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Trouble figuring out which
Swiss Rail Pass is right for you?

I receive a lot of emails from people asking me how to figure out the best Swiss Rail Pass option for their vacation in Switzerland. Or if they would be better off buying a Half Fare Card.

Admittedly, evaluating this is not an easy task and takes a bit of time. To help you understand the process, I made up a fictional itinerary to explain how you can figure out the best option for you.

If you want to skip reading through the itinerary and go straight to the part that actually shows you how to calculate fares, click here.

Travel Itinerary for 8 Days

This will be a bit of a hurried itinerary. But it only serves the purpose to explain and show you the process of how to figure out the best deal for you.

Let's say you arrive at Zürich Airport, spend the night in Zürich and possibly a day or two to explore the city. I don't count that as a travel day since the train ticket from the Airport into the city costs peanuts (CHF 6.60 at the time of writing).

Day 1: Zürich to St. Moritz

When you are ready to start your journey, head right up to the Alps and take the train from Zürich to St.Moritz. In Chur, you'll catch the Glacier Express (Panorama windows; seat reservation not possible in advance if you only travel that particular stretch. The fee has to be paid in the train, should you find a free seat) or you board the regular train that travels exactly the same route (no reservation necessary, and no fee applies).

Overnight in St. Moritz, possibly spend a day or two there. It would be a pity not visiting at least one or two of the beautiful villages in the Lower Engadin, for example Zernez, Guarda and Scuol, just to name a few.

View from Guarda to Lavin
View from Guarda to Lavin, two authentic villages in the Lower Engadin, not far from St. Moritz

Day 2: St. Moritz to Lugano

From here you are going south for a bit of Mediterranean climate. For the trip from St. Moritz to Lugano you could travel by Bernina Express (all the way to Lugano only in the summer months), but for this example, I've chosen the Palm Express - a trip entirely on a post bus that carries you through a lesser known part of Switzerland, from the rugged Alpine scenery to balmy "bella Svizzera" in the Canton Ticino (seat reservation mandatory).

The Palm Express on its way to the Tessin
The Palm Express winding down the twisting "Maloja Pass" road into the "Bregaglia Valley"

I am sure the Mediterranean climate will coax you into staying a little longer in Lugano, or even go beyond. Ascona, Locarno and Bellinzona are fabulous cities for a bit of "Swiss Italiantià". And the activities are endless…

Monte San Salvatore in Lugano
Our very own Sugar Hut, the "Monte San Salvatore" in Lugano. The views from the top are captivating!

Days 3 and 4: Lugano to Lucerne

The train will bring you from Lugano to Flüelen where you board the ship to Lucerne.

And since this is an absolutely goooorgeous region, you want to see more and decide to head up to the Pilatus via Alpnachstad and back via Kriens (May to October). You take the Golden Round Trip, by lake steamer, board the world's steepest cog railway and return by aerial cableway and bus back to Lucerne.

Plan of the Pilatus Golden Roundtrip
Enjoy exceptional views on the Golden Roundtrip to the Pilatus

Days 5 and 6:Lucerne to Interlaken Ost

From Lucerne you continue your trip to Interlaken Ost. The "Luzern-Interlaken Express" (Zentralbahn, narrow gauge) will take you via Brünig Hasliberg and Meiringen to Brienz. Leave the train in Brienz and board a cruise ship to Interlaken Ost.

Of course, you could continue by train, but why hurry? The Swiss Travel Pass is valid on the ship too (small additional fee for a normal ticket), and you can have lunch, dinner or at least a cocktail while enjoying a leisurely float on the amazingly turquoise Lake Brienz, while taking in the alpine vistas all around you.

A cruise on Lake Brienz is all you need to relax
Relax on a Cruise on Lake Brienz to Interlaken Ost

Once in Interlaken Ost, you'll have a hard time to decide which way to turn for more magnificent mountain scenery. I am almost certain the trip to the Jungfraujoch will be on your wish list. So let's do just that, provided the weather is good. I wouldn't recommend going up there if the Jungfrau is shrouded in clouds. You wouldn't see a thing, and the cost of this extra ticket is not exactly cheap.

The trip to the Jungfraujoch is not included in any Swiss rail pass, but you'll receive either a 25% discount with one of the passes or 50% if it turns out that a Swiss Half Fare Card would be more economical for you.

Of course, there are other options to save a little money on the normal return ticket. In summer, between May and October, the Good Morning or Good Afternoon ticket or special deals for Pass holders either from Wengen or Grindelwald could help save a little money.

View to Wengen on the way to "Kleine Scheidegg" and the "Jungfraujoch"

If the weather does not cooperate you'd be quickly in Thun or Bern for some sightseeing and shopping, visit the open air museum Ballenberg or another part of the Bernese Highlands, for example the romantic Kiental...

Day 7: Interlaken Ost to Montreux

After all this Alpine scenery I bet you are ready for a bit of Mediterranean climate, and the Swiss Riviera is not to be sneezed at. You leave Interlaken Ost to Montreux, travel along Lake Thun to Spiez, then through the lush meadows of the Simmen valley and Saanenland past Gstaad followed by a bit more rugged surroundings before you'll get dazzled by Lake Geneva.

Again, I've chosen the normal train rather than the Golden Pass (seat reservation mandatory and a fee applies). Who knows, maybe you want to stop along the way and visit Gruyère or the chocolate factory in Bulle before you head to the Swiss Riviera. You'd have plenty of time to do that.

The Swiss Riviera
Lavaux vineyards on Lake Geneva, near Montreux

Day 8: Montreux to Geneva Airport

Even though you'll love the good life in Montreux and along Lake Geneva, there comes the day when you have to head to the Airport. And since you are in the French Part of Switzerland, I assume you leave via Geneva.

So, how do you find out the best Swiss Rail Pass deal?

Here comes the hard work into place.

Check the normal point-to-point fares using the SBB timetable:

  • Enter the departure and arrival cities ("From" and "To"). For more than one "Via" option choose "Advanced search" right below the "Time";
  • Click "Search Connection";
  • Choose first or second class, one way or return and click "Fare/Buy";
  • You don't have to fill out your name. Just select "No reduction" and "Half Fare Card" under "Reduction" and the price will pop up.

Not sure if that mountain ride or route you've chosen will be included in the Swiss Pass or not? This synoptic map will help you find out.

So, here we go....

Day Trip from to
Full Fare

1 Zürich - St. Moritz 1)
2 St. Moritz - Lugano Palm Express
3 Lugano - Lucerne (train + ship) 2)
4 Lucerne - Pilatus Golden Roundtrip 3)
5 Lucerne - Interlaken Ost via Brünig
6 Interlaken Ost - Jungfrau RT
7 Interlaken Ost - Montreux via Zweisimmen 5)
8 Montreux - Geneva Airport
Total Cost

Now, looking at this calculation, buying a Half Fare Card and point-to-point tickets looks like the best deal, and you'd already get 50% on the ticket from the airport into the city. However, keep in mind that Passes offer additional bonuses, such as free museum visits (including free admission to the Open Air Museum Ballenberg) on the day of travel, as well as free city transportation.

Basically, the more mountain-rides you add, the better off you are (most likely) buying a Half Fare Card or a Transfer Combi Ticket (50% discount on almost all tickets in-between the transfers (first and last day).

When you add different or more day excursions, the result can change and any other Swiss Pass - for example 15 days consecutive travel within a month even though you only stay for 13 days - can turn out to be the best deal.

So you see, there's quite a bit of work involved. And the better you plan your itinerary, the easier it will be finding out the best Swiss Rail Pass option for your needs.

Please note: If you intend to stay in one region throughout your holidays, do check out the regional passes. They are ideal if you want to get to know these regions more deeply - maybe on a hiking vacation.

1) Glacier Express: can't be booked in advance for the portion Chur - St. Moritz. If there's still a seat free when you arrive in Chur, you would have to pay the fee of CHF 33 (summer) or CHF 13 (winter) in the train. No worries though, regular trains run in regular hourly intervals, and you don't have to pay a fee.

2) The price quoted on regular trains and boats from Flüelen to Lucerne. If you travel on the William Tell Express on Lake Lucerne, you will have to pay an additional fee, depending on the class you choose.

3) Pilatus: the mountain ride portion between Kriens/Alpnachstad to the Pilatus is not included in any Swiss Pass, but you receive a 50% discount.

The same applies for Mount Titlis. You would receive a 50% discount (Half Fare Card and Pass Holders)

*) Connecting ticket for pass holders Alpnachstad/Kriens to Pilatus.

**) Good Morning or Good Afternoon Ticket from Grindelwald/Wengen to Jungfraujoch (round-trip).

All prices quoted in second class; valid at the time of writing. Even though prices can change, the example is still valid to show you how to figure out which Swiss rail pass will be best for you.

This page was last updated January 2016.

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Date: 22.04.13
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