I have been getting questions- on and off this blog- regarding whether purchasing a rail pass is actually cost effective.
Recently, one of Living Amused readers posted a question under “Ask a Travel ?” page that I thought would best be answered in more length.
She is planning to travel to Switzerland and Italy next June. They are a family of 4 (2 children 16 & 18) and will be arriving in Zurich and heading straight to Bernese Oberland (B.O.). They have 3.5 days in Switzerland before heading out to Venice and their primary interest is to hike/walk around B.O.
She wants to know whether a rail pass is beneficial for their travel itinerary.
I have traveled in many parts of Europe and with a few exceptions, rail passes have always saved me money and time and they are super convenient. Most travelers, tend to move about often during any given trip. In Switzerland, where it is truly unnecessary and even troublesome to rent a vehicle, public transportation is the ultimate mode of transportation and it would be used more than you even plan to.
Advantage #1: One of the main advantages of the rail pass is that you don’t have to worry about the fluctuation of ticket prices. Often the same route will cost more or less depending on time of travel within the same day. I have seen price variation upward of $50 in some cases. However, if you have a rail pass, it does not matter. Unless the train is sold out (very rare), you don’t pay anything extra. You pay in your currency before leaving home and don’t need to worry about exchange rates, not to mention carrying and keeping track of many many credit card receipts while overseas.
Advantage #2: Rail passes are not just for train travel. In Switzerland, they cover buses, trams, boats and so on as well. We enjoyed traveling and sightseeing via lake ferries in Lausanne, Lugano and Lucerne without paying any additional fees.
Advantage #3: On privately owned scenic trains/transportation rides, Swiss Pass holders save 20-50% off full fares. This can add to substantial savings considering for example to visit Jungfrau you need to pay around $90 in 2nd class.
Advantage #4: Friends and couples can save if traveling together at all times. For example, $246/adult fare for 4 days consecutive travel Swiss Pass is reduced to $209 for a Saver Pass if you end up traveling with a significant other.
Advantage #5: For families, children under the age of 15 travel free with their parents or guardians. Big saving! Just make sure you ask for a Swiss Family Card when ordering your Swiss Pass.
Advantage #6: 20-50% discount on walking/sightseeing tours in many major towns such as Bern, Lausanne, Zurich, etc.
Advantage #7: Swiss Pass also includes a Swiss Museum pass offering free entrance to over 400 museums throughout Switzerland.
Advantage #8: Don’t forget about 10%+ discount on lodging reservations.
Advantage #9: You don’t have to keep buying segment/individual tickets. All of us know how inconvenient it is to reach into our wallets to pay for a bus or subway fare even in our home towns.
There are also other rail passes such as:
- Regional Pass– Unlimited train travel within and between 2 neighboring countries in many parts of Europe
- Select Pass– Unlimited travel on the national rail networks of 3, 4 or 5 bordering countries connected by train or ship) and Global Pass
- Global Pass– To explore 21 European countries with one pass.
In summary, most travelers benefit in purchasing the right rail passes for their itineraries. Unless you are planning on staying put for the bulk of your trip, their value cannot be beat.
I would like to stress the following points:
- I have mentioned this on other posts, but it bears mentioning again. To avoid expensive rush delivery charges; make sure you order rail passes at least 10 days prior to leaving the country.
- Do not forget to stamp your rail pass on the first day of use at any train station’s kiosk to validate it. Failure to do so can lead to fines and/or other difficulties and who needs those while traveling.
Good luck on all your travels.
Never stop traveling … It is truly a Great Thing.
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