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Travel: How tourists can save money on rail travel in Switzerland

Whether travelling alone or with your family, train travel is perhaps the best way to get around Switzerland. Here's how you can save.

A train pulls into the station in Sachseln, Switzerland.  ​Photo by Frans Van Heerden from Pexels
A train pulls into the station in Sachseln, Switzerland. ​Photo by Frans Van Heerden from Pexels

From convenience to cleanliness – and of course punctuality – rain travel in Switzerland has an array of positives. 

It can however be expensive, particularly if you’re visiting from elsewhere and are not earning Swiss francs. 

Here are some great ways to save on rail travel if you are visiting Switzerland. 

If you are travelling in Switzerland, be sure to check out our summary on how to save money while visiting

Please note: this summary is primarily for tourists and visitors to Switzerland. If you live in Switzerland and want to save on rail travel, check out the following link. 

EXPLAINED: How to find cheap train tickets in Switzerland

Swiss Half Fare Card

Like the Supersaver, the Swiss Half Fare Card does exactly what the name suggests – it gives you a 50 percent discount when booking fares. 

These are sold on a monthly basis and costs CHF120 for adults. 

Your card will also get you a discount on Supersaver fares, making them super-half-fare-saver tickets, which is all the words you like to hear on a holiday. 

The one caveat is that the Swiss Half Fare Card is only available to people not resident in Switzerland, thereby meaning it’s most valuable for tourists and cross-border workers. 

Swiss Travel Pass 

The Swiss Travel Pass is a good way to save on rail in Switzerland, although by and large it is only useful for tourists (although it might have other applications if you travel irregularly).  

The Swiss Travel Pass gives you free travel over certain periods of time, in a similar (but not identical) way to the Eurail pass. 

It is available for 3, 4, 8 or 15 days. In addition to free travel, you’ll get entry to around 500 museums, galleries and cultural exhibitions across the country. 

In many cases, accompanying children will travel free with a Swiss Travel Pass. 

Travel: How to save money while visiting Switzerland

The Swiss Travel Pass should not be confused with the SwissPass, which is the red chip card that Swiss residents use for discounted rail. 

This is particularly confusing as before 2014, the Swiss Travel Pass was called the Swiss Pass – and some tourism operators and tourists still know it by that name. 

An SBB train speeds through the station

Use these tips to save money on train travel when visiting Switzerland. Photo by Kajetan Sumila on Unsplash

Day trips and offers

The SBB offers a number of day trips and specific offers at heavily discounted prices. 

In addition to discounted fares for the day trip, you’ll also get discounted entry to museums and other cultural venues. 

They are usually sold as a package. 

These vary and might not be exactly what you had planned on – i.e. you might need to alter your travel plans somewhat – but they cover some of the best experiences on offer in Switzerland. 

Obviously this is particularly good for tourists rather than work commuters, but in addition to the savings they can sometimes highlight a fun or interesting experience that you might have otherwise missed. 

Public transport is cheaper – and often a better way to see the sights

For visitors from the US, Australia and plenty of other countries, the first instinct is often to rent a car while on holiday. 

While that can be easier – especially with kids – it will end up more expensive and will often deprive you of the best sights. 

In cities, public transport is actually quite reasonable – and will save you the inevitable stress of parking. 

READ MORE: What is actually ‘cheap’ in Switzerland?

In Zurich, a 24-hour ticket starts at CHF5.40, in Basel it will cost CHF9.90 while in Geneva it’ll set you back CHF10. 

In Bern, you will get a free public transport ticket for your entire stay with your tourist accommodation, which includes “the famous Gurten funicular, the funicular Marzilibahn, and the elevator to the Minster terrace, as well as travel to and from Bern Airport.”

In fact, many of Switzerland’s stunning gondolas, funiculars and cableways are counted as public transport, meaning they’re a great way to see some spectacular sights on the cheap. 

Many other towns and villages have similar cards, so be sure to do your research before you go. 

When travelling further afield, tickets on public transport through the mountains are also surprisingly reasonable. 

The Swiss Travel Pass gives you unlimited travel by train bus and boat for three days for CHF232. 

Better yet, the three days are out of a total of 15 days, so you don’t need to take them consecutively. 

You’ll also get free admission to museums and a range of mountain excursions, as well as a range of other discounts and bonuses. 

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COST OF LIVING

Oil, bikes and furniture: The products you’re going to pay a lot more for in Switzerland

It should come as no surprise to anyone by now that a number of products and services have gotten more expensive in Switzerland lately. What are they and what lies ahead, price-wise?

Oil, bikes and furniture: The products you're going to pay a lot more for in Switzerland

Rising inflation, as well as lingering economic effects of Covid coupled with the war in Ukraine — both of which are disrupting supply chains — have made many consumer goods in Switzerland even more expensive than before.

These articles published in The Local list a number of common purchases and services where prices have risen and are expected to increase even more:

Seven products that are becoming more expensive in Switzerland

EXPLAINED: How inflation is increasing housing costs in Switzerland

How Covid, inflation and the Ukraine invasion has made Switzerland more expensive

This is the situation overall

The calculation of inflation is based on a fictitious, rather than actual, basket of goods, where the fluctuations in the price of electricity and energy have a greater weight than cost of sugar or stamps.

Overall, costs of rent, mortgages, gasoline, heating fuel, natural gas, construction materials, agricultural products, baked and diary goods, coffee and even beer, have gone up.

All these increases have an impact not only on spending habits of individual households, but also on the economy as a whole.

“Inflation can cause prices to spiral. Higher prices mean consumers get less for their money. They then demand higher salaries in order to maintain their standard of living. To finance these wage increases, companies then increase their prices. A vicious circle is thus set up”, according to an analysis by 20 Minutes news platform.

Even though the inflation rate in Switzerland is a relatively low (in comparison to other countries) 2.5 percent, the prices of some goods have soared substantially, 20 Minutes reports: about 75.6 percent for heating oil, 39.2 percent for gas, and 54.8 percent for flights.

This recent Consumer Price Index from the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) gives an idea of how much higher Swiss prices are now in comparison with the same period last year.

FSO

What specific prices have gone up and by how much?

Aside from the ones mentioned above, these are some of the specific products and how much they have increased on a percentage basis:

  • Petrol (25.1 percent) and diesel (28.3) at the pump
  • Second-hand cars (15.6), new vehicles (4.4)
  • Garden / patio furniture (14.1)
  • Indoor furniture (11.8)
  • Fruits (11.3)
  • Lamb meat (8.7) and veal (5.8)
  • Computer keyboards and mouses (8.5)
  • Pasta (8.1)
  • Phone calls from a landline (5.2)
  • Margarine and cooking oil (4.6)
  • Bicycles (3.3)

You can find the current prices of other goods as listed by Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes here.

What can we expect for the rest of the year?

Nobody can predict with a high degree of accuracy what lies ahead cost-wise, as the evolution of the war in Ukraine is uncertain at this point .

However, The Swiss Economic Institute (KOF)  made a prediction based on best and worst possible scenarios.

Under the former one, the price of oil will stabilise at 100 dollars per barrel by the end of the year and there will be no interruption in the supply of natural gas, which means no drastic price increases.

In the latter case, “we risk further disruptions in supply chains and even higher prices for energy and food”.

As far as inflation is concerned,  “it will remain at a high level over the next few months and will weaken again towards the end of the year”, according to KOF, which expects the current rate to fall to 1.9 percent by December 2022, and to 0.7 percent by the end of 2023.

Overall, Switzerland is doing better than other nations

With the current inflation rate of 2.5 percent, Switzerland is doing relatively well — as it usually does during global economic downturns.

By comparison, the inflation rate in the United States now stands at  8.3 percent, the highest level in 40 years.

In France it is 7.5 percent, in Germany to 7.4 percent, and it is even higher in eurozone countries farther afield: 19 percent in Estonia, 14.2 percent in the Czech Republic, and 9.6 percent  in the Netherlands.

Overall, the general inflation rate in the EU is 7.5 percent.

Another piece of good news: some products and services, such as citrus fruits, olive oil and …sewage taxes have become cheaper in Switzerland.

READ MORE: 13 things that are actually ‘cheaper’ in Switzerland
 

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