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Cheap First Class train tickets – Our Top Tips

Looking for luxury on a budget? Look no further with these tips.
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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 to Standard Class, too. Let’s take a look at an example where we’re travelling from York a month in advance:

lner ticket prices between york and london on railsmartr

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:

lner train price between york and edinburgh on railsmartr, showing a cheap first class fare

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 Central instead:

grand central train price between york and london on railsmartr

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 here and southbound trains here.

4. Try Standard Premium

Did you know that Avanti West Coast gives 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.

interior of standard premium on avanti west coast, which is an alternative for cheap first class train travel

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 Advance tickets 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 Class so 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:

cheap first class train tickets on lner between york and newcastle on railsmartr

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.

6. Hop into First Class for free! 

Of course, the best way to get cheap first-class train travel is to not pay any extra at all! This doesn’t mean that you can jump into any seat you want, but there are certain ‘First Class experiences’ available on the railway. This normally happens when there isn’t any First Class advertised on the route or the company has abolished First Class but not changed the layout of the train. 

There are two examples worth knowing about if you’re making a long-distance trip. Let’s take a look at them: 

Chiltern Railways

This is probably the most comfortable way to travel between Birmingham and London. If you’re in the know, then you can snag a former ‘Business Zone’ seat for the price of a Standard Class ticket! It’s a pretty comfortable-looking place to watch the scenery go by: 

Chiltern Business Zone 

It used to be the case that you’d pay an upgrade fee to sit here, but this no longer happens. It’s available on these trains (correct to the end of May 2024): 


  • 06:14 Stourbridge Junction – London Marylebone
  • 07:15, 11:45, 12:45 Birmingham Moor St – London Marylebone
  • 07:46 Princes Risborough – London Marylebone
  • 09:02, 10:02 London Marylebone – Birmingham Moor St
  • 17:07, 18:02 London Marylebone – Stourbridge Junction.


  • 07:14, 14:43 Birmingham Moor St – London Marylebone
  • 08:19 Stourbridge Junction – London Marylebone
  • 12:02 London Marylebone – Birmingham Moor St
  • 18:02, 19:32 London Marylebone – Stourbridge Junction.


  • 09:38, 10:42 Stourbridge Junction – London Marylebone
  • 17:37, 18:37 London Marylebone – Stourbridge Junction.
Stansted Express 

In the past couple of years, first-class fares have been removed from everything except the London to Norwich route on the Greater Anglia network. However, a few Stansted services use the Norwich trains (with First Class carriages) each weekday. 

As there aren’t any first-class fares on this route, you can sit in these carriages with a Standard Class ticket. You’ll find seating in a more spacious 2+1 layout: 

Greater Anglia first class

Here’s when these trains run (weekdays only): 

  • 05:10, 07:23, 16:10, 18:24, 20:40, 22:40 Liverpool St – Stansted Airport 
  • 06:15, 08:30, 17:15, 19:30, 21:45, 23:45 Stansted Airport – Liverpool Street.

Looking for more tips? We’ve got a dedicated guide on travelling in First Class for free.

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, too. We’ve also compared Avanti West Coast and LNER.

The final thing we’d recommend is using the Railsmartr website 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.

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!