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First Class train travel

We all love a little bit of luxury, especially when we’re travelling by train. That’s why First Class train travel can be so attractive, even more so if it doesn’t cost the Earth. So, what can you expect to get? Is it worth it? Can you sample it for free? We’re here to answer all of your questions about First Class train travel in Great Britain.

Which companies offer First Class train travel?

First of all, it’s good to know who offers First Class as an option. Here’s a list of all the companies where you can enjoy an upgrade:

  • Avanti West Coast
  • CrossCountry
  • East Midlands Railway (InterCity trains only)
  • Gatwick Express
  • Grand Central
  • Great Northern
  • Greater Anglia (Norwich – London only)
  • Great Western Railway (some routes only)
  • Heathrow Express
  • Hull Trains
  • LNER
  • ScotRail (long-distance trains only)
  • Southern
  • South Western Railway (except suburban services)
  • Thameslink
  • TransPennine Express
  • Transport for Wales (selected long distance trains only).

Is First Class worth it? Who offers the best product?

This is a great question. After all, you can expect a hot meal and a cheeky glass of wine on some companies. You won’t have to pay a penny extra, either. On others though, your seat might look exactly the same, the experience might be exactly the same and you might be wondering why you bothered in the first place.

In a nutshell, companies like LNER and Avanti West Coast give you a more ‘substantial’ meal. The First Class experience is all about the bells and whistles. What’s more, the seats will be bigger, comfier and give you an opportunity to stretch out and relax:

first class carriage on an avanti west coast pendolino train

Meanwhile, on Southern, you might get a door separating you from Standard Class. On some trains, you won’t even get that!

So, how do you know when First Class train travel is worth it? Well, we’ve put together a definitive list of all of them, in order to tell you which we think is the best First Class train. You shouldn’t leave things like this down to a surprise when you board! We’ve even done a direct comparison of LNER and Avanti West Coast.

Can I upgrade on the train?

Some companies will give you the option to upgrade to First Class on the day. Usually, this is only possible on weekends and Bank Holidays, and it’s known as Weekend First. However, some companies, such as LNER, will allow you to upgrade for a flat fee on the train, no matter what day of the week it is.

This is all subject to availability, so you’ll need to be able to find an unreserved First Class seat. We’d recommend checking out our page about upgrading on the train, so that you can find out more about who offers these cheaper upgrades, and when you can take advantage of them.

Can I try First Class train travel for free?

There are some occasions where you might be able to try First Class train travel for free. This will usually be because the route you’re using isn’t advertised as having First Class.

We’ve written about all of the times that you can use First Class for free. This includes some routes in Scotland, as well as a lot of local trains to and from London. Our favourite example is Thameslink. The rear First Class compartment is always counted as Standard Class, so there’s never any need to pay extra. You’ll get bigger seats and access to power sockets:

first class area on a thameslink train

Travelling with West Midlands Trains or Southeastern? They’ve recently abolished First Class. You might still find some bigger-looking seats on their trains, but they just count as Standard Class now.

How can I get cheaper First Class train travel?

There are some things that you can do to get a cheaper fare. For example, if you travel down to London on a Friday morning, it’s likely to be quieter compared to other days of the week. It’s also worth looking for last-minute fares, as companies try to fill up spare seats.

Why not take a look at our Top 5 tips for cheaper fares?

Are there any alternatives to First Class train travel?

Yes, there is an alternative if you want to travel in First Class without the First Class price tag. You can try Standard Premium on Avanti West Coast.

It’s identical to a First Class carriage, but you don’t get any free food and drink. You can buy a ticket in advance for Standard Premium, or you can get a Standard Class one and upgrade on the day. Just take a seat and wait for the Train Manager to come around and charge you the fee.

We’ve compared Standard Premium and First Class on Avanti West Coast, so you can work out which option is the best one for you.

I paid for First Class, but I couldn’t use it!

This can be disappointing. After all, you’ve paid for First Class train travel. If you’re not able to sit in First Class, then you’re entitled to compensation. This is set out in the National Rail Conditions of Travel, under Section 31:

If you have a first class ticket and the train service you use is shown as offering first class accommodation at www.nationalrail.co.uk, but when you travel first class accommodation is not provided or is otherwise fully occupied, you may claim a refund. The minimum refund to which you will be entitled will be the difference between the price of the first class ticket purchased and the cheapest valid standard class walk-up fare available on the service you used. You must contact the Train Company you travelled with to notify them of your claim within 28 days of the date that you travelled.

National Rail Conditions of Travel, Section 31.1

As stated above, you’d need to contact the train company that you travelled with.

Is there anything else I should know?

Looking to make a journey to London? Don’t worry, we’ve got that covered, too. Take a look at our guide to travelling to London.

The final thing that we’d recommend is that you book your First Class train travel with Railsmartr. We don’t charge any booking fees, refund fees or change fees. Yes, this means that if your ticket is refundable, we’ll refund the entire amount. Why pay more if you’ve changed your mind?