Confusion about which rail passes to purchase

Confusion about which rail passes to purchase

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madetrois
madetrois
16 posts
new member
Jul 10, 2015 - 7:11 PM

Hello,

My family of 2 adults, 3 children (ages 8, 11, and 13) will be traveling from Paris to Murren on 29 Aug and returning from Murren to Paris on 4 Sep. We will have 6 nights in Murren where we plan to visit a variety of scenic areas and day hikes. Even though we are experienced travelers, we have never been to Switzerland and are quite confused about the best way to book our travel. Here are my specific questions and I would be most appreciative of any guidance you could provide.

1. Should we book a round trip ticket from Paris to Bern, which seems to be the fastest way to get from Paris to Murren but seems not to allow us to take full advantage of any Swiss rail discount we purchase?

2. Should we book a round trip ticket from Paris to Basel, then in Basel purchase our fare to Murren? This seems to allow us to use a discount card for all our Swiss travel but doesn't seem like a very efficient choice.

3. Should we purchase the Swiss discount card? This seems like the best benefit for our family since all 3 of our children are under 14 and we would only need cards for my husband and myself. If so, do we wait and buy the card when we get to Switzerland or should we purchase now and pay for it to be shipped to us in the US?

4. If we book in advance, what site(s) should we use? I understand that some sites look official but actually add a surcharge and are not a good choice.

5. Do we need to be concerned about getting 5 seats on our Paris-to-Murren and back trips? The French portion we can book assigned seats but it appears we can not for the Swiss legs. Given that we are traveling on an August Friday and a Saturday, should we be concerned about capacity?

6. We are actually going to be in Normandy, France the day before we head to Murren, but we won't be ready to leave Normandy until evening. Is there a better choice that to return to Paris for the night and head to Murren the next morning? We are planning to rent a car for the trip to Normandy and are open to staying anywhere as this night will just be a way point. We do need to return to Paris on 4 Sep.

7. What are we failing to consider or misunderstanding that we should know?

Again, thank you for any help you can provide.

Arno
Arno
7719 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 10, 2015 - 8:19 PM

Hi madetrois,

Mürren is a wonderful place to stay. I'm sure you'll like it. As for your questions:

1./2./3. You first need to know what kind of traveling you will be doing during your stay. Only locally (the Jungfrau region, south of Interlaken), or the entire Bernese Oberland? Once you know that, it's easier to pick the best pass, and you could even calculate which one is the cheapest for your plans.

One option is to get tickets from France to Basel, and use an 8-day Swiss Travel Pass or Swiss Transfer Ticket Combi from there. Another option is to get tickets to Bern and use a Regional-Pass Bernese Oberland.

4. You can click to the Price section of each of our pass pages (like the ones I just linked to), and you'll only find trusted retailers there. You should not be too concerned about shipping from Switzerland to the US. There are US retailers too, there are retailers in other countries than Switzerland, retailers who offer free shipping, and e-tickets you can print yourself without shipping anything. The options are explained in the Price section, and you can click to each of the retailers for details.

5. Seat reservations for Switzerland are not required, but for some trains you can book them. Please see here for details. Occupancy differs with date and time, but you can always board. Most trains start in Basel, so they're empty when you board.

6. I'm not sure where in Normandy you stay, but you should be able to depart the next morning and reach Mürren the same day. Also you can consider to drive to a town where the train to Basel stops, like Belfort-Montbéliard TGV or Mulhouse, turn in the car, and board the train there the next morning.

7. Just let us know if there are any questions left!

Last modified on Jul 10, 2015 - 8:21 PM by Arno
madetrois
madetrois
16 posts
new member
Jul 11, 2015 - 8:19 PM in reply to Arno

Hello Arno,

Thank you for the very quick and very thorough reply. I have been using the links you suggest and have come to the following conclusions:

First, to answer your question, once in Murren, we plan to only travel in the Jungfrau only - we are really excited to settle into this beautiful region and explore the hiking and nature it provides. Based on this, it looks to me like we would do best to purchase the Swiss Half Fare Card Combi for the two adults. As I read it, this ticket combination would include the full cost of our two adult round trip fares from Basel to Murren and allow our children to travel for free with us via the Swiss Family Card. We would then use the Swiss Half Fare card for our trips throughout the Jungfrau, again with our children traveling for free. The only other tickets we would need to purchase are the Paris-Basel round trip tickets for all 5 of us. It seems too good to be true - if I have misunderstood anything, I would greatly appreciate knowing! Otherwise, I think we will proceed with purchasing tickets next week and move on to planning our Jungfrau activities :)

Arno
Arno
7719 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 12, 2015 - 12:07 PM

Hi madetrois,

I don't think you misunderstood. With a Swiss Transfer Ticket Combi for each of the adults you will indeed get the transfer from Basel to Mürren and back for free, and you don't need further tickets for that. During your stay nearly all adult tickets are 50% off, as indicated on the map. You can order along the free Swiss Family Card to have the children travel along for free everywhere.

A list of retailers can be found on myswissalps.com/swisst ransferticket/price (do select the Combi pass from the "Rail product" list and click "Show results"). Your cheapest option is to buy here:

But the passes and tickets are available on the US site as well: www.raileurope.com/rai l-tickets-passes/swiss-transfer-ticket-with-half-fare-card-combi/index.html.

Last modified on Jul 12, 2015 - 12:09 PM by Arno
madetrois
madetrois
16 posts
new member
Jul 16, 2015 - 12:06 PM

Arno, the more I have been researching on your site the more impressed I am with all the information. We look forward to planning our hikes and activities using this excellent advice.

In the meantime I am finalizing my rail purchase plans to get from Paris to Murren and back and have a few questions:

How long should I allow for changing trains in Basel?

Some of the train options appear to leave Murren at 6:35 am but I thought this was earlier than Murren's train station opened?

If we are generally comfortable with economy travel on airplanes etc will we be fine with 2nd class fares? We would prefer to save the expense of 1st class.

We will reserve seats between Paris and Basel but is it correct that there is no need to pre-book for the Basel to Murren routes?

Thank you for your help!

Annika
Annika
4417 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 16, 2015 - 3:22 PM in reply to madetrois

Hi madetrois!

Thank you for your compliments, we're glad to hear our website has been useful so far! Let's take a look at your questions:

  • If you're traveling with quite some luggage, I'd be comfortable with about 10 minutes to change trains, so that you can take the time to find your way and carry your bags. You can enter your specific connection in the timetable and review the platforms you'll be arriving at and departing from. The station plan under 'Downloads' at the SBB's page on Basel's rail station shows where the platforms are located. For some connections Paris-Basel-Interlaken it's very easy: you'll enter at platform 9 and leave from platform 10. Anyway, you don't have to worry about missing a train. As you mentioned, you don't have to reserve seats for the leg Basel-Muerren. You can simply board the next train heading for Interlaken Ost once you're ready; they leave twice an hour.
  • 2nd class should be fine. Many cable cars and mountain trains in the Jungfrau region don't even have 1st class sections, so if you focus on that region, a 1st class rail pass wouldn't be of much help there. More information about 1st and 2nd class can be found here.
  • The opening hours you've found for Muerren apply to the ticket counter and further services, not to the rail station itself. That doesnt' actually 'close' or 'open', so you can catch an early train without any problems.
Last modified on Jul 16, 2015 - 3:24 PM by Annika
madetrois
madetrois
16 posts
new member
Jul 17, 2015 - 1:23 AM in reply to Annika

Hello Annika,

Wow, I am so impressed that 10 minutes is enough to change trains - I am too used to the typical flight delays and had thought I would need to allow an hour! That will make our traveling much easier, especially on our return. So if we want to catch a Basel-Paris train that leaves Basel at 10:34 am, we would be ok to leave Murren at 7:06 am with a projected arrival in Basel at 9:59 am?? We would just need to purchase our tickets the day before since the ticket counter isn't open that early?

A few other rail questions if you don't mind - I see that our options between Basel and Murren include one with what appears to have 2 regio trains on the route versus one with 1 regio train. It seems that we should favor the itinerary with 1 regio train, which also has an Inter City Express versus Inter City train - is that correct? One train is the Inter City 1060 (with 2 regio trains preceding it, leaves thirty min earlier) and the other is the Intercity Express 370 (1 regio train preceding it). Also, both routes include 3 min of walking time in Lauterbrunnen - is this likely to be tricky or it is extremely obvious where to go? I wouldn't want us to get lost mid-journey and miss our train out of Basel, which we plan to book non-refundable.

Also, I had been planning to get a Swiss Transfer Ticket Combi for our 2 adults, but I see that the fare from Basel to Murren using a Half Fare Card is 39.30 CHF (I can only check as far as two weeks ahead of our dates but I am assuming fares stay constant?). If so, we would do better to buy the Half Fare Card at Euro 98 and the individual fare to Murren at Euro 38 than the Swiss Transfer Ticket Combi for Euro 164, and if we buy the Half Fare Card we can still request the Swiss family pass so our 3 children travel for free - is that correct?

We so appreciate your help - as other posters have commented, it seems to get more confusing the deeper you dive into the options!

Finally, it looks like I should book our Paris-Basel round trip tickets at the same time as I purchase our Swiss Half Fare card to take advantage of the Rail Europe World discounts.

Annika
Annika
4417 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 17, 2015 - 1:55 PM

Hi madetrois!

10 minutes for changing trains is just an average of course. If you travel with lots of luggage or little children, or if the platforms you need are really far apart, it would be convenient to take a bit more time. But it won't be a problem for your plans, and on your way back from Muerren to Basel, over 30 minutes should be more than enough. Lauterbrunnen is a rather small train station and it's hard to get lost there. You need to cross the street to get in the cable car, and once you leave the cable car there's the connecting train to Muerren.

Don't worry about the type of train that's indicated by the timetable, as that's irrelevant. Just pick the quickest connection with the least amount of train changes. In your case, there are many direct trains from Basel to Interlaken Ost. You'll have to change trains twice, first in Interlaken and then in Lauterbrunnen. There are also some connections that require an extra change of trains in Spiez, and these are less convenient for you.

Whether you need bo uy a ticket (the day before) for the trip back to Basel depends on the type of pass you use. If you take the Swiss Transfer Ticket Combi as Arno suggested, you won't need any additional tickets as this pass will cover the entire leg Muerren-Basel. The Swiss Transfer Ticket Combi is a bit cheaper than the Swiss Half Fare Card option, assuming a purchase through RailEurope World. The Swiss Transfer Ticket costs EUR 164,- there, which is CHF 170,97 in today's exchange rates. The Swiss Half Fare Card costs EUR 98, which is CHF 102,16, and if you add the costs of discounted ticket Basel-Muerren and Muerren Basel at CHF 78,60, the total costs for the Swiss Half Fare Card will come at CHF 180,76. Moreover the Swiss Transfer Ticket Combi is more convenient, as it allows you to make your inbound and outbound trip without additional tickets. It indeed makes sense to purchase your Swiss Transfer Ticket Combi and tickets Paris-Basel in one order through RailEurope World.

madetrois
madetrois
16 posts
new member
Jul 18, 2015 - 4:00 PM in reply to Annika

Hello again - I am afraid I have yet another question.

I tried to purchase my round trip tickets from Paris to Basel (they are point to point tickets on specific nonstop Lyria trains for 2 adult, 1 youth, 2 child) along with 2 adult Transfer Ticket + Half Fare Card Combi on Rail Europe World. However, when I tried to complete my order, it said that my Paris-Basel tickets could not be confirmed with the train operator and to please select another ticket. I went through with the booking and was not asked to pay but rather told that I would be contacted within 2 business days. is this standard practice for point-to-point tickets or does it somehow mean that the seats are not available on specific Lyria trains we are hoping to take? Could the trains be sold out?

Also, I could not find how to add the Swiss Family Card to my order, so will we need to wait to pick it up in the Basel station? Did I miss where to do it on the rail Europe World site?

madetrois
madetrois
16 posts
new member
Jul 19, 2015 - 12:48 AM in reply to madetrois

Just as an update, when searching the France TGV rail site that there were other Lyria train options for our Paris-Basel trips that were not shown on Rail Europe and were half the price, so I booked our tickets that way. Since Rail Europe never asked me for payment and it doesn't appear that my reservation request went through, I am expecting to go back and purchase the Swiss Transfer Ticket Combi from them once I am contacted by an agent. I am still unsure why I couldn't find the Swiss Family Card on the site however.

Hope I have not somehow double booked us. The Rail Europe transaction seemed strange. I am ready to have all the transportation finalized so we can start mapping out the hikes and activities we are so excited to do!

Arno
Arno
7719 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 19, 2015 - 11:12 AM

Hi madetrois,

No problem, the forum is for asking questions! I've not heard of this before. Tickets can be sold out or temporarily not available due to technical issues, but normally one should be able to complete the order for the other items (the passes in your case). Which exact train (date and time) from Paris to Basel were you trying to book, and what did you pay for each ticket through the other website?

Anyway, since you did not pay Rail Europe you can simply order the Swiss Transfer Ticket Combi again and cancel the other order when they call.

Indeed I noticed that they do not offer the Swiss Family Card for this particular pass. I will ask them to correct that. You can get a free Swiss Family Card at any staffed station (e.g. Basel). Perhaps even on the train from Paris, but I don't think so. You can ask though; if they can issue one it will save you time.

The "What to do" option in our top menu is a good start to find activities. Have fun browsing!

madetrois
madetrois
16 posts
new member
Jul 19, 2015 - 3:49 PM in reply to Arno

Arno, it was such a strange error message we received on the site - I didn't save the exact wording, but the email I received said "Your booking has been registered but not completed yet. One of our representatives will contact you by email within the next 2 business days to assist you in completing your booking."

Here is the booking information for the trains we were trying to reserve through Rail Europe:

29/08/2015 10:23 PARIS GARE LYON

29/08/2015 13:26 BASEL SBB 5 travellers EUR 660 TGV Duplex Lyria 9211 Direct - 3h03m Reservation included

04/09/2015 10:34 BASEL SBB

04/09/2015 13:37 PARIS GARE LYON TGV Lyria 9214 Direct - 3h03m Reservation included

When I looked on the Voyages-scnf.com site for these exact trains, they had the same price for the 29-8 train and a slightly lower price for the 4-9 train (20 Euro less). However, they had more Lyria train options on those same travel days than Rail Europe. We booked Outward 07h23 PARIS GARE DE LYON TGV Lyria 9203 for 29-8 at a price of 165 Euro and Return 12h34 BASEL SBB TGV Lyria 9218 for 165 Euro - essentially half price than our least expensive option on Rail Europe. Times are not quite as ideal - would would prefer to leave Murren on the earlier train - but for the savings it was an easy decision.

If there is a chance you will be able to get Rail Europe to start offering the Swiss Family Pass with purchase of the Transfer Ticket combi, we would wait a week or two to purchase, as it seems the prices don't really change and we would love to save the time at the station in Basel, especially on an August Saturday! Perhaps when I am contacted by the rail Europe rep I can ask them to just include it.

TGV Lyria 9214 Direct - 3h03m Reservation included

* I should mention that all prices I have listed are per train for our family of 2 adults, 1 youth and 2 children

Arno
Arno
7719 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 19, 2015 - 5:56 PM

Hi madetrois,

I will talk to them about the Swiss Family Card, but I would not count on it to become available within two weeks (if they do I'll let you know). If they call you, you can ask for it.

Regarding the tickets Paris - Basel. I just check the Rail Europe site and got a "best fare" of € 395 for the 10:23 train on 29/08, not € 660. Their "flexible fares" are much higher but there's usually no need to select those. I also checked the site you purchased from and they quote the exact same amount. So I'm not sure if you were just lucky enough to get the last seats for a very low price or if you purchased a different kind of ticket. € 165 for 5 passengers is a very low price which is usually only available if booked 3 to 4 months in advance. On the Rail Europe site you could have had an additional discount with the coupon code (see my second post in this thread), but it would not have resulted in only € 165 for all the tickets. Anyway, you seem to have arranged a very good price!

If you can update us after the call that would be great!

Last modified on Jul 19, 2015 - 5:59 PM by Arno
madetrois
madetrois
16 posts
new member
Jul 20, 2015 - 10:24 PM in reply to Arno

Arno, the 660 Euro was the roundtrip fare for the 5 of us - first leg was 320 Euro and return fare was 340 Euro - sorry I wasn't very clear. When I was purchasing on Saturday, the Voyages site had each trip at 320 Euro - I am surprised it has jumped so much so quickly. Could I be seeing a different fare than you as a US purchaser?

The fare I purchased is a lower class (a nonrefundable "Lyria Mini" versus a partially refundable fare, but the point is that the Lyria Mini fare and the trains weren't listed on the Rail Europe site at all, so even if the lower fare wasn't available, I would have expected to see a higher fare for that train. Perhaps we just got extremely lucky with our timing - I am still a wee bit worried I made an error but I suppose only time will tell at this point!

For your information, I received this email from Rail Europe this morning:

Greetings from Rail Europe!!With regards to your booking summary received , we would like to inform you that your travel sector from Paris to Basel and Basel to Paris , are currently not confirmed due to a technical error , I would request you to try to book the same closer to your departure date.Should you require any further assistance feel free to write in.Regards,Rail Europe.

I replied asking about the Swiss Family pass but have not received a response.

Arno
Arno
7719 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 21, 2015 - 12:47 PM

You can wait a few days for their reply, but I expect it's best to buy the Swiss Transfer Ticket Combi online and get the Swiss Family Card either in Basel or in the train from Paris. The advantage of that is that you know for sure you'll also get the discount using the coupon codes we talked about. But I hope I'm wrong and they can customize your order. In the end I'm sure it will all be fine!

madetrois
madetrois
16 posts
new member
Jul 27, 2015 - 8:56 PM

I wanted to update you on our rail pass purchase via Rail Europe World and to ask two questions.

For some reason, when I went to purchase our Swiss Transfer Ticket + Half Fare Cards, I kept getting error messages from the website. Unclear whether it was related to the earlier issues with the Paris-Basel tickets, but I spent 90 minutes online trying to trouble shoot and fix the errors with their Help Desk, only to be disconnected without resolution. We ended up using a different computer to make the purchase. No one seems to know what caused the errors; certainly I make much larger purchases frequently from the computer I originally used.

Anyway, I followed up with an email asking for the Family Card to be included for our 3 children and the package arrived today, which leads to my questions.

Most importantly, on my husband's rail pass, it lists his name as "Joe" not "Joseph" as is on his passport. I had his name as "Joseph" in the stored account info but in our many efforts to create new accounts and keep trying to make the transaction work, he must have accidentally typed his nickname somewhere. Will we run into a problem using it because of this? It is listed as "Joe" on both the Transfer Ticket that we hope to get activated en route from Paris-Basel as well as the Half Fare card we expect to use throughout our week in Murren. If it is a concern, I will reach back out to Rail Europe immediately.

Second, they sent us three separate Family Cards, I guess one per child, even though it looks like you can write multiple names on one. Do we need all three?

Finally, each ticket comes in a fairly large packet of information stapled together. I am assuming we will need all of the pages/parts but want to check as we have several other stops before Switzerland and are trying to travel as lightly as possible!

Thank you, as always, for your time and expertise.

Arno
Arno
7719 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 28, 2015 - 12:34 PM

Hi madetrois,

It's hard to say why it worked on one computer and not on the other. I really wouldn't know, but I'm glad it worked out for you in the end.

You can indeed use just one of the Swiss Family Cards and fill out all children on it. They probably gave you more than one because theoretically you can split up (one adult traveling with one or two kids). So keep them at hand just in case.

The misspelled name can be an issue. Does the pass also have the passport number printed on it, or a blank space to fill out the number? In that case I would not expect any problems as there is no way to give your pass to someone else to use it. If not, you'd better ask Rail Europe what to do. You can also ask in the train to Basel while validating the pass. In reality conductors rarely check passports, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

I am a bit surprised you referred to a Swiss Transfer Ticket AND a Swiss Half Fare Card. You should have ordered and received a Swiss Transfer Ticket Combi: one pass combining the two. It's no problem if you received two separate passes, they're valid as well, but it might explain why you received such a large packet. I don't know what's in it so I can't comment on what to take along and what might be superfluous. If they added rail network maps, you can obviously take just one of those, but all tickets/passes are required to travel.

Does this help a bit?

madetrois
madetrois
16 posts
new member
Jul 30, 2015 - 11:08 AM in reply to Arno

Arno, there is a blank space to write the passport number and signature on both cards just below the typed name. I contacted Rail Europe and it is expensive to cancel and reissue, so while I would not want to risk invalidating the pass, if the Swiss rail system isn't likely to be particular, I would rather leave as is. When traveling on the trains, will they ask us to show the tickets each time we board, and do they typically ask to see passport at the same time? Is this true on transportation throughout the Jungfrau (when using the half fare card to buy point-to-point tickets) as well as the larger trains from Basel to Interlaken? I will have my ticket and passport with same last name and address for further verification so if they are a little flexible or if they don't require passport validation each time, I would think we will not have an issue, but if they are strict like an airline we could potentially have a problem that I don't know how we would resolve in the moment. Would appreciate understanding more about how they verify passes.

Arno
Arno
7719 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 30, 2015 - 2:30 PM

Hi madetrois,

In that case I would leave it like it is too. It would take a very precise conductor to make a problem of a name variation. You will never be asked to show passes when boarding. You just board and find a seat, and only show passes when requested. Passports are rarely asked for, but they sometimes do. I don't expect problems as long as everything else is correct, particularly passport numbers.

madetrois
madetrois
16 posts
new member
Jul 31, 2015 - 1:56 AM in reply to Arno

Arno, thank you - I feel much better having your agreement. We will leave as is. Should we wait until on the first Swiss train to fill in passport number and signature or is this expected to be completed before boarding? I am sorry for so many questions but the system is so different from what we are used to in the US. I expect we will be very pleased and spoiled by it once we experience it firsthand!

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