HOW TO SAVE MONEY IN SWITZERLAND
For many visitors, the first question is “is Switzerland expensive?” It can be, if you stay at top hotels and pay full price for travel - but with some cost-cutting and common sense, a trip to Switzerland can be brilliantly affordable. James Wilson from the Switzerland Travel Centre offers his insider tips for finding a Swiss bargain.
BOOK TRAINS IN ADVANCE
Train prices fluctuate like air fares- so the earlier you book, the better deals you'll get. It can be confusing, as Eurostar takes bookings up to 120 before departure, whereas the TGV on Voyages SNCF, from France, books only 90 days ahead, so take note of booking windows before you commit.
If you're booking online you will almost certainly pay more if you leave it late. Eurostar run regular early booking discount offers, and you can now book straight through to Switzerland via Eurostar.
BUY A PASS IN ADVANCE
Travelling in Switzerland, particularly by rail, may be significantly cheaper if you buy a pass. Passes can be purchased at any time in advance, and there are dozens of different types, so it's important to get advice before you buy.
The Switzerland Travel Centre can find the right pass for your needs, at no extra cost.You can buy passes for all the journeys on your trip for one fixed price, regardless of how many times you plan to travel during the period. It could be the Swiss Pass, or the Half-Fare Card can work out cheaper than a Swiss pass, depending on the itinerary.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF CHILD DISCOUNTS
If parents have a rail pass, Under-16s travel free. But if you buy tickets at the station without a pass, they will be charged separately at 50% of the adult price, so it's best to book in advance, with your pass, to save money.
Again, it works out much cheaper to decide on your itinerary in advance, and get advice on the right pass for you.
GET DISCOUNTS ON SIGHTSEEING
It is definitely worth getting a Swiss Pass if you're planning to visit a few museums and galleries- it offers free entry on hundreds of attractions, and discounted entry on many more.
If you're only going to one place, you can get a city card- available in all major cities in Switzerland, they offer free or discounted local travel, restaurant and shopping discounts, and free entry into attractions.
"Many people are put off by the idea of a three star, but in Switzerland, they tend to be very well presented..."
STAY IN A THREE STAR HOTEL
Many people are put off by the idea of a three star, but in Switzerland, they tend to be very well presented, and often they're just a bit smaller than the equivalent 4 star or they don't have a facility such as a swimming pool- which you may not want anyway.
A lot of travellers like to stay in a typical Swiss hotel, and that often means a family-run three star, which works out very affordably.
They will generally have a view as good or better than a hotel with more stars, and often offer personal touches and helpful suggestions that you don't get in grander hotels.
GO GLAM AT WEEKENDS
Switzerland doesn't have a high season- in cities such as Basel and Geneva, there are huge fairs and conferences year-round, so research times to avoid, as hotels will be full and very expensive during fairs such as Art Basel.
“Low season” in the cities is weekends, and you will get a better deal on good hotels than during the business week. However, in the summer holidays, cities tend to be quieter as the Swiss go away- but there will also be large tour groups between June and September who often stay at mid-price hotels.
BOOK HALF BOARD
Restaurant prices in Switzerland can be expensive if there's a few of you- so booking half board at your hotel can save you a fortune. A 3 or 4 course meal, of very good quality, will cost around £20 a head, which is less than half what you'd pay in a city centre restaurant.
The menus change nightly, and chefs in Switzerland are very flexible about dietary requirements if you warn them in advance. If you do want to eat out, a short walk away from the high street can mean the prices are halved. Tourist restaurants are much pricier than the restaurants where locals eat.
BOOK SPECIAL JOURNEYS AHEAD
On the Golden Pass route, there are beautiful Belle Epoque carriages. If you board without an advance booking, you'll be asked to pay a supplement even with a Swiss Pass- but book ahead, and you can reserve seats and even get lunch platters of cold meats and cheese.
It's also a good idea to book to avoid block group travel bookings which can mean you won't get a seat.
"buy a fantastic picnic for your journey and save on on-board prices..."
STAY NEAR THE STATION
Staying close to the station cuts out taxi fares. Most railway stations also have excellent restaurants- this is where locals will eat, they're extremely good value for lunches or early dinners, and mean you're not rushing to get to the station from a restaurant.
Zurich HBF in particular has great cafes and food stalls, and when the Christmas market is on in the station's main hall, the atmosphere is magical. Basel SBB, too, has a restaurant with a wonderful interior.
BUY A PICNIC
There are no restrictions about eating your own food on the train, and most big stations will have a supermarket selling very good quality food, which means you can buy a fantastic picnic for your journey and save on on-board prices. In Summer this is a great option for days out, too.
There is often a branch of supermarket chain Migros at stations, and they have an excellent selection for picnics.
PARK OUTSIDE THE CITY CENTRE
Petrol prices are roughly the same as the UK currently, but some towns and cities do charge a premium on parking. City centre car parks can be around 20-30 CHF a day, so if you're on a driving tour, it's wise to stay outside of the city centre, where plenty of hotels have free parking.
Many Swiss hotels offer free transport passes for the city, so ask in advance.
DON'T FORGET BOATS
If you're staying near a lake (and you probably are), remember that most regular boat services are covered by the Swiss Pass or other discount tickets. Tourist excursions may require a supplement, however.
For the best current offers on hotels, travel, attractions and deals on ski passes and transport, see http://www.myswitzerland.com/en-gb/affordable-switzerland-1/money-saving-tips-from-the-holiday-resorts.html
Thanks to James Wilson, who is business development manager for the Switzerland Travel Centre. (LINK)
SHOULD I BUY A SWISS PASS?
Many people ask "Should I buy a Swiss Pass?". There is no easy answer to this because of the variables, you just have to do the maths. It all depends on what you intend to do once in Switzerland.
A Swiss Pass is best if you intend to do a lot of travelling around Switzerland, go to the museums and are travelling with children ( they travel free up to 15 if accompanied by an adult with a Swiss Pass).
There are other options such as the Swiss Transfer ticket ( perfect if you intend to just stay in, for instance, St.Moritz to ski) and a Half-Price Pass.
You can visit the Swiss Railway site to check prices between Swiss destinations. You can also buy online with them.
Here is an example if booking a rail ticket if travelling from Zurich to Graubunden.
WITHOUT A PASS
Zurich - Davos (from) CHF106 return (approx £100) Zurich - Chur CHF 78 return (approx £53) Zurich - St.Moritz CHF 148.80 return (approx £100)
Chidren up to 16 pay half the adult fare.
FAMILY OF 4 WITH 2 KIDS UNDER 16
Without a pass - Swiss leg of journey from Zurich to St.Moritz
TOTAL CHF444 return (approx £300)
With Swiss 1/2 price passCHF120
Family of 4 with 2 kids under 16
Pass + tickets ( kids go for free ) CHF 268.80 ( approx £181)
PASS IS CHEAPER
Swiss Transfer ticket ( one onward return journey to destination from point of entry into Switzerland CHF 139 (approx £94)
Pass x2 CHF 278 ( approx £187 ) - kids are free.
PASS IS CHEAPER
THE SWITZERLAND TRAVEL CENTRE ARE HAPPY TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS. THEY'RE OWNED BY SWISS RAILWAYS AND THE HOTEL ASSOCIATION, SO THEY HAVE BEST ADVICE AVAILABLE.