I was fortunate to travel first class from Dundee to London in May this year. The first time ever I have travelled this way as I simply could not afford it. We had a city break saver deal which included hotel accommodation and we were allocated first class train tickets as part of the deal - which was extremely reasonable, probably cost less than a standard rail fare to London. We were offered countless cups of free tea, coffee, juice, water - still or sparkling and biscuits. We were also given the free newspaper too. The compartment was quite empty and we did have seats booked although we would have still managed to find a seat if the seats had not been booked. You have the option to purchase food and waitresses will deliver this to your table. Waitresses also come and clear your table after you have had refreshments. You also have unlimited wi-fi access on the train which is great if you are commuting with your laptop, although some compartments do not have the wi-fi access so you should check once you get seated. There is much more leg room in the compartments and I think the seats are slightly bigger than standard class. There are deals out there offering first class tickets at a knock down price so it is always best to ask what the difference is when booking tickets as I would pay a little more for the convenience of it......but not over the top prices as it just is not worth that. On the downside, the toilets were disappointing for some reason I thought they would be nice and clean but unfortunately they were just as filthy after the long journey as standard class toilets. On our return journey home, we went into the VIP lounge at Kings Cross which is for first class customers. We had not realised at the time that this was an additional charge, but we did not have to pay. You have the full use of comfy chairs, internet access, tea, coffee and biscuits in a cosy room whilst waiting for you train so no hanging around a noisy platform.
Ok, let me first say I am not fortunate enough to travel first class off my own back. I only travel first class when I am travelling through work and I have only been in my job for ten weeks now. So what I'm trying to say is I'm not used to it and I definitely don't take it for granted.
The first time I booked my train tickets at work I felt really guilty selecting first class, especially when I saw the price difference. I travel from Sheffield to London about once a week and it adds just over £100 onto my journey.
So, is it worth the £100 extra?
Well, basically the differences between First Class and Standard are a piece of fabric with the word 'First' on it and lots of weak luke warm tea.
However, what seperates the two is the level of service you receive in First Class. As soon as you get on the train you are offered a 'Times' in the morning and an 'Evening Standard' in an afternoon/evening. Yes, I'll admit the cost of the paper hardly dints the £100 price difference.
You have the option of ordering your breakfast and having it brought to your table, small touch but much better than queueing up whilst trying to answer and email on your Blackberry.
A few weeks ago my train was stuck behind another train that had broken down. We were stood on the track for about an hour, in that time we had two rounds of tea/coffee brought down biscuits and savoury snacks. This makes the whole experience seem less stressful.
You get much more leg room when you are sat in First Class, which results in a much more comfortable journey. There is also only ever three seats in any row, as opposed to four in standard. This means the seats are more spacious. You also have the option of sitting in a seat on it's own, not sitting next to anyone else. Good for when you want to read some papers, or simply feel like being unsociable.
Another factor which I like is the fact that not alot of people sit in First Class. This means that if you miss your allocated train with your seat reservation you have a good chance of being able to sit in an unreserved seat. Anyone who has travelled home from London in heels, with a suitcase and stood up all the way will know how important this is.
However, I only travel First Class when I am travelling a fair way. If I am travelling between Sheffield and Leeds I do not bother. Its only 40 mins which is barely time for one cup of tea, so in my opinion not worth the extra money.
All in all First Class is good and essential if you are travelling quite a way on a regular basis. But if you are travelling for social reasons I wouldn't bother, you can relax when you get there, so don't part with your cash.
First of all I must explain that I am fortunate enough to get free train travel on first class as well as standard class. My Dad used to work for British Rail and was given free train passes for the whole family when he left. Ive had quite a lot of experience travelling on trains as I often meet up with my boyfriend in London (he lives in Hastings and I live up north) for the day. Also, as its free to travel I can take trips to places more often than perhaps people who have to pay for the privilege. This review is going to describe the benefits of first class compared to standard class, but also whether, if I had to pay, I would actually travel first class.
I am mainly going to talk about Virgin trains when I talk about first class as this is the train company I use to do most of my travelling to and from London.
~ The Perks ~
First class train travel. I more often than not travel first class when Im travelling to London. What are the perks? For starters the cheapest ticket from Manchester to London at 8.45am first class would be £168.50 and the cheapest ticket standard class would be £58.50, therefore first class is relatively empty compared to standard class. Therefore there is more room, its more than likely that youll be unsorrounded by other people where you sit either at tables of two or four, and will thus have more leg room and room to put your bags. Another benefit is that it is relatively quiet as there are less people, and Ive found that the majority of first class travellers when I travel are lone business men and there are no drunken groups of leering men (always a bonus!). Also, every seat has a table with a plug socket for mobiles or laptops.
In first class you will get a free Times newspaper be warned though, if you get on a train that has come from Scotland, the chances are you will get the Scottish Times which is essentially a times newspaper but some of the articles are different. You will also receive complimentary food and drink. Depending on what time of day you travel and where you are travelling to and from, you will sometimes get a meal included. Free of course. I will give you an example of the breakfast meal (9am 11am) you are served on a Pendilino in the morning ~ you have the option of having an English breakfast bacon, egg, tomatoe, mushrooms, rosti, sausage; bacon/ egg/ sausage on toast; smoked salmon and scrambled egg; fresh fruit; toast. All customers are served toast/ croissants. There is also a variety of drinks to choose from orange, grapefruit, tea coffee. There are different meals at different times of the day
~ The Journey
First class is usually at the front of the train going into London, and the rear of the train departing London. There is sometimes a greeter who steps of the train at each platform and welcomes you to the train with Good morning maam/sir. The first thing you notice is there isnt that rush to find a seat when you board first class like there can be in standard class, especially on London trains. Ill normally choose a two-seat section (two seats, on facing the other with a table in between) as I travel alone on the way to London. If the train is serving a meal (i.e. if youre on a breakfast/ lunch/ dinner train), there will be a cup on a mini rectangular plate with a coaster, spoon, and mini hand towel in a packet on the right hand side; a place mat with fork plus two knives above. By the window is a mini stand light (which lights up when dark), sugar, salt, and pot of marmalade.
Once the train pulls away from the platform, two of the staff will come round offering you tea/ coffee with/without milk and pour you a cup. Then someone will come round and take your breakfast order. Usually there is someone who will come round a few minutes later offering you any toast or croissants. On the train there are mini fridges with bottles of water in the them, and you can also get the paper (not out of the fridge obviously!). Breakfast is normally brought round about 20 mins half an hour after you ordered and is always delicious! Its served at your table and fresh orange/ grapefruit juice normally follows soon after. The staff are very friendly and if youve run out of drink or would like more toast theyre usually very obliging.
I always arrive at London feeling well fed (saves me money on breakfast and lunch!) and relaxed, which is more than I can say when I travel standard class. The evening trains are much the same except there is a wider variety of drinks alcoholic, non-alcoholic, and tea and coffee. I drink red wine and find the wine on the train quite nice, its obviously not fantastic, but its not offensive!
Being at the front of the train when arriving in London means you avoid the hundreds of people racing to get to work etc., and also being at the rear of the train when leaving London means you are closer to getting on the train than everyone else!
~ Is it worth it? ~
If I had to pay for my travel I would definitely travel standard class. Standard class is definitely not as good as first class by any stretch of the imagination, but I dont think that first class is worth the extra £100. Perhaps if you were doing a 7 hour journey from Edinburgh to Penzance for some reason then it may be worth it, if only for the food and the extra room, but for a two hour journey to London its not worth it. If youre a business traveller then it may be worth joining the Virgin Traveller Club for a measly £6000 a year and sitting in first class. Unless you have money to throw around, or you often misplace hundreds of pounds (as you do), then I wouldnt pay for first class.
Yes, standard class may have less leg room, be filled with screaming children and drunken male gangs, be less clean, and generally a lower standard of travelling, but its worth saving that extra £100 you could have a mini spa treatment and buy yourself a new top for that money to calm you down when you arrive!
However for now (as I watch you go green with envy!) I will stick to my free first class trains as they are more pleasant than standard class. Though in 5 years (when my pass gets taken away because Ill be 25) I will be back to travelling standard class everywhere.