Is a first class ticket worth it when travelling with Rail Europe?
4 February 2014
EVERYONE knows flying first class is so much better than economy, but what about train travel. Is paying more for first class with Rail Europe worth it?
EVERYONE knows that flying first class is pretty special. If you've flown either business or first class you've probably had friends and family ask about how comfy the seats were, how the lie-flat beds really felt, what the food was like, the wine, the service … the list goes on.
What about trains? Is it worth paying more for the first class experience on trains with Rail Europe?
I relax in my comfortable seat and take out my laptop - I've been meaning to reply to all those emails, and now that I've got the time I can. My computer battery is almost flat … no problem - there's a power socket nearby and I've got my adaptor on hand … and there's wifi. Problem solved. Then my wine arrives and I settle in.
So, is it worth travelling first class on European trains? Obviously it does cost more compared to economy … Truth is, compared to the difference between economy and business/first class air tickets, the price difference is far less (usually about 50 per cent), but the service and comfort levels, in my opinion, makes the extra expense worth it.
Seats are a lot more comfortable and you're generally more likely to get a seat during peak times. You can also reserve a seat in advance in most instances, ensuring you have the seat you want when you board.
The legroom is a definite plus, especially if you've got bags on you. I travelled by train around Switzerland on a first class ticket and needed the extra space for all my bags. Those heading to the snow really appreciated the room also, as there was more space for skis and snow boards.
Having a power socket nearby was a massive plus as I had so many gadgets that needed charging - laptop, camera, phone, iPad and even my noise-cancelling earphones.
Then there are the features you don't really think about until you realise they are not there on an economy train ride. Having magazines on hand and the choice of single and double seating was a benefit I didn't really think about until I missed it.
If you're travelling overnight a comfortable bed makes the world of difference. Arriving at a destination refreshed means you can get straight into whatever you've got planned for that day. If you travel economy you'll get there - but may need a day to catch up on rest, which for me wasn't feasible.
I travelled on an overnight train from Zurich to Budapest and was lucky enough to snag a cabin all to myself - best news ever! Although the cabins on this particular train do have the facility to fit two people (bunk beds) I was on my lonesome and loved it.
There was a small cupboard and drawer where I could store valuables and enough space to squeeze my massive suitcase in without having to step over it each time I wanted to get up and move around.
The basin in the room was also a plus as it meant I could brush my teeth without leaving my nook.
I didn't think the breakfast would be much to write home about but when a staff member came around with a menu selection and asked me to pick five items I wanted for breakfast the next morning I was pleasantly surprised. I expected to get a juice and a pastry, but had quite an extensive list to choose from. I went for Bircher muesli, yoghurt, bread and juice and arrived to Budapest full and happy.
Sleep and food make me happy. Enough said.
Travelling by train around Europe makes sense - you avoid traffic and parking hindrances and it's often more convenient and cheaper than air travel when you factor everything in. As for choosing economy versus first class - it really depends on what your needs are. If you're hopping on one quick train ride with no luggage then economy is fine. If you're using the Rail Europe network to travel extensively around Europe then first class is worth it. Sleep, connectivity, food and comfort levels are worth the extra price.
The writer travelled as a guest of Switzerland Tourism and Rail Europe. Information on Swiss passes can be found on myswitzerland.com/rail. Information on rail passes in Europe can be found on raileurope.com.au.