Swiss rail & bus transportation vs car rental

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Posts: 26
Marsi
Marsi
16 posts
new member
Oct 26, 2019 - 10:32 PM

Hi,

My family of 6 (all older than 16yrs.) are traveling in Switzerland from 12/24-12/3. We fly into and out of Geneva and plan on making our way to the Jungfrau region for 3-4 nights.

I realize that much of what we can see or do will depend upon the weather, but I would like to get my kids up to see some beautiful mountain vistas. What do you all think would be the best "homebase" during this season? I was considering Interlaken or Lauterbrunnen. Opinions on either? I do intend to head to Lucerne after if is is still recommended.

The tricky part is that with our group, the travel passes don't seem to really save us any money. Even the 1/2 off card is so expensive that by my estimation, it doesn't make it worthwhile, so I have been focusing on finding super saver fares.

Even with those, the transportation gets awfully expensive when trying to make RT day trips to Grindelwald, Brienz, or from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen. And, they all seem to be running busses only due to maintenance, so I am shocked that the busses are so pricey.

Does anyone have any tips on this? I could rent a large van for 2 days and come out at about the same cost, but I am concerned that the roads might be icy and that we may have trouble parking a big ol' van.

Any thoughts would be appreciated.

rockoyster
rockoyster
7610 posts
expert
Oct 27, 2019 - 2:03 AM in reply to Marsi

Hi Marsi and welcome to MySwissAlps

"My family of 6 (all older than 16yrs.) are traveling in Switzerland from 12/24-12/3"

Should that be 12/30 or 31? You are in Switzerland for 6 - 7 nights right?

For 6 people the Swiss Half-fare Card is going to cost you CHF1,440 (6 x 240) before you start to make any actual savings: https://www.myswissalp s.com/swisshalffarecar d. But you probably already figured that out.

Be careful with Supersaver fares. You miss the particular train you bought the tickets for and bang goes your ticket: https://www.myswissalp s.com/traintickets/swi tzerland.

"Even with those, the transportation gets awfully expensive when trying to make RT day trips to Grindelwald, Brienz, or from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen. And, they all seem to be running busses only due to maintenance, so I am shocked that the busses are so pricey."

Where do you get the bus thing from? I didn't check all the routes but Interlaken to Grindelwald on 12/24 is a train and it costs CHF11.20 return half-fare. If a bus is used to substitute for part of a train route then the price is the same as the train trip.

"Does anyone have any tips on this? I could rent a large van for 2 days and come out at about the same cost, but I am concerned that the roads might be icy and that we may have trouble parking a big ol' van."

Read www.myswissalps.com/ca rversustrain.

By far the best way to check timetables, find fares* and buy tickets on-line if required is using the SBB Mobile app (bit.ly/2ICIUHi). In the unlikely event you don’t have a device capable of running the app then you can use the timetable on the SBB website. If you are not familiar with using the timetable it will pay to first read the instructions at www.myswissalps.com/ti metable

* The SBB website shows half-fare prices by default, the mobile app allows you to nominate whether to show full or half-fares (by editing the passenger details in settings) and is also smart enough to offer you the Saver Day Pass (www.myswissalps.com/sa verdaypass) if that offers the best fare. The app also show a platform map (at least at the larger stations) to help you make conections.

Based on your personal itinerary you should read “How to choose the best travel pass” (www.myswissalps.com/tr ain/ticketspasses/prac tical/chooserailpass), download the handy spreadsheet calculator and do the math. The spreadsheet also includes links to the “Where it's valid" page for all available passes. Be sure to check those pages for each pass you are considering. Study the map AND read all the text on those pages to fully understand what is covered by the respective pass.

Annika
Annika
6101 posts
expert &
moderator
Oct 27, 2019 - 8:49 AM in reply to Marsi

Hello Marsi!

In addition to Rockoyster's great tips: I'd definitely advise public transportation over car traveling, especially at that time of the year. Car rental, parking and fuel costs add up quickly too, and there's a vast array of rail passes that will help you save money. I'm pretty sure using a rail pass will be cheaper than regular fares for your itinerary as well. Are you sure you're looking at full fares when comparing your options? As Rockoyster warned, the SBB timetable shows discounted fares by default, so you'll have to double them to know what you'd be paying without a rail pass.

For your journey, I'd consider this option:

  • get Swiss Half Fare Cards for the adults, offering a 50% discount on all train, bus, boat and mountain transportation tickets: https://www.myswissalp s.com/swisshalffarecar d;
  • get additional discounted Saver Day Passes for the transfers from Geneva to the Jungfrau region and back. If bought well in advance, you can get them for CHF 29 (lowest fare), which is significantly cheaper than buying regular 50% discounted tickets: https://www.myswissalp s.com/saverdaypass.

Just as an example: a regular full-fare return ticket Geneva Airport-Lauterbrunnen would cost CHF 163,20 per person in 2nd class. You'll start saving with a Swiss Half Fare Card when making trips worth CHF 240 in total, so you'd only need to add a few more trips within the Jungfrau region and to/from Lucerne to reach that break-even point and start saving money.

If your stay indeed lasts about 7 days, you could even consider an 8 day Swiss Travel Pass instead. It offers great flexibility, which can come in handy if weather forces you to change your plans: https://www.myswissalp s.com/swisstravelpass. Whether this turns out to be cheaper, should be calculated according to the process linked to by Rockoyster.

Please find information about towns in the Jungfrau region using the links to each town page at www.myswissalps.com/ju ngfrauregion. Lucerne is for sure a great base town too: https://www.myswissalp s.com/lucerne.

Last modified on Oct 27, 2019 - 8:50 AM by Annika
Marsi
Marsi
16 posts
new member
Oct 30, 2019 - 7:15 PM

Thank you both! It appears that driving isn't a good plan. But, neither is the Swiss Pass which for 8 days will cost the 6 of us about $2,400.

My mistake about dates... Should that be 12/30 or 31? You are in Switzerland for 6 - 7 nights right? Actually, the dates are 12/24 (land 10:30 am Geneva) - 12/3 (depart 1:00 pm) Geneva.

I am looking into the concept of buying a couple of 1/2 Fare Cards and then, the saver day tickets. I am not sure I quite understand though. By the train rules we are all adults because we are all 16 and up. So, would I just be purchasing a couple of them to make the fare worthwhile and break at least even? And, with the Saver Day Passes it is only one fee for any transport all day? I will do the math combining these options vs. my routes with the Super Saver tickets. I don't love the idea of being on a set schedule but, I can pretty much be certain not to miss our trains if we have pre-paid for them.

I have been using the SBB app and it has some things which confuse me (by the way, this is where I see that only busses seem to be running to at least Lauterbrunnen because of maintenance and... RT for the 6 of us is is $120 in every direction from Interlaken... well, a bit less to Brienz) I almost wonder if we could get a cab for less?)...With the SBB app..

1. I run a route and there is a % sign and it will say something like tickets from CH 5.80 but, then when I go to select tickets there are none at that price at all. Only point to point, super saver fares and other more expensive options. Where are those less expensive fares? And, are those expensive point to point fares the costs with the 1/2 fare option? For example: Bern, Bahnhof to Geneve, Lyon on 11/30 depart 12:34. In the list it reads "% from CHF 7.80", but when selected options are: point to point 51.00, Supersaver 15.40, Saver Day Pass 70.00, and City Ticket 57.00, etc... What am I missing?

2. Is there a simple way to find out on the app which point I should select within a city or town? I think I have Interlaken East and West figured out, and the airports, but some towns have some interesting options.

3. Do the SuperSaver tickets get more expensive closer to the date of travel? For instance, if we were to wait until a day or two before travel, are they likely to be there?

Thanks so much! This is a very stressful part of the trip because we are trying to make it as economical as possible while still getting to see the country.

rockoyster
rockoyster
7610 posts
expert
Oct 30, 2019 - 7:34 PM in reply to Marsi

Actually, the dates are 12/24 (land 10:30 am Geneva) - 12/3 (depart 1:00 pm) Geneva.

Now I AM confused! Do you have a time machine? 😉

1. You need to edit your passenger details in the app to indicate you have a half-fare card. You are seeing full price fares.

2. Just select the town or city name alone to get to the main station.

3. Yes they can get more expensive and they can also cease to be available if you leave it too late.

Last modified on Oct 30, 2019 - 7:36 PM by rockoyster
Marsi
Marsi
16 posts
new member
Oct 30, 2019 - 7:50 PM in reply to Marsi

Also... is it true that the SuperSaver rates are only good with the 1/2 fare card? That is what it appears to be on the SBB website online. Ugh... this is so confusing. :)

rockoyster
rockoyster
7610 posts
expert
Oct 30, 2019 - 7:53 PM in reply to Marsi

You don’t have to have a Swiss Half-fare Card to get Supersaver fares. They are just cheaper if you have a Swiss Half-fare Card.

Marsi
Marsi
16 posts
new member
Oct 30, 2019 - 8:29 PM in reply to rockoyster

OMG! I have typing dyslexia I guess. Maybe I need some sleep! LOL .

11/24-12/3!! There! Got it.

And, thank you. Entering that information changed my thinking about the SuperSaver tickets quite a bit. It looks like going that route I would save money but, it may really infringe upon our good time and I am not sure that it is THAT worth it.

The half day card and 1 day saver tickets (when available) seem to be a good way to go. I think the point to point and that option are about equal at a glance so, overall, seems the wiser way to go.

Does the half fare work for the Golden Pass line and is that also booked through SBB?

rockoyster
rockoyster
7610 posts
expert
Oct 30, 2019 - 8:33 PM in reply to Marsi

LOL.

Yes the SHFC covers the Golden Pass route. Be sure to get a handle on where it is valid at www.myswissalps.com/sw isshalffarecard/validi ty.

You can make reservations for the Golden Pass Line (www.myswissalps.com/go ldenpass) including seat selection at www.myswissalps.com/go ldenpass/tickets or bit.ly/2kaq6Rf. Click the "e" for English language top right of the page. (where it says "Sprachwahl: d i f e"). Then change the class of travel, date of travel and start/end points to suit.

Reservations are not compulsory but are recommended on the Zweisimmen to Montreux leg (which is where the Panoramic and Belle Époque trains operate) during peak tourist season (which is not when you are travelling). You can reserve your seat at www.myswissalps.com/go ldenpass/tickets.

Marsi
Marsi
16 posts
new member
Oct 30, 2019 - 10:19 PM

Thank you for the map link! That is super helpful!

Now that I have come to terms with the train travel impacting my budget greatly, I am thinking of removing Luzern from my list. I was there once 30 something years ago and it didn't impact me in the way that the Grindelwald, Gimmelwald and Brienz areas did. At the time though, it was summer so, I figure it is likely better to stay in Interlaken or Thun to visit those places in late November. Especially considering that I will have teenagers with me.

Do you have any recommended travel route for 9 nights? I have looked at some of them online but nothing is quite standing out to me for the time of year we are going.

My priorities are visiting at least one good Christmas Market, introducing my family to the beauty of the Alps (cold is not an issue!-we will hope for little rain) and some interesting towns/villages. I imagine my girls would like a day or two in a "city" but I am thinking something small scale as opposed to Geneva.

I have also entertained the idea of spending the last night or two in Annecy, France just to save some money. :)

Marsi
Marsi
16 posts
new member
Oct 30, 2019 - 10:37 PM in reply to Marsi

Also... feeling a bit gun-shy of Interlaken. I totally understand the convenience to the mountain towns, and can also understand that the mountain towns will be pretty sleepy in late November for overnight stays, but, at the same time, a touristy train-hub, which is what I have seen it called, is not very appealing.

Would you recommend Brienz or Thun instead? Or, perhaps I should redirect to focus on Zermatt area?

As you can see, I confuse myself epically. I just want to see it all!

But, honestly, though I know everywhere will be great, we do all appreciate little "unknown" gems as much as we tend to dislike tourist shops every two feet. ...

rockoyster
rockoyster
7610 posts
expert
Oct 31, 2019 - 12:23 AM in reply to Marsi

I just spent a week In Thun and can highly recommend it as a base for the Bernese Oberland. It's more travel to get into the Jungfrau Region so you have to keep that on mind.

Brienz is actually a lovely village but again adds to the travel times if you plan to spend much time in the Jungfrau Region.

Zermatt is great but is just plain expensive.

Interlaken gets a bit if a bad rap in my opinion. It's not up in the mountains but geographically is a great base for the region. Everything is within easy reach.

While in Thun we got a 6-day Regional Pass Bernese Oberland. If you have a Swiss Half-fare Card you get 25% discount. After that we spent nothing on transport or mountain excursions (but we didn't do Jungfraujoch or Schilthorn). It even gives you half-fare from Montreux to Interlaken!

On an 8-day Pass you would get CHF87.50 discount which goes a fair way to covering the cost of the SFHC.

But I am probably just confusing you with more options.

The thing to do is settle on an itinerary, then work out what sort of pass fits best with that, rather than the other way round.

You've probably already heard "Based on your personal itinerary you should read “How to choose the best travel pass” (www.myswissalps.com/tr ain/ticketspasses/prac tical/chooserailpass), download the handy spreadsheet calculator and do the math. The spreadsheet also includes links to the “Where it's valid" page for all available passes. Be sure to check those pages for each pass you are considering. Study the map AND read all the text on those pages to fully understand what is covered by the respective pass." but that's the best approach.

Marsi
Marsi
16 posts
new member
Oct 31, 2019 - 2:33 AM in reply to rockoyster

Thank you again for spending so much time on this. I really appreciate it because I do tend to overthink and I know we will love our experience no matter what! I also know that I am risking the mountains with the time of year, but we always travel off-season and will deal with it. :)

I love that Thun is a good base. Is it a "fun" town? Things to do at night or,... even just pubs and such? I did a quick look and it seems that the travel time is just a bit longer (time to have a coffee or relax) and not too much more for the train tickets. If I find that is for sure the case, I think we might prefer Thun. It also looks like a good option for a day visit to Bern and Bern looks to be very pricey for hotels/home rentals as well. Not sure if that stop is worthwhile, but it does look pretty. Would you say that for the time of year, 2 or 3 nights is good? I would like to go to Lauterbrunnen (never been) and Grindlewald (have been and would like to show the family what I rave about... though, I doubt we will be able to hike to the glacier like I did).. We will skip Gimmelwald at that time of year. :(( I loved Brienz too, but I am not sure it is worth the extra travel time and money given our short stay and budget this time.

Note taken on Zermatt and we will skip it this time. That may decide the two itineraries I was considering.

I will check on the interesting train options that you mention,but, yes... I am spending too much time getting a headache over this! LOL

Any chance you could comment on these ideas?

Montreux after arrival in Geneva for 1-2 nights (relax and catch the Christmas market before moving onward) or, conversely as our last night before flight out on 12/3 at 1:00 pm.

Sion.. any reason if we aren't going to do Zermatt? Also, Domodossola, Italy... (seems the prices to get there via train are not bad and so... if it is cool... why not?

Bern... day trip or overnight? And, lastly... I have considered going to Annecy, France from Geneva on the inbound or outbound part of the trip. I realize that this is a Swiss forum but if you have thoughts on that it would be interesting. It looks like a cute place, though perhaps a pain to get to via bus, and it is definitely a way for us to save a few bucks rather than staying in Geneva!

FYI-- I am a paper and pencil person, so I used the spreadsheet idea and did it all by hand. So far, makes sense to buy the 1/2 fare cards for all 6 of us and watch my travels from there. You are right that SuperSavers are scary and, not such a great deal without the 1/2 fare card. If I can manage a couple of them with the cards, then I will.

Looks like Golden Pass line is a good idea! :)

rockoyster
rockoyster
7610 posts
expert
Oct 31, 2019 - 3:51 AM in reply to Marsi

Hi Marsi,

I was surprised at how lively Thun was. Certainly plenty going on there. Do the girls surf? See www.myswissalps.com/do cs/systemlibrariesprov ider/tripreports/thun-6-1.jpg?sfvrsn=d942ec22_0 😎

You can always do Zermatt as a day trip from the Bernese Oberland.

Montreux after arrival in Geneva for 1-2 nights (relax and catch the Christmas market before moving onward) or, conversely as our last night before flight out on 12/3 at 1:00 pm.

OK - I don't know when the Christmas Markets start so you'll want to check that.

Sion.. any reason if we aren't going to do Zermatt?

Not really.

Also, Domodossola, Italy... (seems the prices to get there via train are not bad and so... if it is cool... why not?

Wow, that's a real thought bubble! 😉

I wouldn't unless you planned to truck on through to Locarno or Lugano. But you don't have the time. Domodossola is somewhere you go through rather than visit I would say.

Bern... day trip or overnight?

Day trip. Cut down on accommodation swaps as much as possible is my advice. It's half and hour from Thun.

And, lastly... I have considered going to Annecy, France from Geneva on the inbound or outbound part of the trip. I realize that this is a Swiss forum but if you have thoughts on that it would be interesting. It looks like a cute place, though perhaps a pain to get to via bus, and it is definitely a way for us to save a few bucks rather than staying in Geneva!

Never been but did go to Colmar which is also "cute" and packed to the gills with tourists (at least in early October which is probably a quiet time). On a 9 night trip to Switzerland I wouldn't waste time on France. I think all the photos you have seen of Annecy were probably taken in summer! By the time you add on the travel costs it probably won't save you much anyway.

Hope that helps.

Ildiko
Ildiko
396 posts
top member &
moderator
Oct 31, 2019 - 8:26 AM

Hi Marsi,

I have been in Annecy (France), but only in Summer time. It is very beautiful then. I think if it is nice and snowy, it can be wonderful too, but in a rainy weather I wouldn't be bothered to go there. Have a look at Yvoire, also in France. It is much closer than Annecy and also a very beautiful little town. You can take a boat from Geneva or Montreux to get there: www.myswissalps.com/bo atlakegeneva

Marsi
Marsi
16 posts
new member
Oct 31, 2019 - 4:11 PM in reply to rockoyster

Wonderful! You have really helped me to narrow this all down and I am excited about the prospect of Thun! I will let you know how I fair.

The Christmas market in Montreux starts in mid-November so, we would definitely hit it. Looks like a pretty little town to recover from travels as well.

Marsi
Marsi
16 posts
new member
Oct 31, 2019 - 4:12 PM in reply to Ildiko

Thank you! I will look into that! The boat ride sounds much more fun than a bus ride anyways!

Marsi
Marsi
16 posts
new member
Nov 2, 2019 - 11:37 PM

I hope this is not offensive but, I have to ask... are ID's of kids under 16 checked when they are on the train? Obviously, we will have our passports at times, but not always, and if they aren't checked, my kids just recently turned 16... they look younger and could certainly pass for 15.

rockoyster
rockoyster
7610 posts
expert
Nov 3, 2019 - 1:36 AM in reply to Marsi

Hi Marsi,

If you are thinking of sneaking them onto a Swiss Family Card then my advice is - DON'T.

Checks are random rather than inevitable but if caught the fines are stiff and you would still have to buy them a SFHC or tickets.

You should always have id with you when travelling on any form of transport where you are taking advantage of the discount. It says so on the "card". I

Last modified on Nov 3, 2019 - 1:40 AM by rockoyster
Suzanne
Suzanne
138 posts
active member &
moderator
Nov 3, 2019 - 7:33 AM

Hello Marsi,

There is a train conductor on every long haul train ride, and they have random checks on short train rides too. They do check for ID plus the appropriate ticket/pass for the journey. Please make sure you have all this with you and your family, each and every time. Penalties are stiff and it's not worth it.

I wish you and your family a wonderful time in Switzerland!

Best regards,

Suzanne

Last modified on Nov 3, 2019 - 7:21 PM by Suzanne

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