Swiss Travel Pass VS. Half-Fare Card – Which Should You Get?
It’s no secret that things in Switzerland are pretty darn pricey. And hence, every little bit saved counts! If you’re planning on visiting multiple locations within Switzerland, chances are that you’ll be embarking on numerous train rides.
The trains in Switzerland are modern, clean and impeccably on time. And not surprisingly, the tickets can cost quite a fair sum too. In such cases, train passes can really be a godsend – especially when they can also be used for discounted mountain excursions, bus rides and more.
Two well-known passes are the Swiss Travel Pass and the Half-Fare Card.
Extensive research is required to know which to pick; you have to take various factors into consideration such as duration of your trip, which activities you intend to participate in, which types of trains you’re intending to take and so on. The thought of doing all this research might seem incredibly daunting, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be!
Here’s a breakdown of the 2 different passes and their benefits or restrictions.
Swiss Travel Pass
Image credit: Klook
Think of the Swiss Travel Pass as your golden ticket to getting around Switzerland. The Pass can be valid for 3, 4, 8 or 15 consecutive days, depending on the duration of your trip. You can also get the Swiss Travel Pass Flex, which will allow you to use the pass for a certain number of days per month, albeit at a higher price.
With the Swiss Travel Pass, you’ll be entitled to unlimited rides on trains, buses and boats. You’ll also be able to ride on premium panorama trains such as the Glacier Express, Bernina Express, Golden Pass entirely for free! Do note that you might have to top up for seat reservations or additional surcharges for certain trains. In addition, the pass also grants you free entry into over 500 museums all over Switzerland.
This is great if you’re planning to visit multiple places in Switzerland over a fixed number of days. The Swiss Travel Pass also allows for spontaneity, as you can easily hop on and off trains without worrying about being penalised. The Swiss Travel Pass is also for those who prefer ticketless travelling; all you’ll have to do is to show the conductor your pass and you’ll be good to go!
Costs for a 2nd-class Swiss Travel Pass:
3-day: EUR228 (~SGD356)
4-day: EUR276 (~SGD431)
8-day: EUR410 (~SGD640)
15-day: EUR503 (~SGD786)
Prices are derived from the Swiss Travel Pass website, where you'll also be able to find prices for the 1st-class pass.
As you can see, the Swiss Travel Pass does require quite a significant initial investment that many might balk at. It’s hence apt to do your own research and calculate how much each segment of your trip would cost – just to ensure that your purchase will be worth it.
The Half-Fare Card entitles you to 50% off unlimited trains, buses and boats for an entire calendar month. You’ll also enjoy 50% off most mountain excursions – yes, even for Jungfraujoch! – attractions, and premium panorama rides.
The Half-Fare Card is great for those who desire a little more flexibility with their dates; the Swiss Travel Pass will otherwise confine you to a set number of consecutive days. The catch is that you’ll have to buy individual point-to-point tickets with the Half-Fare Card. You can do so either at the train stations itself or online with the SBB app.
Costs: EUR118 (~SGD184)
Price is derived from the Swiss Travel Pass website.
The Half-Fare Card costs significantly less than the Swiss Travel Pass for a whole month – but you’ll still need to factor in all the different train journeys and so on. Similarly, you’d also need to calculate the price of your transportation options and mountain excursions, and do a comparison to see which would be more worth it for your trip.
Here’s a comparison of some mountain excursions and attractions that you’ll be able to embark on – either for free or with discounted rates – with the Swiss Travel Pass and Half-Fare Card:
Jungfraujoch - Top of Europe
Swiss Travel Pass: Trains to Grindelwald or Wengen are free; enjoy 25% off the train from Grindelwald or Wengen to Jungfraujoch.
Half-Fare Card: Enjoy 50% off the trains to Grindelwald or Wengen and up to Jungfraujoch.
The extra 25% off with the Half-Fare Card as compared to the Swiss Travel Pass can amount to quite a bit, especially as the Jungfraujoch mountain excursion is the most expensive of the lot!
To put it into perspective, without either travel pass, the return trip from Interlaken to Jungfraujoch itself can set you back roughly around CHF235 (~SGD348) in summer and CHF185-210 (~SGD274-311) during winter and the rest of the year.
Swiss Travel Pass: Trains to Lucerne or Alpnachstad are free; enjoy 50% off the cableway or train from Kriens or Alpnachstad to Mount Pilatus. Alternatively, the bus from Lucerne to Kriens is free as well, on top of the boat ride on Lake Lucerne.
Half-Fare Card: Enjoy 50% off the various transportation methods.
Swiss Travel Pass: Trains to the Rhine Falls are free; no discount given for boat trips at the falls itself.
Half-Fare Card: Enjoy 50% off trains to the Rhine Falls; no discount given for boat trips at the falls itself.
Swiss Travel Pass: Trains to Engelberg are free; enjoy 50% off the cable car from Engelberg to Mount Titlis.
Half-Fare Card: Enjoy 50% off both trains to Engelberg and cable cars up Mount Titlis.
Swiss Travel Pass: All transports up Mount Rigi are free.
Half-Fare Card: Enjoy 50% off all modes of transportation up Mount Rigi.
Swiss Travel Pass: Enjoy 50% off trains from Zermatt to Gornergrat.
Half-Fare Card: Enjoy 50% off trains from Zermatt to Gornergrat.
Chateau du Chillon, Montreux
Swiss Travel Pass: Entry to Chateau du Chillon in Montreux is free.
Half-fare Card: No discount for entry to Chateau du Chillon.
Swiss Travel Pass: Ride on this premium panoramic line for free; however, you’d need to top up CHF43 (~SGD61) for a mandatory seat reservation.
Half-Fare Card: Enjoy 50% off (or more with a Saver Day Pass); exclusive of CHF43 (~SGD61) for a mandatory seat reservation.
Which card to get really depends on what you prioritise – I calculated all possible expenses for both cards and found the Half-Fare Card to be more suitable for my 14-day trip.
In a nutshell, here’s what I did for 14 days:
- Train from Zurich to Lucerne
- Mountain excursion from Lucerne to Pilatus
- Mountain excursion from Lucerne to Titlis
- Mountain excursion from Lucerne to Rigi
- Train from Lucerne to Lauterbrunnen
- Mountain excursion from Lauterbrunnen to Lake Oeschinensee in Kandersteg
- Mountain excursion from Lauterbrunnen to Mannlichen and Jungfraujoch
- Mountain excursion from Lauterbrunnen to Murren
- Mountain excursion from Lauterbrunnen to Grindelwald
- Train from Lauterbrunnen to Interlaken
- Panoramic train from Interlaken to Montreux
- Train from Montreux to Zermatt
- Mountain excursion from Zermatt to Gornergrat
- Panoramic train from Zermatt to St Moritz
- Train from St Moritz to Filisur
- Train from Filisur to Zurich
- Train from Zurich to Rhine Falls and back
- Train from Zurich to Bern and back
- Train from Zurich to Airport
The full-fare (transportation + activities) of the entire trip would have cost me almost SGD2000. I would have saved around SGD750 with a 15-day Swiss Travel Pass, and around SGD985 with the Half-Fare Card.
I was initially going to opt for the Swiss Travel Pass due to its ticketless feature but eventually decided to go with the Half-Fare Card to save that additional SGD200+.
I booked most of my tickets online with the SBB app – all I had to do was to select the half-fare option and book my tickets on the spot. When the conductor came around, I simply showed them my e-ticket in my app together with my Half-Fare Card. It was extremely easy and fuss-free! The SBB app also has super-saver tickets, which can help to shave more off your total cost.
However, no matter which you pick, investing in a train pass will definitely amount to immense savings. Do remember to do your research before choosing which pass to buy – you won’t regret it!