If you’re flying to London and need to get from the airport to your hotel, it would be no surprise if you Googled “Heathrow to London.” If you do that, this will most likely be the first hit:
While taking the express train will be the fastest way to get between the airport and the terminus station in London, if that’s not your final destination then the “express” may not be the fastest, and definitely not be the cheapest way for you to get from point A to point B.
We’ve visited London several times and have always used public transportation to get from the airport to our hotel and back. Even if that meant waking up early in the morning to catch the first Underground train of the day headed to Heathrow Airport from Kings Cross.
So it came as quite a surprise to me that while you’re bound to see marketing for either the Heathrow Express or Gatwick Express trains unless you’re conveniently located near to their final destination, there may be other cheaper, faster and more convenient options available.
Heathrow Airport to London
When landing at Heathrow Airport, there are adverts everywhere telling you that the Heathrow Express is the fastest way for you to get from the airport to London.
The Heathrow Express leaves from the Heathrow Terminal 2 & 3 station and offers direct service to London Paddington station. If you’re arriving from a different terminal, you’ll have to get a connection (free) to Terminal 2 & 3 to board the train.
Once on the train, the trip takes 15 minutes and offers 4G data connection and power outlets at every seat.
Fares aren’t cheap, as a single ticket costs £22 to £25 for an advance ticket and £27 to purchase onboard. If you purchase a return ticket, the cost is £37 in advance or £42 on board the train.
If your final destination is Paddington Station, you can also take the TFL (Transport for London) train, which follows the same line as the Heathrow Express but calls at a few stations along the way, extending the trip to around 30 minutes. Your fare will be about half as a single trip on the TFL Rail from Heathrow to Paddington – it costs £10.20. You’re also able to use your Oyster card or contactless payment on the TFL Rail for the lowest fare.
However, what if you’re like us and not staying anywhere near Paddington Station? We were staying at the Renaissance St. Pancras, located above St. Pancras station. If we took either of the trains from Heathrow to Paddington, we’d have to transfer from the rail station to the Underground. That means lugging our bags up and down several flights of stairs and/or escalators and/or find an elevator.
There is an option for people like us that’s cheaper as well as more convenient. The London Underground.
The Piccadilly Line of the London Underground connects all of the terminals at Heathrow Airport and travels through London, terminating at Cockfosters (and no, you’re not allowed to laugh when they announce it at every stop) (Note from Sharon, who is a 9y/o boy in a ##y/o woman’s body: it was not always easy to not laugh. Just sayin’).
The ride to St. Pancras took about one hour and the off-peak ticket from Heathrow cost us £3.10. We were burnt from the overnight flight and were in no rush to get anywhere. Since we boarded near the beginning of the line, we were able to situate ourselves with our luggage so we didn’t take up too much space,
For us, this was the most convenient and cheapest way, but not the fastest way for us to get from Heathrow to our hotel. The express train would have been faster but the time needed to transfer at Paddington would have eaten up much of the time advantage and we paid 1/7th the price by taking the Underground.
Gatwick Airport to London
While Heathrow is the major international airport for London, many flights to holiday (vacation) destinations fly from Gatwick Airport and this was from where our return flight to Orlando was departing.
The most advertised way to get from Gatwick to London is via the Gatwick Express.
The Gatwick Express departs on the 30-minute journey between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria Station every 15 minutes. If you purchase a ticket in advance, you can use the ticket for any train so there’s no worry about flight delays.
A single anytime ticket costs £19.90 and a return ticket costs £34.90. If you purchase online, there’s a 10% discount, bringing the prices down to £17.70 and £31.05 respectively. There’s also a web-duo ticket good for a return ticket for two passengers that costs £44.70 and is the best deal available on tickets.
Just as at Heathrow Airport, there’s another train that runs on the same track as the Gatwick Express that’s less expensive. The Southern Railway also offers service between Gatwick Airport and Victoria Station, calling at three stops along the way. Southern trains will accept Oyster cards or contactless cards for payment and that will be the least expensive way to purchase tickets. A fare between Gatwick and London will vary from £8.50 to £17 depending on the time of day and your final destination. Return tickets range from £17 and £34.
While Victoria Station is convenient for many people visiting London with its proximity to Buckingham Palace, Green Park, Kensington and Westminster, it’s not great if you’re staying somewhere else in London. The Victoria Line of the London Underground does travel between Victoria and St. Pancras but there are many steps and no escalators or elevators to get you from the rail station to the Underground station. Trust us, we know.
We had to depend on the help of strangers to help us carry our bags up the stairs on our last trip. Not wanting to repeat that event, I was considering taking a taxi from our hotel to Victoria Station but I didn’t have to. While walking through St. Pancras station the first day of our trip, I saw the tracks for the Thameslink service direct from St. Pancras to Gatwick Airport. Score!!!!
If I had done my homework before the trip, which I didn’t, I would have known about it. Just pulling up directions to Gatwick from our hotel on Google Maps showed me the option of the Thameslink train as the best choice.
Trains leave from St. Pancras on a regular basis and you can purchase advance tickets online. Super off-peak tickets start at £9.70 but our Anytime ticket cost us £12.10. There are trains that stop at either six or twelve stations between St. Pancras and Gatwick and you want to make sure you’re on one with only six stops, even if the 12 stop one is leaving first – you’ll get there quicker if you wait for the 6-stop one. Service takes around 45 minutes, which is 15 min slower than the Gatwick Express but if you consider the transfer time to an Underground train to get to Victoria Station, the Thameslink might actually be faster, depending on your location.
If we had purchased tickets on the two “express” trains to the airport, we would have paid around £45 and still would have needed to transfer to a London Underground train to get to/from our hotel. By taking other means of transportation, we were able to get direct rides both ways and only paid a little over £15 each.
So do your homework and find out which is the best and/or cheapest way for you to get from the airport to London. You’ll be glad you did.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary