The Usual Need for Advice

The Usual Need for Advice

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Posts: 20. This thread is closed.
BZamost
BZamost
19 posts
new member
Jul 4, 2015 - 9:51 PM

First of all, Arno, I am impressed with your knowledge and more importantly, patience on all these rail questions. Perhaps this isn't as complicated as it all appears, but seems like this should be an easier process.

Regardless, after an hour or so or websites, timetables, no restrictions, pass options, reviewing forums, here's what I've got so far.

Itinerary:

Party of 3, the end of September, From Lake Como region, train I assume thru Lugano, to Grindelwald for two nights. There will likely be some trains around Grindelwald to visit nearby cities in the mountains, and up to Jungfraujoch. Grindelwald to Lucern, for two nights. Presumably, boat ride, perhaps other mountain trip. Finally, train from Lucerne to Zurich for one night.

If I add up the prices for individual tickets, it seems to make sense to by a Swiss Travel Pass. So with that in mind, here are my questions:

- Is there a significant difference between a First Class and Second Class Seat? I am happy with second class and my luggage, but my family is eyeing that First Class. I note also, that you can upgrade your regular Second Class Seat from your Swiss Travel Pass for 1/2 the upcharge cost. $1449 for three 4 day Swiss Travel Passes seems a bit much, but as you've stated many times, Switzerland is expensive.

- The big discount pricing seems to be on the 3 day Swiss Travel Pass, not the 4 day, but since we are going to be in Switzerland for five functional days, this poses a problem. Can buy a discounted 3 day pass and pay full fare on day 4 and 5...or buy what appears to be a significantly increased non-discounted price for 4 day pass, and probably pay full fare for our train ride from Lucerne to Zurich on day 5.

- And finally, it appears as if the discounted Pass is best done on the Internet with shipping to the US. True?

Sorry for all the questions, but this is the one of the most confusing travel issues I've encountered in a long time. Unfortunately, everyone says not to bother with rental cars, as there I only have to worry about getting lost, parking, collision insurance, and the exorbitant fees of picking up a car in one country and dropping it off in another location

Thanks again

Barry

BZamost
BZamost
19 posts
new member
Jul 5, 2015 - 12:00 AM

And a reply to my own posting, with a question:

From Varenna, on Lake Como, what's the best way to get to Grindelwald? Train back to Milan, or through Como, or some other entry point in Switzerland and different train. And if you have the Swiss Travel Pass, how does that sort out when you are purchasing your ticket from Italy going to Switzerland?

Thanks again

Arno
Arno
7722 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 5, 2015 - 8:56 AM

Thanks for your compliments Barry! Here are some tips that hopefully make your planning easier. If not, just let us know.

  • All public transport schedules can be found in the timetable. Simply enter Como (or whichever point of departure) to Grindelwald, and it will show you the fastest connection. From there you can fine tune by entering "via-points", or preferred modes of transport, but you usually don't need to do so.
  • Second class is perfectly fine, but if budget is not a constraint then you can consider first class, please see here.
  • I'm not sure what you mean by "the big discount pricing seems to be on the 3 day Swiss Travel Pass, not the 4 day". Our page myswissalps.com/ swisstravelpass/ price lists the 3-day prices (as a base to compare the offers of the several retailers) but you can click the orange buttons to check further prices. The savings of buying online apply to the 3-day pass as well as any other pass. Also click to the Discounts section of the page; you may be able to save even more. Indeed buying online is cheaper. In your case the best offer is www.raileurope-world.com/pass/swiss-pass.
  • The 4-day Swiss Travel Pass seems best, plus regular tickets from Lucerne to Zurich.
  • Do consider a Mount Rigi trip. It's free with your pass and a wonderful day trip!
  • The Swiss Travel Pass page has a downloadable map that shows what's covered. Click "Where it's valid" to get there. As you can see there, Como (Italy) to Chiasso (Swiss border) is not covered, so you need tickets for that leg. You can order them along with your pass.

I know it seems complicated but I am sure you won't regret traveling by train. As you said, doing this by car results in a different challenge. You really don't want to have a car in Zurich and Lucerne (hard to find your way and a parking spot) and in Grindelwald (most of the region is car free). The wonderful train system is much more relaxed, safe and eco-friendly.

Last modified on Jul 5, 2015 - 8:59 AM by Arno
BZamost
BZamost
19 posts
new member
Jul 5, 2015 - 5:44 PM in reply to Arno

Thanks again. Despite working on this for a while, it turns out that your reply has many links I hadn't even read yet. You've obviously done this before.

The best link was discussing travel into Switzerland from Italy, as we are. So I looked into the Eurail Global Pass, which seems to give a discount for 3 people and if any are seniors. So, the 4 day Swiss Travel Pass for 3, first class, would be $1090, not including day 5 trip from Lucerne to Zurich. However the 15 day Eurail Global Pass, 1st class, covering Switzerland AND Italy, for 3 is $1674. Seems the obvious choice. And although it may not cover local buses and such, it does seem to cover the same trains and boats in Switzerland, right?

Getting closer to figuring this out.

Thanks again,

Barry

BZamost
BZamost
19 posts
new member
Jul 5, 2015 - 5:53 PM

The more you look the more complicated this becomes. So, if you use the Eurail Global Pass, it appears (I think), that parts of your suggested Mt Rigi trip are 50% discounted, but with the Swiss Travel Pass, it's free. The tricky part of this entire process is that the costs can be compared if you know your exact itinerary, day to day, but with weather issues, who really has a perfectly set itinerary? I'm trying here Arno. It's a process...

Barry

Arno
Arno
7722 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 5, 2015 - 6:15 PM

Hi Barry,

Hang in there, I know you're trying! The pages below, which you seem to have found, show what's included:

Indeed the passes are not identical. Eurail does not cover the Glacier Express route (only 25% discounted) and less cable cars/cogwheel trains. Trains around Grindelwald are more expensive with Eurail for example. Mount Rigi too. Boats are fully covered by both. Most travelers are better off with a dedicated pass for Switzerland (usually a Swiss Travel Pass or Swiss Half Fare Card), not Eurail. In Italy most travelers do better with point to point tickets, unless they travel a whole lot.

Indeed an itinerary can not be 100% accurate due to the weather, so the best you can do is make a list of what you intend to do and do the math as explained here. In reality you may skip one trip because of the weather and do a city trip instead. But in my opinion that applies to any type of traveling: you won't know the exact costs until after the trip. Even when traveling by car you won't know the exact amount of fuel, fuel price, where you will park, etc. However, the last link should help you make an educated guess. If it's too much work, I would recommend point to point tickets for Italy and Swiss Travel Passes or Swiss Half Fare Cards for Switzerland.

Last modified on Jul 5, 2015 - 6:17 PM by Arno
BZamost
BZamost
19 posts
new member
Jul 5, 2015 - 10:26 PM

Thanks, Arno. More research and indeed will do point to point tickets for Italy.

More research and questions:

- I assume there is no problem buying the Passes on line through Rail Europe and paying for UPS delivery, which seems to be significantly cheaper ($1103 vs $1329 for 3 adults) than thru Rail Europe USA

- The more I investigate the Swiss Half Fare Card, the better it looks. Through Rail Europe and delivery, for 3 of us, it's $336. And I get a 1/2 price discount on our 5th day train trip from Lucerne to Zurich. And if I read it right, the Half Fare Card is actually cheaper (50% off) than the Swiss Travel Pass for the Jungfraujoch (25% off) and that's a substantial savings given the price of that trip. I suppose I will now have to spend the time comparing what 1/2 price compares with the Travel Pass for the trip from the border to Grindelwald, from Grindelwald to Lucerne, Mt Rigi tour, etc., but it would have to be a really large number, with a 50% discount, to bridge the gap from $336 to $1100-$1300 dollars.

- As I said, this is really a process.

Thanks again.

Arno
Arno
7722 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 6, 2015 - 9:16 AM

Hi Barry,

  • Indeed it's no problem to order through www.raileurope-world.com. They offer the Swiss Travel Pass and the Swiss Half Fare Card too, should you decide to take that one. They do charge for shipping but are still cheaper.
  • The Grindelwald/Wengen to Jungfraujoch leg is indeed 50% off with a Swiss Half Fare Card and 25% off with a Swiss Travel Pass. That's a difference of about CHF 40 p.p., depending on which route you take (just up and down from Grindelwald or the round trip via Wengen and Lauterbrunnen, which I would recommend). The trains to Grindelwald/Wengen are free with a Swiss Travel Pass, as well as trains and boats to Mount Rigi. Basically everything is 50% off with a Swiss Half Fare Card.
BZamost
BZamost
19 posts
new member
Jul 6, 2015 - 4:42 PM

The website implies that a Swiss Travel Pass is good for the trip from Italy to Switzerland via Domodossola to Brig, but the downloadable map has this as a dotted red line implying only 50% reduction. And the trip from Brig to Spiez (on our way to Grindelwald) seems to be a dotted line as well. So does this mean that if I purchase a point to point ticket from Milan to Domodossola and from there using my Swiss Travel Pass, that in Domodossola, I have to pay the 1/2 price at the station to purchase the ticket from Domodossola to Spiez. From Spiez to Grindelwald, it's a red line so 100% covered.

Or would I be able to sort this out and purchase this correctly, using my Swiss Travel Pass, in Italy, either in Varenna where our train day begins or Milan Centrale?

Don't get tired of me yet, Arno.

Barry

Annika
Annika
4417 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 6, 2015 - 6:45 PM

Hi Barry!

Don't worry, the dashed lines you're referring to indicate tunnels. The Swiss Travel Pass offers free traveling on these legs as well. It's explained right next to the downloadable map under "How the map works" at our validity page. So from Domodossola onward, you can use your Swiss Travel Pass all the way up to Grindelwald without buying any additional ticket.

BZamost
BZamost
19 posts
new member
Jul 11, 2015 - 7:59 PM

Thanks Arno and Annika. You guys are great. The fact that I can't read the legend of a map should be my greatest fault.

So, after finally adding up the costs of travel for First Class for all the train trips, and to avoid having to buy tickets at stations for Half Price, I pushed the button to purchase our SwissTravel Passes for the 3 of us, only to have RailEurope European booking site reject every credit card I enter.

Common problem? We are 2.5 months out. This is cheaper than buying thru RailEurope USA by a few hundred dollars, so don't know if this is forcing me to buy thru the USA site. Any thoughts?

Also, trying to sort out Jungfraujoch vs Schlithorn, as our day trip from Grindelwald, and although it's always hard to compare, we've hiked on glaciers in Alaska and Argentina, so maybe less glacier view? Sounds like both are very nice day trips, with less tunnel to Schlithorn and a bit less expensive with the 50% discount of the Swiss Travel Pass.

I like your suggestion of the lake trip and visit to Mt Riji while in Lucerne. Likely we will arrive late in Zurich, so will probably miss the city, and stay near the airport.

Any other suggestions for our Grindelwald, Lucerne, stays appreciated.

Barry

Arno
Arno
7722 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 12, 2015 - 11:53 AM

You're welcome Barry! I'm not sure what you mean by the RailEurope European site. Do you mean www.raileurope-world.com? (They don't sell to Europeans.) If you're on another site, please let me know.

To buy from them, you need to go to www.raileurope-world.com/pass/swiss-pass. It won't be forcing you to buy somewhere else; you won't be their first US customer. Be sure to get the additional discount: www.raileurope-world.com/deals/great-deals-to-tour-Europe.

What kind of credit card do you use? They accept Visa (debit and credit), Mastercard and AMEX. Do they display an error message? I have heard of cases where it was caused by the credit card company not allowing overseas transactions, until you give them a call to (temporarily) allow that. You may want to give it another try, and if that does not work call your credit card company.

Did you notice that Rail Europe US launched a new promo a few days ago? They offer more than $100 off 1st class passes, but only for 8- and 15-day passes. You intend to buy 3 or 4 days, right? Well, just in case, you can find details in this thread and here: www.raileurope.com/rai l-tickets-passes/swiss-pass/index.html.

Schilthorn and Jungfraujoch are both wonderful if the weather is good. Please see the links for details and pictures. That may help to pick one. Recommended airport hotels in Zurich are listed on myswissalps.com/ zurichairporthotels.

Last modified on Jul 12, 2015 - 12:40 PM by Annika
BZamost
BZamost
19 posts
new member
Jul 12, 2015 - 6:10 PM in reply to Arno

I've now tried two days in a row using the correct site as you identified below:

www.raileurope-world.com/pass/swiss-pass.

It's now two days in a row that the purchase is denied saying credit card is not valid, and two days of calling my credit card company with it stating the problem is on the merchant's side. Tried a different credit card and denied again.

Do you have a recommended telephone number or email contact site for problems? Thanks.

Just out of curiosity, is it common for the weather, both good and bad, to be similar at Schilthorn and Jungfraujoch on any given day?

Thanks as always. Yes, I did see the discount, but alas we are only in Switzerland for 5 days.

Barry

Arno
Arno
7722 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 12, 2015 - 6:29 PM

Perhaps there is a technical issue on their end then. If you browse their site on a weekday you'll notice a chat window popping up, so you can ask them directly. Let me know what you find out please!

BZamost
BZamost
19 posts
new member
Jul 13, 2015 - 5:05 AM

Okay, Arno, this was incredibly complicated to resolve, but here it is. Perhaps this will help others.

So two attempts at purchasing with AmEx failed, and two phone calls to AmEx were unhelpful. One attempt with Visa failed, and we got a fraud alert notification from Visa. So I tried the live chat with RailEurope and after about an hour, we're done. None of my cards would again go through when she tried to charge offline. Attempting AmEx again this time game me a fraud alert text from AmEx, so while I had the Live Chat going, I called AmEx a 3rd time and had to be transferred to the fraud alert division who somehow now allowed this transaction to go through...we did the sale offline through the Live Chat box, giving the agent my credit card info, which made me a bit nervous, but all went well. However, that was the most complicated transaction in my lifetime...I doubt I'm the only one to experience this.

While I had the agent on the line, I asked about where I first can validate the Swiss Travel Pass when I use it for the first time. She mentioned this to be done by a rail official at a station, but if I buy a point to point ticket from Milan to Domodossola as you suggested, and the pass works from that point on, who validates the ticket if I'm not getting off the train? This RailEurope agent stated I had to buy point to point Milan to Brig (you can tell me if the agent was right), but it still begs the issue of how is it validated if I'm not getting off the train in Brig as I'm on my way to Grindelwald via Spiez?

Don't you just love all these travel issues? As always, thanks again.

Barry

Arno
Arno
7722 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 13, 2015 - 7:34 AM

Hi Barry,

Thanks for the update! Well, the actual traveling must be a great experience after going through all this. I'm sure it will be. This credit card issue reminds me of similar problems with other websites, where people called their credit card company and got told there was no problem. Only after a few attempts they found out it was actually the credit card fraud protection causing this. Apparently the people one talks to first don't know about such issues.

You may want to double check whether they allow foreign transactions (if that was the actual problem) until after you return from your trip.

You can validate your pass at a Swiss rail station or on board of trains to Switzerland. Just be sure to ask the staff before you reach the border (Domodossola). Please see myswissalps.com/ swisstravelpass/ howtouse.

I hope you're all set now!

BZamost
BZamost
19 posts
new member
Jul 13, 2015 - 3:55 PM in reply to Arno

I think we're all set, assuming the Passes arrive safely in the mail. So, I will buy a point to point ticket from Milan to Domodossola, and show my Swiss Travel Pass on board to a rail representative in Domodossola.

Again, many thanks. I'm sure more questions will come up as my day to day itinerary becomes clearer

Barry

Arno
Arno
7722 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 13, 2015 - 4:51 PM

Hi Barry,

Yes, you need tickets from Milan to Domodossola as that's where the pass takes over. Trains around Milan are pretty busy (see here), so I recommend to get the tickets as soon as you can (they include seat reservations). You can either get them in Italy or online. For an online purchase I would recommend www.raileurope.com/ european-trains/trenitalia/how-to-book.html to prevent more credit card issues. The tickets can be printed at the station, so there's no shipping involved.

The train staff can validate your pass. Ask them anywhere, but before you depart from Domodossola.

BZamost
BZamost
19 posts
new member
Jul 16, 2015 - 5:04 AM

Thanks. I actually was worried enough about that last purchase that I have tracked the shipment through DHL. The Passes are supposed to arrive tomorrow. I will take your advice and buy my tickets from Varenna (on Lake Como) to Milan, and Milan to Domodossola now, and then use the Swiss Travel Pass for the rest of the trip. I think once my passes arrive, I'll feel better about purchasing additional tickets for Italy.

Our trip starts with a flight into Milan, and then we travel to Bologna. Given your comments about how busy Milan will be around this time, while I'd like to buy those tickets as well, there's no way to be sure of arrival times, train from airport to Milan Centrale, etc.

Thanks again.

Barry

Arno
Arno
7722 posts
expert &
moderator
Jul 16, 2015 - 6:28 AM

Hi Barry,

You can always buy tickets in Italy if you're not sure about times. It's just that some trains might be booked out by then so you'll have to take another one.

Have a wonderful trip!

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