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Difference between First Class and Second Class train travel?

I'll be taking the train from the Brussels airport to Utrecht, and I'm not sure whether to buy First class or Second Class tickets. Is there a link you can point to that will tell me the difference? I'm not going to buy a reservation; I don't know how late the plane will be, nor how long it will take me to get through customs, and I might want to stop at the station and eat, or pull out a map, or rest, or something. So my preference is to not have a reservation.

One page said 1st Class was about 50% more expensive than 2nd. What am I getting for that money?

I'm arriving at 8 am, so I expect to be pretty tired from the night flight, and jet lag.

Posted by
11613 posts

Unless it's a long trip or a bargain first-class ticket price (usually only available if purchased in advance), I don't find first-class worth the price increase. I have friends who only travel first-class, because there is sometimes seat-side food service available. A railway site (I like bahn.de for any country in Europe) can show you what services are available on specific trains.

Posted by
20316 posts

Like the airlines, 1st class on trains has more spacious seating, one seat on one side of the aisle and two seats on the other and greater seat pitch and slightly cushier seats. Unlike the airlines, the two by two seats in second class are quite comfortable. Since you will have at least two train changes on the 2 1/4 to 3 hour journey time, I leave to you if you want to pay extra for more seat room. As RS says, both ends of the train travel at exactly the same speed. More important would be if you want to pay extra for a connection using the high speed Thalys train which will cost more and knock 45 minutes off the travel time.

Posted by
991 posts

I feel too that the the comfort level of 2nd class seats on a train is just fine, and the difference in comfort between 1st and 2nd class on a train is often slight-not enough for me to feel it is worth paying extra. You have leg room in both and usually a little bit more cushion in 1st class. There will likely be fewer people in 1st class so sometimes it is a little quieter. That might be something to consider if you are tired. If it was me, I still would just go with the 2nd class.

Posted by
33126 posts

The trains heading to the north leave at xx:44 after each hour. You will take an Belgian Intercity for your first leg. You will then change onto the faster fancier expensive Thalys at Antwerp or the international Intercity at Mechelen.

The Intercity to Antwerp -Thalys to Rotterdam - Intercity to Utrecht trip is overall 2:14 whereas the Intercity to Mechelen - Intercity to Rotterdam - Intercity to Utrecht is 2:59.

They both start with the same train from the airport.

The Thalys second class is probably nearly as good for space as flying First Class on many airlines, with 2+2 seating and power points, etc. The only thing it doesn't have is food service to the seat. First Class free (included) food is pretty expensive if that is the only reason you go 1st (1+2 seating) in Thalys. Reservations, which can be made just ahead if you wish but are very expensive, are mandatory on Thalys; they don't play well with passes.

See the descriptions and photos at the excellent The Man in Seat 61 website.

The intercity trains have both table and airline type seating too, but are older, with many fewer (but eminently liveable) and are much much cheaper and the ticket can be bought just before you board. Reservations are not possible.

There is a photo of upper deck second class seats on a Dutch double decker Intercity train at This page at Seat 61

I personally never travel First Class on European trains unless somebody gives it to me.

If you buy Thalys tickets on the day you will pay top dollar for them anyway so maybe as long as you are splashing the cash you might prefer even more room and a meal at your seat and buy First.

In any event you will have bookends of Intercity trains, so you might want fewer neighbors (probably business people trying to work and foreign tourists using first class passes) especially as in your other thread you said you will have lots of luggage.

I'd advise trying to make either the 8:44 or 9:44 run. If you wait until the 10:44 one it is nowhere as easy as I have described as you have additional close timed changes (no fun with luggage, especially as you said lots of luggage) and gets you to Utrecht later than the 11:44 from Brussels airport.

Posted by
23428 posts

We rarely use first class and then only if we get a special deal. It is a good question since most Americans associate 2nd class with economy in coach from the airlines. Bad comparison. I equate second class to business in the airlines. As mentioned earlier, seating is 2x2 but will lots of leg room unless you are unusually tall. I am 6-2 and it is adequate. Sometimes, depending on the train, there may be a little extra beverage service in first class which you would not have in 2nd. Sometimes there is a food cart in 2nd but that is about it.

Posted by
12040 posts

In Europe in general, 1st class is more about work space and quiet for business travelers than extra room for comfort. In some countries, it also buys you waiter service. But domestic trains in Belgium and the Netherlands do not offer food or beverage service, so this is a mute point. I'm pretty sure Thalys offers meals and drinks.

As Nigel mentioned, if you decide to take the faster Thalys train from downtown Brussels (although it doesn't go all the way to Utrecht), you'll pay quite a bit for that priveledge if you don't buy your tickets in advanced.

Posted by
16894 posts

I have always been comfortable enough in 2nd class. On the newer, high-speed trains that I took with my parents last year, we would have like more lumbar support in the seat, but that can be solved by using your jacket as a pillow. See also http://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/trains/first-vs-second-class for some notes similar to what you learned from other respondents. Most European train tickets don't include meal service in either class, but the expensive Thaly train is one that does in first class.

Posted by
4535 posts

Most European train tickets don't include meal service in either class, but the expensive Thaly train is one that does in first class.

I've ridden a lot in 1st class due to a rail pass. Most high speed, intercity trains do include free meal service with 1st class. Is it worth it? Probably not although the food usually is pretty good.

As the others have said, 2nd class on almost all trains is pretty nice and spacious.

Posted by
1064 posts

No, 1st class, being closer to the front of the train, arrives seconds sooner.

Posted by
12040 posts

In Belgium, first class is usually in the middle of the train.