Is First Class on Stansted Express worth the money?

It had been a couple of years since I’d last been to Stansted Airport. I got to the point where I couldn’t get up at 3am for an early morning Ryanair flight any more and they stopped flying to the airport closest to my family.

Two weeks ago, however, Stansted Express asked us to review their First Class product which comes with free use of the Fast Track security lane at the airport.  As it happened, we had been wanting to review the Escape Lounge at Stansted for some time as neither Rob nor I had ever been (my review was published last weekend) so a quick £35 Ryanair visit to my aunt in Hamburg seemed a good idea!

Back to Stansted Express.

There are, slightly confusingly, three different ticket types to choose from despite there only being two different carriage classes:

Standard Class: £16.60 single, £28 return

Business Plus: £26 single, £38 return

First Class: £27.10 single, £42.80 return

Cheaper Advanced Single tickets are available from £7 one-way in Standard and £24 one-way in First Class.  You can learn about Advance Single and Advance First tickets on the Stansted Express site here.  These tickets are non-refundable, however.

For clarity, we are not trying to convince you that a £24 Advanced First ticket is far superior to a £7 Advance Standard ticket if you are spending your own money and have the ability to book in advance.  That said, if you would otherwise pay £7 for Fast Track security then the maths – on the outbound – could make sense.

For the purposes of this article we have assumed that you are travelling on business or on short notice and will be paying the flexible prices above, where the price gap between the classes is narrower.

About Stansted Express First Class

Business and First Class ticket holders both use the First Class carriages.  This offers genuinely spacious and less busy 1-2 seating, similar to that on Heathrow Express in First Class.

In addition First Class ticket holders can use the First Class lounge at Liverpool Street Station and Fast Track security, usually £7, at Stansted Airport.

The Stansted Express goes from Liverpool Street station via Tottenham Hale to Stansted Airport which takes (roughly) 47 minutes.  For anyone who is convenient to Tottenham Hale, Stratford or Liverpool Street, this train is the obvious choice when flying from Stansted.  The alternative is sitting on a bus with no leg room and the possibility of being stuck in traffic on the M11.

Stansted Express Review

My plan was to get the train at 16:25 and go to the station early to take a look at the Greater Anglia First Class lounge.

However, when I got to Liverpool Street station I learnt that the First Class Lounge was undergoing improvement works.  There were no refreshments available which meant I was left with just a small room with a couple of chairs.

Stansted Express First Class Review

A sign outside said that First Class passengers could have a free drink at Starbucks instead so I walked to the other end of the station to pick up my beverage.

The choice of coffee in Starbucks is (obviously) better than it could ever be in any lounge and I was happy about my cold brew.

Stansted Express First Class Review

With the trains running every 15 minutes I took a train earlier than planned due to missing out on the lounge.

Stansted Express Review

There were two First Class carriages on my Stansted Express train, one towards the front and one towards the back.  I got on the one closest to the gates.  My first impression was that the seats were a good size and there seemed to be enough storage space for the number of people the carriage can seat.

The picture below is from my return journey when I was sharing the whole carriage with just one other person.  It is worth noting that Standard Class was very busy on my return and I was relieved to be holding a First Class ticket.  On the outbound journey there were four other people in First Class.

Stansted Express Review

The seats were comfortable with a lot of leg room.  Underneath the tables are two UK sockets to charge phones, laptops etc.

Stansted Express Review First Class

Stansted Express offers free wifi for all passengers. The registration process was slightly annoying. Where most sign-up pages would ask you for your email address and possibly your name, Stansted Express requires your full name, email address, telephone number, home address as well as your boarding station. If you want to you can optionally give even more details like year of birth, reason for travel and ticket type.

Stansted Express Review

The train wifi is certainly not meant for entertainment like Apple Music, Netflix or Prime.  I had to switch to my 4G when uploading an image to Instagram. However, it was good enough for Facebook calls and checking emails.

Stansted Express Review First Class

In comparison to First Class, the seating below is what you get with a Standard Class ticket. On my outbound trip the train wasn’t packed – despite the fact that one passenger tried to convince the ticket inspector that the train was so full he had to sit in First Class with his Standard Class ticket.  There also appeared to be enough storage.

Stansted Express Review First Class

To give you a better impression of what you can expect, here is a short YouTube video of the Stansted Express. You can subscribe to our YouTube channel via this page – this is the same link to visit if the video does not automatically appear below.



This review wasn’t about whether or not you should take the Stansted Express to the airport.  If you are happy to take a coach, you have a few companies to choose from, but if you prefer the speed and comfort of the train, Stansted Express is your only choice.

First Class vs Business Plus:

The price gap between Business Plus and First Class is £4.80 return, based on buying a ticket on the day.  If you or your employer is willing to pay £7 for Fast Track Security – and this is usually £7 well spent at Stansted – a First Class Stansted Express ticket will save you money.  For the extra £4.80 return over the cost of a Business Plus ticket you get £7-worth of Fast Track security and the chance to grab a free coffee from the lounge at Liverpool Street.

If you only need a one-way ticket from London, First Class is a no-brainer compared to Business Plus.  You only pay £1.10 extra but you get £7-worth of Fast Track security plus, at Liverpool Street, a coffee in the lounge.

First Class vs Standard Class:

A Standard Class return ticket costs £28 return (£16.60 single) when booked on the day.  When booked way in advance a single journey can be as cheap as £7. For someone going on holiday, able to book in advance and not worried about the possibility of a packed Standard class carriage this is £14 for a return well spent in my view.  If you can get to Liverpool, Stratford or Tottenham Hale easily then there is no point getting a bus.

If you prefer leg room, more storage and a higher chance of a seat, you need to pay for First Class or Business Plus tickets.

For the business traveller or a leisure traveller who hasn’t booked in advance, the price gap between Standard Class and First Class is £14.80 return, based on buying a ticket on the day.  If you would otherwise have paid £7 for Fast Track security then the upgrade has cost you just £7.80.  You can arguably knock off another £2 of value for the free coffee at Liverpool Street.  This means that your upgrade from Standard Class to First Class is arguably costing you £5.80 return – just £2.90 each way – and you can’t really argue with that.

You can find our more about Standard Class, Business Plus and First Class on the Stansted Express website.  You can also buy tickets in advance via the site.

Thanks to Stansted Express for providing my ticket.  As usual, HFP covered all of its other costs.

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  1. “higher chance of a seat, you need to pay for First Class ”

    Really, you don’t get free guaranteed seat when paying so much money!

  2. Lumma says:

    Not sure how often it occurs, buy on my recent journey home from Stansted my train wasn’t a modern Stansted Express one but a dirty old Greater Anglia one without power sockets or wifi. As I was heading home it didn’t make too much difference (I’d say the standard class seats were actually a bit roomier, but there was less luggage space), but the lack of power could have been an issue if I was relying on changing my phone for a mobile boarding pass.

    I’m not 100% certain if you’re allowed to do this, but if you’re heading somewhere in East London, changing at Tottenham Hale onto a Stratford train allows you to tap onto the Underground at Stratford, avoiding Zone 1 or doing so via Highbury and Islington and the Victoria Line. An added bonus, if your ticket hasn’t been marked by an inspector, it’s valid to use again within 30 days of your outbound journey (which definitely isn’t meant to be allowed), although that would involve flying into Stansted twice in a month….

    • I don’t think a Liv St-Stansted ticket is valid via Stratford, but if it is not an Advance ticket, it will be valid to start and end short at Tottenham Hale, and will let you through the barriers there. You can then turn around and touch in.

      Alternatively, you can just buy a Stratford-Stansted ticket.

    • lgflyer says:

      There are ticket barriers at Liverpool Street and Tottenham Hale, so you must scan your ticket to get in. I don’t think you will be able to use an scanned ticket again…

  3. The standard off peak service stops between Tottenham Hale and the airport at either Harlow Town or Bishop’s Stortford (some peak airport trains and the Cambridge trains stop at both.)

    I have a colleague who commutes on that line from Bishops Stortford. He refuses to get on any train that stops at Harlow because of the people who live there!

    • Tariq says:

      LOL! I work in Harlow, it’s not that bad!

      • Michael Jennings says:

        Harlow is ugly, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly dangerous.

        • I live in Harlow – the area I live used to be peaceful and quiet, but not any more – crime must have doubled over last couple years, you see a lot of strange people on streets…no good at all

  4. Tony McCann says:

    Just on a personal note which ever class you decide on its paying for British engineering and manufacturing 🙂 I was one of the Quality engineers at Bombardier Derby working on the design and build of these 🙂 happy travels.

  5. IslandDweller says:

    Lumma. Very poor advice. If you’ve travelled on the ticket, it is NOT valid for a second journey. You can be prosecuted if you do this. (I accept that if your ticket wasn’t marked by an inspector, it is harder to prove, but the rail authorities have access to other material, such as CCTV images).

    • callum says:

      You’ve got to be kidding me!? There is no chance in Hell that they’re going to trawl through weeks of CCTV records to try and work out whether someone used the same £16 ticket twice within a month…

  6. Roger 1 says:

    £7 for fast track security??? I didn’t know that. It shows I haven’t been to STN for a while.

    One problem with the train is unreliability, judging from mentions in local traffic news – delays due to engineering works and the like.

  7. Barnaby100 says:

    Did you take that picture of the standard class . It is a terrribly intrusive picture of the young woman at the front. Very bad form

    • James says:

      A train is a public space therefore there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. I don’t see any problem at all morally either, it’s not as if it was taken so close to her face we can see her pores?

      • Agreed, and whilst I didn’t take it, it never crossed my mind not to use it.

        If you came to our Christmas Party you’ll know what we told guests we would take photos and gave them the option to opt out – we do take these things seriously.

        • Barnaby100 says:

          I wouldnt be happy if they was me or a member of my family. It is obvious that she is oblivious to the picture being taken. She is clearly identifiable.

        • Lady London says:

          + 1 .

        • Graeme says:

          So? She’s on a train not at an STI clinic.

        • barnaby100 says:

          *So? She’s on a train not at an STI clinic.*

          I give up. Stupid sexist male comments like that show why women often don’t feel safe when they travel. Why would reference to an STI clinic be appropriate in this or any context?

        • Apologies, I should probably have chopped that. I was with two friends last night and both told me, without prompting, that they felt there was a misogynistic tone to some comments on here. I will try to be more active in removing unsuitable ones, although it is trickier ground than, say, spotting homophobic comments.

        • deconstruct says:

          Graeme’s comment is not remotely sexist or misogynistic.

          If we deconstruct it:

          – ‘she’ refers to a female in the picture – and is not picking out females in general
          – Graeme’s point is that she would not be ‘ashamed’ or fear to be photographed where she is – and indeed, it is perfectly legal to take photos of anybody/ strangers in normal life situations, including children
          – Graeme’s comment neatly and humorously points to the rather ludicrous idea that we should not take pictures/ publicise pictures of strangers in innocent settings – which is perfectly legal

  8. Prins Polo says:

    I may be wrong but I thought you can only pre book fast track at stansted in advance (can’t buy it online on the day of travel) so being able to do that via a first class ticket may have some added value

    • Aeronaut says:

      No, you can buy it there and then on the day, they just don’t advertise that fact – they’d rather people prebooked instead of arriving and trying to assess the how long the queue for security might be before decided whether to stump up for fast track or not.

  9. Michael Jennings says:

    Honestly, security at Stansted is *much* better than it used to be. A few years ago it was awful, but the airport has much better management, the portion of the security staff who had a bad attitude have seemingly been sacked, and the airport has been refitted so that there is a larger area devoted to security, which is run more efficiently. In recent times I have always got through so fast that I doubt having priority matters very much any more.

    (Don’t talk to me about the endless winding walk through the duty free shop to get to the departure lounge, though….).

    • Aeronaut says:

      This has been my experience too.

      (Though the option of Fast Track might be more appealing if it bypassed the forced route march through the shop…)

  10. Rabbit says:

    No one has ever not had a seat on the SE

    • lgflyer says:

      I haven’t had a seat a few times. Heading to the airport on Thursday or Friday around 4.30pm Standard class gets quite packed.

  11. philip bramley says:

    Unfortunately doesn’t seem they accept railcards .

    • Lady London says:

      Some railcards will still give you the discount. And Yes Stansted Express still gets as packed as a Southern Rail commuter train, for the price they charge it’s shameful.

      And let’s not get carried away £7 starting prices for the Stansted Express. If you look at the small print practically no one ever gets near to that price. It’s for groups of 4 booked so far ahead you could only be a businessman to do it..or maybe then not.

  12. Unless this has changed in the last year or so (I haven’t been for a while!), only a complete fool would buy a ticket between London and Stansted Airport… it’s cheaper to buy one for the next station (Audley End), which in ‘any permitted route’ railway logic is perfectly valid via Stansted Airport. The fact that you choose not to get on the connecting train is neither here nor there (and perfectly legal, before anyone jumps in).

    • My understanding is that it’s not illegal but is normally against the conditions of discounted tickets and thus you can be fined – – so would probably depend on the ticket type you purchase…

      • That’s only true for Advance ticket types (ones called that, not just anything bought in advance!) – in which case you’re right, it’s forbidden to get off early.
        The prices Anika gave are for ordinary tickets (either a form of Off-Peak or Anytime), which is what most people will be using, and for these it’s completely ok to get off earlier, no ‘frowning’ involved. It works the other way round too-you can ‘excess’ them without paying a penalty if you need to travel further, which is not possible with Advance tickets.

        • Agreed – just wanted to highlight though in case anyone got caught out buying an Advance one 🙂

  13. Billy says:

    I can’t stand Stansted or the Stansted Express.

    That’s from years of using both. I never ever saw any of the promised refreshments when travelling first class. The old trains were filthy.
    The new trains have better seats but they took the catering away. Way to go Abellio.

    The seats on Heathrow Express First are far superior too.

  14. Fenny says:

    Don’t mind giving name and email address, but I’m getting seriously cheesed off with all the sites that have title as a required field. It really doesn’t matter what my title is. If they want to know whether I’m male or female, that’s a different issue, but classifying people by title is an utter irrelevance these days.

    • I’d imagine in most cases it’s to complete database fields for future emails – “Dear “, etc.

    • OK WordPress got rid of it – try again! “Dear «Title» «Surname»”

      • Fenny says:

        I don’t give a crap. I have a name. Companies can use that.

        • Lol fair enough, can’t say I quite understand why it’s such an issue but appreciate it’s something you clearly feel strongly about.

        • Fenny says:

          It’s an irrelevance. These days, where title is a required field, I just put “None”

  15. i had never heard of tickets as low as 7 quid on the Stansted Express … so i just had a play around with some dates to see how far in advance you have to book to get the good prices. For one person travelling …

    tomorrow 16.60
    8 days out 15.49
    15 days out 14.99
    22 days out 12.99
    29 days out 12.99
    36 days out 11.99
    43 days out 11.99
    50 days out 8.50
    57 days out 8.50
    64 days out 8.50
    71 days out 8.50
    78 days out 8.50
    85 days out 8.50

    If you have a Network Railcard, and are travelling off peak, then the standard 16.60 fare comes down to 13.00 … so if you’re booking less than a month in advance, you can’t actually make more than a 1p saving !

    at least i haven’t missed out on big savings in the past year !!

  16. Liam Doyle says:

    You make it sound as though the train is the perfect choice. My wife commutes daily to London from Bishops Stortford using the Stansted Express mostly. The amount of times the train is delayed due to signal failure or some other mishap probably happens more times than traffic backing up on the M11.
    I should know. I drive a coach from Kings Cross to Stansted daily. On our timetable we allow 1 hour and 15 minutes for the journey. More often than not the travel time is from 50 minutes to
    1hour 10. Sure during rush hour it can take longer. As far as legroom is concerned. There is more than the average car. Ten pounds one way, even cheaper online. I thing the coach beats the train hands down.