Do you buy a First Class rail ticket? Or just standard?

Now and again I am required to commute back and forth into the city for extended periods of time. For instance the projects I’m working on need me to be in Richmond-Upon-Thames daily. Our recent house move made the commute rather simple: 30-odd minutes on a train that typically 90% full.

On the way back in the evenings at peak time I don’t usually get a seat until a few stops have come and gone. This is entirely doable. And it’s all standard class.

A couple of chaps I know don’t stand for this. They always travel first class. There’s certainly a cost differential, but in the fullness of time and on the basis that you can (in many respects) offset the expense against tax if you’re a contractor, these chaps think it’s a good deal — they always get a seat.

I’ve no trouble with paying for first class. If I’m traveling on a long train journey — to Newcastle, Manchester or somewhere, I always book ahead and always select first class.

But day-to-day? I’m not sure if I see the value for a 30-minute journey.

The one guy I know who always travels first class explains to me that he simply doesn’t want any hassle at all. He likes the idea of never, ever having to stand. He regularly reads and sometimes does the crossword and occasionally he’ll use his laptop. However the value for him is the more or less permanent service level: A seat is virtually guaranteed. (On his line, I should point out). He also travels about an hour each way.

I’m typing this on my MacBook Air on one of the seats in the ‘quiet carriage’ on the South West Train service from Reading and I have to accept that I’m reasonably content. This morning I’m not traveling at peak time either so it’s nice and easy for me to use the laptop. At peak times it might be a little more difficult.

In terms of cost for me, the standard return journey is £14.40. First class is £24.40. An extra tenner.

And what do you get?

On this train line, you just get a dedicated seating area and, I imagine, less turnover of passengers so there’s less disruption if you’re trying to work.

I’m not sold on the value, I don’t think.

[And then my train stops at Staines and fills up with what feels like 100 chattering school children everywhere!]

What’s your view — if you commute, do you do standard or first class and what’s the cost difference?

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3 Responses to Do you buy a First Class rail ticket? Or just standard?

  1. Tom December 31, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    My commute from winchester to southampton costs about a grand a year. I looked at first class – I think it was about £400 more. The main advantage of doing it is a “guaranteed” seat – but on my journey I think I’ve only had to stand once or twice in standard over a 6 month period anyway, and I generally don’t have to sit next to anyone either.

    If you broaden the question out from “Is it worth paying £n for first class” out to “If you had £n to make your commute more bearable, how would you spend it?” I don’t think first class travel would be near the top of my list of answers. Instead, I’d probably invest in stuff to distract/ inform me – music, news etc – or stuff to make the experience more comfortable – a better coat, a nice coffee machine for home etc.

    For longer journeys – I used to do London to Manchester,Leeds, Newcastle etc – first class is the only way to go. You arrive unfrazzled and ready to do your stuff – unlike your colleagues who took the plane.

    • Ewan December 31, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

      As always you present the most sensible arguments Tom!

  2. Mike42 February 2, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    I traveled 1st for 5 years from west of Basingstoke into London. £6k a year, but as work covered it it was a no-brainer.

    When the policy changed I switched to standard. I can honestly say I have not noticed a difference (where I get on there is almost always a seat in the quiet carriage for laptop use), except in one regard: politeness.

    Traveling ‘1st class’ I regularly met braying yahoos, city types, fashion mag divas and the like, who assumed that it was their god-given right to shout into their mobile for the entire trip. Dropped call? No problem! One woman called her PA back *7 times* between B’stoke & Woking. At Woking I suggested to her that no-one else cared about Jemima Khan’s latest dress (or some such banality. Got a round of “Hear hear”-s and “about time”s from the fellow passengers too polite or embarrassed to ask her to STFU. The woman honestly looked like I’d punched her in the face. She blanched, put her phone away immediately and didn’t say another word.

    Then there was the civvy-clothed army officer who was going on and on to an MOD colleague. When asked to consider others he actually responded “don’t you know there’s a war on?”. To which I replied that yes, I knew that, and as an ex-army signals type myself I could understand every reference he was making to British Army operations in a public place, and that he might want to consider the security implications.

    In the two years since traveling standard, I can’t recall any incidents of a similar nature. You may get a seat in First class, but you get consideration and politeness in standard.

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