Getting to Switzerland, travel costs

With so many people contemplating the cost of travel to Switzerland this summer, I thought I would share some eye-opening insights into how to get a better deal.

Let's look at some costs for a hypothetical DebConf13 visitor coming from New York. Flight prices taken today from a comparison site for 8 - 18 August, car hire prices from Europcar and rail prices from SBB (regular tickets) and Swiss Travel System (tourist rail passes):

Departure airport Arrival airport Flight cost Bus to Swiss border Rail pass Total (Flight+bus/train) Airport car hire, 10 days Total (Flight+car)
New York Geneva $1,153 n/a CHF 82
Return ticket
$1,235 CHF 668 $1,823
New York Milan $990 $20 CHF 315
Flexi pass
$1,350 EUR 413
CHF 496
$1,490

Warning: car rental prices based on advance booking - if you just arrive at a Swiss airport and hire a car on the spot, it is likely to be much more expensive, maybe CHF 200 per day

For a single traveler, it is slightly cheaper to fly into Geneva (closest airport) and buy a return train ticket, as long as no other travel in Switzerland is desired and sleeping on-site at Vaumarcus, not using a bus every day.

If traveling in Switzerland to see the mountains, then it works out cheaper to fly into Milan, Italy, which is very close to the Swiss border. Most of the journey from Milan to Vaumarcus can be covered using one of the Swiss railway travel passes, with stops for sight-seeing on the way, and the other days on the pass used for sight-seeing.

Now imagine people arriving in a group: the rail ticket prices quickly add up. For a family of four, 4 * 315 = CHF 1,260. Car rental may be a better option. Hiring a car in Switzerland is expensive, hiring in Italy is much cheaper, the plane tickets to Italy are cheaper too, so there is a lot of money to be saved.

But who wants the hassle of travelling to Switzerland via Italy?

Of course that is the silliest rhetorical question you are going to see this week: visiting Italy is not a hassle at all. Even the Swiss enjoy going there so much that they just built the world's longest rail tunnel under the Alps to bring Como and Milan that little bit closer, the Gotthard Base Tunnel.

The Italian connection could involve a few days in Como or Brunate. If designer fashion labels are appealing to you (or as a gift), Vertemate has one well known outlet for a major brand and the prices really are much cheaper than any of the cities. If you want a laugh, it's worth comparing the hotel prices in Lugano on the Swiss side of the border against prices in nearby Como.

Traveling north from Como, taking a train to Luzern (and a connection to Vaumarcus), it is possible to stop in Goschenen and go up into the mountains to experience the Glacier Express featured in my earlier video or get off the train at Arth-Goldau to cross Rigi on the Rigi Bahn (from my other video), take a boat across the lake to Luzern and then continue to Vaumarcus.

The Italian entry point isn't just an option for those coming from the US. Even a traveler from London will find that the budget airlines have largely snubbed the Swiss airports with their high operating costs. Easyjet offers a limited number of flights to Geneva and Zurich, but the prices are always higher than their other destinations. Ryanair offers flight's to Milan's Bergamo airport and Easyjet flies to Milan Malpensa.