By some bizarre twists of award booking fate, we ended up with tickets to Zurich in December. We thought it might be neat to see some of Europe instead of our frequent trips to Asia and South America, and a Winter Holiday sounds like a fun (I keep telling myself…)
I was also very excited to use up my Hyatt Free Night Certificates at the Park Hyatt Zurich, we could get about $700 per night value from them and that sounded super too. But then I thought to myself… why the hell would I want to go to Zurich? I mean really, it is one of the most expensive cities in the world, Lucky from one mile at a time Blogged here that a Grande Iced Coffee at Starbucks was $9 during his visit!
Typically I would come up with some sort of snide remark like ‘why would you have Starbucks in Zurich?’ (in an English accent everything sounds snide…) but then it struck me – there is NOTHING else to do there. OK, perhaps that is a bit harsh, but I think when people think of the romantic views of Switzerland then they are thinking of towns like Basel, Lucerne and Interlaken. At least that’s what I have come up with after a little research.
Swiss Trains run Like Clockwork
I have always enjoyed Train Travel, there is something romantic about traveling through the Countryside and being whisked away to a new town full of new experiences. I feel that due to the location of airports and the security measures they enforce Airplane travel can at times come with a lot of additional stress, that you don’t get on a train; it is a weird thing, sometimes we aren’t consciously aware of the added stress, but when it is absent everything feels a lot better. Our last trips by train were from Milan to Rome and from Rome to Orvieto and the journey was fantastic, complemented nicely with a bottle of wine.
The Swiss Rail service is world class in terms of its scheduling, availability and comfort. And furthermore they take you through some of the most scenic countryside you could possibly hope for. For that reason, I think in a short, 4 night trip to Zurich we should get out there and travel by train to see as much of the land as possible.
Swiss Rail Pass (http://www.swiss-pass.ch/)
The Swiss Pass entitles you to unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel System network. The Swiss Pass is available for 4, 8, 15 or 22 days or one month.
This pass also covers scenic routes and local trams and buses in 41 towns and cities and will offer 50% reduction all most mountain-top trains and cable cars. The Swiss Pass will also include the Swiss Museum Pass, allowing you free entrance to over 400 museums and exhibitions.
This pass is only available to non-residents of Switzerland or the Principality of Liechtenstein. No photograph is required: simply present your passport or identity card.
Sounds great – I checked the price of the 4 day and it was a little shocking, I know I am in the land of the $9 girlie drink from Starbucks, but really – $287 for 4 days!
It looks like those sneaky Swiss have priced things out very tightly and being able to discern where the real value lies is quite difficult, as the daily cost of the pass (Per Diem) reduces considerably for those staying in Switzerland for a month. I thought to also look at the Swiss Flexi Pass.
Swiss Rail Flexi Pass
The Swiss Flexi Pass allows travelers to freely choose their traveling days. You may travel on the Swiss Travel System network for 3, 4, 5 or 6 non-consecutive days within a month; on the selected days, you are offered the same great possibilities as when traveling with a Swiss Pass (see above). On the days between the first and the last activated day, your Swiss Flexi Pass offers a 50% discount on train, (postal) bus and boat rides, as well as on most mountain-top excursions.
The Swiss Flexi Pass will offer 50% reduction on most mountain-top trains and cable cars and will also include the Swiss Museum Pass, allowing you free entrance to over 400 museums and exhibitions.
- Valid for 3, 4, 5 or 6 days within 1 month
- Unlimited travel throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel System network (Synoptic map, PDF)
- Covers local trams and buses in 41 cities
- 50% reduction on most mountain-top trains and cable cars
- Free entrance to over 400 museums
- Children from 6 to 15 years inclusive travel free with a Family Card if accompanied by at least one parent
The difference, which might not be immediately obvious is that you cannot travel on Consecutive days with this Swiss Flexi Pass – which in fairness for most travelers would work out just fine and a lot more sensible than having to move daily. However in our short trip, in order to fit 4 cities into 4 nights we will need to travel consecutively. Here is how the pricing would break down for it in case that helps your planning:
The Swiss Rail Flexi Pass basically provides you with 3,4,5 or 6 days of ‘free travel by train’ throughout your trip, so if you are planning a 3 or more city trip with several days at each location it could possibly provide value for you.
Is there value for me in a Rail Pass?
We’d really like to visit Basel, Lucerne and Interlaken during this trip. To do so would require us to use the Swiss Pass, as the Swiss Flexipass requires at least one day without travel between each ride. I’m hoping, going into this search that the individual trips are cheap, because I don’t really want to fork over $274 per person for trains!
At this point, I also haven’t mapped out the perfect route for our trip, but I know I will need tickets within the triangle of Zurichi, Basel and Interlaken (with Lucerne being a stop between Interlaken and Zurich, or possible even Basel and Interlaken…)
I broke down the fares here, and they will add up, but is the Pass going to offer value here, or is it a rip off?
I’m pretty open to routes, here are some that might work for me:
- Arrive: Zurich (ZHR) Airport on Friday December 13th @ 755am
- Depart ZHR on December 17th @ 10:20am
Itinerary 1 Train Cost $295
- Day 1 ZHR-Zurich, Overnight (train cost $4)
- Day 2 Zurich – Basel Overnight Basel (train cost $36)
- Day 3 Basel – Lucerne Overnight Lucerne (train cost $36)
- Day 4 Lucerne – Interlaken Overnight Interlaken (train cost $50)
- Day 5 Interlaken – ZHR and Fly ZHR-NYC 10:20am (train cost $$165+$4)
Itinerary 2 Train Cost $224
- Day 1 ZHR-Basel (train cost $36+$4)
- Day 2 Basel- Interlaken (train cost $101)
- Day 3 Interlaken – Lucerne (train cost $50)
- Day 4 Lucerne – Zurich (train cost $29)
- Day 5 Zurich- ZHR and Fly ZHR-NYC 10:20am (train cost $4)
Of course, there are a plethora of other combinations, so the deciding factor for the routing we take will likely be tied into any special cultural events in the towns mentioned. From a price perspective it seems that picking the right route combination does make quite the difference in pricing, and if we were to get the Swiss Pass it would save us money for Itinerary 1, but cost us money for Itinerary 2. We get to see the same places, in a different order and the price is quite distinctly different.
It is worth noting that the Swiss Pass allows travel on many other forms of transport too, so more value could be squeezed out of it for local bus routes etc.
Have you visited Switzerland already? Please let me know if there are places I should consider seeing instead of this route, and if you thought the Pass was value or not.