Monday 2 July 2012

First Value? Worst Value?

Wildly Different Standards.
If you can afford it, first class looks very attractive. The pictures of the food choices from Virgin are truly mouthwatering, a reminder of fbb's more youthful days when full breakfast was available on most "intercity" lines; and in second (now "standard") class, too.
A regular monthly meeting involving a journey from Sheffield to London was routinely enhanced by sit-down lunch which, with a second pot of tea, could be strung out to give first class seating at a second class day return price for most of the journey!
fbb and Mrs had booked "Advance" first from Portsmouth to Largs for their recent holiday. But there is a snag if they were hoping for sumptuous food. In the above adverts, note those dreaded words "on Mondays to Fridays". 

On their outward journey, the fbbs were diverted via the East Coast line and here, again, the inviting inclusive food offers seemed very attractive ...
... but were replaced at weekends by this:-
The 1030 from Kings Cross to Edinburgh was too late for the "light breakfast" so it was sarnies and stuff only for over four hours of travel. The sandwiches were offered three times on the journey, the selection of drinks four times; adequate quantities but well below Monday to Friday expectations. There was a massive choice of sarnie, cheese "ploughmans" or tuna "mayo", a choice of two sorts of posh crisps (small packet) and a choice of two sorts of posh biscuits (small packet). At least the tea/coffee was served in real cups!

Fbb and Mrs were on a cheap fare offer, so perhaps they got what their fare deserved; but had they paid the full fare of £363.60 (and that's with Senior Railcard discount) the above weekend offering would have been an insult.

The return journey was with Virgin and, frankly, the provision was a disgrace.
For the whole journey from Glasgow to London, the offer was two visits with tea or coffee from a cardboard cup, and (very) small bag of posh crisps and a (very) small pack of shortcake biscuits. A third trolley-call was made with one (small) bottle of water.
Apparently it was a fruitless season on June 30th. Compared with East Coast trains' barely adequate weekend service this was like something out of an Eastern European seedy spy story.

By comparison, Scotrail between Edinburgh and Glasgow (on a 50 minute run) offered fruit juice, bottled water, tea or coffee and a mini pack of something eminently nibblable.

Southwest Trains, super meanies that they are, offer nothing except a nice blue antimacassar. fbb was tempted to rush out and buy some macassar so he could get value for money on the return run.
Sadly, this useful pre-Brylcreme product seemed unavailable in Boots at Waterloo.

But here's another railway fares anomaly.

Portsmouth Harbour to Largs
first class anytime return
with senior railcard

Portsmouth Harbour to Glasgow Central
first class anytime return
with senior railcard
But there are no first class seats between Glasgow and Largs, so is this add-on for unavailable first or standard travel?
fbb's conclusion is simply this. Proper full price first class is a complete waste of money at weekends. The choice is a toss-up between "advance" first class, or standard class and a "weekend first" upgrade. The only real benefit is a little more comfort, a little more space, and (usually) a more peaceful environment.
Virgin first class seating
But you do get a nice blue antimacassar from Southwest Trains.
similar to SouthWest Trains first class luxury

But, once upon a time ...
... first class was really classy; look at those lovely deep-sprung seats.
 Next Blog : Tuesday 3rd July 


  1. Thank you for an excellent account of your adventures in Largs.

    But, sorry, am I missing something here?

    If the fare to Largs is £363, and to Glasgow
    £357.70p, the difference is £5.30p.

    So if it's £9.50 from Glasgow to Largs,you're getting £4.20p discount on the standard fare by booking through. Fares usually decrease pro-rata the further you travel.

  2. Apologies, Stuart. I typed that bit at 0500 this morning before the brain was working. I have corrected the original.

  3. My experience of first class is not consistent, even by operator; it seems to depend very much on the individual crews. Some come by several times; as with fbb's return experience, some have a more minimalist approach.

    However, there is another difference, in that Virgin's first class lounges will admit passengers with most types of first class ticket, whereas East Coast is rather more restrictive. Not sure of the situation on the other operators.

  4. Through First Class rail fares that included sections of route where is was Standard (or even 2nd or 3rd)were adjusted to reflect the difference in service. With each TOC setting fares now it is not so clear if is still done.

    My experience of East Coast to Edinburgh last year was that breakfast northbound was excellent but the evening offering southbound was dismal. Taking a 1600 from Edinburgh the crew insisted on serving everyone immediately and everything was cleared away between Berwick and Newcastle. More people got on at Newcastle and were served, but the offer of a further cup of coffee for anyone did not come until south of Doncaster. It would have been better to space out the service so we didn't have to eat so early and then have several hours of nothing.

  5. Following all the weather problems on both East and West Coast lines on Thursday and Friday, you were probably lucky to get a First Class service at all on Saturday. Judging from the Virgin Trains Twitter site, many trains had First de-classified on both Saturday and Sunday and there seemed to be general disgruntlement all round !

    Did your actual journey pass relatively smoothly ?

  6. The return journey (1040 from Glasgow Central) was inexplicably sluggish between Glasgow and Carstairs thus 8 down at Carlisle. Further running at less than line speed made is 15 late into Euston. But, in view of the week's weather we were glad to get there! Despite closure of the Northern Line via Charing Cross we were back on the Island on time. I still think that provision in First Class is very poor at Weekends!

  7. The 'SouthWest Trains' first class cabin pictured is actually a Class 377 from Southern... And that is first class...

  8. Anonymous, I did say "similar" to SouthWest Trains - I forgot to photograph the blue antimacassar and could find none on-line.