Virgin Trains East Coast First Class (York – London Kings Cross)
I’d planned to spend about half my trip up in Northern England, but ultimately I did want to swing by London during my trip to the UK, so I’d booked advance tickets from York to London – those are the non-changeable/refundable tickets that usually go on sale about 12-24 weeks before date of travel. I was lucky enough to snag them at £14 each, as opposed to the £80ish or so you might expect to pay if purchased on the spot. Even among advance tickets the pricing is rather variable – I’m guessing that prices are tiered according to how many advance tickets have already been sold on that particular train.
(I find that it’s pretty safe purchasing advance tickets for a mid-trip journey – I’d tried the same thing with my train from Manchester Airport but ended up buying on the spot anyway. Since plane arrival times are less certain, I think it might be better to stick to a flexible ticket for arrival connections.)
Anyhow, as mentioned in previously, a week before the day of travel I received an email offering me the chance to upgrade to first class for the cool price of £15. I’m not entirely sure how I got the offer – it seems that Virgin Trains East Coast has a First Class weekend upgrade offer, but since I was travelling on a weekday I guess it might just have been a routine targeted offer to up-sell unused inventory?
If so, it was pretty effective, since I decided to bite the bullet pretty quickly. £29 for a £140ish value experience? Sign me up! (Side note – I find train tickets hard to valuate precisely due to the many pricing tiers available, depending on how restrictive your fare is.)
Unfortunately, York station does not have a first class lounge, so I missed the chance to check out that perk associated with a first class train ticket. I could technically have gone into the one at London Kings Cross upon arrival, but at that point I was more interested in checking out the hotel. Don’t think I missed all that much, really – it seems similar enough to an airport lounge, but for a 2h journey on a roomy train it doesn’t really seem all that essential.
(Image from Virgin Trains East Coast website)
Since there weren’t any special facilities at the station, the approach to the train was pretty standard.
The first class carriages were nearer the front of the train, so there was actually more walking required to get there! Train carriages looks pretty much the same from the outside, so everything felt pretty normal up to this point…
…upon boarding the train, the differences became apparent.
For comparison, here’s a picture of the seats in standard class, below. The first class seats are wider, have more legroom and are upholstered in leather – relatively small differences, but the increase in comfort was noticeable. Similar to regional business class on a plane, I suppose?
(Image from Forbo Flooring Transport)
There wasn’t all that many people in the carriage, so we got a table (which usually seats four) to ourselves.
So with all that extra space, it was pretty easy getting comfortable for the journey ahead.
On top of all that, travelling in first class grants access to free onboard WiFi, which was actually pretty useful given that we cut through some less-developed areas with spotty mobile coverage, so WiFi provided a more stable internet connection throughout the entire journey.
One of the other perks of first class train travel is complimentary food and drinks. Apologies for the substandard pictures of the menu items – it’s probably easier to browse the offerings on the Virgin Trains East Coast website.
I had the lamb & vegetable stew which I thought was actually pretty good, but the serving size is pretty small so I consider it something in between a snack and a proper meal. Definitely not the multi-course offering you get on a plane.
Still, pretty tasty, and good enough to get by until (early) dinner.
I enjoyed my first class train experience, and would be willing to pay ~£15 again for another upgrade. However, any higher and I think it probably makes more sense to stick to the standard carriage – the extra money is probably better spent getting a proper meal before boarding the train, if possible.