Is First Class worth it on European trains is a commonly asked question. Though due to the varieties of enhanced comfort and on board service, it doesn't have a definitive answer, but more often than not, it will be a yes.
There are huge variations between the travel experience in First Class on European trains, so multiple factors need to be considered when attempting to provide an answer to the question, ‘Are First Class train tickets worth the money?’
These factors include:
As with the prices of many 2nd class tickets, the prices of 1st class tickets can vary hugely according to demand; cheaper prices can be available on different dates, and on your travel date the prices can also vary between departures.
So it can pay off to make a comprehensive search for the best deal; I recently spent more than an hour tracking down the cheapest possible First Class price for a train journey from the Scottish Highlands to London.
The variations between the prices of First and Second Class tickets don’t always mirror each other, if you see a good Second Class price, don’t assume that the cheapest possible First Class price will be available for the same departure.
Particularly keep this in mind on booking services on which the 1st class price is sold as an added extra to the Second Class price.
Booking First Class tickets can actually be great value for money.
That ticket from Scotland and London cost £14 more than a Second Cass ticket, but it included complimentary food and drink throughout the journey, which would have cost in excess of £14 if each item had been purchased at the on board bar counter.
Users of First Class Eurail and InterRail passes save more in comparison to the ticket costs than users of Second class rail passes.
Children can travel for free, at various ages, when travelling with Adult ticket purchasers on many European trains and this also applies when an adult books first class tickets; so don’t assume that first class will be an adults only travel environment, particularly when travelling at weekends and during school holidays.
Travelling in first class is also the only means of accessing these travel benefits; when they are available on a route:
Less obvious benefits of travelling first class can include:
On regional trains the difference between second and first class can seem marginal, but what you are partially paying for by booking first class tickets is this increased likelihood of finding a seat at all.
When travelling with my 75 year old mother I spent €4 more for each of us for a journey from Vicenza to Venice on a Regionale train, and it paid off because we were able to find seats on a train on which second class was standing room only, so the €8 of additional cost was worth every cent.
On the slow trains on scenic routes, first class can seem an expensive luxury, but it can pay off when crossing a near empty carriage / coach, in order to make the most of the scenery on both sides of the journey.
There can be a misconception that first class tickets include a meal service, but this isn’t always the case on European trains.
When an at-seat meal service is available there can also be variations as to whether it is included in the ticket price, or whether any items of food and drink that are ordered have to then be paid for.
Also on some trains a complimentary breakfast will be available, but no meals will be served at other times.
Hence this breakdown of whether a catering service is or isn’t included, when booking first class tickets; and whether any catering is available at all.
This service is available on these trains:
and on the TFW Rail trains on the North Wales ↔ South Wales route.
Uses of first class rail passes, who have paid the mandatory reservation fees (which are not required on the British trains) will also be served the complimentary catering.
On these trains the full restaurant menu can be ordered from on-board attendant, who will then deliver the food/drink to your seat:
On these trains the catering attendant will likely pass through the train asking passengers if they want to order a coffee or other drink, but this is an opportunity to request other items.
Or a chain reaction occurs in which passenger will order a meal and then other travelers respond to this when they see the meal being served.
But on other journeys which SMTJ has experienced, the catering attendant has been out-of-sight and therefore out-of-mind; there will be usually be a button available which can be used to summon the catering attendant, so if you want to order a meal, don’t be afraid to push it.
On the Nova trains operated by TPE in the UK, passengers travelling first class can order sandwiches, snacks and drinks, from a catering service which is not available to second class passengers.
This service is available on these trains:
On the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish trains there will be either a help-yourself drinks service, or travelers will be issued with vouchers which can be used at a bar counter, but on the other trains the catering attendant will pass through the train
Note the trains missing from those lists above include the TGV trains in France and the InterCity (IC) services in France, Germany and Switzerland.
The Swiss IC trains convey restaurant cars, so if you want to have a meal during a journey you can save money by booking second class tickets and then travelling in the restaurant car for most of your journey.
On some trains, not included on the above lists, the passengers in first class will be able to order and pay for items from a catering trolley, which can be taken through the train, but the same items and prices will also be available to travelers in second / standard class.
Though one unusual aspect of the first class seating saloon is that comparatively few seats are at tables.
Also first class ticket holders can access station lounges.
When booking tickets on the OBB website, you can choose to add ‘First Class’ as an extra feature, and doing so has a fixed price of €10, €20 or €30 which is priced according to demand, as well as the length of the journey.
This first class upgrade rate can also be out of sync with the Standard Class prices, which are the only prices initially shown.
A more expensive Standard Class departure can have a 1st class upgrade price of only €10, while a departure with a cheaper standard class price can have a 1st class upgrade price of €20.
So it can pay to compare the total costs of the Standard Class ticket + 1st class upgrade across different departures.
Travelling with kids can be exceptionally good value on Railjet trains, an adult adding a 1st class upgrade to discounted Sparschiene ticket can take up to four children aged 14 and under with them at no extra charge.
On the majority of Belgian trains the difference between first and second class seats can be comparatively marginal, with more legroom being the only on board benefit.
Though on most of the trains used on the Ostend – Bruges – Ghent – Brusses – Liege – Eupen route, the first class seating is 2 + 1 across the aisle.
Reservations are not available on Belgian trains, including the IC express services, so a key benefit of booking first class tickets is the greater likelihood of being able to find available seats
When travelling by express (SC, IC and EC) trains in Czechia there is a clear distinction between travelling first and second class.
The national rail operator, CD, provides different types of train services and each of them has a distinct first class offering.
On the LeoExpress and Regiojet trains, which compete with CD’s services, travelers who book their equivalents of First Class receive a complimentary welcome drink and snack.
Though what is comparatively unusual in France is that there are no complimentary catering benefits with first class tickets.
Also Premiere Class tickets do not provide access to station lounges; these are one of the two key benefits of booking Business Premiere tickets, the other being the greater flexibility in terms of ticket refund and cancellations.
On the iconic ICE trains the benefits which are only available to first class ticket holders are:
Though a key benefit of booking first class tickets for ICE, IC and journeys within and to/from Germany by EC trains, is that complimentary reservations are included.
When booking second class tickets seat reservations are optional and need to be added to a booking at a cost of €4 per seat; so if you’ll want to reserve, factor this in when comparing the price of travelling first and second class.
Holders of first class tickets can also access the lounges which are available at every hauptbahnhof (main station).
On British long-distance rail services it is the operators of the trains which set the level of first class service; so you can use this guide as to what they offer; and this guide which will you on which routes you’ll find their trains.
Though in summary, when travelling with the companies which operate the ‘commuter routes’ to/from London including Greater Anglia, Southern and South West Railways, the key benefits of travelling first class are the enhanced legroom and the increased likelihood of finding available seats when boarding.
On the trains operated by Avanti West Coast, GWR and LNER a key additional benefit of travelling first class is the at-seat complimentary catering, which on some departures can be three course hot meals, similar to what would be served in the restaurant cars on other European trains.
On the Frecce and the Intercity trains operated by Trenitalia and the Italo trains operated by NTV, the primary benefit of booking first class tickets is the enhanced comfort, though what is unusual about the Frecciarossa; the Freciarossa 1000 and Italo trains is that they offer four class of accommodation instead of two.
There is a distinct contrast between the standard /second class and Business / Prima Class seating saloons on these trains; these Business / Prima classes are closest to the equivalent of first class areas of other European high speed trains.
On Trenitalia’s Frecce trains a complimentary welcome drink and snack is served in Business Class, but you have to travel in Executive Class on the Frecciarossa and Freciarossa 1000 trains to have access to an at seat catering service.
Though a less obvious benefit of the Business and Executive Class on those Frecce trains, as well as in the Prima and Business Classes on the Italo trains, is the additional luggage storage space.
PKP manages the national express train services in Poland and on its EIC and EIP services the difference between travelling first and second class is comparatively obvious.
On the EIP trains a light meal service is complimentary and the full restaurant menu is also available as an at-seat service.
On the EIC trains the complimentary light meal isn’t served, but the full on board menu can be ordered from the catering attendant.
Prémium tickets are only available on Monday to Friday on the AVE and the Euromed services, because if you book one of these tickets you will be served a complimentary light meal at your seat, but this meal service is not available at weekends.
On these AVE and Euromed trains and the Alvia express services, ‘Elige’ tickets can be ‘upgraded to travel in Comfort Class, which is the equivalent of 1st Class.
So when travelling on the AVE and Euromed services on Monday to Friday, if you want to travel in Comfort Class, you can either upgrade an Elige ticket, or book a Premium ticket; both tickets give access to the same seating areas.
When upgrading an Elige ticket to Comfort Class you are primarily paying for the enhanced on-board comfort; wider seats arranged 2+1 across the aisle and more legroom.
On the Swiss IC and IR train services the contrast between first and second class is only particularly stark on the older single deck trains, but aside from the wider seats and additional legroom, the core benefit of booking first class can be the enhanced possibility of finding spare seats on busy trains
Comparatively few Swiss train travelers bother to make reservations, as booking them is an extra cost and the process is outside of the usual booking path.
But as first class is less busy generally, finding available seats on any departure is virtually guaranteed.
Despite the inclusion of restaurant cars on the IC services, an at seat meal service is not available in first class.
On the majority of Dutch trains the difference between first and second class seats can be comparatively marginal, with more legroom being the only on board benefit.
Reservations are not available on Dutch trains, including the IC express services, so a key benefit of booking first class tickets is the greater likelihood of being able to find available seats.
These international train services offer additional benefits to travelling in enhanced comfort; wider seats, more leg-room, seats arranged 2+1 across the aisle:
On the routes between Paris and Frankfurt (Main), Stuttgart and Munich passengers travelling first class can access an at seat catering service; though on the ICE trains used for some departures on the Paris ↔ Frankfurt (Main) route the choice is more extensive, as these trains have restaurant cars
EC (Switzerland - Germany/Austria)
On the EC trains which operate on the Zurich ↔ Graz and the Switzerland ↔ north Germany via Koblenz and Bonn routes, some of the first class seating is in observation cars.
On the Eurostar services both Standard Premier and Business Premier ticket holders are served a complimentary light meal and there is no difference to the on-board ambience.
The core additional benefits of Business Premier tickets are:
On the Lyria train services between Paris and Switzerland and on the Thalys train services between Paris and Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands, a complimentary light meal is served to Business Class ticket holders.
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