Everyone knows Switzerland has one of the best train systems in the world. What people don’t tell you is that it is dang expensive. But the trains are beautiful and the ease of not having to figure out directions is worth it to most. Plus, and more importantly, the train passes cover cable cars and funiculars, which can be extremely pricey!
But Switzerland adds a layer of complication: there are a ton of train passes for people to choose from. Do you get the full Swiss Pass? The Half Card? The regional passes? No pass at all?? Switzerland effectively forces you to plan your trip if you want to make sure you’re getting the best deal on transportation.
One problem, I hate planning! Well, I love planning, but I hate committing. I like flexibility in my vacation. Neal and I attempted to plan out our destinations and figure out the price to weigh the economics of the various passes. It was just too difficult. We decided that two things were clear: we were going to take a lot of trains and we weren’t going to stay in one region. So we opted for the Swiss Pass and hoped for the best (we found the cheapest option was on HappyRail, but there are deals at various companies throughout the year, so search around!).
Now that we’re back and we can price out every trip we took and every attraction we visited, how’d it shake out? Would the Half Fare card have been a better deal? Should we have just paid for each ticket instead? Here’s the breakdown of what we did, what it would have cost out of pocket, what it cost with the Swiss Pass and what it cost with the Half Fare card. These are the costs PER PERSON (so yes, very expensive…).
|Date||Activity/Travel||No discount||Half Card Cost||Swiss Travel Pass||Notes|
|6/22/19||Zurich Airport –> Luzern||$30||$30||$30||Pass inactive|
|6/23/19||Golden Rount Trip (Pilatus)||$72||$36||$36|
|6/24/19||Luzern –> Lauterbrunnen||$40.60||$20.30||$0|
|6/25/19||Murren –> Schilthorn||$83||$41.30||$0|
|6/25/19||Murren –> Allmendhubel||$14||$7||$7|
|6/25/19||Gimmelwald –> Stechelberg||$6||$3||$0|
|6/26/19||Lauterbrunnen –> Grindelwald||$9||$4.50||$0|
|6/26/19||Grindelwald Firstbahn RT (2 activities)||$132||$66||$66|
|6/26/19||Grindelwald –> Lauterbrunnen||$9||$4.50||$0|
|6/26/19||Lauterbrunnen –> Trummelbach Falls||$3.60||$1.80||$0|
|6/26/19||Stechelberg –> Gimmelwald RT||$12||$6||$0|
|6/27/19||Lauterbrunnen –> Interlaken Ost||$7.60||$3.80||$0|
|6/27/19||Interlaken West –> St. Beatus||$5.20||$2.60||$0|
|6/27/19||St. Beatus Caves||$18||$18||$18||$16 with visitor’s card|
|6/27/19||St. Beatus –> Oberhofen||$8.20||$4.10||$0|
|6/27/19||Oberhofen –> Thun||$4.40||$2.20||$0|
|6/27/19||Thun –> Bern RT||$32.80||$16.40||$0|
|6/27/19||Thun Castle||$10.00||$10.00||$0||Would have but closed|
|6/27/19||Thun –> Lauterbrunnen||$25.00||$12.50||$0|
|6/28/19||Lauterbrunnen –> Kandersteg RT||$67.20||$33.60||$0|
|6/28/19||Oeschenensee cable car RT||$26||$13||$13|
|6/29/19||Lauterbrunnen –> Montreux||$81.60||$40.80||$0|
|6/29/19||Montreux –> Chillon Castle RT||$7.40||?||$0|
|6/29/19||Chillon Castle||$12.50||$12.50||$0||would have but closed|
|6/30/19||Montreux –> Zermatt||$74.00||$37||$0|
|6/30/19||Zermatt –> Blauherd RT||$50.5||$25.25||$25.25|
|7/1/19||Zermatt –> Randa RT||$28.40||$14.20||$0|
|7/3/19||Glacier Express to Chur 1st Class + plate of the day||$285||$180||$75||$32/meal|
|7/4/19||Chur –> St. Gallen||$35||$17.50||$0|
|7/4/19||St. Gallen abbey/library/exhibitions||$18||$18||$0|
|7/5/19||St. Gallen –> Rorschach RT||$14.40||$7.20||$0||Also free with hotel pass|
|7/5/19||Lindau –> Rorschach (boat)||$15||$7.50||$7.50|
|7/6/19||St. Gallen –> Appenzell||$19.20||$9.60||$0|
|7/6/19||Appenzell –> Santis||$9.60||$4.80||$0|
|7/6/19||Santis –> Flawil Maestrani||$14.40||$7.20||$0|
|7/6/19||Maestrani Chocolate Factory Tour||$14||$14||$0|
|7/6/19||Flawil Maestrani –> St. Gallen||$9.60||$4.80||$0|
|7/7/19||St. Gallen –> Zurich Airport||$28||$14||$0|
|Total Cost of Events/Activities||$1,365||$709.95||$293|
|Base Cost of the Card||$0||$120||$510|
As the chart shows, we saved a total of $26.90 using the Swiss Pass over the Half Fare Card. It would have been more, had we done the full Golden Pass route rather than taking the train to Visp and over to Montreux. Of course, thirty bucks isn’t a lot in the scheme of things, and if we hadn’t done certain activities or routes (Glacier Express), the Half Fare Card may have won out. So, economically speaking, the Swiss Pass was technically worth it.
Where the Swiss Pass really shines, though, is that you don’t have to buy a ticket every time. We just pulled out those passes on every train that actually checked passes and that was it. Without the Swiss Pass, we would have been buying tickets every time and then showing those. No thanks! Especially when you’re running to make a train or you want flexibility. We did of course have to buy tickets where the Swiss Card didn’t cover the entire cost (like Mt. Pilatus, for instance).
Also, buying the Swiss Pass essentially allowed us to front load some of our vacation costs. Instead of spending $1600 on transportation the same month we spent another $1000 on food costs, we got to take $1000 and put it into a different month’s budget. If you care about that kind of thing, it’s another perk.
The ONLY question in retrospect is whether we should have gotten the 15-day pass or opted for a flex pass. We rode trains/cable cars/funiculars just about every day, but some days they were quite cheap. Had we planned this out better, we could have paid out of pocket on those days and, I think, seen a much bigger savings. I suppose it’s also worth noting that had we rented a car, it would have cost about $700 for 2 weeks. Depending on what cable cars/funiculars we had chosen to take without having a pass, that option could have been a significant cost savings.
Planning for this was the hardest part of our trip! I hope our chart helps others decide if it’s worth it for them.
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