How to Book Swiss Train Tickets — and Avoid Problems with the SBB Website

by  Mose Hayward
LAST UPDATED ON  2023-11-10
PUBLISHED ON  2023-11-10

Blocked by credit card rejections or website errors on the SBB official Swiss rail website? Or just looking for the best way to book train tickets in Switzerland? We’ve got some tricks for getting around all that, so that you can go enjoy the gorgeous train rides through Swiss mountains and villages.

The Swiss’ official railway website isn’t as badly translated as Spain’s or Italy’s, nor as prone to credit card refusals and errors as France’s, but it’s still enough of a mess to give lots of users errors and headaches. The SBB site is also tricky to use for comparison shopping of pricing on different routes. And at times the site is simply down or unusable.

We’ve run a comparison of all of the major ticketing platforms for European trains — both official and private — and our top pick for Switzerland is generally the same with a few small caveats.

The Top Pick for Swiss Train Bookings

The easiest-to-use train ticketing portal for Switzerland is Trainline — it avoids a number of issues that come up with the national SBB site, particularly for foreigners.

Trainline partners with the SBB and offers tickets from all Swiss rail carriers, serving all train stations.

You can also buy those tickets directly from SBB, but issues include rejection of foreign credit cards, incomprensible discount cards, and website errors.

Trainline is also cheaper for most complex trips that pass outside of Switzerland.

The downside to Trainline is that, for tickets strictly on the SBB, it typically adds on a booking fee equivalent to 2-5 Swiss francs per simple ticket ticket.

The Complaints About the SBB Ticket Booking Site

The SBB site causes travellers a lot of confusion. At first, the English seems reasonably well translated, but foreigners soon run into a number of issues.

The main usability issue is that you have to click through several screens to get pricing, and the pricing options are difficult to understand (e.g., do NOT accidentally buy the half-priced fare card rate). Comparison shopping is a pain.

Here’s a rundown of the most frequent SBB problems.

  • The first price that you are shown is actually the half-price fare, which is only available to those with the Half-Fare travelcard. You’ll have to click through to find the the real price, and select full fare (or just double what you see initially).
  • The SBB ticket machines and website do accept international credit cards — but often have issues with them and reject them. There seems to be a bias in the system for  Swiss cards. Revolut cards have had problems as well as American (USA) and Australian credit cards, especially those without chips and pin numbers, or those offering rewards or cash back. But all sorts of non-Swiss cards can get rejected by the SBB system. The solution is just to use our top private platform pick.
  • The SBB website can redirect automatically to German in some cases. To get back to English, type /en/ after the initial domain, or click on the “en” in the left corner of the page at the very bottom. This link should get you to English too.
  • The SBB does not allow you to comparison shop for prices without a lot of extra effort. Want to know which trip has the best prices? You’ll have to click on each one individually, then click through a couple more screens to see the actual price for each one.
  • SBB has a markup on segments of your trip that are outside of Switzerland. This means that if you’re starting or ending in Italy, Germany, or France, you’ll actually end up paying more than by using our main booking pick up top. This is not an error per se but a major reason to use the platforms listed below instead for trip booking.
  • “An unexpected error has occurred” or the SBB website not loading at all and time out errors: Various users complain of problems accessing the SBB site from time to time. It appears to experience more than your average amount of website downtime and maintenance.
  • SBB app errors: Often when the main website is down the app will be down as well, simultaneously.

That said, the SBB does work much better than most of the national train websites in Europe. It has a cleaner interface and not all the popups and ads for hotels like certain countries (ahem, France).

Ticketing is rather simple, too. There are unlimited tickets available for any given route and the prices are the same for most at any time on that day.

You can hop on and off Swiss trains as often as you want, so if a particular town or view strikes your fancy, just go ahead and get off and then get on the next train that goes through. Trains generally run every half hour, and are just as on-time as you’d expect from the stereotypes.

Easier Swiss Train Bookings with Trainline

Trainline is much better about showing you exactly what you’re paying right up front in your initial search results, so you can find the best trip, routes, and times that are valid for you. There are only E-tickets (nothing to be mailed) and the process is painless with great customer support if you need it.

The main downside is that Swiss tickets for simple routes purchased through Trainline run a few francs more than they might if you were able to get the same route on SBB directly. For complex trips and those crossing borders, however, Trainline almost always saves you quite a bit of money through better routing options — or sometimes it just seems to offer a better fare. Trainline covers the full SBB network and all Swiss rail carriers.

We’ve also searched for our favorite Swiss train routes on the easy-to-use Rail Europe, but the actual ticket prices it produced were quite a bit more expensive than Trainline or SBB.

Should I Book Swiss Train Tickets in Advance?

Since tickets are “unlimited” for particular trains you can in theory just wait and purchase at the station, no matter what. But there are “supersaver” fares of up to 70% off that you can only get by purchasing in advance on many routes, and you’ll automatically be offered those cheaper fares, if they are available, when searching on SBB or Trainline.

This gives good prices without bothering with the various fare cards and passes.

What Rail Passes Are Available for Switzerland?

If you’re travelling around Europe by train, you can get either an Interrail pass (for European residents) or Eurail pass (for non-Europeans). Both include Switzerland, but don’t have total coverage of some of the pretty tourist train trips like the trip up to Jungfraujoch (though you do get a discount). Note that in our calculations, Eurail and Interrail passes are almost never worth it anymore, and the same is true for Switzerland. Point-to-point tickets for your trip tend to work out cheaper.

There is no Eurail pass for the single country of Switzerland, but if you’re a European resident you can get an Interrail Switzerland Pass, which allows you to bounce around the country for a certain number of days for a month. But again, be sure to first compare this to simply buying the individual tickets for your trip, even at the last minute.

The SBB itself offers a variety of travel passes with a similar structure; you need to be travelling heavily over a certain period for those to work out in your favor.

The Swiss Half-Fare card pricing depends on various factors and the SBB does not like to show you what that pricing is or how it is determined. But for an adult not living in Switzerland, for example, we were recently shown the price of 185 Swiss francs (~€192, US$205) for one month. The point being, it is rarely worth it for foreigners unless you’re planning on covering a LOT of ground in Switzerland. The pass is available as an E-ticket that you print yourself, and you decide on what date it starts; from that date you can start travelling with your half-priced tickets.

Where Can I Go by Train in Switzerland?

The whole country is pretty well covered by trains; there are some 1,800 train stations. You can check out lots of detailed maps here, or just head to our picks (from a professional rider of Swiss trains!) of the most beautiful Swiss rail trips.

Conclusion: Our Favorite Way to Book for Switzerland

Travel in Switzerland is pretty worry-free, and there’s nothing wrong with just showing up at the train stations and waiting in line to buy your tickets. But here’s how we like to roll, and save a bit or trouble and money.

  1. We buy individual trips rather than the passes, which at least for our slow-travel style don’t ever actually save money and are rather limiting.
  2. We book the tickets in advance through Trainline for the easier booking experience, access to supersaver fares whenever available, and cheaper fares when crossing borders.

We hope you’ll likewise enjoy your travels in Switzerland; feel free to leave comments about other such website errors and your tricks for solving them, if any, in the comments section below. This helps us update this article and informs other travelers.

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1 thought on “How to Book Swiss Train Tickets — and Avoid Problems with the SBB Website”

  1. I wish I had read this about the SBB site before trying to book on it. It really, really stinks. I tried 3 different web browsers, 3 different credit cards and to book on it 4 different times.

    Every time it just says “An error occurred while processing your query” after going through the credit card charging stage.

    Then the last credit card I tried, it charged the price of the trip (around $125) to AmEx but never emailed me the electronic tickets (email address was right) and gave the error again. Something like this happening is super bad/taboo in a well designed computer system and it should use strict transactions to be sure both charging the card and sending out tickets always happen together and are never separated. Makes me very afraid of how they handle my personal data if they can’t get it working.

    I had to spend 2 hours making screen shots of the whole process to send to their support email. They had better give me the tickets I paid for or else I’m filing a charge-back with my credit card company and that will be a huge hassle. I hope Switzerland is ultra amazing since the expense and effort of this trip is ridiculous. I had fewer problems with the Trenitalia web site and it was a mess, also.

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