Rail travel in Switzerland and Italy

I've been researching the various available passes and have reached an impasse on a decision. Can you help? Can't figure out whether to do point to point tickets that I purchase on the day of travel, the Swiss Pass or the Half-fare card. I can't book point to point tickets ahead because we want flexibility to leave whenever we we want to on each travel day.
Our itinerary:
Day 1- Fly into Zurich, rail to Wengen
Day 2- Sights around Wengen; Grindelwald, Murren, Jungfrau as time and weather allow
Day 3- Rail to Lucerne
Day 4-Rail to St. Moritz
Day 5- Rail to Milan
Day 6- Rail to Venice
Can you tell me the best travel deal? Thanks!

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
4212 posts

If you have more than 240 chf worth of Swiss rail tickets, which you do, you will ALWAYS come out ahead with the Half Fare Card. You can't say that about any other Swiss pass product. If you want to confirm that, go to www.sbb.ch and find the price of all your tickets and add them up. Remember, the first price shown on the list of available trains is the half fare price so you have to double that to get the actual price without any sort of pass.

Posted by ourgodreigns1
1 posts

Thanks, Sam! That's what I was kind of thinking. Tell me if I'm correct on this. If I were to get the Swiss Pass, I would save 25% on the cost of the Jungfrau and if I get the Half Fare card, I save 50% on it. Is that right? Thanks for your help!!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
20925 posts

Shirley,

A Rail Pass is rarely a cost effective method for getting around Italy, especially as they don't include the compulsory seat reservations on some trains (which you'll have to pay separately for). If you'll be using any premium trains such as the Freccia high speed versions (very likely on the Milan-Venice route) and can commit to travelling on a specific train, date and departure time, you can save a lot by pre-purchasing tickets online. Even with a Rail Pass, if you're caught without valid reservations for the train you're riding on, you'll likely face a hefty fine which will be collected on the spot!

For travel in Switzerland, using one of the passes will probably save money but I'd have to do a lot of number crunching to figure out which pass would be best.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
4212 posts

All I can say is, that is what it says on my "Swiss Pass" travel brochure and synoptic map.

Posted by Shirley
Matthews, NC, USA
45 posts

Thank you, Ken. Yes, I believe we will be able to commit to a specific time on the Milan to Venice train, so will book tickets on that trip early, thanks to your suggestion on this. We have tickets to see the Last Supper at 9:30 AM and then will explore the Duomo and be on our way by early afternoon on our travel day.
The Swiss part of this journey has been the confusing part for me. I know there are both public and private lines that run on the same track and I can't find anywhere if the costs vary according to the rail line used. I go to the sbb.ch website and have a dickens of a time finding the applicable fares for where we want to go, so it's been hard to add up the full fare costs! I think, though, that Sam's suggestion about the Half Fare card seems logical to me based on the chart Rick Steves had with approximate costs from point to point. Everyone tells you to 'do the maths' to figure the lowest cost, but if I can't get the full point to point cost to come up clearly, I don't have a baseline from which to work.

I have to say this Rick Steve's site has been the most comprehensive, readable site of all the travel sites I'be explored by a LONG shot. So here's a shout out to him and his staff and his forum contributors!

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
4212 posts

Well Shirley, since I'm sitting around with nothing to do, here are your rail costs.
ZRH>Wengen 85 chf
Wengen>Luzern 45 chf
Luzern>St Moritz 80 chf
St Moritz>Tirano 30 chf
That comes to exactly 240 chf, so you will save with the half fare card on journeys in the Berner Oberland. If you take the actual Bernina Express to Tirano, you will need to pay a reservation fee regardless of your pass, (5-10 chf ?) or you can take the regular hourly train that travels the same route.
If you got a 4 day Flexi Pass it would cost 315 chf for one person or 284 chf with 2 or more traveling together, so the Half Fare Card is the better deal.

Posted by Shirley
Matthews, NC, USA
45 posts

Sam, thank you so much! How you ever got those numbers is beyond me, but I am totally glad you did! Many thanks! I'll get the Half Fare card. The Swiss Pass was going to cost significantly more and wouldn't have been worth it for the amount of travel we're doing.
Do I need to get that while in the US or wait till I get to Zurich?

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
4212 posts

You can get it at the airport train station at Zurich. One last tip. Decline "dynamic currency exchange". You will be asked if you want your charge in US$ or chf. Do it in chf. Let your bank do the currency exchange.

Posted by Shirley
Matthews, NC, USA
45 posts

Thanks! These are things us novices would never know! :-)

Posted by lisaew
Albany, NY
160 posts

So is it always better to do Dynamic Currency Exchange if using a debit or credit card to pay for something?

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
4212 posts

Decline. That means don't do it. It is not really that big a deal, maybe 1%. But why pay more than you have too?

Posted by lisaew
Albany, NY
160 posts

OK so choose to have the transaction in Swiss Francs. Thanks.