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How to choose a Swiss rail pass in 5 steps

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Our 1st class Swiss Travel Pass again proved to be great value as after doing the maths our pass option was about a third of full price tickets.

Must knows about choosing a rail pass

  • A detailed itinerary is the most important prerequisite to select the best pass.
  • The step-by-step plan below will help you pick the right pass. Any questions left? Feel free to ask us in the forum!
  • It's not all about price. The freedom to travel anywhere at any time without the need to buy a ticket is priceless. A Swiss Travel Pass offers just that.

Choosing the cheapest rail pass isn’t always an easy task. Our tips help you out!

How to choose the best rail pass

There are many rail passes. It may seem like a complex task to pick the right pass. Perhaps point to point tickets serve you better than a pass if you don't travel much. The steps below help you decide.

Quick rail pass overview

For a quick overview of the passes, please download this document (pdf).

Calculate with our free Excel spreadsheet

To make your own calculations, please download this Excel spreadsheet (zip). Then follow the 5-step instructions. The steps are explained below and are mentioned in the spreadsheet.

If you are not familiar with Excel, you can use a notepad and do it manually. The spreadsheet also has a column to compare rental car costs to rail passes.

Step 1: Make a list of travel plans

This step is important, as you can only pick the best pass if you have a detailed idea about all your travels. Make a list of each trip you intend to make and include:

  • transfers from the airport or Swiss border to the (first) town where you stay, and back;
  • day trips, including buses, boats, cable cars, trams, etc.;
  • town-to-town transfers, if you stay in multiple towns.

In reality, you can't assume all of your plans to be realized, as the weather may force you to make changes. Also you may discover other nice day trips while you’re in Switzerland or just feel like doing something else. However, the list you make should be a realistic overview of the kind of traveling you intend to do. If in practice you replace one mountain trip by the other, that mostly doesn't result in a big difference in travel expenses.

If you don't have an itinerary yet, we'll gladly explain how to make one.

If you have no idea about your travel plans and just plan by the day, it won't be possible to calculate which pass will be cheapest. In that case you can skip the other steps and look into a Swiss Travel Pass or Swiss Half Fare Card. Both allow you to be flexible and save money on almost any trip.

For an example of this step, please download the spreadsheet.

Step 2: Find prices of regular tickets

Now you’ll check what your traveling would cost without a pass. For each of the trips on your list, consult the timetable to find the ticket price.

Be sure to take the full (regular) price from the timetable, not the half-fare price or other reduced rates. Read the instructions on the timetable page.

To simplify things, we recommend to get the prices for one adult only. Children travel along for free in almost all cases.

For an example of this step, please download the spreadsheet.

Step 3: Select a few passes to compare

It’s not necessary, nor realistic, to compare the regular prices to all available rail passes. If you browse the rail passes, or download the quick overview from the top of this page, you’ll quickly see which ones do not make sense and which ones may fit your plans.

For example:

  • If you travel all across Switzerland, it's usually easier and cheaper to pick one country-wide pass, rather than a combination of regional passes.
  • If you'll be traveling in one region only, you can eliminate regional passes for other areas.
  • If you plan to travel a lot, or if you want to prevent buying tickets for each trip, the Swiss Travel Pass makes sense.

Write down the prices of the selected rail passes. You can find them in the 'Price' section of each rail pass page.

For an example of this step, please download the spreadsheet.

Step 4: Find the discounts for pass holders

You now have a list of trips (step 1) and the costs of each trip without a pass (step 2). For the first selected pass (step 3), find out what discount you would get for each trip.

In order to do so, visit the relevant pass page (e.g. the Swiss Travel Pass page), download the network map, and check where the pass is valid. You can also browse the list of covered activities further down the page.

If the pass grants free traveling, enter a 100% discount, if it does not provide a discount, enter 0%, et cetera. The discounted price will automatically be calculated.

Repeat this for the other passes you selected in step 3. The total amount you'd spend with each railpass option will automatically be calculated.

For an example of this step, please download the spreadsheet.

Step 5: Select a pass

Now you know which pass results in the lowest overall travel expenses. Tips:

  • Sometimes the difference between two passes is minimal. It that case it’s recommended to favor the one that includes unlimited traveling. That’s more comfortable as you don’t need to buy tickets for each trip, and you can change your plans without paying extra.
  • Take into account that some passes include free museums entrance, so you may be able to save more than just the travel costs.
  • Most people end up picking a Swiss Travel Pass or Swiss Half Fare Card.
  • If you're struggling with the details of your calculations, just pick the pass that seems to be a good overall fit. You'll nearly always save money with any of the passes that are a reasonable match.
  • If very little traveling is involved, you may find that regular tickets are the cheaper option.

Still unsure? Feel free to ask for help in the forum!

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