So, you want a bit of luxury without paying for the luxury price? Sometimes, it’s nice to treat yourself to First Class once in a while, but the price can be off-putting. No worries, we’ve got you covered. Here are our top five tips for bagging cheap First Class train tickets.
What are the best ways to get cheap First Class train tickets?
It might seem that ‘cheap’ and ‘First Class’ don’t go together in the same sentence, but there can be some bargains if you know where to look. Whether that means following a particular route or avoiding certain times, let’s have a look at some of the best ways to save.
1. Avoid London
London can attract a premium (and lots of people want to go there!) So, if you’re after a trip in First Class for less, we’d recommend leaving it for a journey that avoids the capital. The same usually applies for Standard Class, too. Let’s take a look at an example where we’re travelling from York a month in advance:
It’s £45.50 to travel in Standard Class to London, or £95.70 in First Class. That’s more than twice the Standard Class fare!
Meanwhile, let’s see what happens if we go in the other direction and head for Edinburgh instead:
It’s £36.00 for Standard Class, and £52.40 for First Class. That’s a much smaller difference, and it isn’t a bad fare for a journey of over two and a half hours. So, your first step to finding cheap First Class train tickets is being choosy about where you go.
2. Pick a Friday morning for London trips
So, you want cheap First Class train tickets and you want to travel to London? Your best bet is to travel down on a Friday morning. In particular, you’ll find that this makes a difference for trips on the East Coast Main Line (Edinburgh – Newcastle – London) and West Coast Main Line (Glasgow – Preston – London and Birmingham – London).
This is because peak time restrictions are eased on a Friday. There’s less business-oriented travel too, so the trains are usually quieter. Because the most expensive tickets are Super Off-Peak ones, rather than Anytime or Off-Peak, this effectively ‘caps’ all of the cheaper Advance tickets.
3. Avoid the Frills
This depends on why exactly you’d like to travel in First Class. Do you want the full works with food and drinks, or do you just want a bigger seat to stretch out in with a cup of coffee? You might find cheap First Class train tickets with companies that don’t go all-out with the free food.
For example, we looked at York to London earlier, and found that it could be quite pricey. Let’s have a look and see how it compares if we choose Grand Centralinstead:
It’s still quite a bit more than you’d pay for Standard Class, but £55.00 is a more reasonable price than what we were finding above. You won’t get the same level of service, but you’ll still get a more spacious environment. In fact, we’ve written about the best First Class trains so that you can compare every First Class product across Great Britain.
The same applies if you pick an LNER train that doesn’t have such a substantial food menu, as there are three different menus to pick from (Dine is the largest, followed by Dish, then the most limited one is Deli). You can check which menu is scheduled on northbound trains hereand southbound trains here.
4. Try Standard Premium
Did you know that Avanti West Coastgives you the option of travelling in a First Class carriage, sometimes for a fraction of the cost of a First Class ticket? Standard Premium is essentially First Class without the free food and drink. It’s the same seat and the same environment.
You don’t have to book it in advance, either. All you have to do is buy a Standard Class ticket, then take a free seat in Standard Premium. It costs up to £30 to upgrade on board, and the conductor will sell you the upgrade when they check tickets. You can book Advancetickets for Standard Premium, too. Let’s see what we get if we want to go from Carlisle to Crewe a month in advance:
So, it’s £16.40 for Standard Class, £31.40 for Standard Premium and a rather high £85.80 for First Class. That’s quite a saving over sitting in a traditional First Class carriage! We’ve also compared Standard Premium v First Classso you can see which upgrade is best for you.
5. Keep an eye out for last-minute bargains
Cheap First Class train tickets don’t have to be booked up months in advance. Sometimes, if you’re travelling at the last-minute, there’s very little difference in price between Standard Class and First Class. It might even be cheaper! Let’s take a look at travelling from York to Newcastle this coming Saturday:
That’s just over an extra fiver to travel in First Class, so it’s not a great deal more expensive. So, why is there very little difference on some trains and a huge one on others? In a nutshell, when it gets very close to departure, the cheaper ‘tiers’ of Advance tickets start to sell out. This can happen at a faster rate for Standard Class than First Class.
The final thing we’d recommend is using the Railsmartrwebsite to book your cheap First Class train tickets. We’re completely independent, so we’re happy to ‘tell you like it is’ when it comes to rail fares. Not only that, but we’ll show you the slower, but cheaper options that some websites won’t.
Don’t forget that we don’t charge any fees, either. That includes if you change your mind and want to travel on a different day. If your ticket is refundable, we’ll refund it fee-free, too!
All fares stated on this page are for ONE adult with no Railcard discount and were correct at 09:00 12/07/23 unless otherwise stated. All information is issued in good faith. They’re subject to change at any time and Railsmartr are not responsible for any loss or disappointment incurred as a result of the information provided.
Not a lot of things in life are free. So, did you know that you can travel in First Class for free on some trains? In a nutshell, First Class isn’t scheduled on every train. So, when a train turns up that has it, you can treat it just like Standard Class. Here’s our guide to which services are fair game when you fancy a cheeky upgrade. Just make sure you have a Standard Class ticket, first.
Can I really travel in First Class for free?
Well, not all the time, obviously. You can’t just plonk yourself down on any train and travel for no extra cost. But, there are some trains that are effectively ‘Standard Class only’. Some companies will let you know that this is the case, but others keep it very quiet. If you’re ever unsure, just ask a member of staff.
If you’re travelling on ScotRail, then keep an eye out for the ‘eXpress’ branded trains. They have four carriages and run on a number of different routes around the Central Belt:
They mostly run between Edinburgh and Glasgow Queen Street. This ‘fast’ route between the two cities does have First Class, but any other route is Standard Class only.
This means that you can travel in First Class for free on routes like these ones:
Edinburgh – Dunblane
Alloa – Glasgow Queen Street
Falkirk Grahamston – Glasgow Queen Street
Edinburgh – North Berwick.
Usually, these routes will have the three-coach version of this train, which doesn’t have First Class, but swaps do happen. Just keep an eye out for the yellow markings around the windows, like in the photo above. If you do get a train that has a First Class area, you can expect a bigger seat, and a lot more space.
This isn’t the only type of train where you can try First Class for free. Trains to Cowdenbeath and Glenrothes, as well as local stopping trains between Edinburgh and Perth or Dundee don’t have First Class advertised, either. If you get one of these trains, you can sit in a First Class section like this one at no extra cost:
So, most of the time, Stansted Express trains don’t have First Class. But, did you know that an almost-identical fleet of trains, which usually runs between Norwich and London, does? Sometimes, one of these trains will find its way onto the Stansted Express route. When it does, you can travel in First Class for free!
It’s a bit more spacious and in a 2+1 layout. Even in Standard Class, it’s a little more luxurious as it has full-sized tables.
How do you know if your train has First Class? You can do one of two things:
Check the number on the front of the train. Trains with First Class will start with a 0, eg. 003. If it’s a ‘normal’ Stansted Express train, it’ll start with a 1, eg. 104
See if the outside of the train has carriage letters. Trains with First Class have carriage letters marked by the doors.
This one is nice and easy. As of December 2022, Southeasterndoesn’t have any First Class on its trains. This doesn’t mean that they’ve rushed to rip out all of the First Class seats, though.
If you’re on a train that has seating in a 3+2 layout, but there’s a section of 2+2 seating that looks a bit nicer, this is what used to be First Class. Feel free to take a seat! You’ll usually find these sections behind the driver’s cab.
A lot of suburban trains around London have carriages where you can sit in First Class for free. In particular, there are quite a few that are operated by Southern.
Now, they aren’t much to write home about. The seats are exactly the same, just with a marking on that says that they’re First Class. But, because not everyone knows that this only applies on some routes, it does mean that you have a better chance of getting a seat at busy times.
As of July 2023, the following trains are shown as ‘Standard Class only’ in the timetable:
Horsham to London Victoria (via Dorking)
Dorking to London Victoria
West Croydon to London Victoria
London Victoria to London Bridge
London Bridge to Caterham and Tattenham Corner
Beckenham Junction to London Bridge
East Croydon to London Bridge
Epsom to London Bridge
Epsom Downs to London Victoria.
As well as this, there are some routes around Sussex that don’t have First Class advertised:
Ashford International to Eastbourne
Hove to Brighton
Portsmouth & Southsea to Brighton
Portsmouth & Southsea to Littlehampton
Bognor Regis to Barnham and Littlehampton.
All of these trains share at least part of their route with another train that does have First Class advertised. So, we’d recommend checking with staff if you’re unsure. You can also check the timetable. If it has First Class, you’ll see a little ‘1’ symbol above the train.
South Western Railway
Travelling to Windsor, Hounslow, Reading or Weybridge via Chertsey? Then if you have a ‘Desiro‘ train, you can sit in First Class for free. They look like this:
As they normally run on longer-distance trains too, they have First Class. You’ll find the First Class section behind the driver’s cab on each four carriage train (so in carriages 1, 4, 5 and 8 on an eight-coach one). For your ‘free’ upgrade, you’ll get a bigger seat in a 2+2 layout, a table to work at and wireless charging.
You can always sit in First Class for free on Thameslink. You just need to make sure that you’re sitting in the right place. Basically, there are two First Class sections on every train, and they look like this:
You’ll get a much bigger seat, access to a power socket, and tables to work at. Basically, it’s a decent upgrade compared to Standard Class.
So, when can you use it? The rear First Class compartment is always counted as Standard Class. No matter which Thameslink train you use, you can always sit in the rear carriage of First Class for free.
On these routes, the whole train is counted as Standard Class:
London Blackfriars to Sevenoaks
Luton to Rainham
Sutton to St Albans (via Wimbledon or Hackbridge).
West Midlands Trains
West Midlands Trains have abolished First Class as of May 2023. As a result, you can sit in any former First Class section for free when you have a Standard Class ticket.
Is there anything else I should know?
This list isn’t completely exhaustive, so you might come across other trains which allow you to travel in First Class for free. Just check the timetable and see if there’s a ‘1’ symbol above the train you want to use! It goes without saying that of course, free doesn’t mean completely free. You still need a valid Standard Class ticket to travel. If you’d like to know more about what First Class is like, you can take a look at our guide to the best First Class trains.
Thinking of taking a trip soon? You can book it all with Railsmartr. We’ll be sure to show you the slower and cheaper options, so you can get the best value fare for your journey.
Changed your mind? Need to travel on a different day? No problem at all. You can change or refund your ticket (if it’s refundable) without any extra fees.
All information stated on this page was correct at 06/07/23. It’s subject to change at any time and Railsmartr are not responsible for any loss or disappointment incurred as a result of the information provided.You always need a valid ticket to travel and it is your responsibility to ensure that it is valid.
Avanti West Coast and LNER are the two ‘premier’ north to south rail operators in Great Britain. If you’re going between London and Scotland, it’s likely that you’ll be picking from one of them. If you’re wanting to travel in First Class, then you’ll definitely be picking from one of them! So, I set out to compare Avanti vs LNER, and see who offers the best First Class product for the money.
The cost of Avanti vs LNER First Class
One of the most important factors to consider when you’re booking an Avanti vs LNER First Class journey is the cost. After all, First Class can be expensive, so you’re likely to want to book it in advance. Let’s say that we want to travel from London to Edinburgh a month in advance, in the middle of the day, and see how much it costs:
The 12:16 Avanti West Coast service is £151.00. There’s also the option of paying £94.00 for Standard Premium if you’d prefer.
Meanwhile, it’s a little cheaper to take LNER at 12:30 instead:
It’s £132.40 to make this trip. It isn’t a huge saving, but LNER just edges out Avanti in the battle of Avanti vs LNER First Class. As I mentioned in my look at Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class, the advent of Standard Premium has caused First Class to generally be more expensive.
Avanti vs LNER First Class seats
So, let’s start out with the seats. Who has the better place to sit? Let’s start with Avanti West Coast. The trains are slowly getting a freshen up, and I was lucky enough to travel on a refurbished one:
The seats were well-padded and comfortable with a good amount of recline. There’s a bit of a wing on the headrest which provides good support, too. You’ll find plenty of power sockets if you need to get some work done:
The only awkward thing is the huge ‘lip’ on the table as it curves upwards towards the window. You’ll probably struggle to use a mouse without leaving a fair amount of extra space, if you’re right-handed. The same goes if you’re left-handed and sat on the left. On the plus side though, the ride quality is nice and smooth.
As for LNER, they have fairly large First Class seats:
They have a reasonable amount of recline and I’m always able to get fairly comfortable in them. The headrest is a bit hard though (it’s not like the ones in the photo above anymore), and they’re a bit prone to falling off the seat entirely.
Power sockets are in a better place as they’re under the armrests. There’s still a bit of a lip on the tables for four, but it isn’t quite as drastic as on the Avanti trains. The ride quality is a bit bouncy though, and I’ve witnessed glasses of red wine splashing all over the table (plus it can make working on your laptop a bit trickier).
Overall, the seats are fairly similar. In terms of Avanti vs LNER First Class seats, I’d say that the actual seat and ride quality is a little better on Avanti, but you have more space to work (and better placed sockets) on LNER.
Who has the better service?
When you’re comparing Avanti vs LNER First Class, you also want to be sure that you’re going to get a great level of service. After all, it’s a premium product, so you’d expect premium treatment.
On my journey from Carlisle to Crewe, I was genuinely impressed by the staff. As soon as I boarded, someone approached me and asked what I’d like to eat, and listed off the options. I hadn’t even sat my laptop up or put my bag away! The staff were friendly, but professional and unobtrusive. I was even offered a hot drink on a shorter subsequent journey (Crewe to Liverpool). Nothing was too much trouble.
I’m an LNER regular, as I’m from the North East. So, I’ve had plenty of experience with the sort of service that you get over the years. In general, the staff are great (particularly the Geordie and Scottish crews) and we’ve left the rather weird days of Virgin Trains East Coast where you got the impression that quite a few of them didn’t really want to be there.
On my journey from Newcastle to Edinburgh, the service was a bit mixed. The drinks trolley came around asking if people wanted hot drinks (I didn’t). But then, I watched the gentleman on the trolley giving out cold drinks so I had to call him back and ask. The menu was also drastically more limited than advertised (with no apologies made, more on that later). The crew were doing their best though, and I wouldn’t say that they did a bad job. It was just poor luck that it was a very busy train with a limited menu.
Avanti vs LNER First Class food
So, what’s on the menu? These days, it’s fairly ‘static’ and First Class menus on trains don’t seem to rotate as often as they used to. Both of the trains I’m comparing were scheduled to offer a fairly similar menu, which in this case was their most extensive breakfast menu.
Avanti West Coast
The menuon Avanti West Coast can vary, depending on whether you’re travelling on a Voyager or Pendolino train. It’s a bit morelimited on weekends, too. In my case, I was travelling on a weekday Pendolino train.
So, did the food live up to expectations? I thought it looked the part:
The toast was a welcome addition, too. Everything was tasty, well-seasoned and perfectly cooked. My only gripe was the scrambled eggs! The best way to describe them is that they were like the ones you’d find at a hotel buffet abroad. That is, they were a bit gritty and the texture in general was rather off. The good news is that if you made the same journey today, you’d get a fried egg instead.
Was it a huge portion? It wasn’t, but combined with the toast, it was fair. It kept me satisfied and it didn’t feel too stingy.
So, what about LNER? The Dinemenu is what my train had scheduled for it. It was even off to a great start, as the right menus were out on the tables.
“We don’t have a chef”.
It wasn’t the first time that this had happened. I’ve never actually seen the ‘full LNER’ breakfast with my own eyes. Instead, it was the lowly bacon roll:
The vegan sausage roll was available too, or overnight oats. The bacon roll was fine, and it was well-cooked and well-filled. As a bacon roll, you can’t complain. But it was still just a bacon roll.
The last thing it’s worth comparing with Avanti vs LNER First Class is the lounge experience. Both companies have lounges for you to use both before and after you travel.
I popped into the Avanti lounge at Crewe and found that it was pretty good. You had plenty of different kinds of seating to choose from
You had plenty of food to choose from as well. It was mostly snacks, but homemade banana bread was a nice surprise. You can find a full menu onlineand there’s also a more substantial menu if you’re travelling from London Euston.
The LNER lounges are all rather stylish, like this one in Edinburgh:
The only issue is that none of the seats are very comfortable! They’re all a bit style and aesthetics over substance and functionality, and everything is a lot firmer than it looks. The food and drink offer is very much just hot drinks, water, biscuits and crisps, too.
Both lounges do their main function well though, which is to give you a quiet place to wait before you train, and maybe to get some work done. The railway is never going to be wining and dining you like in airline lounges.
So, who has the best First Class?
See, this is a tricky one. As you’d think that based on what I’ve said, I’d be all over Avanti West Coast and recommending them to everyone. Yes, they do a good product and have great lounges, as well as some lovely staff. But, and it’s a big but, they’re often very expensive. I’d recommend staying well away on weekends as you effectively only have half a carriage of First Class on most trains (Coach K).
The introduction of Standard Premium has also meant that many of the passengers who just want a cheap upgrade for a better seat are better off sitting there instead. It’s often a lot cheaper.
Meanwhile, LNER can be great value if you’re travelling last minute. Journeys to and from London can be pricey, but let’s take Newcastle to Edinburgh as an example:
This is for a journey tomorrow morning. It’s only an extra £11.80 to upgrade, which is a difference that many wouldn’t mind paying. You just can’t go in with expectations that are too high. You’ll be fed something, you’ll get a bigger seat and you can use the lounge at both ends of your journey.
In a sense, Avanti West Coast First Class is only worth it if you go on a weekday and the price difference isn’t too stark. LNER on the other hand is fine at any time of day, just don’t always expect the full works. My experience shows that the menu isn’t set in stone! It’s a great operator for getting a last-minute upgrade at a reasonable fare, while Avanti West Coast can be very expensive if you leave it too late.
Thinking of taking a trip soon? You can book it all with Railsmartr. We’ll be sure to show you the slower and cheaper options, so you can get the best value fare for your journey.
Changed your mind? Need to travel on a different day? No problem at all. You can change or refund your ticket (if it’s refundable) without any extra fees.
All fares stated on this page are for ONE adult with no Railcard discount and were correct at 16:00 05/07/23. Both they, and the First Class products shown, are subject to change at any time and Railsmartr are not responsible for any loss or disappointment incurred as a result of the information provided.All opinions expressed in this post are based on real-life experiences.
Avanti West Coastis fairly unique in that it offers three classes of travel. You can take their trains in Standard Class, Standard Premium or First Class. The premise was that Standard Premium would be the place to travel if you wanted a bigger seat but none of the fuss of the at-seat service. Now that it’s all had a chance to bed in, I decided to compare Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class. More importantly, is First Class actually worth it anymore?
What is Standard Premium?
If you’re not used to travelling on Avanti, you might be wondering what this third class of travel is all about. In a nutshell, it’s a First Class carriage with no at-seat service. You get the bigger seat, a quieter carriage and that’s it.
All of the photos you see today are of First Class, but the seats and environment themselves are exactly the same in Standard Premium. The only difference is a headrest that says ‘Standard Premium’ instead.
The upgrade cost starts at £10 and goes up to £30 depending on the length of the journey. You can pay the upgrade fee on the train, or you can also buy Advance ticketsthat skip this step and allow you to pay for everything at once.
What’s the difference between Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class?
In a nutshell, Standard Premium is the same environment, you get the bigger seat, a guaranteed table and better access to a power outlet.
First Class gives you at-seat service. During the week, that means a chef-prepared hot meal on some journeys, as well as other hot and cold options. You get lounge access, too.
The First Class lounges come with complimentary refreshments, such as snacks and hot drinks.
Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class pricing
This is the big stickler when it comes to comparing Standard Premium vs First Class, and had me questioning whether the extra upgrade to First was worth it anymore. Put simply, it can be a little bit extra to take Standard Premium compared to Standard, then a massive jump to upgrade to First Class. Let’s take a look at a couple of journeys a month in advance:
So here, we want to travel from Glasgow to London. It’s £55 for Standard Class, £74 for Standard Premium and £125 for First Class. Standard Premium, at minimum, seems like a bit of a no-brainer for a long trip. First Class is definitely a bit steeper.
Let’s try London to Manchester:
So, it’s £44 to travel in Standard Class, £69 in Standard Premium and £120 in First Class. Again, there’s a fair difference there. So, when it comes to Standard Premium vs First Class, there’s definitely a steep price difference. The question is: what do you get for your money if you pay the extra?
It’s worth mentioning that you can only get Standard Premium on Pendolino trains. The limited number of Super Voyager trains only have First Class and Standard Class. These trains usually run between North Wales, Chester and Crewe or London Euston, as well as on the Shrewsbury to London route. It’s easy to tell which is which – as you won’t get offered a Standard Premium ticket for a Super Voyager!
The First Class service
I set out on June 15th, 2023, to find this out. I’d booked a ticket on the 09:10 train from Carlisle to Crewe, which took roughly two hours. This seemed like a decent length of journey to allow me to judge what kind of service you’d get in First Class.
The train rolled in a couple of minutes late, and I was already keen to jump on. The weather was hotting up and I was looking forward to a blast of air conditioning!
Getting on board
I boarded the train in Coach J and found a table for two fairly easily. It seemed to be around a third full, and I found there to be very few people sat in Coach K, as well. I had a refurbished 11-car Pendolino train, which had been given new seating throughout First, Standard Premium and Standard Class:
The seats were comfortable (though the same as you’d get in Standard Premium) and had a reasonable recline. The tables had an ample choice of power sockets to choose from, too:
My only complaint about the table is the massive wedge where it curves up. This can make working at a laptop a bit tricky if you have a larger device as it takes up a fair bit of room. Thankfully my work laptop wasn’t too big, so I had no problems.
Okay, so we’ve covered the seat experience (which you’d get in either class), so let’s get onto the First Class exclusives.
Food and drinks service
The big differentiator for Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class is the on-board service. As you can imagine, I was thrilled when a friendly crew member came through straight away taking breakfast orders. We hadn’t even left the station yet! The selection on offer was great (menu here) and I went for the Great British Breakfast. You also had the choice of white or brown toast to go with it.
Five minutes after leaving Carlisle, a drinks trolley came around offering hot and cold drinks (alcohol is available later in the day, though not at 9am) and I had myself an orange juice. It came in a proper glass, too.
The brekkie verdict
It took around 25 to 30 minutes for my food to arrive. I didn’t see that as a bad thing, as it meant that it hadn’t just been chucked in the microwave. Equally, it does mean that you can’t jump on for a 15-minute journey and hope to fill your boots. The portion size of the food was pretty decent:
The dish came with two rashers of bacon, one sausage, scrambled egg, a giant mushroom, a slice of black pudding and two slices of toast with butter. You also had the option of a roasted tomato, but I skipped out on that as I’m not a fan. It wasn’t a gut-busting mega-brekkie that you’d get down at your local greasy spoon, but it didn’t seem too skimpy. You get a choice of sauces too, and my brown sauce came in a nice ceramic dipping pot.
The sausage was delicious, as well the bacon. They were both ‘meaty’ and were of an excellent quality. The black pudding was great too, and it’s not something I usually opt for. The mushroom was tasty but a nightmare to cut into, and it let out a fair amount of liquid on the plate. The least impressive item was the scrambled egg. The texture was off, though the flavour was fine.
You can’t go wrong with toast and butter. Even the butter was delicious and easy to spread. Overall, it was a solid 8/10. As of the 19th of June, a new menu is coming in which replaces the scrambled egg with a fresh fried egg, too. A massive improvement, I reckon.
After leaving Preston, I had another orange juice. That was it for the service, though. It was friendly, professional and well-focused. Quality over quantity, shall we say. Everyone around me was pleased with the food on offer, too. I heard a couple of ‘delicious’ comments about the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, so that seemed to be a hit. The only person not impressed was the overly-loud bloke in a suit who aggressively batted away any offers of food and drink. He could have saved his money and gone for Standard Premium!
Standard Premium looked to be fairly busy when I popped my head in. The advent of Standard Premium Advance tickets has definitely bumped up occupancy levels, as it used to be pretty normal to get a carriage to yourself when it was a case of being ‘in the know’ and upgrading on the day.
I stepped off at Crewe into glorious sunshine, and was pretty impressed by the service I’d received:
Of course, that isn’t all. First Class entitles you to visit lounges that are located at most major stations on the Avanti network. So, that was my next stop.
The lounge at Crewe is up on the footbridge towards the exit, just above Platform 5. You press the intercom, show your ticket to the camera, and you’re in.
You’ll find lounges at Crewe, Manchester Piccadilly, Liverpool Lime Street, Birmingham New Street, Birmingham International and London Euston. There is also one at Glasgow Central, but information on the Avanti website suggests that this one is closed at the time of writing.
As for Crewe’s lounge, it was pretty pleasant. It had a nice atmosphere and plenty of different kinds of seating areas to use:
As for food and drink, the drinks selection was everything you’d expect. You had teas, a coffee machine and a fridge with water, fizzy drinks and even kombucha.
The food offering was decent, too. I could see muesli bars, banana bread, porridge pots (and honey), muffins, fresh fruit and pouches of olives:
There is a dedicated menufor the lounges which you can view online. The lounge at London Euston has a different menuwith more substantial items available, as well as a paid-for bar! I went for a piece of banana bread in the end, and it was delicious.
I was once again, impressed. There was a clear differentiation appearing in the Standard Premium vs First Class experience, rather than just ‘you get food’.
Taking a shorter trip: Standard Premium vs First Class
Finally, I wanted to see how Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class faired on a short journey. After all, it isn’t uncommon to completely miss out on any service if your journey is too short. That might be because the staff are packing away, or they just haven’t seen you.
So, I was going to go from Crewe up to Liverpool Lime Street, which was just short of 40 minutes. The bizarre thing about this journey is that a one-way Standard Class fare is £16.60 if you’re travelling before 9am on weekdays, but just 30p more at £16.90 if you travel in First! The Off-Peakfare is still £13.80, but the difference isn’t huge. If it’s a return trip though, it’s a much bigger difference, as the return fare is £33.90 in First Class. In fact, two First Class singles are 10p cheaper than the return.
The Standard Premium upgrade price is £10 on this journey. Put simply, that isn’t worth it on top of the Standard Class fare!
So, what did I get? First of all, this was a nine-car train that hadn’t been refurbished yet, so it was a little different inside:
The lamps on the tables were a bit irritating and each window seat had just one three-pin socket (that I couldn’t get to work).
As for the service, a friendly host (also called Richard) popped down straight away and asked if I wanted anything to drink. I took him up on the offer of a coffee, which was really well-presented:
The crew, to their credit, stayed present in the carriages right up until arriving into Liverpool. My overall impression of Avanti’s staff was that they were passionate about what they did – and I did drop their social media team a message of thanks.
Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class – weekdays vs weekends
This is where things get a bit more complicated. You see, on weekdays, here’s how the formation of the train works:
Nine-car train: Coach H is Standard Premium, J and K are First
11-car unrefurbished train: Coaches G and H are Standard Premium, J and K are First
11-car refurbished train: Coach H is Standard Premium, J and K are First.
On the refurbished trains, Coach G is converted to Standard Class to add in some extra capacity, which is where that carriage ‘disappears’ to.
So, what happens on weekends? Only Coach K is First Class. Coach K is part-kitchen, so it has a very limited number of seats. Just 18, in fact. Coach J becomes Standard Premium, alongside Coach H (and G on unrefurbished trains!)
First Class becomes very busy and the menu is different, too. It isn’t as substantial, basically. Meanwhile, you’ve loads of room to try Standard Premium. My advice is that you should choose Standard Premium on a weekend if you want an upgrade. First Class just isn’t big enough.
Standard Premium vs First Class – Is First Class worth it?
This is the million-dollar question. When it comes to Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class, is First Class worth it at all? My answer is: it can be.
If you’re travelling between stations with lounges and need somewhere quiet to work before the train for example, it’s great. You have access to refreshments (or even a bar), and it’s a world away from a busy platform.
Travelling on a weekday? Great. You have a decent number of First Class seats on every train and a substantial menu of food and drink. You’ll get a chef-prepared hot meal if you want one. The staff on board the trains are truly excellent and I can’t fault them. Their service was passionate, but sincere, and it wasn’t over-the-top or tacky.
You even have the weird fare anomalies (like a one-way trip from Crewe to Liverpool in the morning peak) where the fare is essentially the same between Standard and First.
So, when isn’t it worth it? I’d say definitely don’t bother on a weekend. Just plonk yourself in Standard Premium. I’d also say it isn’t worth it if you won’t make full use of what’s available to you. If you’re not bothered about lounge access and food and drink, just stick to Standard Premium. If you want a proper ‘experience’, then by all means try out First if the price is right. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.
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First Class. It conjures up images of luxury and enjoying an ‘exclusive’ experience. So what’s the best First Class train in the UK, which ones are just okay, and which ones should you avoid? Here’s our guide to travelling First Class like a boss.
If you wanted the simplest answer to which is the best First Class train in the UK, then we’d probably say LNER. You can travel at any time of day and get your share of 2+1 seating, complimentary food and drink and an altogether more relaxing experience. This is First Class exactly as you’d imagine it.
‘There’s two types of trains on LNER. You’re most likely to get an Azuma, which looks like this:
In terms of the seat, the Intercity 225 trains win every single time. They’re like big homely armchairs and provide a decent level of recline. There’s also a nice variety of seating types, with plenty of single seats and tables for two. The Azuma has lots of tables for four, but assumes that the rest of us prefer to travel as loners! Tables for two as are rare as hen’s teeth on these trains.
What can you expect on board to eat and drink? LNER operates with a ‘Deli, Dish & Dine‘ menu. ‘Deli’ is reserved for their quieter services, ‘Dish’ is served across most services during the day, and Dine is often reserved for the ‘peak’ services.
At minimum, you can expect hot breakfast sandwiches, cold sandwiches and salads and a variety of hot and cold drinks (including alcohol after 11:30am) every day. The ‘Dish’ menu adds some hot lunch/dinner dishes (such as Shepherdess Chicken or Asparagus Tortellini) while the ‘Dine’ menu gives a more ‘premium’ offering such as a ‘Full LNER’ breakfast in the morning, and a salmon dish later in the day.
Is it worth it? If your journey is over an hour, absolutely. On some quieter services, the difference in price often isn’t too high, making it ideal for some affordable luxury. Is it the best First Class train in the UK? Well, it certainly provides the best ‘all-round’ experience all week long.
2. Avanti West Coast
The ‘other’ route from north to south perhaps doesn’t have quite the same ‘flair’ or complimentary offering to make it worthy of the ‘best First Class train in the UK’ badge, but it’s worth mentioning the ‘Standard Premium‘ product here.
Avanti have split up their Pendolino trains (serving all routes except Shrewsbury and Chester/North Wales) into ‘First Class’ and ‘Standard Premium’, with the only difference being the complimentary food and drink. What’s more is that you can simply upgrade on board if you fancy it, though Standard Premium Advance tickets can be purchased, as well.
On weekdays, Coaches G and H will be designated ‘Standard Premium’ (though Coach G is soon to be converted to Standard on some trains), while J and K remain traditional First Class. On weekends, Coach J is also Standard Premium, leaving the tiny Coach K as First. Our advice is not to book First Class on weekends and instead opt for Standard Premium, as it can get rather cosy!
Seating is laid out in a mixture of 2+1 seating, and is rather comfortable indeed. It should be added that Avanti are in the process of refurbishing their trains, but for the moment (October 2022), most trains will look like this (Standard Premium pictured):
What do you get if you pay the extra for First Class? To be fair to Avanti, their menu is fairly decent and doesn’t change too much on weekends, either. In the mornings, you can expect hot breakfast sandwiches, a ‘Great British Breakfast’ and Breakfast Hash, among other dishes. Later on, there’s a Croque Monsieur, a charcuterie plate and a couple of salad options. Here’s the Great British Breakfast:
They don’t skimp on the drinks either, with a plethora of hot, cold and alcoholic drinks to choose from. Versus LNER, there’s a little less ‘pizazz’ with some of the food, but it has a nice variety and the portions are decent. .
For some, ‘Standard Premium’ might make this the best First Class train in the UK, as it allows you to enjoy some space on a long trip for a simple upgrade.
Is it worth it? On weekdays, First Class is more likely to be worth it. But, if you just want some space, opt for Standard Premium instead. It also gives you the option to jump on and upgrade on a whim! On weekends, Standard Premium is the way to go. We’ve even done the legwork and tried the difference out for ourselves. You can read more here. We’ve also done a direct comparison of Avanti West Coast vs LNER.
These are the trains where we’d say it’s worth it on an Advance ticket or upgrade if you can get it. They certainly won’t be winning the ‘best First Class train in the UK’ award, but they’ll give you some extra space and likely a bit of peace on your trip!
3. TransPennine Express, Great Western Railway, Hull Trains
We’ve put these three together as they offer broadly the same product. 2+1 seating, a selection of drinks, snacks (and maybe a sandwich!) and a more pleasant travelling environment. TransPennine Express operate a variety of different train types, but other than your seat looking and feeling a little different, the product is largely the same.
Great Western Railway run the same type of train on all of their long-distance routes out of London. It’s the same as LNER’s Azuma and also the TransPennine Express Nova 1, which runs between Newcastle and Liverpool. Hull Trains operate this type of train on all of their services, too. The only difference is the decor and the carriage sizes.
What’s the catering offer like? Well…
Hull Trains offer a variety of fresh sandwiches and other light refreshments. In the mornings, this will mean a hot sausage or bacon panini.
Great Western Railway offer drinks, cakes, crisps and other nibbles on weekdays between 06:00 and 19:30. Some services offer Pullman dining, too (see below).
TransPennine Express offer hot and cold drinks and snacks for the majority of the day in First Class.
Is it worth it? Certainly all of these trains are modern, spacious and offer a ‘First Class’ feel. Don’t turn up expecting a feast (though Hull Trains certainly offer the best catering of the three) but on most trains, you’ll at least get something to drink and nibble. If you can get a good First Class Advance ticket or upgrade on the day, it’s definitely worth it.
4. East Midlands Railway
East Midlands Railway‘s First Class is certainly laid out as you would expect. It’s got 2+1 seating, seats with a reasonable recline and a more relaxed ambience. You’ll find First Class on services between Sheffield/Nottingham and London St Pancras. It’s no longer offered on trains to/from Corby, but for the moment, you’ll find ‘declassified’ sections with a little more room than the rest of the train. Sit in them at no extra cost!
Here’s what a typical First Class carriage looks like:
East Midlands Railway just slips over on the fact that these trains haven’t had a refurbishment for quite a while and some are starting to look a little tired. However, that rings true for the entire train (both Standard and First) and the seats themselves are still pretty comfortable. It’s definitely worth upgrading if you fancy some extra space and the price difference isn’t too high.
Despite the slightly tired interiors, the food offering is actually quite good. Here’s what East Midlands Railway had to say about it when they overhauled the offering in March 2022:
“Customers travelling First Class during the morning will now be able to choose a hot complimentary bacon or sausage ciabatta, porridge, or a vegan breakfast burrito. While in the afternoon, they will be offered a chilled sandwich, wrap or salad, or the choice of a gluten free meal or vegan option.”
East Midlands Railway Press Release, 03 March 2022
This is available on Monday to Saturday at the moment (all day), with plans to extend it to Sundays.
In the coming years, East Midlands Railway will also be replacing their fleet on the London route with more modern trains, so it’s likely that they’ll become an even stronger contender in the battle for the best First Class train in the UK!
Is it worth it? If you’d like some more space and a more comfortable seat, it’s worth considering. Just be aware that on Sundays, the catering offer is fairly limited for the moment.
5. Grand Central
Grand Central offer a decent First Class product, with 2+1 seating and a reasonable travel environment. While their fleet of ‘Adelante’ trains don’t have the most reliable reputation, they’ve recently given them a good refurbishment and they’re fairly smart and modern.
In terms of the complimentary food and drink offer, you can choose for two items out of a list of snacks such as croissants, crisps and biscuits, as well as bean-to-cup coffee. Water, coffee and tea are available throughout the journey without limit.
Is it worth it? The catering certainly won’t be winning any awards, but Grand Central offer a smart First Class that’s certainly worth it on an Advance ticket or upgrade if you can get one.
CrossCountry offer First Class on all of their trains, though their main long-distance product is on their Voyager trains, which operate the ‘core’ routes from Scotland to the South West and Manchester to the South Coast. These trains certainly don’t have the best reputation, being rather cramped and often too short for the trips that they’re making.
That said, this makes a good First Class product all the more important, especially if you’d like some extra space on your journey. Here’s what First Class looks like on a ‘Voyager’ train:
While fairly reasonable, it’s still squeezing a fair number of seats into a small carriage. Those tables for four don’t match up with the windows, either! That said, when comparing it to the rather cramped Standard Class, it could well still be worth the upgrade. The addition of airline-style pairs of seats next to each other is also nice to have, with most trains opting for single seats in this sort of layout.
What’s on the menu? The complimentary menu is offered on most trains, though sometimes early in the morning and late at night, parts of some journeys won’t have any catering. Here’s what to expect:
Breakfast: Pain au Chocolat, Croissant, Porridge, Hot Bacon Roll
Snacks: Fruit Cake, Crisps, Biscuits
Sandwiches: BLT, Tuna & Sweetcorn, Ploughman’s
Sandwiches are available for journeys over 50 minutes on weekdays and 90 minutes on weekends and Bank Holidays. There’s also a selection of hot and cold drinks available.
Is it worth it? If the price is right, it’s definitely worth it for the extra space. After all, CrossCountry services can be very busy indeed. If you have a flexible ticket, you can purchase Weekend First on board, which definitely makes this worth the upgrade.
ScotRail offer First Class on their long-distance and ‘eXpress’ services, the latter being the brand name for trains on the Edinburgh – Falkirk High – Glasgow Queen Street route. The on-board environment certainly varies between the different products, but ScotRail themselves do recognise that.
For example, an on-board upgrade on an ‘Intercity’ train costs £15, while a shorter hop on an ‘eXpress’ train is just £5. Here’s what an ‘eXpress’ train looks like in First Class:
While ‘eXpress’ trains are a little more basic (but still in a 2+1 layout), ‘Inter7City’ trains are far more luxurious, having kept their layout from a previous refurbishment that they had while operating for Great Western Railway. They’re classy, comfortable and certainly worth it for a £15 upgrade on a long journey.
What’s available to eat? You’ll just get a hot/soft drink and a sweet/savoury snack if there’s catering available. Click here for the full list of trains that offer it.
Is it worth it? For £5, we’d certainly recommend the eXpress upgrade if it’s a particularly busy train in Standard Class. The Inter7City upgrade for £15 is worth it on a long trip, too. Just take a picnic with you!
8. Greater Anglia
Greater Anglia have recently abolished First Class on all except their Norwich to London route, thanks to the introduction of a brand-new fleet of trains.
First Class on this route is in a 2+1 layout and is bright and modern as you’d expect from a new train. On Saturdays, Sundays, Bank Holidays and over Christmas, you can upgrade on board for £10.
On weekdays, you can claim complimentary hot and cold drinks and snacks from the buffet counter, too. It isn’t a spectacular offering, but with a maximum journey time of under two hours, we wouldn’t expect the height of opulence.
Is it worth it? If you can get a cheap Advance ticket or fancy a £10 upgrade. It’s no-frills and a brand new train.
9. South Western Railway
South Western Railway operate a variety of route types and so you’ll find a variety of types of First Class. If you’re travelling between London Waterloo and Salisbury/Exeter St Davids, seats are arranged in a 2+1 layout, and it’s genuinely rather roomy.
On trains to Weymouth and some trains to Portsmouth, they’ve recently refurbished their ‘444’ trains and with it, removed the 2+1 layout from First Class! As Standard is 2+2, this may remove some of the ‘pull’ for travellers. That said, it’s bright, modern and spacious enough. It just isn’t quite as ‘different’.
Trains to Alton, Basingstoke and some services to Portsmouth are operated by ‘450’ trains. These have recently been refurbished and have two small but smart compartments in a 2+2 layout, though Standard Class is 3+2. While not all that exciting, they’re again very smart and even provide wireless charging at the tables.
Will you be fed and watered? Sadly not. But First Class does come with larger tables, so you can enjoy a nice picnic spread.
Is it worth it? Certainly if you upgrade at the weekend and you’re travelling a reasonable distance. Click here to find out more about the costs of upgrading.
Here’s the First Class carriages to avoid – they certainly won’t be winning the ‘best First Class train in the UK’ award! Maybe it’s because they’re absolutely no different to Standard, or because you can usually travel in them without paying extra! In many cases, these First Class compartments used to act as a way of being guaranteed a seat on rush hour commuter trains, rather than being anything special in themselves.
The First Class sections are still there at the moment, so feel free to give them a try and work out whether you’d have paid the upgrade!
The majority of Southern services are operated by their ‘Electrostar’ trains. The only exception is services from Uckfield to London Bridge and Eastbourne to Ashford International. Indeed, these two routes offer trains with 2+1 seating, if you’d like a little more space. What’s more, Eastbourne to Ashford International is advertised as ‘Standard Class only’, so you can sit in this area with a First Class ticket.
So, the only route where you might find a benefit to buying a First Class ticket is on some busier trains between Uckfield and London Bridge. Before COVID-19, this was likely to be a very popular option in the peak commuting times.
However, the ‘Electrostar’ trains (below) are *almost* exactly the same in First Class as they are in Standard Class. You might get a partition door and a power socket, but the experience is almost identical. Southern are also currently in the process of refurbishing their trains and adding power sockets to Standard Class, too. Prior to COVID-19, these little First Class sections used to be an invaluable way of guaranteeing yourself a seat in the rush hour, but naturally that’s not so much the case anymore.
Is it worth it? Potentially on a busy train between Uckfield and London Bridge, but otherwise you’re probably best saving your pennies.
The Thameslink First Class experience certainly isn’t the worst one of this list. While the seats are still in a 2+2 layout, they’re wider, and you have access to power sockets. It’s also separated reasonably well from the rest of the train. Here’s what to expect:
What’s the issue here? Well, unless you really want to be away from other passengers, there’s no need to pay for it. In some ways, that might make it the best First Class train in the UK! It’s always ‘declassified’ at the rear of the train on the following trains:
Bedford to Brighton;
Cambridge to Brighton;
Peterborough to Horsham;
Peak-time ‘extras’ to/from Littlehampton and East Grinstead.
Plus, it’s declassified at both ends on these trains:
Rainham (Kent) to Luton;
Sevenoaks to London Blackfriars/Welwyn Garden City;
Luton/St Albans to Sutton.
If in doubt, always sit at the back! Of course, other passenger have gradually cottoned onto this, so expect the ‘free’ First Class section to be a little busy. If you really want some solitude, then that’s the only reason to pay extra.
Is it worth it? Not in our opinion, seeing as there’s a ‘free’ option to try it out!
13. Gatwick Express
There’s little to say about Gatwick Express other than that the First Class compartment is exactly the same as Standard Class, save for a small piece of cloth on the seat. The Gatwick Express website says that:
“With your First Class rail ticket you can take advantage of power sockets throughout and complimentary Wi-Fi, meaning you can send those last minute emails before you hop on your flight.”
Gatwick Express Website
This in itself is true, but you can take advantage of exactly the same facilities in Standard Class. Considering that Gatwick Express is the ‘premium’ operator on the route, this is perhaps a little disappointing! We wouldn’t recommend paying the extra. You can found out more in our guide to the best train to Gatwick Airport.
Is it worth it? Not in our opinion.
While we’ve covered the best First Class train in the UK (and the not so good), there are two other experiences that are worth mentioning…
Great Western Railway Pullman Dining
While Great Western Railway might not be winning the ‘best First Class train in the UK’ award, if you’re willing to pay a little extra, then they might win the award for some of the best dining.
With main courses such as Thai Green Curry and Herb-crusted Haddock, this is a ‘proper’ restaurant-style service!
On selected services between London Paddington and Plymouth/Swansea, you can pay £33.95 for two courses or £39.95 for three, and take a seat in a First Class carriage to enjoy your meal. First Class customers are able to reserve in advance, while those in Standard Class can walk-up on the day if there’s spare seats.
You can click here to find out more about the Pullman dining service.
Transport for Wales
Transport for Wales are currrently in the process of introducing First Class onto their long-distance services, having just had a single ‘Premier’ return journey between Holyhead and Cardiff Central for a number of years.
Once their new trains are introduced, you’ll also be able to travel in First Class between Manchester and South Wales. Complimentary drinks and snacks are available, and you can currently also order hot food on board.
It’s £10 for breakfast, £17 for a two-course lunch/dinner and £20 for three courses.
Is there anything else I should know about booking First Class trains?
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Disclaimer: All opinions expressed within this post are not to be taken as statements of fact. Your experiences may differ or vary from the ones that we’ve described. All First Class complimentary offers are subject to availability. All First Class complimentary offer information is correct at the time of writing (20/10/2022) and some information was last updated 23/06/2023.