By far the most asked question when it comes to Switzerland train travel is whether to get a Swiss Travel Pass or Half Fare Card.
And when it comes to answering that question, it will always come down to the cost breakdown & convenience factors based on your particular itinerary.
This overview is here to help you make the best-informed decision possible for your trip to Switzerland.
By the end of reading through, I hope you will better understand the thought process between choosing the Swiss Travel Pass vs Half Fare Card.
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1) Switzerland Travel
When traveling around Switzerland, the main mode of transport will be the vast train network that runs throughout all corners of the country.
In addition to the train network, there are also busses, boats, mountain railways, cable cars, & more to help travelers get from point A to point B.
Now, for those taking a trip to Switzerland, odds are these modes of transport will be used frequently. And since Switzerland is not a cheap country to visit, you can imagine that all of these various rides will add up in cost.
That is where Switzerland travel passes come into play.
Instead of paying full fare for each and every train, bus, cable car, and boat ride you take, there are ways to drastically cut down on the costs.
While there are a few different travel pass options to consider (all of which I will talk about), the main two passes are the Swiss Travel Pass and the Half Fare Card.
You can learn more about general transport by reading through the Train Travel in Switzerland guide up on the site.
2) Swiss Travel Pass vs Half Fare Card Overview
To better help you understand the comparison from a high level, below are the main differences between the Swiss Travel Pass & Half Fare Card:
Swiss Travel Pass
- The Swiss Travel Pass gives unlimited travel on the public Switzerland train/bus/boat network over a certain period of time for one cost.
- You can purchase a pass that covers 3, 4, 6, 8, or 15 consecutive days (either Second or First class tickets).
- While much train, bus, & boat travel is unlimited, not all transport is included. With a Swiss Travel Pass you will get discounted prices on mountain transport (25% – 50% discounts). Some mountain transport is included though (i.e. Mount Rigi).
- In addition to the transport, there are over 500 museums that are included with the purchase of a Swiss Travel Pass. This can end up saving you hundreds if museums are a large part of your travels.
- With a Swiss Travel Pass, you do not need to purchase individual train tickets ahead of time. Simply show up to the station, hop on the train, and show the conductor your Swiss Travel Pass and passport.
- However, when taking mountain transport, you will still need to purchase those tickets beforehand (and receive a discount at the ticket office by showing your pass). Same holds true for some of the scenic panorama train rides, where a seat reservation may be required to purchase ahead of time.
- The pass can also be purchased as a Swiss Travel Pass Flex. Instead of having consecutive days, you can use it for a certain number of days within a month long time period. This will in turn make it more expensive to purchase, but it may make financial sense based on your itinerary (usually best for those that only plan to travel on a lower proportion of days during their trip).
- Purchase a Swiss Travel Pass ahead of time to get you all set for Switzerland!
Half Fare Card
- A Half Fare Card gives you the ability to purchase all your public train, bus & boat transport at 50% off the full fare ticket over a 30 day time period.
- Similarly, Half Fare Cards also apply to mountain transport, where you will usually get 50% off the full fare rate. There are instances though when the discount may be lower (i.e. 25%).
- When it comes to museums, there is no discount available. You will simply just need to purchase a ticket to the museum of choice.
- With the Half Fare Card, you will ALWAYS need to purchase tickets ahead of time (whether they are regular train rides or mountain transport). When buying tickets online or at the ticket office, you will need to choose the “Half Fare” option. Once on the train, the conductor will then check your tickets & half fare card.
- It is only available to non-residents of Switzerland and Lichtenstein.
Swiss Family Card
One of the top benefits of purchasing either a Swiss Travel Pass or Half Fare Card, is the free Swiss Family Card that is offered along with it.
In essence, if one family member has a Swiss Travel Pass or Half Fare Card, then any children between the ages of 6 to 15 years old can travel for free with them (children under 6 do not require a Family Card and can travel for free either way).
This essentially means that if a family of 2 adults and 2 children under 16 are traveling, only the parents need to purchase train passes, while the 2 kids travel for free. What may have first seemed like a much more expensive trip, just turned into half the cost to travel around.
The card can be acquired at any Switzerland railway station across the country.
There are two options for those that are looking for unlimited one day travel in Switzerland – the Saver Day Pass and 1 Day Travelpass.
1 Day Travelpass (Day Pass)
The 1 Day Travelpass (75 CHF) gives you unlimited travel on trains, boats & busses (and some mountain transport) for just for one single day. This can only be purchased if you already have a Swiss Half Fare Card.
The thought here is if you have one big day of travel with some expensive routes, purchasing this pass will end up being more economical friendly for you than just purchasing tickets with the Half Fare Card.
Saver Day Pass
There is also a Saver Day Pass for those that don’t have a Swiss Travel Pass or Half Fare Card (although it still can be purchased if you have a Half Fare Card). For one price, you will be able to travel on public trains, boats & busses for free.
Prices vary depending on how early you book the pass (starting at 29 CHF) and can be bought ~60 days in advance.
3) What is Included?
Now that you have a good understanding on what these two travel passes are, let’s talk about exactly what is and what is not included with each one.
What Is Included with the Swiss Travel Pass?
- All public train routes, bus routes, and boat routes in the country are covered by the Swiss Travel Pass.
- Most mountain transport is 50% off with select routes at a 25% discount (and some mountain transport is completely included – Rigi, Stoos, and Stanserhorn).
- There are also over 500 museums in the country that are covered with the Swiss Travel Pass.
- Seat reservations for panorama trains are not included, and must be purchased separately.
What Is Included with the Half Fare Card?
- All public train routes, bus routes, and boat routes in the country will receive a 50% discount with the Half Fare Card.
- Most mountain transport is 50% off with select routes at a 25% discount (there are even some routes that offer better discounts than the Swiss Travel Pass).
You can check out the map below that shows the various areas of validity and discounted routes (PDF version linked).
4) Swiss Travel Pass & Half Fare Card Prices
Due to the fact that these two cards work in very different ways, the prices of course will be reflected accordingly.
Swiss Travel Pass Prices
Below are the prices for the Swiss Travel Pass based on number of days & class:
Swiss Travel Pass Flex Prices
Below are the prices for the Swiss Travel Flex Pass based on number of days & class:
Half Fare Card Prices
Half Fare Card are simply 120 CHF for the 30 days, so that should make things a bit more simple.
5) How to Purchase
When it comes to purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass and Half Fare Card, you can do so ahead of time online or at train ticket booths.
6) Pros & Cons
To summarize the main pros & cons of the Swiss Travel Pass and Half Fare Card:
Swiss Travel Pass Pros
- For one price, you will have access to all public trains, boats, and busses in Switzerland.
- There is no need to purchase individual tickets for any of those included rides. Simply show up with your pass and hop on the train.
- In addition, the pass offers free admission to over 500 museums all throughout the country. This can be very beneficial for those that include museum hopping on an itinerary.
Swiss Travel Pass Cons
- The pass is only valid for a limited number of days (3, 4, 6, 8, or 15). However, the more expensive Swiss Travel Pass Flex does give you the flexibility to travel a certain number of days over a month’s time.
- Most mountain transport is not included and you must purchase these tickets separately with a discounted fare (25% – 50%).
- Seat reservations for panorama train rides are not included and must be purchased separately beforehand.
- The Swiss Travel Pass is expensive. To figure out if it is worth the purchase, you must do the calculations (and take into consideration the ease of not needing to buy tickets for each ride).
Is Swiss Travel Pass Worth It?
There are several reasons why the Swiss Travel Pass is worth it. Some of these include:
- If you are planning a lot of travel throughout your trip, especially longer & more expensive routes in the country.
- Not needing to worry about purchasing individual tickets for the journey (unless its mountain transport). Simply show up and be on your way.
- The idea that you can always be flexible with your travel plans and change them at a moment’s notice without any financial impact. Since train travel is unlimited, you may have more freedom to go back & forth as you see fit.
Purchase Today: If the Swiss Travel Pass is best for you, don’t forget to purchase the Swiss Travel Pass ahead of time to get you all set for your trip to Switzerland!
Half Fare Card Pros
- The Half Fare Card is cheaper than the upfront money needed for the Swiss Travel Pass. However, doing the math is always needed to better understand what is the best choice.
- All public train/bus/boat transport is 50% off. Most mountain transport is 50% with some at 25% (with some routes being even cheaper than the Swiss Travel Pass).
- The card is valid for up to one month, which does give travelers more flexibility when it comes to traveling.
Half Fare Card Cons
- With a Half Fare Card, you must purchase tickets for every route you take. This is much less convenient than the Swiss Travel Pass in that regard.
- There are no museums that are included with the Half Fare Card. If going to a museum in Switzerland, you must pay the full fare.
Is Swiss Half Fare Card Worth It
In general, the Half Fare Card is worth it if you are not traveling as much within your time in the country.
You can still get that large 50% discount on the routes that you do take, and the 120 CHF + 50% discount can certainly be less than purchasing tickets at full cost.
However, if you have more and more travel planned, you may need to consider the Swiss Travel Pass instead.
And remember, with the Half Fare Card, you still need to buy those individual train tickets each time.
7) Example 10 Day Itinerary Calculations
When it comes down to which pass is best for your trip, a financial calculation must be done.
Now, the financials may not be the only deciding factor. You may also consider the convenience factor & flexibility of the Swiss Travel Pass. But of course, the numbers are always important to think about.
Every trip to Switzerland is going to be different. So, without understanding each and every route you want to take, it will be difficult to give an exact answer.
However, I do have several itineraries up on the site. One of which is this 10 Day Switzerland Itinerary. Below is a breakdown of the costs – full fare, Swiss Travel Pass, & Half Fare Card for this itinerary.
There are some assumptions & things to note:
- Prices reflect second class tickets throughout the trip
- This would be using the 8 day Swiss Travel Pass, with the first day of use on day #2. Days 1 & 10 would have limited (if any) transport needed anyways.
- If buying full fare tickets or the Half Fare Card, it is possible to save even more using the 1 Day TravelPass or Saver Day Pass.
- Assumes overnights in Interlaken during the Jungfrau Region portion of the trip
As you can see, given the itinerary provided, the Half Fare Card is slightly less expensive compared to the Swiss Travel Pass (~60 CHF).
However, the idea of not needing to purchase individual tickets for most of these journeys + the flexibility to add more transport at no extra cost, makes me still inclined to buy the Swiss Travel Pass in this exact situation.
As I said though – every itinerary is different, and it will all depend on your exact route/s in order to choose the best option for your trip.
Purchase Today: If the Swiss Travel Pass is best for your trip to Switzerland, don’t forget to purchase the Swiss Travel Pass ahead of time!
I hope that helps you best decide whether to purchase the Swiss Travel Pass or Half Fare Card.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to add them in below.
Also, be sure to check out the other Switzerland itineraries and guides up on the site.
Have fun out there and safe travels!