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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

Is Swiss rail hiding cheap first class fares?

Switzerland’s Supersaver fares were designed to encourage public transport usage while helping commuters save money. So why is the SBB making them difficult to find?

An SBB train sits in the track in Basel, Switzerland
Switzerland's SBB has been accused of hiding cheaper first class fares. Here's how to make sure you get a good deal. Image: Pixabay

Switzerland’s Federal Railways (SBB) expanded Supersaver fares in 2018 to boost stagnating passenger numbers. 

Supersaver fares are up to 70 percent cheaper than regular fares and are popular among residents and tourists alike. 

However, according to reporting from Swiss news outlet Watson, the SBB has been hiding cheap first class fares from travellers in its online platforms. 

EXPLAINED: How to find cheap train tickets in Switzerland

Instead, the cheapest second class fares have been shown, which are often more expensive than those in first class, particularly when the second class supersavers are sold out. 

Watson looked at several journeys between major Swiss cities, showing that the cheapest fares were often not shown when they were in first class. 

This has led to complaints from travellers, who argue that most who use the SBB app or online booking platform believe they will be shown the cheapest fares available. 

‘Incomprehensible’

Swiss consumer protection advocate Sara Stalder told Watson the “concealment tactic of the SBB is incomprehensible”. 

“If you travel by train in Europe, you will notice that other providers clearly and transparently identify such campaigns as a booking option, even if a first class ticket is cheaper than a 2nd class ticket. 

“Why the SBB maintains this lack of transparency is a mystery to me.”

The SBB for their part said the issue is caused by a bug which shows the cheapest second class fare rather than the cheapest fare overall. 

A spokesperson told Watson that a fix was being developed, but that the SBB “cannot say when an adjustment will take place”. 

How can I be sure to get the cheapest fare when travelling in Switzerland? 

When booking a train through the SBB platform (online or app), make sure to also check the first class offerings. 

By doing so, you will be able to see first class Supersaver fares and work out if they are cheaper. 

Generally speaking, second class Supersaver fares will be cheaper in most cases, but first class Supersavers will be cheaper overall when the second class Supersavers are sold out. 

For those wanting to save on first class travel, the SBB has announced a range of new first class upgrades at a fraction of the normal cost. Some first class upgrades are actually cheaper than a point-to-point ticket.

Train travel: How you can save on first class upgrades in Switzerland

What are Supersaver fares? 

These fares are only available online – whether via your browser or the SBB app – and not at the SBB machines on the platforms and at stations. 

Booking a Supersaver fare requires a bit of foresight, as they are not available for spontaneous trips. 

They can however be booked for travel a few days in advance (they go on sale 60 days before the date of travel). 

The earlier you book a Supersaver fare the better, although be aware that it must be used for that particular train on that particular day, i.e. you cannot take a later or earlier train unlike with normal Swiss rail tickets. 

Almost nine million Supersaver fares were sold in 2019, the last year before the pandemic. 

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TRAVEL NEWS

10 francs: Everything you need to know about Flixtrain’s Basel to Berlin line

In early May, German transport provider Flixtrain announced it would begin running services from Basel to Berlin (and back) from June. Here’s what you need to know.

10 francs: Everything you need to know about Flixtrain's Basel to Berlin line

German transport provider Flixtrain has announced it will launch in Switzerland from June 23rd. The low-cost provider is offering 10 franc (10 euro) tickets from Basel to Berlin, among other cheap fares.

The low-cost company, which has been establishing itself Deutsche Bahn’s major competitor Germany over the past few years, runs long distance bus and train services. 

When will the services run?

The lines to and from Basel run from Thursday to Monday, with one connection per day in either direction. 

It will take 8 hours and 45 minutes from Basel Badischer Bahnhof to Berlin Hauptbahnhof. 

A trip with the German ICE will instead take just over 7 hours. 

The new line is part of an expansion of services which is set to include around 70 destinations in Germany. 

OK but will it really cost CHF10?

The price of the ticket grabbed headlines, with Flixtrain saying in its press conference that the almost-nine-hour trip would only cost CHF10 (10 euro). 

Flixtrain spokesperson Sebastian Meyer told Swiss news outlet Watson that tickets would start at CHF10, but more expensive tickets would be available when the CHF10 offerings were sold out. 

“If the cheapest ticket contingent is sold out, the next higher one takes effect. In this way, we can always offer our passengers cheap tickets. Affordable prices are still possible due to the corresponding utilisation of the individual trips.”

In order to get the cheapest possible fare, travellers are advised to book early. 

REVEALED: How to find cheap train tickets in Switzerland

Tickets between Basel and Berlin can cost as high as CHF150 or 160 euros from Switzerland’s SBB or Germany’s Deutsche Bahn respectively, although booking in advance can bring the price down to as low as CHF30. 

Where will the train to (and from) Berlin stop?

In either direction, the train will stop at: Karlsruhe, Baden-Baden, Offenburg, Freiburg, Wiesloch, Bad Hersfeld and Weil am Rhein. 

What else is different about Flixtrain?

Other than being bright lime green, Flixtrains allow you to take your bicycle with you, which is not allowed on most ICE long-distance trains in Germany. 

Are there any other destinations within Switzerland? 

As yet, Basel will be the only Swiss destination. The other two new routes are Stuttgart to Hamburg and Berlin to Weisbaden. 

In addition to the 10 franc (10 euro) ticket from Basel to Berlin, other journeys within Germany will start at 5 francs (5 euros). 

More information is available from Flixtrain at the following link. 

The expanded routes can be seen in the following image. 

A look at Flixtrain’s route network in 2022. Map: Flixtrain

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