London: The Cheapest Way to Heathrow—Train, Tube or Car?


The Heathrow Express. Photo by geordieb1.
The Heathrow Express. Photo by geordieb1.

Every traveler has been there: You touch down in an unfamiliar city and feel immediately discombobulated. Getting out of the airport, sleep-deprived, with all of your luggage in hand is one thing—then you’re faced with the sometimes gargantuan task of figuring out how to get into town. Some of us jump in a taxi—and pay dearly for it.

Fortunately, London has a number of cheap transport options to and from Heathrow, making the journey a much more pleasant—and wallet-friendly—experience.

Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect

Without a doubt, the Heathrow Express express train is the fastest—and most comfortable—way into the city. Heathrow Express departs every 15 minutes from the airport and takes just 15 minutes to reach Paddington station in the city’s West End. (The trains also leave Paddington every 15 minutes going the other way.)

To save yourself even more time, you can buy a ticket online before you leave the U.S. and have the actual ticket sent to your mobile phone—a bar code in the text message will be scanned when you board the train. Plus, another bonus starting this month: Free Wi-Fi on board! What could be better?

Well, the price, for one. A one-way ticket on the Heathrow Express costs a whopping £16.50 online (or £18 at Heathrow); a round-trip ticket will set you back £30 online (or £32 at the station).

A slightly cheaper option is the Heathrow Connect train. It takes slightly longer to reach Paddington (25 minutes), but the price is only £7.90 for a one-way ticket and £15.80 for a return if you purchase online. Watch which train you board—both the Heathrow Express and the Heathrow Connect stop at the same platform at the airport.

The Tube to Heathrow

Heathrow, mercifully, is also served by the Piccadilly line on the Underground. (Why can’t La Guardia be this well connected?) With an Oyster card, which you can buy at the Heathrow Tube station for £3 pounds, the cost of a one-way journey into central London is just £3.80.

The only major drawback is the travel time—allow yourself at least an hour to get to or from the center of the city; sometimes, the journey can even take an hour and a half. Another annoyance: Parts of the Tube are routinely shut down on weekends for maintenance, meaning you may have some difficulty reaching your final destination if it’s not on the Piccadilly line.

Car Service to Heathrow

This is the biggest secret in London when it comes to Heathrow connections. It’s actually how I suggest most of my out-of-town guests go to the airport at the end of their stay—it’s far less trouble than trying to figure out the train schedules and worrying about being late for a flight.

There are numerous car service companies in London that will take you to any destination of your choosing for a flat rate (no tipping necessary). Most companies charge around £30 per trip from central London (anywhere in Zone 1) to Heathrow, which is actually cheaper than purchasing two one-way tickets on Heathrow Express.

It’s simple to find a company if you have a cell phone that works in London. Just text the word “home” to the Transport for London’s information number (62967) and within minutes, you’ll receive a message with the numbers of several car companies near you.

If you aren’t that technologically savvy, fret not. Try calling Bloomsbury Cars, a reliable company that I’ve used before, at 020-7631-1334. They’ll pick up passengers from any location in Zone 1 and charge £30 per trip to Heathrow. The journey usually takes less than an hour.

About the author

About the author: Justin Bergman is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times and Monocle magazine. He’s also previously worked for Budget Travel magazine and the Associated Press.

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4 thoughts on “London: The Cheapest Way to Heathrow—Train, Tube or Car?”

  1. I present a caveat about the following advice: “To save yourself even more time, you can buy a ticket online before you leave the U.S. and have the actual ticket sent to your mobile phone—a bar code in the text message will be scanned when you board the train.”

    IF you have the ticket sent to your **US mobile phone***, you will be unable to retrieve it London unless you have a quad-band phone that works in the UK and Europe. And unless your quad-band phone is “smart” enough to receive email and download attachments, you are still out of luck.

    So be sure you have any advance-purchase ticket PRINTED out in advance of leaving the US.

  2. Just a quick response to Nicky’s post. I’ll agree, this issue is debatable! But I have on numerous occasions found private car hires to be more convenient than the trains, simply because it is door-to-door transportation, as opposed to having to change trains two, three or sometimes four times with all of your baggage in tow. And the prices are fairly comparable, which is why for two people or more, I think it makes more sense to take a car for 40 pounds, rather than deal with the hassles of changing trains, lugging bags up and down steps and the crowds in the tube. The cost for two people on Heathrow Express would be 32 pounds, plus the amount you’d spend on the tube to get to Paddington.

    I would say the time to get to the airport is also about the same via car or tube/train–between an hour and an hour and a half, depending on time of travel. I agree with Nicky–I might be disinclined to take the car to the airport during rush hour. But taking bags on the massively crowded trains at this time of day can be a nightmare, as well. I sometimes can even fit myself into a train, let along a massive suitcase during rush hour.

    And the tube to South Kensington may be 40 minutes, but this is the far edge of West London and doesn’t involve a transfer. If you’re going anywhere in central London, I’d say tack on an extra 20, and if you’re going anywhere in East London, you may be looking at an hour and a half in total on the tube. I’ve taken the tube from Shoreditch and I was seriously worried I would miss my flight–it was an hour and a half just from there!

    I’m glad this issue could generate such debate. As always, there’s never one right answer!

  3. I feel that this the latter part of this article is seriously misleading. The suggestion that travelling by unlicensed minicab to the airport is “far less trouble than trying to figure out the train schedules and worrying about being late for a flight” seems to me to be quite problematic. Firstly, data from Heathrow quoted in a business briefing last month show that every day folk miss planes because of arriving too late at the airport. Interestingly, passengers travelling by car (taxi, rental vehicle or whatever) are THREE TIMES more likely to arrive late than those using public transport. The train ride from Paddington is very predictable and (as Heathrow Express themselves claim) 99.5% reliable.

    On a very good day the car journey from, by way of example, Liverpool St (in the heart of the city) to Heathrow may take 60 minutes, more commonly 80 mins and on a bad day even twice that. Bloomsbury Cars (mentioned in the post above) say “allow 80 minutes minimum from pick-up in Bloomsbury to drop off at the terminal door at Heathrow. Allow an extra 30 mins minimum at peak times. And add on another 20 mins if travelling from the City rather than Bloomsbury.” None of this compares well with a short train journey. So that’s 130 mins for a peak time journey from the City to Heathrow – according to the company.

    The second issue is that Private Hire and unlicensed minicabs are totally confused here. Bloomsbury Cars is licensed for Private Hire. They, and many similar companies, have been in business for years and are (generally) reputable. An unlicensed minicab is what my mate Dwight does in London. He lost one eye in a fight, doesn’t even know the name of the river of the river that flows through the city, and drives whatever old wreck he has managed to borrow off a friend (or nick) for a day or two. Unlicensed minicabs are of course best avoided.

    Justin mentions that the tube is just too annoying as it is so slow. True, it stops a lot along the way. But it is frequent. Never less than 15 minutes intervals, sometimes as often as every five minutes. And journey time from Heathrow Central to South Kensington is just less than 40 minutes. No cab, licensed or not, could beat that.

  4. We went last Spring thru Heathrow to London and we took the Express train. I was kicking myself, tho, since the Connect was so much cheaper–and 10 more minutes was no big deal to us. Next time, we’ll do the Connect and take a car back to the airport! Thanks for the post. @TheWorldCalls


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