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

Swiss Travel Pass vs. Swiss Half Fare Card

Many of you ask me how to choose the best Swiss Rail Pass option.

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 Swiss Travel Pass for your needs.

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 6.80 full price at the time of writing). Or - if you spend a day more in Zürich for sightseeing - you could purchase a Zürich Card.

Day 1: Zürich to St. Moritz

When you are ready to start your journey, head right to the Alps by taking the train from Zürich to St.Moritz. In Chur, you'll catch the Glacier Express (Panorama windows; seat reservation mandatory) or you board the regular train that travels exactly the same route (no reservation necessary, and no fee applies).

Overnight in St. Moritz (Samedan, Pontresina, Sils are other options), possibly spend a day or two in the Engadin. It would be a pity not visiting at least one or two of the beautiful villages in the Lower Engadin, for example Zernez, Guarda, Scuol and Sent, 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 feel. For the trip from St. Moritz to Lugano you could travel by Bernina Express (all the way to Lugano only spring to fall), but for this example, I've chosen the Palm Express - a trip entirely on a postal bus that carries you through a lesser known but magnificant part of Switzerland, from the rugged Alpine scenery to balmy "bella Svizzera" in the Canton Ticino (seat reservation mandatory but no fee aplies - runs year-round but during the winter months Friday, Saturday and Sunday only).

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. And if you decide to spend a couple of days here, the complimentary Ticino Ticket gives you free travel on public transport (if you spend at least a night in the participating hotels.


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 Gotthard Express, a first class trip, will bring you from Lugano to Flüelen where you board a boat to Lucerne. Runs between May and October, the rest of the year you will take the regular train.

And since this is an absolutely goooorgeous region, you want to see more and decide to head up to Mount 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 to Kriens and bus back to Lucerne.

Upon return you explore the city for a bit and decide to visit the Glacier Garden and the Lion monument.


Pilatus Golden Roundtrip Excursion
Enjoy exceptional views on the Golden Roundtrip to Mount 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 boat too, 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.

Alternatively, you could hop on a bus in Brienz and visit our Open Air Museum Ballenberg before you continue to Interlaken.


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. Do not buy the connecting ticket in advance, check first the weather forecast and buy the ticket at the ticket counter in Interlaken.

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. Also, ask at the hotel you are staying if they provide special tickets.


Wengen
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.


Day 7: Interlaken Ost to Montreux

After all this Alpine scenery head to the Swiss Riviera, a region not to be sneezed at either. 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 Belle Époque or the VIP coaches(seat reservation mandatory for the special trains and a fee applies). Who knows, maybe you want to stop along the way and visit Gruyères or the Cailler chocolate factory in Broc-Fabrique before you head to the Swiss Riviera. You'd have plenty of time to do that.


The Swiss Riviera
Lavaux vineyards between Montreux and Lausanne

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 Travel 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 next to "Search for connections";
  • Click "Search Connections";
  • Click the ticket symbol to the right, choose first or second class, one way or return (the price for a half fare ticket 2nd class shows automatically up);

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

So, here we go....


Day Trip from to
Full Fare


CHF
Cost of Passes
120.00
418.00
467.00
1 Zürich - St. Moritz
Reservation Glacier Express
76.00
33.00
38.00
33.00
Included
33.00
Included
33.00
2 St. Moritz-Lugano Palm Express
Reservation mandatory
Ticino Ticket
87.00

free
free
43.50

free
free
Included

free
free
Included

free
free
3 Lugano-Lucerne Gotthard Express 1st class upgrade
Reservation mandatory
150.00

16.00
75.00

16.00
29.00

16.00
29.00

16.00
4 Lucerne - Pilatus Golden Roundtrip
Admission Glacier Garden Lucerne
102.60

15.00
51.70

15.00
36.00

free
36.00

free
5 Lucerne - Interlaken Ost via Brünig Pass
Brienz-Ballenberg RT
Admission
33.00

7.20
28.00
16.50

3.60
28.00
Included

Included
free
Included

Included
free
6 Interlaken Ost - Jungfraujoch roundtrip
210.80
105.40
135.00
135.00
7 Interlaken Ost-Montreux via Zweisimmen
Montbovon - Gruyères roundtrip
Admission Cheese Factory Gruyère
Admission Castle Gruyeres
53.00

15.20
12.50

12.00
26.50

7.60
12.50

12.00
Included

free
free

free
Included

free
free

free
8 Montreux - Geneva Airport
Admission Chateau de Chillon, Montreux
35.00

7.00
17.50

7.00
Included

free
Included

free
Total Cost
893.30
628.80
667.00
716.00

Calculation explained

Prices are quoted in second class except for the Gotthard Express, which is a first class trip. Even though prices can change at any time, the example is still valid to show you how to figure out which rail pass is best for you.

1) Glacier Express: reservation fee applies CHF 33 in summer, CHF 13 in winter. However, regular trains run exactly the same route on regular hourly intervals (fee-free).

2) Palm Express: You need a reservation for this Postal Bus trip but no fee applies.

3) The Gotthard Express runs between May and October, and is a first-class trip on the train, therefore I quoted the price with a class-change to first class, including the reservation fee for all options.

4) Pilatus Golden Round Trip: If buying a Swiss Travel Pass you need a connecting ticket between Kriens and Alpnachstad - you receive a 50% discount.

5) Lucerne-Interlaken-Express: Reservation not mandatory but of course, you are free to make one.

6) Jungfraujoch: Swiss Travel Pass holders need a connecting ticket between Grindelwald/Wengen and the Top of Europe. I quoted a Good Morning/Good Afternoon Ticket (valid between May and October) which is approx. CHF 8 cheaper than the regular connecting ticket (25% discount).

7) Golden Pass Line: runs between Zweisimmen and Montreux. I quoted the trip on regular trains since you might want to hop off in Montbovon and add a side trip to Gruyères.

8) Montreux - Geneva Airport: Instead of travelling by direct train you could take advantage of a boat ride between Montreux and Lausanne. Gorgeous views to the Lavaux vineyards and the ride is included in the Swiss Travel Pass.

Bottom Line

Looking at that calculation, buying a Half Fare Card and point-to-point tickets looks like the best deal. You could even save more on certain routes by buying a Super Saver Ticket (only available online), for example from Zürich to St. Moritz (at the time of writing CHF 22.80 instead of CHF 38.00), but then you have to figure out the right train if you want to board the Glacier Express in Chur since Super Saver Tickets are only valid for selected connections and can't be changed.

However, keep in mind that Swiss Travel 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 and the freedom of changing routes at your discretion.

Basically, the more mountain-rides you add, the better off you are (most likely) buying a Half Fare Card. However - the more day excursion on boats, trains (without mountain top transportation), city and museum visits you add, the result will change and a Swiss Travel Pass could really be a better option.

In any case, finding out the best option involves quite a bit of planning. The better you plan your itinerary the easier it will be finding out the best Swiss Travel Pass option for your needs.

Where to buy the Swiss Travel Passes

Online through the official Swiss Travel Centre Website. You can print out the pass at home.

Please note: If you intend on staying in one region throughout your holiday, do check out the Regional Passes. They are ideal if you want to get to know these regions more deeply.

This page was last updated April 2019.

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