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

The Bernina Express with Piz Bernina in the background.

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 it typically adds on a booking fee equivalent to 2-5 Swiss francs more than SBB per simple ticket ticket, though we think it’s overall worth it. Trainline is far cheaper than any of the other private platforms offering Swiss train tickets, and works better than the SBB site.

Update History of This Article

This article was published on February 18, 2019. It was updated on November 22, 2019 concerning fees and the Loco2 name change.

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.
  • “An unexpected error has occurred.” Various users complain of problems accessing the SBB site from time to time.

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 Raileurope (formerly Loco2), but the actual ticket prices it produced were quite a bit more expensive than Trainline or SBB. And forget about the sister site RailEurope, is the website for non-Europeans that is held by the national carrier SNCF. While it offers Swiss tickets, the markup is rather ridiculous.

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.

Can and Should Foreign Travellers Get the Swiss Half-Fare Travel Card?

The Swiss Half-Fare card costs 120 francs (~€105, US$119) for one month, and so is rarely worth it for foreigners unless you’re planning on covering a LOT of ground in Switzerland. It 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.

If you’re travelling that much you might instead get an Interrail or Eurail pass (see below).

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).

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.

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 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!