THE INSIDE TRACK • October 2023
Heading to London’s busiest airport? Bewildered by the multitude of travel options available to whisk you there from the city centre? Ally Wybrew road tests the pros and cons of each route
Fares are calculated on one adult single journey from London’s Zone 1 to Heathrow Terminal 5 taken in September 2023
Travel time: 15 minutes
Price: from £5.50, though usually £25. Full price list here
Departs from: London Paddington Station
Pros: This high-speed service is the fastest option by a country mile. No other mode of transport will get you from the heart of London to T5 quicker than the Heathrow Express. What’s more, you can collect Avios on HEX, there's step-free access and children aged 15 years and under travel free in Express Class when accompanied by a paying adult.
Trains run frequently, departing from Paddington every 15 minutes between 5.10am and 23.25pm, so you never have long to wait. Air conditioned, roomy, equipped with decent Wi-Fi and a pretty sweet business class option, this is a truly pleasurable travel experience.
Cons: Paddington may not be the most convenient location to depart from if you’re not arriving in the capital from the west or northwest. The HEX is also a little more expensive compared to other rail options, although an ‘early bird’ £5.50 price is available (bookable via the Heathrow Express app more than 90 days before your flight).
NB: National Rail trains also runs from Paddington to Heathrow on the same line. The journey takes 32 minutes and costs £12.30.
Travel time: 51 minutes
Price: from £5.80
Pros: London’s Underground has been running for 160 years, so it’s a pro at scooting busy urbanites from one end of the capital to the other. For the Heathrow-bound, the Piccadilly line offers an easy and direct route to the departure gates. With multiple stops throughout the city centre and links with most major Underground lines, it’s easy to pick up no matter where you’re coming from. Trains run frequently (around every eight to ten minutes) including throughout the night on Fridays and Saturdays (every ten minutes). It’s also the cheapest option by quite a distance. Even better, once the train leaves Zone 2, the journey is mostly in open air, so you don’t really feel as if you’re on the Tube at all.
Cons: Taking the Piccadilly line is a considerably slower option than the HEX, setting travellers back nearly an hour on top of their travel time to the Tube station. Plus, it’s often very busy, as its numerous central stops make it a main line for tourists, locals and plenty of suitcase-clad visitors en route to the airport.
Travel time: 35 minutes
Price: From £13.30
Pros: The capital’s newest railway line caused quite the stir among Londoners and suburban travellers when it finally opened in 2022. Whether you call it a train, a Tube or a high-frequency hybrid urban–suburban rail service is up to you, but what’s for sure is that the Elizabeth line is fast, fancy and airport friendly. Its goal is to decongest parts of the Underground, which it does efficiently by only stopping at five stations in Zone 1 (eight altogether in Zone 1 and 2). By skipping all those unnecessary central London landmarks, it’s a speedy way to cut through the city. Add in a temperature-controlled interior and swan-like smoothness and you’ve got yourself an attractive airport transfer option.
Cons: While the ‘Lizzie line’ cuts time significantly for suburban travellers getting into Zone 1, getting out to Heathrow is only slightly advantageous. It’s about 15 minutes faster than the Piccadilly line, but departures are less frequent, so you could be waiting between 15 and 20 minutes for a train to and from the airport – nearly twice the wait time of the Piccadilly line.
Travel time: 40-100 minutes
Price: variable – between £50 and £100
Pros: Few people could rebuff the luxurious allure of a private transfer to the airport. Luckily, taking a taxi to Heathrow from central London is easier than ever now thanks to apps such as Uber, Bolt, FREENOW and Gett (you can also collect Avios when you link your Executive Club and Uber accounts). With thousands of cars in circulation in the city every day, securing one off the hoof is usually quick and simple. Pick your own music or simply sit in silence and watch the world go by. The privacy and comfort of a taxi transfer is unparalleled when compared to public transport options.
Cons: Considering the elevated expense of a taxi compared to public transport, it can be an unreliable option when it comes to getting you to the departure gate on time. Travelling by road means bending to the whims of traffic congestion, road works and various other ‘surprises’ that the capital might throw up. Moreover, the potential cost can be hard to gauge, as it varies depending on demand, so you could end up shelling out if booking during a popular window or at peak times.
Pros: Driving yourself is also an option. There are 11 car parks at Heathrow offering everything from short and long stay to business and valet parking. Costs vary (quite significantly) and booking a space in advance is highly recommended. You can collect Avios if you book parking through ParkVia, if you use valet parking or if you use car sharing with ZipCar.
Cons: Some of the car parks are quite a distance from the terminals, so do your research ahead of time to find the location best suited to your flight. Shuttle buses from long-stay car parks run every ten to 15 minutes to the terminal doors.
Travel time: 45-60 minutes
Price: from £6-£15
Departs from: London Victoria Bus Station
Pros: If you get the cheaper end of the deal, the price of a coach can rival the Piccadilly line, and, traffic allowing, might even beat it when it comes to journey time. Most available options, including National Express (with whom you can collect Avios), are direct (Megabus requires a shuttle change) and, with multiple providers offering services, there are frequent departures. Additionally, getting to Victoria Bus Station to catch the coach in the first place is easy from most places across the city.
Cons: As with the other road-based options, unpredictable traffic can cause mischief, so it’s best to plan an earlier departure to avoid risking missing your flight. While getting to Victoria is simple, it’s still not as accessible as ordering a taxi to a personal point of departure.