I love train travel; the sense of distance, the evolving landscape, the ability to stretch your legs. Whether it’s exploring Provence by rail, taking the leisurely journey on the Glacier Express through Switzerland or stepping on board Norway’s Flam Railway, I’m there.
Regretfully, train travel closer to home happens less often than I would like. However, a trip to Oban and Inveraray in Scotland gave me the opportunity to try out Virgin Trains First Class service from London Euston to Glasgow.
But is this upgrade worth the fare premium? To help you decide, here’s my Virgin Trains First Class review.
I travelled from London Euston to Glasgow on a Thursday and back on a Saturday. As Virgin Trains First Class service differs depending on the day of the week that you travel, this allowed me to compare their two levels of First Class service.
What do you get travelling First Class on Virgin Trains?
Let’s start by taking a look at the perks that your Virgin Trains First Class ticket offers over and above standard class.
- Access to Virgin Trains First Class Lounge at the train station (where available)
- A more comfortable and spacious carriage
- Power points at all window seats
- Complimentary food and drink served at your seat
The First Class Lounge
The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that these lounges are subject to availability. As of September 2019, these railway stations have a Virgin Trains First Class Lounge:
- London Euston
- Birmingham International
- Birmingham New Street
- Liverpool Lime Street
- Manchester Piccadilly
- Glasgow Central
First Class Lounge – London Euston
Located on the mezzanine level of the station, overlooking the concourse, Virgin Trains First Class Lounge at London Euston was busy but comfortable. At 9.45 am, it wasn’t quite gin o’clock, and the bar was not open. However, self-service tea, coffee, juices, water and a limited range of snacks and pastries were available.
Complimentary newspapers and Wi-Fi were also on offer. Toilet facilities were also available within the lounge.
First Class Lounge – Glasgow Central
Virgin Trains First Class Lounge at Glasgow Central was underwhelming, to say the least. Tucked in the corner of the Virgin Trains ticket office, the lounge offers sofas, armchairs and a workstation with power points running the length of its small area.
Food and drink options were poor, comprising tea, undrinkable coffee, a miserly selection of snacks and cold drinks. Toilets are not available in the lounge and there is no lounge attendant.
The First Class train carriage
For me, this is the main perk of first-class travel on Virgin Trains.
With their seats arranged four abreast, the standard carriages on Virgin Trains feel cramped and can be very busy. My outbound leg to Glasgow was not at peak time, yet people were standing in the train’s vestibules in standard class. Not much fun on a four-and-a-half-hour journey.
By contrast, Virgin Trains First Class carriage on both journeys was an oasis of calm. With just three seats across the carriage, there is a 25% reduction in occupancy. There is more room to spread out, the carriage is less likely to be fully occupied and there is reduced pressure on luggage storage space. To ensure that your portable devices have enough juice to last the ride, power points are available at every window seat.
The food & drink service
Catch a Virgin Train between London and Scotland on a weekday and you’ll be treated with a full food and drink service. Travel at the weekend, and this is much reduced.
Food & drink: Weekday service
The food and drink service on my outbound journey from London Euston was superb. Cheerful staff seemed to be constantly passing down the carriage with food and drinks. As a result, I was grazing for the entire four and a half hours, watching the English countryside, and later the Scottish countryside, unfold outside my window.
Leaving London Euston, we were served with tea or coffee, followed by juice and water and their hot brunch service. I opted for a very tasty vegetable hash. Dessert took the form of cookies and chocolate and more hot drinks.
Their bar service started at Preston, the journey’s half-way point. A welcome glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc washed down the ‘Summer Picnic Box’, one of the cold snack selections on offer.
The staff made a repeat bar run before reaching Glasgow. Each Virgin Trains First Class train carriage also has a fridge from which you can help yourself to soft drinks.
Food & drink: Weekend and bank holiday service
Although delivered with the same level of cheeriness, the food and drink service in First Class on Virgin Trains at the weekend was significantly reduced.
Tea or coffee and soft drinks remained available but no alcoholic drinks. The hot meals were replaced by a choice of two sandwiches with crisps and a chocolate cookie.
Virgin Trains Wi-Fi and onboard entertainment
Although free Wi-Fi and onboard entertainment are also provided in Standard Class on Virgin Trains, they are worth commenting on.
Whilst it was fine when it worked, the train’s Wi-Fi connection was erratic. Perfectly OK for checking your email and social media feeds; not so good for streaming.
BEAM is Virgin Trains’ on-demand entertainment system, accessed via your smartphone or tablet. As well as offering a selection of magazines and newspapers, there were 22 recent films and 16 Amazon Prime shows to choose from.
How much more do you pay for travelling First Class on Virgin Trains?
In line with levels of catering service, the premium that you pay for travelling First Class on Virgin Trains depends on which day of the week you travel.
If you travel Monday – Friday, this premium is likely to be higher than that at the weekend. As ticket prices are demand-based and therefore highly variable, it is impossible to generalise on the magnitude of this premium. You will need to interrogate Virgin Trains’ booking system to get the best deal.
However, travel at the weekend, and it will cost you a set fee to upgrade your ticket, depending on the distance travelled. Expect to pay £30 to upgrade to First Class between London and Glasgow at the weekend. You can upgrade when you buy your ticket, just before you travel or even on-board.
Is it worth travelling First Class on Virgin Trains?
The value of an upgrade to First Class on Virgin Trains is highly subjective and will ultimately depend on what is important to you. As the cost of an upgrade during the week is highly variable you will have to put in the legwork to identify the better value fares. The key to well-priced train fares is booking in advance and flexibility.
For me, travelling First Class was worth it just to get a more comfortable seat in a quiet and spacious carriage. I was also impressed by the food and drinks weekday service on the outbound journey, which made the 4-hour + journey fly by.
The food and drink offerings on the return journey were less impressive, and Virgin Trains are clear on their website that this service is reduced at the weekend. And unless you are forced to spend an extended period of time at the railway station, Virgin’s First Class Lounges aren’t worth the ticket upgrade cost.
From 8th December 2019, the franchise for the line between London and Glasgow will be taken over by First Trenitalia. They promise more trains and refurbishment of the existing fleet of Pendolino trains. How this transition will affect the existing standard of service is unclear.