- all overnight trains from Switzerland,
- the Lyria trains to France,
- the EC trains TO Italy (international journeys only)

Be aware that reservations for these international trains CAN'T be booked on SBB's online seat reservation service - and the Italian national rail company, Trenitalia, now no longer sells rail pass reservations for the EC trains between Switzerland and Italy online.
So the only online option for booking reservations before arriving in Switzerland is to book reservations online, by using the Eurail reservation service or the InterRail reservation service but you will be charged a €2 booking fee per reservation.
Bookings should open 4 months in advance for both the EC and Lyria services.

However, you will charged a booking fee of more than 11-CHF per reservation, if you book rail pass reservations for international trains at a Swiss station - so using those Eurail/InterRail reservation services can be a money saver.

OR if you will be travelling through Germany prior to arriving in Switzerland, you can pay for reservations for these trains at a Reisezentrum travel desk in any hauptbahnhof station - and won't be charged a booking fee at all.

Example of rail pass reservation fees:

Basel/Geneve/Lausanne/Zurich – Paris (Lyria*) = from €52 - 1st ; from €25 - 2nd
Geneve – Marseille/Montpellier/Nice (Lyria*) = from €23 - 1st ; from €16 - 2nd
Basel – Marseille (TGV) = from €10 - 1st and 2nd class
Basel/Bern/Geneve/Luzern/Zurich - Milano (EC**) = €13 - 1st and €11 - 2nd

Money Saving Tips:

*To avoid paying these particularly expensive rail pass reservation fees on the Lyria trains, you can take TER trains from Basel to Mulhouse or from Geneve to Lyon.
Take a TGV on to your final destination from Mulhouse or Lyon and the reservation for the TGV can be as low as €10 for both 1st and 2nd class pass users.
Or if you are willing to have a slower end-to-end journey, you can avoid paying any reservation fees when travelling from Basel and Zurich to Paris, or from Geneva to Paris.

**Alternative options are available to the EC trains to Italy, which can save the reservation rail pass reservation fee on these trains (and the booking fee if you haven’t made reservations before arriving in Switzerland).
On the Gotthard route via Lugano take an IR train from Basel or Zurich to Bellinzona and connect there for Regio train to Milano.
Do this and not only will you save money, you’ll also get to experience one of the most scenic routes in all of Europe - more information re; the required connections when travelling travelling to Milan or Venice from Zurich.

If you’re planning to travel to Italy via Brig, then there is a daily direct IC train from Basel and Bern to Domodossola.
And now there are also 3 x regional trains per day from Bern to Domodossola, which are branded 'Lotschberger' because they take a more scenic route than the express trains.
You can connect at Domodossola into a Regionale (RV) train on to Milano.

Author

Simon Harper

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

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