Taking The “Express” May Not Be The Fastest Way From The Airport To London

by joeheg

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, the first thing you’ll see is a link to Google Maps. After that, these will most likely be the first hits:

a screenshot of a website

I’m going to reserve judgment on Google that the TPG post is ahead of the Heathrow Express. At least the post is mostly correct and lacks credit card links.

But when it comes to the quickest way to get to London, everyone mentions the Heathrow Express.

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 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.


If you are arriving at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 2 or 3, you can board the Heathrow Express at Heathrow Central for a quick and easy journey to London Paddington. However, passengers arriving at Terminal 5 will need to board the Heathrow Express train from Terminal 5 station, while those at Terminal 4 will first need to take a short shuttle bus from the terminal to Heathrow Central.

Once you’re on the train, you’ll enjoy a 15-minute ride with access to 4G data connection and power outlets available at every seat.

If you purchase your ticket at least 90 days in advance, you can save up to 78%. An Advanced Single ticket will cost you just £5.50. However, if you buy your ticket on the day, you’ll have to pay £25 for an Anytime Day Single on their Express Service. If you want to travel Business First Class on Heathrow Express, the Anytime Day Single ticket will cost you £32.

If you’re heading towards Paddington Station, you can opt for the Elizabeth Line, which is London’s newest rail line. It can take you from Heathrow to Paddington in less than 45 minutes, with trains departing every half an hour. The cost for travel from Heathrow to central London (zone 1) is £12.80. The most convenient mode of payment is via a contactless bank card or Oyster card, but you can also purchase tickets and travel cards at the station. The line also has a smooth connection with Reading, east London, and Essex.

However, what can you do if you are not staying near Paddington Station? We were staying at the Renaissance St. Pancras, which is located above St. Pancras station. If we opted for the express train or Elizabeth Line from Heathrow, we would have to transfer from the rail station to the Underground. This would require us to haul our luggage up and down several flights of stairs and/or escalators and/or find an elevator.

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 would now cost £5.60. 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 is a train service that departs every 15 minutes for the 30-minute journey between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria Station. Buying a ticket in advance allows you to use it for any train, so there’s no need to worry about flight delays.

A single anytime ticket costs £20.60, while a return ticket costs £41.20. If you purchase your ticket online, you’ll get a 10% discount, bringing the prices down to £18.50 for a single ticket and £36.80 for a return. The web-duo ticket is the best deal available for two passengers, offering a return ticket for £41.80.

Similar to Heathrow Airport, there’s another train service that runs on the same track as the Gatwick Express, but at a lower cost. The Southern Railway also offers service between Gatwick Airport and Victoria Station, stopping at three stations along the way. Payment for Southern trains can be made using Oyster cards or contactless cards, which is the most affordable way to purchase tickets. The fare between Gatwick and London varies from £9 to £16.50, depending on the time of day and your final destination. Return tickets range from £18 to £33.

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 on 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 depart regularly from St. Pancras station and you can purchase advance tickets online. Super off-peak tickets start at £9. However, we paid £12.90 for our Anytime ticket. There are two types of trains available, one with six stops and the other with twelve stops between St. Pancras and Gatwick. It’s recommended to take a 6-stop train, even if the 12-stop train is leaving first, as it will get you to your destination quicker. The journey takes around 45 minutes, which is 15 minutes longer than the Gatwick Express. But, if you consider the time it takes to transfer to the Underground train to get to Victoria Station, the Thameslink might actually be faster depending on your location.

Final Thoughts

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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Greg April 1, 2019 - 2:39 pm

The other issue is wait time for the train vs an Uber.

For example to most of the areas south of Hyde Park – Uber is sometimes cheaper than Heathrow Express and you save time not waiting 15 minutes for the next train or if coming from T4 shuttle plus train. When two are traveling it becomes even more favored toward Uber,

NB April 1, 2019 - 4:00 pm

Use Citymapper. It would have told you all of this.

mojo April 2, 2019 - 4:02 pm

A little planning ahead and HEX works great:

Heathrow Express: https://www.heathrowexpress.com/tickets-deals/prices-fares

Weekend (Sat or Sun) 90-day advance tickets available from just £5.50 one way.
Weekend (Sat or Sun) 30-day advance tickets available from just £8.80 one way.

Take a cab from in front of the Hilton Paddington to St. Panacras for about £10.50

£16 and no stairs 🙂

joeheg April 2, 2019 - 5:41 pm

Not a bad deal when planning in advance. With this trip, we booked less than 90 days out so it would cost the extra £3.
If we were just going to drop bags off at the hotel and go out for the day, I’ll keep this in mind. Thanks!

toldbyharris July 17, 2019 - 2:42 pm

Very useful info thanks!


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