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How to bid for last-minute train upgrades to First Class on Avanti, LNER, GWR and CrossCountry

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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 GWR, CrossCountry, Avanti West Coast (formerly 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, Cardiff, Bristol, Cheltenham, Penzance, Exeter, 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 the official train websites such as 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 Avanti West Coast:

    • Available every day of the week
    • Excludes Holyhead route

On LNER:

    • Available Monday to Friday

On GWR:

    • Available every day of the week

On CrossCountry:

    • Available Monday to Friday

In all 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 Avanti is certainly cheaper than the £15-£20+ price gap – far more at peak times – that Avanti normally charges between standard and First Class Advance tickets, although you cannot guarantee your upgrade via this route.

(Want to earn more miles and points from credit cards?  Click here to visit our dedicated airline and hotel travel credit cards page or use the ‘Credit Cards Update’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Comments (20)

  • Paul says:

    Gutted – I was only bidder and won a £15 upgrade to 1st class this morning after seeing this article but the train to London was cancelled out of Liverpool due to a points failure! Wish I had known about this before as many times I am standard down and 1st class back due to the cost difference – now I know it works will be trying again and hoping for better luck next time.

  • John says:

    Not sure how i missed the 2017 article,
    Company booking restricts to standard, so the option of a £10 (occasionally less), upgrade makes a big difference on space and working. Plus point to the Euston Lougne.
    Whilst usually released 2.5hours before, more often than not I see the auction option 24H+ in adv.