Saving Tips for Traveling on the Glacier Express Trains

Advance reservations, special saving deals, and rail passes allow for cheaper travel tickets on the Glacier Express train, one of Switzerland’s most famous panorama railway journeys.

Glacier Express in Snow
© Rhaetische Bahn:

Discounted tickets, savings fares, rail passes, and package deals are often available for cheaper travel on the luxury Glacier Express panoramic train in Switzerland. All regular Swiss Railways discounted fares, savings passes, and travel cards are valid for travel on the Glacier Express trains. Children with the Junior Card travel basically for free (but reservations are obligatory). Special savings offers are often available, especially outside the peak season. Package deals combine hotel and train travel for cheaper than the costs of separate reservations. Using regular trains, or traveling only part of the scenic route, is also a cheaper option. Eurail, Interrail, and Swiss Travel passes are valid but also require seat reservations.

Seat reservations for the Glacier Express are obligatory and the reservation fee is never discounted or included in any passes. Make seat reservations early — Glacier Express trains often sell out months in advance.

Reservation Fees for the Glacier Express Train in Switzerland

Glacier Express near Disentis/muestra in summer
© Rhaetische Bahn: Keller

The ticket prices for the Glacier Express train in Switzerland are the same as for regular trains. The catch is the obligatory reservation fee – currently CHF49. This reservation supplement is irrespective of class of travel, except for Excellence Class, which requires a hefty CHF470 surcharge. Eurail, Interrail, and Swiss Travel passes are valid but also require seat reservations.

The high reservation fee assures that only long journeys are booked on the Glacier Express — shorter journeys receive only a CHF5 discount on the standard reservation fee. Although it is not obligatory to travel the full distance, tickets are not sold for short distances such as St Moritz to Chur or Zermatt to Oberwald even though the traveling time is well over two hours.

Beautiful views from the Glacier Express
© Rhaetische Bahn:

The Glacier Express fondly advertises itself as being the slowest express train in the world. The express in the name is a hint at the comfort of doing the journey in the same train without the need to transfer, as well as the limited stops that the train makes compared to regular regional trains.

Booking a non-Glacier Express train journey from Chur to Zermatt will route the traveler via Zurich and the Lötschberg Tunnel – a longer but faster (and more expensive) journey despite requiring several train changes. (However, it is possible to book the same route as the Glacier Express but travel on regular trains if preferred.)

Ticket Prices for the Glacier Express Trains

Typical ticket prices for travel on the Glacier Express trains are:

JourneySecond Class (CHF)First Class (CHF)
St Moritz to Zermatt159272
Davos to Zermatt (Via Filisur)152260
Chur to Zermatt124212
To / From Brig deduct-40-68
Glacier Express near St. Moritz.
© Rhaetische Bahn: Benz

These prices are without reservation fees and are used when calculating discounts before the reservation fee in full is added.

Brig in the Rhone Valley of Valais is a favorite departure point for travelers arriving from the Lake Geneva region. It saves the expense of going up the mountains to Zermatt, although it would be a shame not to see the Matterhorn close up if on a first trip to Switzerland.


Saving Ticket Deals on the Glacier Express Train in Switzerland

Glacier Express crossing the Landwasser viaduct near Filisur, Canton Graubuenden.
© Rhaetische Bahn: Badrutt

Discount offers and special deals are often available for traveling on the Glacier Express trains in Switzerland. Deals are most common in the quiet season — especially when booking well in advance — but even during the high season, some savings deals may always be applied by any traveler.

The most useful discount offer for most travelers is the half-fare cards offered by Swiss Railways – only the Junior Card for children is better value. The half-fare card gives a 50% discount on almost any form of public transportation in Switzerland including trains, boats, buses, trams, and most cable cars. The discount is given irrespective of the class of travel (but not on the Glacier Express reservation fee).

Swiss residents, or frequent visitors (there is no residency requirement), may buy an annual half-fare card. International visitors may buy a one-month half-fare card (not available to Swiss residents), which gives the same benefits plus the possibility of adding a Junior Card for free – it can pay for itself on a single first-class Glacier Express journey. Remember to add children under 16 at time of purchase — it may not be added later.

Second class on the Glacier Express
© Rhaetian Railway

A wide variety of other passes and cards are available to international travelers – the variety is confusing at first glance (and honestly at second glance too) but the potential savings make it worth going through the details and fine print. The Eurail, Interrail, and Swiss Travel passes are valid — although pass holders also require seat reservation supplements, the Glacier Express journey alone often covers a significant part of the cost of a multi-day pass.

Special discounts are frequently offered either on the rail journey or in combination with sightseeing or other events. It is worth studying the offers on the Swiss Railways website – both in regular timetables and at RailAway offers.

Children Travel (Almost) for Free on the Glacier Express

Glacier Express near Reichenau-Tamins
© Rhaetische Bahn: Badrutt

Children 6 to 16 pay half the regular ticket prices on the Glacier Express and other Swiss public transportation. However, when traveling with a parent (very broadly definable), a Junior Card (CHF30 for a year) allows free transportation if the adult travels with a valid ticket in any class.

The Junior Card pays for itself very fast and always does when using the Glacier Express trains. (On the Glacier Express, and other special trains, the seat reservation fee must still be paid in full, also for children.)

The Junior Card may also be added for free to any international Swiss Railways pass or travel card. It is then referred to as the international Family Card. The names of the child(ren) must be added at the time of purchase – they cannot be added at a later stage.

Children under 6 years old travel for free and need no reservation if no seat is used. However, for an 8-hour journey on the Glacier Express train, the reservation fee to get a child an own seat is probably money well spent.

Combination Saving Deals with Hotels and the Glacier Express

Glacier Express Train in Winter near Andermatt

Some of the best discounts are available when combining the Glacier Express train with hotel accommodation. Hotels in both Zermatt and St Moritz, and to a lesser extent in Davos and Chur, are fairly expensive year-round but even more so during the ski season.

Many travel agencies offer travel packages that combine hotel stays with the Glacier Express train travel which works out significantly cheaper than when reserving separately. The savings are particularly big during the high season when hotels can become very expensive.

During the shoulder season – especially in September and October – package deals often offer free upgrades to first-class seats on the Glacier Express trains.

Reservations for the Glacier Express may be made online, through Swiss Railways, or nearly any travel agent selling Swiss train tickets or travel arrangements.

Several British travel agencies specialize in rail travel and can often book special deals or interesting tours that include more than just the Glacier Express. Some offer train transportation all the way from Britain while others fly travelers to Switzerland. Some of these agencies include:

Swiss railway passes and train tickets may also be bought in the USA from RailEurope – exchange rates and foreign credit card charges can sometimes make a difference in prices. These passes usually cover the train fare but never the obligatory seat reservations.

Cheaper Alternatives to the Glacier Express Train

Glacier Express Train on the Albula Line

The tickets for the Glacier Express trains cost the same as for other trains – although no other Swiss trains cover the same distance as a single journey. The catch is in the Glacier Express reservation fee that is always charged irrespective of distance traveled.

For travel over shorter distances, it is best to take regular Swiss Railways regional trains. These run frequently on parts of the route and may be used without any seat reservations – these are usually not possible on regional trains anyway.

Regional trains run frequently in the Rhone Valley of Valais – most terminate at Brig. From Visp and Brig, trains are available to Andermatt. From Andermatt, regional trains run to Disentis, and from here to Chur. These regional trains are ideal when planning to interrupt the railway journey for sightseeing en route. It is usually necessary to specify these stops separately in booking engines or the standard routing via tunnels and Zürich will automatically be picked.

Glacier Express crossing the Landwasser viaduct near Filisur
© Rhaetische Bahn: Badrutt

From Chur to St Moritz – and on to Tirano in Italy – the Bernina Express is a good alternative. The Bernina Express trains also have panoramic windows but the reservation fee is significantly less than for the Glacier Express train.

The Bernina Express travels through the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage-listed Albula railway line (as do the Glacier Express and regular regional trains) before continuing through the Bernina Pass to Italy. This journey is also possible on regular regional trains without panoramic windows or seat reservation fees.

More on Panoramic Train Journeys in Switzerland

Henk Bekker in armor

About the author:

Henk Bekker

Henk Bekker is a freelance travel writer with over 20 years of experience writing online. He is particularly interested in history, art, and culture. He has lived most of his adult life in Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark. In addition to, he also owns a travel website on the Lake Geneva region of Switzerland and maintains statistical websites on car sales and classic car auction prices. Henk holds an MBA from Edinburgh Business School and an MSc in Development Finance from the University of London.

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