Virgin Trains First Class Reviewed – Not As Expensive As You’d Think

Posted by James Brindle on August 22, 2010.

Right, recently i’ve been taking a bit of flack on FaceBook and off a few colleagues about travelling first class on my North/South journeys so I wanted to put the record straight, all the facts are verfiable and hopefully this will help a few other people out as well when booking train tickets.

Firstly, it’s not as expensive as you’d think.  Back in the good old days when British Rail used to rule the railways, you’d pay £50 to go from London to Preston in standing class or £230+ in First.  You’d go to Euston, walk down the platform and marvel at the 6 or 7 empty coaches with nobody in them near the ramp end of the platform – all those nice shiney seats with the little doylies and the table lamps and nobody in them and yet, coaches A through G packed to the rafters like one of those scenes of an indian railway with people hanging out of the doors and the buffet car in darkness.

Virgin went on a bit of a mission a few years ago and upgraded pretty much all the trains that are rolling to either the Voyager, Super Voyager or Pendolino class.  Standard class have the red seats with plug sockets at most, a headphone socket so you can listen to the on board audio system, half decent PA, electronic signage, clean toilets (at the start of the journey) and a quiet coach.

Lets step aside, what’s the definition of a quiet coach?  According to this page on Virgin’s website, a quiet zone is a place where you can escape the madness, a mobile and personal stereo free zone.  Ok, doesn’t that realistically include people watching DVD’s on Netbooks or Laptops at screeching tinny volumes?  Or shouldn’t it include some people’s kids that won’t shut up whining at the top of their voices – hardly quiet.

Now then, sadly, for standard class customers that’s where the good news ends.  The shop sometimes inexplicably closes on some services or runs out of some foods.  The pricing hasn’t gotten any better than the old BR model and the content is about the same.  The “Shop” does at least stock magazines and self-service product all at slightly premium pricing.

Another thing – reserved seats.  I travel from Preston to Warrington and back every week, nearly every seat says “reserved” on it and yet nobody sitting in it.  Some actually will say “Available until…..”.  Now here’s another thing about train travel – you sit in a seat, somebody comes over to you and says, “i’m sorry that’s my reserved seat” do you challenge them?  No!  You just get up and give them the seat.   I tried an experiment recently and challenged somebody and said, can you just show me your reservation slip please which they couldn’t produce so I said, no slip, no seat, the conductor will have the same opinion.

A lot of the time, people don’t like the seat they’re given, if you book a reserved seat and there’s only one of you travelling, you’ll almost always get allocated an airline style double with a drop down table – most people want a quad seat with big table so they just move.

My advice – the only seat seeming to be free is the two drop down ones in Coach C next to the disabled toilet – admittedly you’ll have to put up with everyone asking if you’re waiting for the loo but at least you’re not being thrown all over!

Now then, lets get back to the point.

Let’s say you need to go to London from Preston on Monday morning, you need to be there by 9am so you’re going to have to catch the 06:56 which arrives at 09:05 – that’ll be £135.50 please! Single! Or, £271 return!

If you book this on Virgin’s website itself, it’ll cost you £191 return for the day.

Now, here’s the interesting bit, if you decided to go first class, your fare would be £261 return!

Hang on!  That’s £10.00 cheaper and I get a better class?  Yes!!!!

It’s fair to point out that you can significantly reduce these prices by buying advance tickets and being a little more flexible on your travel time.

So what’s the point travelling first class?  Aren’t I just being a pompous snob?  Aren’t I spending for the sake of it?  Am I not good enough to sit with everyone else?  Answer “NO” to all of the above.

Firstly, you are guaranteed a seat, you get a plug socket at every seat, you can recline your seat, they’re comfier, you don’t have to argue with Mr “Thug-U-Like” who refuses to you and the train manager to get out of your reserved seat, people are a lot more polite, you get free tea and coffee, snacks and on certain services, full hot meals.  You also get to use the pre-journey lounge at selected stations (Preston doesn’t have one yet).

Let’s talk meal service for a minute which was a confusing point and what started me thinking about this post anyway.  Virgin’s site states that on services before 10:00am you’ll get a full hot breakfast, between 10:00 and 11:00am you’ll get a light breakfast then until 16:00 you get a sandwich/salad snack and from 17:00 to 19:00 a hot evening meal.

I need to clear this up as some of you will book a train and not get the hot meal because you don’t quite understand the rules that govern this – it’s undocumented and I personally think it’s a marketing genius who worded it to sucker people in.  I had to phone Virgin customer services, complain, get clarification and a free journey to find this out so you’re going to benefit from my pain.

Are you ready?  Here’s the secret!

It relates to times of the train starting its journey – not the time you get on at any other station.

So, if like me, you join the 16:50 at Milton Keynes then you’d think you were getting a hot meal as the journey is between 17:00 and 19:00 – and our survey said – uh oh!

You need to look back at the services origin station and the time it starts from there so, 16:50 from MK is actually 16:20 from Euston – no meal!

What you’ll find is that the price for the 16:50 and 17:50 are exactly the same on the website.

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About the Author

James Brindle is a freelance technology consultant based in Blackburn, Lancashire with over 20 years of experience in the IT, Media and Telecommunications industries with specialties in Web and Mobile Application development, Voice over IP (VoIP) deployment and integration, media storage and distribution systems and wide area solutions. He has a passion for retro gaming and volunteers as a presenter and acts as vice-chairman of Blackburn's Hospital Radio service.

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