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Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class

Wondering which upgrade is best for you on Avanti West Coast? Let us do the legwork.
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Avanti West Coast is 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 tickets that skip this step and allow you to pay for everything at once.

It’s worth knowing that Standard Premium is only available on Pendolino trains. So, it isn’t available on any services to Chester, Holyhead, Shrewsbury or Wrexham General, as well as selected services between London and Birmingham. 

What’s the difference between Avanti Standard Premium vs First Class?

In a nutshell, Standard Premium is the same environment, you get a 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, a 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 as the bacon. They were both ‘meaty’ and were of 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.

Final thoughts

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.

Lounge Access

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 menu for the lounges which you can view online. The lounge at London Euston has a different menu with 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-Peak fare 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 in 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: that 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 don’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.

Are there any Avanti West Coast trains without Standard Premium?

There are a small number of Pendolino services which have very limited or no Standard Premium fares. This isn’t openly advertised, but from our findings, these are the most common services where it isn’t offered (weekdays only):

  • 04:28 Glasgow Central to London Euston, 16:30/17:30 London Euston to Glasgow Central
  • 06:31/06:55/07:15 Manchester Picc to London Euston, 18:53 London Euston to Manchester Picc
  • 06:43 Liverpool Lime Street to London Euston
  • 07:17/07:21 Birmingham New Street to London Euston.

Is there anything else I should know?

Looking to know more about First Class? Take a look at our dedicated page for First Class train travel. We’re here to help with upgrading on board, tips to help you get a cheaper fare and even how to travel in First Class for free. We’ve also compared Avanti West Coast and LNER.

So, are you ready to take a trip? Railsmartr doesn’t believe in adding any fees. No booking fees, no admin fees and no fees for all of the useful information and insider tips that we have about travelling by train!

Change your mind? No problem. If your ticket is refundable and you haven’t used it, you get the entire value of your ticket back. If it isn’t refundable, you can change it without any extra charges. Just buy another one, send us the details of both bookings and we’ll refund the cheaper ticket. No questions, no quibbles.

Author Richard

Hi, I'm Richard and I've been working for Railsmartr since 2022. I make sure that everything we communicate with customers is top-notch and write exciting and informative content for the website. When I'm not at work, you'll still find me on the rails - though often in the far corners of Europe!