Difference between first and second class

If you want to know how to book Eurostar Business Premier tickets, please see  this page.

So it’s your first time travelling by train in Europe. As you are searching for your tickets you see that you have the option of booking either first or second class tickets. In some cases the price difference is fairly minimal, maybe €10 or so. In other cases the first class tickets are even cheaper (beware though, they will always be non-refundable fares). So you begin asking yourself a few questions:

  • What even is the difference between the two classes? Is it the same as airline classes?
  • Will I really benefit from sitting in first class? Is it worth the extra money?
  • Will I suffer and perish in second class? Do they have standards or can I base my expectations on the worst?
  • How can first class be cheaper? Is there something wrong with the website or am I missing hidden costs?

These are some pretty understandable questions to ask yourself. For that reason we thought it was best to give a simple overview of the differences between the two travel classes.

First class seats on European trains

In first class you will receive wider and often plusher seats, more elbow and leg room and sometimes a more formal atmosphere. Most first class passengers are travelling for business so they spend their time working while on the train. Depending on the time of day, there might be fewer families and children in first class so there can be very little noise. Conversation isn’t discouraged but should be maintained in a discreet manner. Surprisingly, there is no luggage allowance difference between first or second class. Some trains do have luggage restrictions, so it is wise to give this article a read to find out more. 

Meal service

The one major difference between first and second class is meal service at your seat. Not all first class reservations offer a meal service, yet it can be expected on premier operators such as Eurostar, Thalys, and Lyria. They offer a hot or cold meal (depending on the time of day and length of the journey) which is served directly to your seat and is included in the price of your ticket. Though these trains are exceptions. On certain TGV trains in France, you can also have a meal served to your seat if you have a Pro ticket and the train has an Espace Pro Premier available. Generally speaking, most trains in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and France do not offer at-seat meal service, though you can sometimes order food and drink from your seat for an extra cost. This is the case on Deutsche Bahn ICE trains.

First class lounges

If you have first class tickets, you will have access to the first class lounge (if there is one at your departure station) which can provide free food and drink (including alcoholic beverages). This can be a major benefit if you prefer to arrive at the station early or need to check out of your hotel well in advance.

Eurostar priority boarding

Eurostar has a boarding procedure which requires that you have to check-in at least thirty minutes before departure. As a Eurostar Business Premier ticket holder, you can save time, as you only need to check in ten minutes prior to departure. So this means you can give yourself a bit more time in the Eurostar lounge or arrive at the station shortly before departure.

So, is it worth it?

In summation, first class tickets can definitely be worth the cost. Most carriers these days offer very minimal price differences between the two travel classes.Trainline Europe will also automatically let you know if there are low-priced first class tickets available, so you can be sure that you won’t miss out on any bargains. If you happen to find that first class tickets are cheaper than second class fares, then it only means that first class is still fairly empty whilst the cheaper second class tickets have already sold out. Though please remember, in these cases the tickets will always be non-refundable. 

Second class seats on European trains

Second class seating is perfectly adequate on all European trains. You will receive a nice comfortable seat, plenty of leg room (if you are over 190 cm tall then we would suggest looking into first class seating, possibly in a solo-seat) and your luggage allowance certainly won’t suffer. Only certain rail operators have luggage restrictions ( click here for more details) and there are certainly no class based allowances either. If you are travelling on a strict budget or aren’t a fussy traveller, then second class will be a fine option. 

Although you won’t receive a meal served to your seat, you can always bring some food on board or purchase something in the train cafe-restaurant carriage or from the snack trolley. Most second class carriages are also fairly quiet so you don’t have to expect a noisy or chaotic trip. Plus, the carriages are also kept very clean, there are always toilets available, and you might even have the opportunity to make friends with your fellow travellers.