[Info updated January 2010, but only some 2010 prices were available at that time, so many prices below are still 2008 or 2009 prices.]
Virtually everyone on this forum must have friends or family visit them occasionally. Obviously, the most enjoyable way for everyone to get around the country is to use the superb public transport system. However, until one gets used to the system, it is difficult to know what kind of travel pass to recommend for visiting friends and family. That is what this thread is all about.
Litespeed already started a thread on Swiss travel passes
that are appropriate for people living here permanently, so please put all comments regarding full-year half-fare cards, Gleis 7, General Abonnement, etc, on that thread. This one is only for the short-term passes. The info below is all for multi-day passes. There are also national and regional one-day passes available; I haven't included these below, but may try to add the info at some point.
(To keep things simple, I'll only quote prices for 2nd class; 1st class versions are approximately 50% more expensive.) National Passes
The main web-site for all of these national passes is the Swiss Travel System website
. This map
(in pdf format) shows the applicability for most of these passes. This page
gives current prices in your region of the world; the prices below were those quoted in Swiss Francs (CHF) in May 2008. See the section at the bottom of this post for information on children's tickets. One Month Half-Fare Card
The simplest pass is the one-month version of the half-fare card (halbtax / demi-tarif) which costs 99 CHF. As the name suggests, it is good for a 50% discount on nearly all boats, trains and post-buses in the country, special prices on some cable cars, and discounts on most city buses and trams, and it applies for both 2nd class and 1st class tickets. If your visitors need a pass for more than one month or will visit more than once during the year then they should also consider the one-year version of the half-fare card for 150 CHF. These can be purchased at most train stations and from agents outside of Switzerland. Contrary to popular opinion, the one-year version IS available to everyone, including non-residents, for the same price. Swiss Transfer Ticket
This is good for one trip from the airport or border to anywhere in Switzerland and then one trip back to the airport or border a maximum of one month later (each of which must be completed within one day). It is only available from agents outside of Switzerland. This isn't a good deal for most people, though, because it costs 127 CHF, and so each one-way ticket to/from the airport/border would need to cost at least 63.50 CHF at the full fare to make it worthwhile. Swiss Card
This is a direct combination of the one month half-fare card and the Swiss Transfer Ticket. It is good for a free trip from and to the airport/border plus half-fare travel throughout Switzerland for the period in between, which can be up to one month. It is only available from agents outside of Switzerland. It costs 182 CHF, which means that in order for this to be a better deal than the basic half-fare card, it would need to cost at least 83 CHF full-fare to go each way from/to the airport/border – if the tickets would be less than this, then just get the one month half-fare card (although the added convenience of not needing to figure how to buy a ticket and which ticket to buy after just getting off of the plane should be considered). Swiss Pass
and Swiss FlexiPass
Both these tickets allow for a certain number of days of unlimited travel, and also give free entrance to over 400 museums and exhibits, anf 50% discount on many mountain-top cablecars. They are only available to people with a permanent address outside of Switzerland, but in addition to being available from agents outside of the country, they can also be bought within Switzerland at most major train stations. Before the passes can be used, they need to be validated at an SBB ticket counter. If two or more adults will be travelling together, the second and further tickets can be purchased at a 15% discount (an option called the 'Swiss Saver Pass').
The Swiss Pass is valid for 4, 8, 15, 22 days, or 1 month of unlimited travel on consecutive
days. It costs 260, 376, 455, 525, or 578 CHF, respectively. These prices are reduced by 25% for people between 16 and 26 (a deal called the 'Swiss Youth Pass').
The Swiss FlexiPass is valid for 3, 4, 5, or 6 days of unlimited travel within one month, consecutive or non-consecutive
, with all other days between the first and last unlimited-travel days at half fare. It costs 249, 302, 349, or 397, respectively. There is no youth discount. Regional Passes
Most of the regional passes give free travel for a certain number of days within a certain period; for example, 3 free days of travel within 7 days; and the other days are half-fare, they also give special prices on some cable cars. However, the free travel only covers a certain region of the country and the half-fare travel a slightly larger region. These passes are also available at a reduced rate if you hold any other travel pass (e.g., the half-fare card, see links below for details), and so they can also be good deals for people living here permanently who want to explore one region of the country for a short period. Most of these tickets are available for children at half price, but see the section below explaining how children can travel for free or greatly reduced rates when accompanied by an adult. Bernese Oberland Regional Pass
The cost is 230 CHF for 3 free days plus 4 half-fare days, or 277 CHF for 5 free days and 10 half-fare days. It is only available from May until October. Ticket info
. Network map
. Lake Geneva Regional Pass
The cost is 94 CHF for 2 free days plus 3 half-fare days, or 114 CHF for 3 free days and 4 half-fare days. It is available year-round. Ticket info
. Network Map Graubunden/Grisons Regional Pass
They have split Graubunden and the surrounding regions into six zones for the sake of this pass. The pass can either be bought for one of the zones or for all six zones. The cost is 99 / 159 CHF (one zone / all 6 zones) for 3 free days plus 4 half-fare days, or 125 / 195 CHF for 5 free days and 9 half-fare days. Ticket info
. Network map
. Upper Valais Regional Pass
This is a little different to the other regional passes. It gives a certain number of free days that can be used at any time within a month, but no travel discounts on other days. It costs 95 CHF for 2 free days, 125 CHF for 3 free days, or 175 CHF for 5 free days. Family passes for 2 adults and up to 3 children (up to 16 years old) are double these prices. Ticket info
. (William) Tell Pass - Luzern/Lucerne Region
The cost is 165 CHF for 2 free days plus 5 half-fare days, or 227 CHF for 5 free days and 10 half-fare days. It is only available from April until October. Ticket info
. Network map
. City Passes
In many of the larger cities in Switzerland, if you stay at a hotel in the city then they will give you a pass for the local public transport for the duration of your stay. This is certainly true in Basel, Geneva, and Lausanne, and is probably also true in the other large cities, but I don't have any definite knowledge of those. Ask the hotel you will be staying at to confirm this information. Children's Passes
Without a pass, children under the age of 6 can travel for free when accompanied by a parent (otherwise, they pay half-fare), and kids aged 6-15 pay half-fare (accompanied or not). Kids aged 6-15 can travel for free when accompanied by a parent if you have a Family Card or Junior Card. The Family Card costs nothing when bought in combination with one of the unlimited travel national passes, but you do need to ask for it when buying the pass. Otherwise, you can buy a Junior Card (junior-karte / carte junior) at a cost of 20 CHF for one child and 40 CHF for two or more children when buying one of the other passes, which is valid for one year. This all applies when it is a parent who is accompanying the child(ren), similar cards are available for grandparents. If you are neither a parent nor grandparent, then it appears that there are other options, see this post
by Idgie below. Comparing the Passes
I'll finish with some general guidelines regarding which pass is best in which situations. If your visitors plan to only use a small amount of public transport, then don't worry about a pass. If they plan to do several trips that are all within one of the regional passes, then these can often be ideal, but if they want to go outside of those regions even just once or twice then often the half-fare card is better.
If your visitors want to do a lot of travelling all over the country then the Swiss Pass or Swiss FlexiPass can be good deals. However, make sure that they do the comparison to the basic one-month half-fare card. For example, the Swiss FlexiPass for 4 days costs 302 CHF, which is 203 CHF more than the basic half-fare card. So, only if they expect to travel enough to warrant the extra cost in those 4 days (at half-fare prices) should they get this pass, otherwise the half-fare card and then buying tickets as they go will be better (although the extra hassle of buying those tickets should also be considered).
As I said above, the Swiss Transfer Ticket is rarely less than buying individual tickets, and the Swiss Card rarely works out better than just the basic half-fare card. In summary, the half-fare card is often the best deal, but there are exceptions.
One more thing to keep in mind when choosing a pass is that having a pass rather than just a half-fare card has advantages above the possible economic reasons. First, having a pass means that you don't need to worry about buying tickets all of the time – you can hop on and off any transport without worrying about the costs or always having the correct ticket (except to make sure that it is within the validity of your pass). Second, if you have the pass then it may encourage you to travel further because you've already spent the money, whereas if you have to think about the cost of each ticket then you may travel less and so enjoy the trip less.