Switzerland is the most expensive travel destination in Europe for a tourist in 2016. This is my assessment according to the World Economic Forum Travel & Tourism Report 2015 and several other sources.
So how am I planning a week in Switzerland for under $1,000?
Factors to consider are I am traveling solo and I will stay in highly ranked TripAdvisor hotels, mostly 4-star rated. I plan to visit Locarno and Zermatt and ride mountain cable car trams, hike in the Alps and take trains across the country. And eat food for a week.
Transportation is a budget killer in Switzerland
What I have learned after five days studying travel in Switzerland is hotels are expensive and food is expensive, but those are travel budget expenses I am expert at discounting. What I can’t get around are the high transportation costs to use the Swiss Rail network of trains, busses. boats and cable cars. There are plenty of lakes to cross and mountains to climb in Switzerland.
Transportation is the extraordinary expense for a traveler in Switzerland that far exceeds my typical expectations for a travel destination. Basically the way I found to minimize travel expense for Switzerland is go to a destination and hang out there for a while. Any travel between cities and towns in Switzerland using trains will average $20 to $40 on a deeply discounted train ticket, $40 to $70 on a half-price ticket, and $80 to $140 on a regular fare ticket. Mountain cable cars are $50 to $100+ per round trip to get high up on Alpine peaks from valley floor ski resort villages.
The way around the high cost of train travel in Switzerland is stay put in one region and buy a local regional pass. Geneva has a fantastic 3-day travel card deal for 40.50 EUR or about $45 that gives all local transportation free and admission to dozens of museums for free. I was all set for a Geneva museum and lakeside vacation, but I cannot find a hotel deal under $120 USD per night for Geneva.
Where Hotel Deals are in Switzerland
Zurich has the hotel deals. The city may rank most expensive in international travel city lists, but my observations reveal hotel rates in Zurich are about the lowest priced place in Switzerland in September 2016. I found far better deals in Zurich than Geneva.
Friday to Sunday September 9-11, 2016 (2-for-1 Club Carlson Gold elite rate).
- Radisson Blu Zurich Airport = $120.29 per night.
- Park Inn Zurich Airport = $62.51 per night.
Hard to beat $65 per night rate (after city tax) for September in Zurich, Switzerland.
A ZurichCard is $50 for 3-days with free local transportation and many museum admission benefits.
In a place like Zermatt, the 7-day Matterhorn Peak Pass offers one week of local train transportation and unlimited rides on several mountain cable cars for under $20 per day, compared to $104 USD for a single day return ticket on one cable car up to Matterhorn glacier paradise. There are restaurants, hiking trails in summer, alpine lakes, and different vistas to photograph from high peaks. Switzerland ranks as global leader for environmental sustainability and many villages in Switzerland are car-free. .
While $1,000 for one week may sound like a a lot to some travelers, in Switzerland this means finding some serious discount prices for hotels and transportation.
The typical travel budget for a tourist is disproportionately spent on food and hotels. These are the two factors that seriously skew the findings for any travel-oriented survey like ones frequently cited in travel publications and articles.
The World’s Most Expensive Cities – The Telegraph UK
# 2 Most Expensive City: Zurich, Switzerland $503.46 daily travel expense
- Hotel 195.87 GBP ($287.30)
- Taxi 25.55 GBP ($37.48)
- Dinner for Two 99.07 GBP ($145.33)
- Cocktails for Two 22.75 GBP ($33.37)
- Total 343.24 GBP ($503.46)
That is a business executive’s day of spend.
As a traveler, my spend for Zurich is projected to be more like this:
- Park Inn Zurich Airport $62.51
- ZurichCard ($17 pro-rated 3-day pass)
- Dinner (and food all day) for one (from markets) $25.00
- four 500 ml beer $4
- Extraneous spend money $20
- Total: $130 USD.
Food and hotels are something I find easy to budget, primarily by eating grocery store food just like I do at home in California.
Booking hotels using hotel loyalty points has geographical limitations as any Hyatt Gold Passport loyalist knows. The advantage of programs like Best Western Rewards and Wyndham Rewards is there are hundreds of hotel properties in places around the world where there are no other chain brand hotels for miles. Best Western Rewards has 2,000 hotels outside the USA. That is their competitive advantage in the hotel loyalty program world.
Best Western Plus Alpen Resort Hotel, Zermatt, Switzerland
September 1-5, 2016 = 8,000 points per night or $226 to $308 per night for paid rate.
32,000 points for four nights or more than $1,000 for four nights.
Best Western Rewards points were sold this month on Daily Getaways 10,000 points for $55.
32,000 BWR points were sold for $176 through Daily Getaways one-day sale.
Loyalty Traveler – Going to Switzerland? Consider buying Best Western Rewards points (March 29, 2016).
Switzerland with Best Western Rewards, Club Carlson and Wyndham Rewards
Budget travelers heading to Switzerland will find Best Western Rewards, Club Carlson and Wyndham Rewards offer far better value and many more hotel choices relative to Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and Starwood points for hotel stays using points. Those upper upscale and luxury hotels in Switzerland like W Verbier or Park Hyatt Zurich come with both luxury hotel rates and high reward prices. Sure, your Marriott hotel points will put you in a downtown chain hotel like Marriott Zurich, but you are going to burn through a lot of points to spend 7 nights in Switzerland.
This Loyalty Traveler targeted Switzerland as my primary destination for a September two week trip. My tourist wallet is armed primarily with hotel points and a low limit credit card. I will find out if I can spend seven nights in Switzerland at 4-star hotels using mostly points and some cash, while staying within a total travel budget under $1,000, including the price of acquiring hotel points redeemed for the seven hotel nights, the price for food, all in-country transportation, including activities, and at least a couple of cable car mountain rides to places like the Matterhorn (time to go ride the real thing since Disneyland dismantled the aerial tram from my youth).