Switzerland’s trains at half the cost

August 26, 2011, 4 Comments

Swiss transport is certainly excellent but it’s also not exactly cheap. All that punctuality, comfort and cleanliness comes at a cost – but there is a way to cut the price in half. Most foreigners who’ve been here more than a few months soon realise that almost no Swiss person ever pays the full price for a train or boat ticket. That’s because they are clever enough to have a Half Fare Card, known as Halbtax, demi-tarif or metà-prezzo in the various Swiss languages. The card does exactly what is says on the cover – gives you Swiss public transport at half the price. What a great thing! In fact, it’s so worth it that my parents both have one even though they only visit once or twice a year. Go on a couple of mountain trips, or catch the train to Interlaken from Zurich airport, and the card pays for itself very quickly. Here’s how it works:

The Half Fare Card is valid for one, two or three years and gives you 50% off almost every train, bus, boat and cable car service in Switzerland, in 1st or 2nd class (see map above or click here for a bigger version). It also gives you reduced fares on city trams and buses, but sometimes it’s only a few rappen discount because of minimum fares. Of course the card isn’t free – it costs 165 francs for one year, 300 for two, and 400 for three years – but it’s easy to get that money back in lower fares. For example, a return 2nd class ticket from Geneva airport to Bern is normally 104 francs, so that becomes 52 francs with the card. Or maybe you live in Zurich and still haven’t gone up the world’s steepest railway at Pilatus: that would cost you 59 francs return instead of 118. Or a one-way ticket from Neuchâtel to Lausanne is 12.50 francs rather than 25. A few trips like that and the card pays for itself.

What many people don’t know is that there are two other ways to get a Half Fare Card. Swiss residents (including foreigners with a resident’s permit) can apply for the Half Fare credit card, which costs 135 francs a year – in other words, 30 francs cheaper than the normal one-year card (though five francs more for three years) and with no credit-card fee either. It’s a Half Fare Card and Visa credit card rolled into one, but it does involve the usual Swiss process of applying for a credit card, where they want to know your income. Not everyone wants to reveal that, or even have a credit card in the first place.

The other option is the one-month Half Fare card for 110 francs. It works in exactly the same way as the longer-lasting cards but doesn’t involve application forms or passport photos. That makes it perfect for guests visiting from abroad (my sister bought one on her last trip here), or if you just want a stay-cation exploring Switzerland. You can buy one at most railway stations and start using it straightaway. Even better for families is that buying the one-month card entitles you to the free Family Card, meaning that children aged 6-15 travel everywhere for free if accompanied by at least one parent.

Long before I moved to Switzerland, I had a Half Fare Card, mainly for the trips from the airport on my regular visits to see Gregor. Once I came here for good, it seemed crazy not to have one. What better way to discover Switzerland than by train (and boat and bus), and this card made it affordable. It was essential – until I discovered the GA travel pass, which I wrote about in a post earlier this year. There is an easy way to upgrade from a Half Fare Card to a GA for just a day, or a month, but that will have to wait for another post.

4 Comments on "Switzerland’s trains at half the cost"

  1. Margit Arto Sunday February 5th, 2012 at 03:33 PM · Reply

    I am going to visit Switzerland for a few days in April and 3 w33ks in August. Are there any halb-tax tickets for 6 months? Would it be worth my while to get this ticket as I shall be travellin g from Geneba airport to Lausanne ,return and probably to Gstaad and vevy, Montruex in August.

  2. rosie Saturday May 12th, 2012 at 10:52 AM · Reply

    I didn’t know about these tickets. Thank you for that.

  3. Somaya Tuesday April 14th, 2015 at 10:33 AM · Reply

    Hi, I’ve been looking all over for a good answer and I’m hoping i’ll find one here.
    So we’re a group of 4 going a business trip and wouldn’t probably have time for exploration. What si the best way to get from the hotel to the Palexpo? Oh, we’re only staying for 5 days and don’t really want all the (480 Museum discounts!)
    Regular ticket is the answer? Or is there some kind of card (not a 300$ for a 2 years validity coz we don’t know when we’d be coming back!)
    Or would a Regional Travel pass be it? We’re staying somewhere around Rau de Moillebuea, if that matters..

    Thanks in advance! I’d really really appreciate the help..

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