How to travel in First Class for free
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:
- 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, Southeastern doesn’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 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, some routes around Sussex 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.
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 our Top 5 Tips for getting cheaper fares and upgrading on board. We’ve also compared Avanti West Coast and LNER, as well as Standard Premium and First Class.
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.
Change 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.