Train tickets in Switzerland are as varied as the means of transportation on offer. Get an overview of the most important tickets available that you need to know for your trip. You will learn the most important principles of Swiss tickets. You'll also learn all about the Half-Fare Card, the GA, the saver tickets, the different day passes, the family card and much more
As diverse as the public transportation network in Switzerland is, the jungle of the ticket landscape is correspondingly seemingly dense. It can be overwhelming to know your way around, right down to the last detail. And let us assure you, sometimes not even the pros agree 100% on what exactly works how now.
In this article, we'll try to give you an overview of the available tickets. Because with the right ticket in your pocket, you can save money in Switzerland. The most important railway passes for your trip in Switzerland will be discussed in another article.
Are you ready for an expedition through the thicket? Then let's start right away with some basics.
There are some principles according to which the tickets work in Swiss public transport.
In Switzerland, the principle is: one trip, one ticket. No matter who you're traveling with. For example, if you are traveling from Zurich to Zermatt, you take the SBB (Swiss Federal Railways) from Zurich to Visp. In Visp you change to the train of the MGB (Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn) and travel to Zermatt. Although you use two different transport companies on your journey, you only pay one, fixed price.
The same applies if your trip includes a bus or Postbus ride. So you can travel from Bern to Heiden in Appenzell Ausserrhoden with only one train ticket. To do this, you first travel with the SBB from Bern to St. Gallen and change there to the Postbus.
It gets a bit more complicated if you want to use the local bus network, but we'll get to that later...
Whether you buy a ticket for next week or your train leaves in two minutes, the price doesn't change. Of course, there is an exception to this rule - otherwise it would be boring. But basically it is irrelevant when you decide to travel. So you can plan to take the train in an hour and change your mind shortly before for a later connection.
All trains in Switzerland are subject to mandatory ticketing. During the last years, the possibility to buy a ticket on the train has been gradually abolished. Buying a ticket from the staff is only possible if you report to the staff before departure. The extra charge for this service is CHF 10 per ticket. Therefore, you should make sure that you have your ticket before boarding the train.
When you buy a ticket in Switzerland, it will fall under one of two categories: Route or Zone. Here, too, there are possible combinations and subcategories, which we will explain in more detail later. To begin with, we will start with the two main categories.
If you travel between two places that are not part of the same fare association, you need a point-to-point ticket. This is valid for one trip between your starting point and your end point. You may interrupt your journey as often as you like.
For example, if you are traveling from Basel to Lugano, but want to stop in Lucerne and spend the afternoon at Lake Lucerne, you may do so. If you continue your journey on the same day and arrive in Lugano at the latest with the last train, this is no problem.
Whether you buy a one-way ticket or a round-trip ticket, your point-to-point ticket is valid for a whole calendar day. Here, too, it is irrelevant whether you have to change trains for your entire journey or even change the means of transport.
You can buy the poibt-to-point ticket either online via the SBB website, the SBB app, at the ticket counter or at a ticket machine.
Switzerland is divided into around 20 regional transport and fare networks. These all operate their own fare system, within which you travel with a zone ticket. While a point-to-point ticket is valid for one route, a zone ticket allows you to travel freely within one or more zones.
Depending on how long your trip is, your ticket is valid for longer or less time. This also varies from fare network to fare network. For example, if you travel from Zurich airport to Zurich main station, you move within two zones of the ZVV (Zürcher Verkehrsverbund). If you buy a single ticket, you can travel for up to two hours in the respective zones.
The validity period is always indicated on the ticket. If you are making more than one trip, it may make sense to buy a day ticket, depending on the fare association. This is then valid for a whole calendar day and you can use all means of transport within the purchased zones.
Most core zones, i.e. those that encompass the center of a city, are usually charged twice. This means that if you buy a ticket for the center of Zurich and there is only one zone on the ticket, you pay the price of two zones. This is indicated on the zone map with a * next to the zone number.
You can buy the zone ticket either online via the SBB website, the SBB app, the website or app of the respective fare network, at the ticket counter or at a ticket machine. Most fare networks have their own ticket vending machines where you can also buy a ticket. However, SBB vending machines also carry the zone tickets in their range.
Now it gets interesting. Of course, it is also possible to combine the route and zone ticket. This fusion is called a City-Ticket. The idea is that you combine the city zone either at your starting or end point with the point-to-point ticket. Explained with a concrete example, it looks like this:
You want to make a day trip from Bern to Lausanne. Since you will spend the whole day in Lausanne and don't want to do everything on foot, you will use the local public transport. So on the one hand you need a point-to-point ticket for the trip from Bern to Lausanne, while in Lausanne you need a zone ticket for the local transport.
One option would be to buy both tickets separately. But if you choose the combination in the form of the City-Ticket, you save some money, because the SBB gives you a discount of 10%.
There is another variant of the City-Ticket, where you add the local zone at your starting point instead of your end point. In our case, this would mean that you use the local public transport in Bern and then go to Lausanne. Instead of Lausanne, in this variant the means of transport of the core zone are valid in Bern.
Both variants of the City Ticket are available online via the SBB website, the SBB app, at the ticket counter or at a ticket vending machine.
If you opt for the second version of the City-Ticket - i.e. the one where local transport is valid at your point of departure - it only makes sense to buy it via the app or the website. By the time you reach the ticket counter or ticket machine at the train station, you no longer need the bus or streetcar.
In our opinion, one great advantage of the ticket system in Swiss public transportation is its flexibility. Whether you want to travel at 8:02 or 16:32 is irrelevant. You buy your ticket and you are taken care of for the day. However, this principle does not apply in the case of the Supersaver ticket.
As the name suggests, this ticket costs less than regular tickets. The savings vary greatly and range from 5% to 70%. However, there is only a certain quota of saver tickets available and when they are gone, they are gone. Basically, the earlier you book, the more likely you are to find a good deal.
Of course, nothing is given to you here either and these price reductions come with certain restrictions. Here are the features and rules that apply to the Supersaver ticket:
Swiss Activities Tip: With the saver tickets, it can happen that the 1st class fare is lower than the 2nd class fare. It is rare, but when booking a saver ticket, it may be worthwhile to compare the 1st class fare as well.
Missing your connection is a hassle in almost every case. But it becomes really annoying when you travel with a Supersaver ticket. If you bought a Supersaver ticket with a transfer, for example from St. Gallen to Bern with a change in Zurich, and you miss your connection in Zurich because of a delay, you have to take action. Ask the conductor to confirm that the train was indeed delayed.
With this confirmation, board the next train to Bern. If you are checked and show your Supersaver ticket, which would have been valid for the previous train, you show the confirmation of the delayed train to the control staff. Then the whole thing is no problem.
Without confirmation it becomes risky and it depends on the goodwill of the control staff whether they tolerate your "excuse" or not. The same applies if you don't board the next possible train and decide to spend a few hours in Zurich. So don't dawdle too long and make sure you get to Bern.
The RailAway Ticket is aimed at leisure travelers and offers the possibility of combining admission to a leisure facility with the return journey. As with the City-Ticket, a price reduction is granted.
On the RailAway website of the SBB you will find a comprehensive overview of the institutions that can be visited at a reduced price with RailAway. To explain to you how the RailAway ticket works exactly, let's make another example.
Let's assume you are in Chur and want to visit the zoo in Zurich. You can buy a point-to-point ticket from Chur to Zurich and a zone ticket from Zurich main station to the zoo. Or you can buy a RailAway ticket and get the train ticket between Chur and the zoo with 10% discount and the entrance ticket for the zoo with 20% discount.
The discounts are not always the same and depending on the trip you save a little more or less. How much you profit with the respective offer, you can see when buying either on the Internet or at the counter.
The Snow'n'Rail Ticket works in the same way as the RailAway Ticket. You benefit from a discount if you combine the journey by public transport with the entrance fee.
In this case, you guessed it, it is about the combination with ski passes
You can find the participating ski resorts here on the SBB website. Also with Snow'n'Rail, the price reductions vary, depending mainly on these three factors:
Again, you'll see how much you're profiting with this offer when you buy either online or at the counter.
Swiss Activities Tip: With Snow'n'Rail you not only get a price reduction on the trip and the ski pass, but also on the rental of your equipment. So if you need a pair of skis or a snowboard, buying a Snow'n'Rail ticket pays off twice as SBB has an agreement with Intersport Rent. Other discounts, such as on the transport of your luggage, will also be shown to you at the time of purchase.
You may now be rightly wondering what your options are if you don't just want to buy a point-to-point ticket and travel quite extensively on public transport in a day. Good news: The point-to-point ticket, as well as the zone ticket, is of course also available in an extended version. And this is valid on the 5 most beautiful scenic train rides in Switzerland!
To get around the entire public transport network in Switzerland during a day, there is the so-called Day Pass. This entitles you to free travel on the entire network of public transport in Switzerland on trains, buses, post buses, boats and certain mountain railroads. So with the Day Pass you can get on wherever you want and have access to any public transport that travels in Switzerland.
However, you can only buy a Day Pass if you have a Half-Fare Card. (More about the Half-Fare Card in a bit.)
There is also a Supersaver Day Pass, which includes the same offers as the Day Pass just described and is also available to those without a Half-Fare Card. Supersaver Day Passes have limited availability and usually sell out quickly. Especially the low prices are very popular and only available for a short time. So if you know when you're traveling, it's worth looking around for a Supersaver Day Pass as soon as possible. You can find them in the SBB webshop up to 60 days before the day of travel, along with further information about the saver day ticket.
The Day Pass is also available in the tariff zones. It entitles you to free travel for one day in the purchased zone. If you make two or more trips in one zone, it may be worth buying a day pass, depending on the fare network.
This is especially advisable if you are visiting the city and will be making several trips, even if only short ones, by public transport during the day. These day tickets are available at the same places as the zone ticket, either online, at the ticket office or at all vending machines.
A very important part of the Swiss ticket system is the Half-Fare Card, which is especially worthwhile for frequent travelers. As the name suggests, the Half-Fare Card entitles you to a 50% discount on all public transport tickets. It is available either as an annual subscription or for only one month.
The annual subscription only makes sense if you either live in Switzerland or are here for a longer period of time. It costs 185.- CHF and is available either online or at the counter at any Swiss train station.
If you are in Switzerland for a month or less, there is the Swiss Half Fare Card. This is valid for one month and costs 120.- CHF. During this time you benefit from the same advantages as the regular Half Fare Card. The Swiss Half Fare Card is also available either online or at the ticket counter. The area of validity of both Half Fare Cards is the same as for the Day Passes.
We have almost reached the end of the jungle. However, a few low-hanging vines remain to bring us to the end, and we would like to draw your attention to them.
If you want to take your bike with you on your trip, you have two options.
Swiss Activities Tip No. 1: Some trains require a reservation for your bike. You can see if this is the case for your connection when you buy your ticket online, on the app, at the counter or at the ticket machine. The reason for this is that ICN trains only have a certain number of seats available for bicycles. Therefore, you need a reservation on these trains between March and October for 5.- CHF.
Swiss Activities Tip No. 2: If your bike fits in a bag, you don't pay anything for taking it with you. If you are looking for such a bag, you can buy one at the SBB for just under 100.- CHF. For this to be worthwhile, however, you need to take your bike on a longer train journey at least five or six times.
If you are traveling with a group of 10 or more, you can take advantage of a group rate with a 30% price reduction. The exact conditions can be found on the SBB website and you can buy the ticket either online or at the ticket office. A special feature is the long validity of the group ticket. A one-way trip is valid for 10 days, while you can use the ticket for up to 30 days in case of a return trip.
The situation with dogs is similar to that with bicycles. In tariff terms. If his height at the withers is not more than 30 cm and he travels in a bag, you pay nothing. Otherwise you have to buy a reduced ticket or a day ticket, which costs 25.- CHF, for your four-legged friend. Find more information on the website of the SBB about bringing your dog on the train.
The specially developed family card is available for families. This allows children between their 6th and 16th birthday to travel with their parents for free. You receive the Swiss Family Card free of charge when you buy a ticket from the Swiss Travel System. This includes, for example, the Swiss Travel Pass. The Swiss Family Card is available worldwide at all points of sale that offer Swiss Travel Systems tickets.
If you are in Switzerland only for tourist reasons, this subscription is not relevant for you. But there is a ticket that is valid for a whole year for all public transport in Switzerland. It is called Generalabonnement (GA). If you are not traveling excessively in Switzerland for a year, as many commuters are, this expensive subscription is not worth it.
It includes all routes that can be traveled with the Day Pass and costs CHF 3860 for adults. An ingenious invention, of which you must have heard once but may also forget again immediately. Unless you are secretly planning to emigrate and want to explore every corner of Switzerland.
We are aware that all this information can be very overwhelming. But you now know the most important components of the Swiss public transport ticketing landscape. However, there's an invention that can make your life a lot easier. We're talking about the Easyride feature of the SBB app, which is the solution to (almost) all your problems.
To use this feature, you need to have an account in the app. After depositing a payment method, you'll have the option to check in and check out as you board and exit your mode of transportation. The app tracks your trip and charges you for the cheapest trip at the end of the day. So if you don't want to deal with issues like the city ticket or the validity period of the zone ticket, the Easyride feature is just for you.
Some tickets, such as the Day Passes, the Supersaver tickets and dog tickets still need to be purchased separately. But for the simple use of public transport, the Easyride function offers a very welcome relief.