First class train travel offers people a more spacious and quieter environment to travel in than standard class. It is popular with business professionals and people who are travelling over a long distance who want to have a stress and hassle-free journey.

The perks and benefits to travelling first class

First class carriages have less seats than standard carriages, and as a result they offer each passenger a lot more space. You get more legroom in first class and more width. 

It is universal among train companies that first class seats get a table of their own and more recently charging connections for electronic devices. First class passengers are also usually served by a caterer who has a trolley with snacks and drinks, and on some services you get a complimentary refreshment. First class carriages also usually have two larger restrooms.

Benefits to first class in a nutshell:

Less people to interrupt you;

Comfier seat;

More legroom;

A desk to work from;

Adjustable lighting;

Dedicated catering service. 

Differing levels of service by train operator

Taking a look at Virgin Trains’ first class service as an example, it is clear that you get a lot more luxury than when travelling on a standard class ticket. First class with Virgin Trains gets you free high-speed Wi-Fi, seat catering, a lot more legroom, a spacious table of your own, plug points for your electronic devices and complimentary food and drink. And on Monday-Friday, you can grab a full cooked breakfast, lunch or evening meal. 

TransPennine Express offers a similar first class experience to Virgin Trains. With TransPennine Express, you get a wide reclining super-padded seat and a desk. However, on this service there are usually three seats per row which is more than with Virgin Trains. 

In truth, all first class train services are very similar. The only differences are the model of seat you sit on, the space between each seat and the décor. Of course, the level of customer service you experience will also differ by train operator. Some train companies have excellent customer satisfaction rates while others do not. You can view the latest findings on customer satisfaction with train passengers on the Transport Focus website

First Class vs. Standard Class cost

Of course, none of the above perks to first class matter if they come at too high a price. To this end, we’ve done some ticket comparisons with Virgin Trains and TransPennine Express to see how first class tickets compare to standard class tickets in terms of price.

Here’s what we found:

A standard class ticket with Virgin Trains travelling from Leeds to London Kings Cross on an open return on a Monday in June will cost approximately £160. That same ticket but in first class will cost approximately £290 – a price difference of £130.

A standard class ticket with Virgin Trains travelling from Edinburgh to Manchester Piccadilly on an open return on a Monday in June will cost approximately £75. That same ticket but in first class will cost approximately £150 – a price difference of £75

A standard class ticket with TransPennine Express from Liverpool Central to London Kings Cross on an open return on a Monday in June will cost approximately £90. That same ticket but in first class will cost approximately £230 – a price difference of £140

As you can see, you pay a significant premium for first class tickets on longer journeys. But what about shorter journeys? Well, let’s take a look:

A standard class ticket with Virgin Trains travelling from Leeds to Manchester Piccadilly on an open return on a Monday in Junewill cost approximately £20. That same ticket but in first class will cost approximately £50 – a price difference of £30

A standard class ticket with TransPennine Express from Birmingham International to Liverpool Central on an open return on a Monday in June will cost approximately £50. That same ticket but in first class will cost approximately £130 – a price difference of £80.

What this means is that you pay a premium, usually up to 40 per cent, for a first class ticket regardless of whether your journey is over a short distance or a longer distance. However, there are some ways to pay less for first class tickets which we’ll go into below. 

Is there a way to travel first class for less?

Virgin Trains offers a Weekend Upgrade to first class for £15 for shorter routes and £25 for longer routes. So if you are travelling on a weekend you can travel in comfort and style for a lot less than during the week. In addition to Virgin Trains, TransPennine Express let you upgrade your standard class ticket to a first class ticket on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays on payment of a £6.00 supplement in addition to the cost of a standard fare. 

Many other train operators offer similar deals for weekend travellers.

Another way to get a discount is with a Railcard. 16-25, Senior, Two Together, Family and Friends and Disabled Persons Railcard holders can get up to 1/3 off first class tickets on select journeys. You can get a discount at the station or on-board the train so long as you have your Railcard with you or you can book first class tickets in advance and get a discount.

Buying First Class Tickets

You can pre-book first class tickets online or on the telephone with a train operator, or you can buy them at the station or on-board the train.

If you wish to upgrade from standard class to first class, then you can do this on-board the train. You simply have to pay the difference between the price of the single ticket you hold and the cost of the appropriate First Class Single with the ticket collector. Simply notify the ticket inspector that you wish to pay for and travel in first class and this will be taken care of for you. All major train operators accept card payments or cash.