If you have any thoughts of visiting Switzerland within the next year, you might want to consider purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass this month (July 2021) while it’s on sale at 25% off. And whether you opt to buy a pass or not, maybe take a glance at a few tips that might help ease the pain on your wallet if you do decide to take a trip to this very expensive country.
Swiss Travel Pass – 25% Off
The Swiss Travel Pass is described in detail on myswissalps.com where you’ll also find links to the various sales sites. The discount is available on the Swiss Travel Pass Flex as well, but from what I’ve read, the regular pass seems to be the most popular version.
From the website:
- Free unlimited traveling for 3, 4, 8 or 15 consecutive days;
- Trains, buses, boats and city transport are free;
- Cable cars, cogwheel trains and funiculars are discounted by 50% (details and exceptions here);
- Free entrance to museums;
- The Swiss Travel Pass is available for 1st or 2nd class traveling;
- Children travel along for free with the Swiss Family Card.
Check out the forum for more info and discussion.
Prices in CAD for a 2nd class pass:
3 days – $230
4 days – $280
8 days – $417
15 days – $512
(You can pay to upgrade a specific journey instead of paying the higher price for a 1st class pass.)
Lower Prices in 2022
It’s also mentioned on the forum that passes will be less expensive in 2022 for those who miss out on this deal or intend to travel in the latter half of 2022. The passes were originally set to go up in price but instead they’ll go down, presumably as an incentive to encourage folks to plan trips to Switzerland. They will also offer a new 6 day version of the pass.
Buy For Next Summer?
The discounted pass is available to purchase this month only but you have until eleven months from the issuing date to validate the pass. Therefore, if you think you might want to travel around Switzerland in summer 2022, you could, say, purchase the pass on July 30, 2021 with a start date of June 30, 2022. (The forum moderator suggests using the HappyRail link to book dates far into the future).
If your plans change, you can cancel up to “4 working days before the first day of validity” so a speculative purchase won’t cost you anything other than the forex fee on your credit card if it has one. (It’s a bit confusing because HappyRail mentions a 15% cancellation fee on its booking page, but under the 25% off promo it refers to free cancellation as confirmed on the forum.)
10 Tips for Budget Travel in Switzerland
If Switzerland is already on your travel agenda, you are likely well aware that it’s not somewhere to which budget travellers gravitate. It’s an expensive destination for sure, but there are a few ways you can try to keep the costs down.
(I should first mention that I’ve only been to Switzerland twice and both were brief visits. I am by no means an expert on money-saving methods for visiting the country, but here are my thoughts and suggestions nonetheless.)
1. Don’t go to Switzerland
Perhaps that’s not a very helpful tip, but the reality is that accommodation, food and sightseeing are really pricey there. If you travel on a budget and want to experience some alpine splendour, you should at least take the time to research alternatives. France, Italy, Austria and Germany all have a lot to offer when it comes to mountain scenery and culture.
However, those who keep returning to places like the Berner Oberland won’t accept any substitute, so if you want to see what it’s all about, be prepared to spend some extra cash to make it happen.
2. Combine it with a more affordable destination
One strategy to save on the overall cost of your travel is to make it a combination trip. Switzerland is in a convenient location if you want to spend part of your vacation in an adjacent country. Just use the wonderful rail network to get some place like the Black Forest in Germany for a few days where you can stretch your dollar much more easily.
Or, if you’re okay with flying in the middle of your trip, consider taking a reasonably priced flight to somewhere in central Europe like Poland or the Czech Republic where you’ll have no problem bringing down the total price of your vacation. (And if it were me, I’d do the cheaper one last if possible.)
3. Consider shared bathrooms in accommodation
I know this is a deal breaker for some people, but it doesn’t need to be. If the lodging is otherwise acceptable in terms of price, cleanliness, location and reviews, then having to head down a hallway to use the loo or take a shower is not a terrible hardship. It’s certainly not my preference but it’s worth considering and will significantly increase your options.
One example is Bed + Breakfast Luzern where I can vouch for the fact that not having a private bathroom was no big deal. It was super clean and there was never a wait.
4. Book a vacation rental
If you’re content to park yourself in one location for a while, you can save by booking self-catering accommodation. Even better if you’re travelling in a group and can share the cost among several individuals. These often rent by the week or have a minimum length of stay requirement of three or four nights. The next tip ties into this one because having your own kitchen facilities will help with the food budget as well.
5. Go to the grocery store
If eating at table service restaurants is a priority for you, it’s gonna hurt in Switzerland. But you can only eat so much takeout pizza and street food. One solution is to go the backpacker route and see what you can find at the grocery store. Of course, it helps if you have kitchen facilities at your accommodation, but even if you don’t, it’s not too difficult to gather up an assortment of food to keep you going that doesn’t require much prep. (You’re there for the mountains, not the meals, right?) For the occasional sit-down dining experience, do your research to find a good value option.
6. Research chain hotels for reward stays
If you’re into hotel loyalty points and don’t mind arranging your trip around where you can use them, this is an avenue worth exploring. Not surprisingly, many chains are only available in cities which are generally not where you want to focus your time in the country. Still, getting a free night in a city you need to stay in for logistical reasons can help free up cash in the lodging budget for your other nights.
Some chains make it easy to see what hotels exist in a given country. Check Marriott’s directory, scan Wyndham’s locations and review Radisson’s selection. There is also a page for Hilton properties in Switzerland.
Others make you do the legwork. I’ve picked out a few that look appealing from IHG and Best Western by using the maximum distance on a few searches. (I did not find any Choice hotels.)
Holiday Inn Express Luzern – Kriens
Mr & Mrs Smith Experimental Chalet, Verbier
Mr & Mrs Smith Valsana Hotel & Apartments, Arosa
Hotel Butterfly, Zermatt
Hotel Mirabeau, Lausanne
Hotel Bellevue Au Lac, Lugano
Hotel Bahnhof, Schaffhausen
If you have no points to redeem, at least have the chain hotels on your radar in case a good points-earning promotion works for your travel dates so you can accumulate some for the future.
7. Make bookings well in advance while availability is good
This one is especially important if you’re hoping to secure a room at smaller, well regarded but comparatively less expensive hotel, or even more if you’re interested in a highly sought after vacation rental that tends to get booked up long in advance.
Travelling in shoulder season takes a little pressure off, but if you’re going to be there in the peak of summer or have no flexibility with your dates, don’t wait too long to source your accommodation in the popular locales.
8. Plan transportation carefully to take advantage of discounts
Switzerland is known for having excellent public transport and if you’ve ever researched travel in the country you know there are a variety of different passes and tickets available. The Swiss Travel Pass is frequently touted as the way to go if you’re going to be on the move. If instead you plan to stay in one location, look into regional passes such as the Tell Pass for the area around Lake Lucerne.
In addition to the forum linked earlier, a great resource for all things rail travel is the Seat 61 website, specifically the page dedicated to train travel in Switzerland. Interestingly, he mentions a sort of train version of (permissible) hidden city ticketing where you can save by booking an advance purchase discount ticket from Bahn.de, the German rail company.
9. Give yourself an extra day or two where weather is crucial
Despite the hefty price tag of a Swiss vacation, it can still make sense to build in some extra time in spots where rainy or foggy weather would really be a downer. If you only give yourself one full day in that idyllic alpine village, you’re really playing the odds, and if you expect this to be your one and only trip, you should arrange your itinerary with this in mind.
10. Find local festivals
If along with alpine vistas, experiencing Swiss culture is high on your list, be sure to research local events in small towns and villages. One of my favourite memories from my last trip was witnessing an Alpabfarht. This is the celebration held in autumn when the cows come down from the mountain pastures.
If you’re looking for a destination that offers both extensive public transport and incredible mountain scenery (a combination not always easy to find), Switzerland is the place to go. This rare 25% discount on the Swiss Travel Pass might provide that extra incentive you need to explore this part of Europe. Despite the high costs, there are definitely things you can do with some planning and compromise that can help bring it within your budget.