Avanti vs LNER First Class – which is better?
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 want 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 sit 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 menu on Avanti West Coast can vary, depending on whether you’re travelling on a Voyager or Pendolino train. It’s a bit more limited 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 Dine menu 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 online and 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 of 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 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 of 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.
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 finding the best First Class train, our Top 5 Tips for getting cheaper fares, upgrading on board and even how to use First Class for free.
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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.