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Is Swiss rail hiding cheap first class fares?

Switzerland’s Supersaver fares were designed to encourage public transport usage while helping commuters save money. So why is the SBB making them difficult to find?

An SBB train sits in the track in Basel, Switzerland
Switzerland's SBB has been accused of hiding cheaper first class fares. Here's how to make sure you get a good deal. Image: Pixabay

Switzerland’s Federal Railways (SBB) expanded Supersaver fares in 2018 to boost stagnating passenger numbers. 

Supersaver fares are up to 70 percent cheaper than regular fares and are popular among residents and tourists alike. 

However, according to reporting from Swiss news outlet Watson, the SBB has been hiding cheap first class fares from travellers in its online platforms. 

EXPLAINED: How to find cheap train tickets in Switzerland

Instead, the cheapest second class fares have been shown, which are often more expensive than those in first class, particularly when the second class supersavers are sold out. 

Watson looked at several journeys between major Swiss cities, showing that the cheapest fares were often not shown when they were in first class. 

This has led to complaints from travellers, who argue that most who use the SBB app or online booking platform believe they will be shown the cheapest fares available. 


Swiss consumer protection advocate Sara Stalder told Watson the “concealment tactic of the SBB is incomprehensible”. 

“If you travel by train in Europe, you will notice that other providers clearly and transparently identify such campaigns as a booking option, even if a first class ticket is cheaper than a 2nd class ticket. 

“Why the SBB maintains this lack of transparency is a mystery to me.”

The SBB for their part said the issue is caused by a bug which shows the cheapest second class fare rather than the cheapest fare overall. 

A spokesperson told Watson that a fix was being developed, but that the SBB “cannot say when an adjustment will take place”. 

How can I be sure to get the cheapest fare when travelling in Switzerland? 

When booking a train through the SBB platform (online or app), make sure to also check the first class offerings. 

By doing so, you will be able to see first class Supersaver fares and work out if they are cheaper. 

Generally speaking, second class Supersaver fares will be cheaper in most cases, but first class Supersavers will be cheaper overall when the second class Supersavers are sold out. 

For those wanting to save on first class travel, the SBB has announced a range of new first class upgrades at a fraction of the normal cost. Some first class upgrades are actually cheaper than a point-to-point ticket.

Train travel: How you can save on first class upgrades in Switzerland

What are Supersaver fares? 

These fares are only available online – whether via your browser or the SBB app – and not at the SBB machines on the platforms and at stations. 

Booking a Supersaver fare requires a bit of foresight, as they are not available for spontaneous trips. 

They can however be booked for travel a few days in advance (they go on sale 60 days before the date of travel). 

The earlier you book a Supersaver fare the better, although be aware that it must be used for that particular train on that particular day, i.e. you cannot take a later or earlier train unlike with normal Swiss rail tickets. 

Almost nine million Supersaver fares were sold in 2019, the last year before the pandemic. 

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Do foreigners in Switzerland have the same legal rights as the Swiss ?

Foreigners living in Switzerland may be wondering what their basic rights are compared to Swiss citizens. The answer depends on several factors.

Do foreigners in Switzerland have the same legal rights as the Swiss ?

There are currently 2.2 million foreign nationals living in Switzerland — roughly 25 percent of the population.

Simply put, everyone residing in the country legally, regardless of nationality, has the same basic constitutional rights as Swiss citizens do — for instance, the right to human dignity, free expression, equality, protection against discrimination, and freedom of religion, among other rights.

They also have the right to fair and equitable treatment in the workplace, in terms of wages, work hours, and other employment-related matters.

As the law states, cantons and municipalities “shall create favourable regulatory conditions for equal opportunities and for the participation of the foreign population in public life”. 

If they are arrested or imprisoned, foreigners also have the right to fair trial and to the same treatment as their Swiss-citizen counterparts, including legal representation and due process of the law.

Even those who are subject to deportation have the right to be represented by a lawyer.

And the Swiss legal system doesn’t necessarily favour Swiss litigants over foreign ones. For instance, in some cases, foreign nationals whose request for naturalisation was denied but who then appealed the decision, eventually won.

The most recent example is a man in the canton of Schwyz whose application for citizenship was rejected due to a minor car accident, but a Swiss court overturned the decision, ordering that the man be naturalised this year.

READ MORE : Foreigner wins appeal after being denied Swiss citizenship due to car accident

Where the rights and privileges differ between foreigners and Swiss, as well as among foreigners themselves, is when it comes to work and residency rights.

 EU / EFTA nationals

People from these countries, who have B or C permanent residence status have sweeping rights in terms of residence, employment (including self-employment), and home ownership.

The only right that is denied them is the vote, though some cantons and communes grant their resident foreigners the right to vote on local issues and to elect local politicians. 

READ MORE : Where in Switzerland can foreigners vote?

Apart from the limit on political participation, EU / EFTA nationals can live in Switzerland in pretty much the same way as their Swiss counterparts.

There are, however, some groups of foreigners whose rights are curtailed by the Swiss government.

Third country nationals

They are people from countries outside Europe, for whom various restrictions are in place in terms of entry, employment and residency.

For instance, their “future employer must prove that there is no suitable person to fill the job vacancy from Switzerland or from an EU/EFTA state”, according to State Secretariat for Migration. This could be seen as a discrimination of sorts, but that’s what the law says.

Once employed, however, “their salary, social security contributions and the terms of employment must be in accordance with conditions customary to the region, the profession and the particular sector” — in other words, no discrimination is allowed.

Another area where non-European foreigners are disadvantaged in comparison with their EU / EFTA counterparts is home ownership. While third-nation B-permit holders can buy a property to live in (but not rent out), they can’t purchase a holiday or second home without a special permission.

To sum up, all foreigners in Switzerland, regardless of their status, are entitled to fundamental “human” rights, including freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from discrimination in life and employment.

They also have the right to legal protection and representation during litigation or other court actions.

However they don’t have the right to participate in the country’s political process and, depending on their status, have equal access to residency and employment.