How to bid for last-minute upgrades to First Class on Virgin Trains and LNER

Links on Head for Points pay us an affiliate commission. A list of our partners is here.

Two readers recently got in touch to encourage us to write about Seatfrog.  We originally covered this train upgrade app back in 2017, but have not mentioned it since.  Clearly something has rippled the waters of the HFP collective consciousness …… and the people who emailed us are long-term HFP readers, not Seatfrog employees!

Seatfrog is a travel smartphone app that auctions off First Class upgrades on certain train lines just before departure. Availability is dictated by expected passenger volumes.

Seatfrog app screenshot

So far it only works with Virgin Trains and LNER (formerly Virgin Trains East Coast). This means that services between London and Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh, Leeds, Doncaster, Hull, York, Newcastle, Aberdeen and Inverness are available on Seatfrog.

(In case you missed it, we recently ran a review of LNER’s brand new Azuma intercity trains which are now entering service.)

The easiest way to ensure that you can bid for an upgrade is by booking Standard Advance ticket via virgintrains.co.uk or lner.co.uk.  The Seatfrog website contains a list of supported third party booking sites, including The Trainline.

If you are travelling with companions, you can select how many upgrades you would like to bid for.  The upgrade does not need to just be for you.  Update your app preferences before bidding.

If you make the winning bid, the upgraded ticket will be immediately sent to your phone and you can immediately head to the First Class lounge if there is one.

The two train companies have slightly different policies on when you can use Seatfrog:

On Virgin Trains:

    • Available every day of the week
    • Upgrades available from £10
    • You can bid from 24 hours to 30 minutes before departure
    • Excludes Holyhead route

On LNER:

    • Available Monday to Friday
    • Upgrades available from £5
    • The auction opens from 2.5 hours until 30 minutes before departure

In both cases, upgrades are dependent on the train operator choosing to offer availability, although you are probably more likely to find good deals on off-peak services.

It is important to note that Seatfrog does not necessarily sell upgrades just because empty seats are available in First Class.  In order to ensure ‘yield integrity’ the business model involves selling a few upgrades for a relatively high price rather than going for a market-clearing price which would fill every seat.

Although we have personally never used it, word on the street suggests it is an easy and cheap way of scoring an upgrade to First Class. An upgrade from £10 on Virgin Trains is certainly cheaper than the £15-£20+ price gap – far more at peak times – that Virgin normally charges between standard and First Class Advance tickets, although you cannot guarantee your upgrade via this route.

Bits: Hilton London redemption increases, Avios / Charles Tyrwhitt promo, HFP party update
Bits: Hilton increases some redemption rates, BA 747 flypast with Red Arrows, Addison Lee discount codes
Click here to join the 13,000 people on our email list and receive the latest Avios, miles and points news by 6am.

Amazon ad
About Head for Points

We help business and leisure travellers maximise their Avios, frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. Visit every day for three new articles or sign up for our FREE emails via this page or the box to your right.

Comments

  1. I first used this a while ago on East coast where it wasn’t so great.

    Since VT West coast has come on board I’ve used it 3 times, all during the week when the usual first class upgrade is a minimum of £50. Always been good value for money. 2 occasions off peak paying just £10 and one end of the peak paying £11.

    Perfect when you know the train is going to be busy and need to work or just want that extra service, especially when they are offering full drinks or breakfast services.

    I can’t really see the point of faffing about it at weekends when the normal price of upgrade is just £20 and full service isn’t offered.

    Another point to note VT will currently only allow you to upgrade a ticket that is currently a fixed advance.

    One thing I haven’t ever seen covered (by anyone) is VT traveller club, where you qualify for free first class weekend pre booked travel when you travel first class a minimum of 8 returns (or 16 singles) in 3 months. Could be a nice shout to make people aware.

    Great coverage as always Rob

    • PaulC says:

      I currently have Traveller Reward, runs out in October. Recently had issues booking trains for events with hotels I’ve booked months in advance hoping to get free travel to that I cant get trains for. A quick phone call and email and they have offered complimentary tickets. They seem to pick and choose when there is availability when big events are on, e.g. Edinburgh Tattoo – No free trains on Sunday heading South!

    • VT Traveller is a decent scheme but covering it at this time is a bit pointless. Unless the legal appeal by Stagecoach (major shareholder in VT) succeeds Virgin will no longer run the west coast franchise in the not so distant future. There’s no guarantee a new operator would keep it going.

    • I thought traveller had been covered ages ago but it has been so degraded that it is not worth mentioning it anymore.

      Back is 2011 it was wonderful. Monday and Friday peak trains every week.

      They then limited it to remove proper peak time ones. Fair enough. I adapted and it was fine. Glasgow weekends were a great perk.

      Then they cut it properly down to remove all peak times. I still adapted. I was on something like second or third offpeak on a Monday (they never got the peak times right, so it meant 10:30 from birmingham). Scotland still working.

      Then they properly killed it. Did it just after a new year I’d qualified for. They removed friday and monday and not eveb that they kept the overnight stay requirement. So it was basically for one night stay starting on a saturday. Even at that it was so degraded they just didn’t bother putting dome weekends on it. Nobody cared. It was dead then.

      When it first started I would travel first class a whole lot more to qualify and also when paying for it because i like virgin trains so much.

      So why bother covering it anymore? I always got the impression the whole VT service has been degrading down for end of franchise recently anyway. Gone are cheap first tickets anywhere near peak weeks in advance. I traveller mostly standard class this year for the first time in 8 years…

  2. rotundo says:

    I’m intrigued by the restriction that only advance tickets can be upgraded on Virgin Trains – last week I booked standard class off peak tickets on the VT site a few hours before departure and it offered to redirect me to Seatfrog to bid for an upgrade. Could be an IT mess-up I suppose, but I don’t see the rationale for restricting to advance tickets, it’s the exact opposite of the BA policy for UUA!

    • PaulC says:

      I’m guessing because an Advance ticket is they only ticket that you have to travel on a certain train and time otherwise you could win an upgrade and try using it on a train that is fully booked in 1st class.

      • PaulC says:

        First class requires a seat reservation although there is an unreserved coach on Pendo’s and seats on Voyagers.

      • rotundo says:

        Agreed, although in theory the upgrade process could ask you to pick a train and convert the standard off-peak/anytime into a more restrictive first class advance one… This restriction is unfortunate, I really like the flexibility offered by train travel at little extra cost – unlike those bloody airlines 🙂

  3. Mr(s) Entitled says:

    Very timely, I have a return Virgin train ticket booked for today. The app shows one bid for the outbound and no bids for the return.

    I’ll give it a whirl.

    • Mr(s) Entitled says:

      Data points: Out bid on the outbound which went for £15 which is more than I value the food at so was happy to pass. Return went unclaimed at £10 on the 9pm Euston-Manchester which I passed on because I had eaten and simply dont value the soft product on my 90min journey.

      I am however impressed by the app, ease of use, and potential benefit around meal times. Thanks HfP.

  4. Richard says:

    NB the restriction that only Advance fares can be upgraded applies also to LNER. I think this is a rail industry systems thing: if you do get an Seat Frog upgrade, the seat reservation won’t necessarily be shown on the train indicators themselves and the system relies on you showing your phone and the ticket to the conductor, ie. your ‘ticket’ for systems purposes is still a standard one. Doesn’t make much sense, but the rail IT infrastructure is beyond byzantine.

  5. There is probably little point in them getting FIrst GW into the scheme , the differntial between first and second , apart possibly from overcrowding , is virtually non existent on the new rolling stock .

  6. Brilliant tip – used it today for the first time. £11 upgrade from Euston. Kick myself for missing the article in 2017 – I could have spent the last 2 years commuting in first class.

    Thank you Rhys and Rob!

  7. Sean Bhalach says:

    Does this cover London-Glasgow on Virgin trains too?

    • Andy S says:

      Yes, all Virgin Train routes except London to Holyhead. I expect this is due to the Voygers having limited first class seats.

  8. Andrew S says:

    I always book advance tickets on long distance train trips. I used seatfrog to upgrade a £24 London to Mancheter ticket on a weekday departure. I bidded £16 (to make the total cost £40), however I got the upgrade for £10.

    I would pay £10 alone for the better seats and additional space in first class.

    At the weekends Virgin as increased the weekend upgrade fee to £25 between London and Manchester / Liverpool / Preston. Therefore In will be using seatfrog on weekend journeys.

    I’m more than happy to pay £20 upgrade on weekdays and £15 on weekends between London and the North West.

    I usually use Chiltern Railways between London and Marylebone. The Chiltern Railways Silver MK3 carriages are is the best standard class on the UK rail network.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Please click here to read our data protection policy before submitting your comment.