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With so many of my family living in London, I fly in and out of Heathrow Airport a lot, and I’ve always been surprised by how much money I’ve spent getting there. Finally, after a bit of long-overdue research, I’ve found out that I didn’t need to have spent all that money, and that it’s possible to get to Heathrow for nearly one-tenth the cost of the Heathrow Express, which I’ve taken in the past.
This article outlines four ways to get to Heathrow by rail, from most expensive to least expensive.
Heathrow Express: £25
The Heathrow Express is the fastest and most direct service between Heathrow Airport and Paddington Station in central London. It’s also the most expensive. Trains depart every 15 minutes and the journey time is around 15 minutes.
The big thing to keep in mind here (other than the price) is that unless your final destination is very near Paddington, the Heathrow Express probably isn’t worth the price, and might actually be slower than other options. If you’re staying almost anywhere else–Mayfair, Battersea, Shoreditch, Soho, Camden, or any number of other neighborhoods–one of the other methods on this list will likely be more suitable from a cost versus time perspective.
Finally, as a commenter helpfully pointed out, buying Heathrow Express tickets in advance can be much, much cheaper. You’ll get the best deal if you buy three months out, but you can also get cheaper tickets one or two months out as well. Those prices are as follows:
- 30 days in advance: £20.00
- 60 days in advance: £16.50
- 90 days in advance: £5.50
Elizabeth Line: £12.80
A ticket to or from Heathrow on the Elizabeth Line, which runs east-west across London, costs around half what you’ll pay on the Heathrow Express. If you’re traveling between Paddington and Heathrow, it takes 27 minutes compared to the Heathrow Express’s 15. However, since the line continues on past Paddington, it quickly becomes quicker than the Heathrow Express if you’re going somewhere east of Paddington, like Stratford or Canary Wharf. Unfortunately, though the Elizabeth Line is a bargain compared to the Heathrow Express, it’s still more than double the price of a regular tube ticket.
TfL Rail (formerly Heathrow Connect): £11.60
About a pound cheaper than the Elizabeth Line is TfL Rail, formerly called the Heathrow Connect. It runs the same route as the Heathrow Express but takes 30 minutes instead of 15 because it makes five stops between Heathrow and Paddington. It also runs less frequently than the Heathrow Express, every 30 minutes instead of every 15 minutes.
With the introduction of the Elizabeth Line, it’s hard to understand how this train can survive, given that it’s essentially the same price, slightly slower, less frequent, and only runs from Paddington.
Piccadilly Line: £5.50
Now we’re getting into bargain territory. The Piccadilly Line, which runs from just north of London, through the center of town and westward to Heathrow. Despite its price, it can actually be an extremely convenient option. If you’re coming from or going to Soho, it should only be around 10 to 15 minutes slower than the Elizabeth Line or the Heathrow Express and will run more frequently than either.
Piccadilly Line, stopping at Hatton Cross: £3.50
If you’re not satisfied with the savings of the Piccadilly Line, you can spend even less money by getting off one stop before Heathrow at Hatton Cross Station, tapping out of the station, and then tapping back in again. This method will knock £2 off the usual price of £5.50.
The reason you save money here is that transit between Hatton Cross Station and Heathrow is free (I’m not sure why) and getting off at Hatton Cross Station means you avoid paying “peak fares” that are charged to passengers going to Heathrow, even if they’re traveling during off-peak hours.
The obvious inconvenience of all this is that you have to get off the train, leave the station, and then enter again to catch the next train. In all, this probably amounts to a five-minute procedure, but if you’re carrying several bags, it can be a pain.
Also, keep in mind that if you’re traveling on the Piccadilly Line Monday to Friday (not on public holidays) between 6:30 AM and 9:30 AM or between 4 PM and 7 PM, you’ll be charged peak pricing regardless of where you get off, so the Hatton Cross trick won’t work.
Why are the Heathrow Express and the Elizabeth Line so expensive?
It mostly comes down to the fact that a private company is involved. That is, the Heathrow Express and the tunnel it uses are owned by Heathrow Airport Holdings Limited (which also owns and operates the airport itself). Likewise, the Elizabeth Line, though not privately owned, runs through a tunnel owned by Heathrow Airport Holdings Limited and has to pay the company for its use–a cost that it passes on to riders.
By contrast, the Piccadilly Line runs on public tunnels and thus doesn’t need to pay rent to a private company for use. Since it’s entirely owned by the government and is thus tax-payer funded, it doesn’t need to be profitable and can offer riders more reasonable fares.
Ultimately, which rail option you take largely depends on factors such as your final destination, your budget, and the importance of convenience versus cost. If you prioritize speed and convenience, the Heathrow Express might still be the preferred choice. On the other hand, if cost is your primary concern, then the Piccadilly Line provides a much cheaper option, especially if you use the Hatton Cross trick to avoid peak fares. The Elizabeth Line offers a good balance of cost and convenience for those traveling east of Paddington.
Honestly, I think the difference between the fastest option, the Heathrow Express, and the slower options is small enough that, for me at least, it almost never makes sense to take the Heathrow Express.