Zurich Train to Milano- how to get cheap tickets??

I'm finding it strangely difficult to nail down the best price and how (or if) to make reservations for the train from Zurich to Milan using the various rail websites. Although most efficient route is via Cisalpino, there seems to be different discount rates depending from the Italian and Swiss partners for this rail line--neither of which allow me to book the discount (or know if they are still available). Are overseas calls the only way to untangle these questions? My family of four was planning to save $ by flying into Zurich for our Northern Italian vacation next week but the expensive overnight in Zurich plus the cost of the train to Milano seem to make this a mistake. Any tips greatly appreciated!

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6841 posts

I just went to the Swiss Rail website (www.rail.ch) and entered an arbitrary date of Aug 2nd, and it showed a discount fare of 32 Swiss francs (tickets to be picked up at any Swiss rail station). I selected the fare and it took me all the way to the page where you enter your credit card info. If you're traveling next week it's possible the discount fare has sold-out.

Posted by Jack
Portland, Oregon, US
8 posts

Thanks for the help but the whole issue of whether "reservations" are required (vs buying day of travel). I've read both that reservations are not needed and that they are required if traveling between Switzerland and Italy. I can't tell what I need to do to get the best prices/discounts as part of advance purchase. If I can't get a better fair through advance purchase and there is no requirement for reservations, I’d prefer to talk to someone at the station on the day of travel (but of course, not if it means not being able to catch the train!) I can get only so far in the system then it seems to either want to send me an e-mail with prices or comes up with a discount price but then says reservations are not available for the "seats" I selected (I'm not indicating a seating preference).

Posted by Tim
Minneapolis, MN, USA
8646 posts

Seat reservations are required on Cisalpino trains between Zuerich and Milano. They are included in the price of the ticket. I just went to the Swiss Rail site and entered an arbitrary date for next week. The standard 2nd class adult fare is 97 Swiss francs. Even at this late date I could have booked a discount fare of 48 Swiss francs for a non-exchangeable, non-refundable ticket.

Posted by Jack
Portland, Oregon, US
8 posts

Many thanks. I guess I just need to trust that the Swiss rail system is figuring the best deal available for me. Must be something about my particular selections that makes it give different responses.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6841 posts

Unfortunately the "Supersaver Tickets" tickets being promoted on the Swiss Rail site are only for domestic journeys.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Right now the Swiss train website (www.rail.ch) is offering special deals on rail tickets. You might check and see what is available for your route. The only downside is that you are locked into a non-refundable ticket---no flexibility. But you probably know when you want to travel so should be OK with that.

Another option might be the Swiss Transfer Ticket, which would cover you travel from Zurich to Domodossola (just before Milan) and the return trip back to Zurich (from any border.) These would cost you $222 total for 2 adults in 2d class if your kids are under 16.

Where are you staying in Zürich that is so expensive? Several hotels with family rooms for 4 are not bad----Pension St. Josef, Hotel Bristol to name two. Or skip Zurich and travel beyond there on the route to Milan; hotels are less expensive outside the city. I go to Hotel Adler in Kandersteg (2 hours from the Zürich airport) when I want to skip Zürich. It is a beautiful mountain village and a great place to decompress from the flight.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

But if it's a good deal, could they use that as far as Domodosola and then buy a ticket the rest of the way to Milan?

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6841 posts

The could do that but it would require a change of trains and take more time. Zurich to Milan uses the Italian high-speed tilting train, which requires reservations, and doesn't accept domestic Swiss Rail tickets.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

OK, I checked the SBB website. They can travel Zurich to Brig for fares from 32 CHF to 64 CHF, depending on the train. Normal fare is 80 CHF. Some trains next week have only 1 or 2 seats left, but others have 4 or more.

If that looks like a good deal, they could then book Brig to Milan the regular way, couldn't they? If the goal is really to do it as inexpensively as possible (rather than the most convenient).

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6841 posts

Right, but as Tim said in his post, there are still non-refundable/non-changeable Cispilano tickets available next week for 48 Swiss francs all the way to Milan.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Then that sounds like the "supersaver" fare is being offered on the international journey after all, because otherwise how do you get down to 48 CHF for the whole way?

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6841 posts

All high-speed trains in Europe have steep discounts if you book in advance...been around for many years. The supersaver fares now being offered by Swiss Rail for domestic travel is a new program.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

OK, but why does Jack feel it is so hard to find a good price? Maybe he isn't reading here---the price on the SBB website (48 CHF) is a good one, and he ought to jump on it.

I missed Tim's post about that fare available for next week, and wasted a lot of time looking around for a good domestic fare to try to help Jack.

It sounds like he is suspicious of booking on line, but that suspicion is unjustifed, at least for the SBB website. (I've never even tried to use the italian one).

Posted by Jack
Portland, Oregon, US
8 posts

Thanks all for the quick and thoughtful advice. After about four hours on the Swiss rail site (http://www.sbb.ch/en/ ) last night I was finally able to book 4 discount tickets from Zurich to Milano mid-day next Thursday for, I think, 48 CF each.

The Swiss rail website is a little crotchety to say the least. I had to manually input all "doable" choices for our trip. Required inputting all the variables for each individual trip one after the other before knowing if the trip had any discount seats available. Some would show discounts and allow purchase (but then a system error -theirs- before the final step would require me to re-input the choice and click through all the variables.) Several times the same trip would/would not allow purchase of discounts. Had to keep trying every possibility several times before I was successful (I think anyways, won't know for sure until we attempt to pick up the tickets at a Swiss train ticket station using the reservation/purchase number provided.)

Seems like an enterprising code writer could make some Euro/CF by launching a Kayak.com-like search engine for train travel in Europe.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Excellent.

That just leaves the problem of your expensive hotel in Zurich. Did you try Priceline? It works pretty well for Zurich---I have heard of people getting good deals on 3- or 4-star hotels this summer. Like $100 for the Marriot, which is quite close to the train station, but right on the river.

I you prefer something more traditionally "Swiss", we like the Adler in the Altstadt. If your kids are the age to share a room with you, the Bristol has a moderately-priced family room that is spacious and modern.

Posted by Jack
Portland, Oregon, US
8 posts

Thanks for the follow-up Lola. The best I could come up with was the Welcome Inn at the airport (would have preferred in-town) for about 200CF/night. Since traveling with 2 kids means the need for at least two (double) beds for our family, things get really expensive fast. Your suggestions are much appreciated but anyplace decent in town starts around 350/night for two beds. 200 and up/night for a 2-3 star hotel is expensive to me. Seems the America style "double room" with two queens at a base rate is unheard of in Europe. (Euro families traveling in the US must think hotels are a bargain!) We're going with apt's elsewhere for longer stays.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Apartments are definitely the way to go with a family. You are right about rooms with 2 double beds (american style) being very hard to find.

I think we paid 310 CHF for the family room (double bed and 2 singles) at the Bristol a few years ago, when the dollar was stronger. If you found something for 200 you did well.

I hope you and your family enjoy your vacation.