Flying into Heathrow and trying to figure out the best way to get to Central London? We've got all the background information you need about the fares, timetables, and level of convenience for London taxis, private hire minicabs, Heathrow Express & Connect trains, and the Tube (London Underground).
London Heathrow is 22km west of central London, with a current total of four terminals: 1, 3, 4 and 5. (Terminal 2 has been knocked down and will be replaced by a new terminal.)
- Terminal 1: Star Alliance
- Terminal 3: Star Alliance, most oneworld (including Qantas and British Airways' Australia flights) and unaffiliated airlines
- Terminal 4: SkyTeam and unaffiliated airlines
- Terminal 5: British Airways (not Australia and some other destinations)
If it's not obvious from your ticket which terminal you'll be using, Heathrow has a destination-by-destination guide -- although if you're connecting through (say) Dubai, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur you'll need to pick that airport as your destination.
The easiest way is to let one of London's famed cabbies drive you door to door in a taxi. While it's expensive -- the official Transport for London agency reckons between £42 and £80 (A$66-125) -- it's far more convenient than taking public transport unless you're staying right next to Paddington.
If there's more than one of you travelling, the cost per person comes down to less than the train, making it a particularly good option.
Private hire car (minicab)
In London, private hire cars are licenced by Transport for London and are called minicabs. You'll need to arrange one before you arrive, since they're not allowed to pick you up unless you've pre-booked.
Heathrow's largest minicab operator is Addison Lee, which also offers the opportunity to go by taxybike -- a doubtless invigorating pelt through ever-sunny London on the back of a motorbike that promises a 35-minute journey to Heathrow.
Check with colleagues or business contacts for other minicab recommendations, or take our advice to ask your hotel concierge for options before you arrive.
The fastest way to get into central London is usually the Heathrow Express, which runs every 15 minutes between Heathrow and London's Paddington railway station.
The Heathrow Express has direct trains to Paddington from Terminal 5 and Heathrow Central (for Terminals 1 and 3, where Qantas' and British Airways' flights arrive). So for oneworld and Star Alliance passengers, it's remarkably convenient. It's less convenient for Terminal 4 arrivals (which include most SkyTeam airlines and Virgin Australia's partner Etihad), since you'll need to change trains at Heathrow Central.
(Make sure you don't get on the slower, cheaper, stopping Heathrow Connect train instead if you've paid for the Heathrow Express. For more on the Heathrow Connect, see below.)
The Heathrow Express is also the most expensive public transport option -- and it doesn't accept London's Oyster public transport smartcard either.
A single in standard ("Express") class is £16.50 online or £18 if bought at the station. (You'll pay another £5 penalty if you buy onboard.) That works out to A$26 online, $28 at the station or $36 on the train. Returns in Express class are £32 (A$50) online or at the station, or £37 (A$58) onboard.
First class is more expensive: one-way is £26 (A$41) no matter where you buy it, while a return is £50 (A$78). For a journey that takes between 15 and 20 minutes, it's probably not worth it.
We'd recommend buying tickets online for two reasons: first, you save a few dollars, but second (and more importantly) if there are issues with your bank's international credit card approvals you can fix them before you arrive in London.
And the Heathrow Express is subject to delays from engineering works, especially on weekends and public holidays -- in other words, right when you're flying in for a week's business trip.
From Paddington, you have the option of several London Underground Tube lines (District, Circle, Hammersmith & City, and Bakerloo) or taxis to continue on into central London.
More information: heathrowexpress.com
The Heathrow Connect is slower, less frequent, less comfortable and therefore cheaper than the Heathrow Express. It runs along the same tracks into London from Heathrow Central (Terminals 1 & 3). If you're arriving from Terminals 4 or 5, you'll need to change train.
A single to Paddington in standard class (there's no first class) is £8.50 (A$13), while a return is £16.50 (A$26) -- the same price as a standard class single on the Heathrow Express.
We'd only really recommend the Heathrow Express for business travellers heading to one of the intermediate stations between Heathrow and Paddington (Hayes & Harlington, Southall, Hanwell, West Ealing, and Ealing Broadway). Your time is likely more valuable than waiting around for the Heathrow Connect to arrive and then taking a full half hour into Paddington.
More information: heathrowconnect.com
London Underground (the Tube)
London Underground's Piccadilly line (marked in dark blue on the Tube map) serves all Heathrow terminals, trundling slowly into Central London.
It's useful if you're heading somewhere near a Central London tube station on the Piccadilly line -- you won't have to change at Paddington that way. (Check the PDF Tube map if you're unsure.)
It's also useful if your destination is on the District line (green on the Tube map). There are direct connections from the Piccadilly line to the District line at several points, but the best is at Hammersmith, which has an across-the-platform transfer between the two.
A cash single is £5 (A$8), while London's Oyster public transport smartcard gets you a 50p discount. Avoid buying the Day Travelcard pass if you want to use the Tube before 0930: it's a whopping £15 (A$23) if you come in from Heathrow. After 0930 it's a more reasonable £8 (A$13). (Fares in full from London Underground -- you're looking at the Zones 1-6 line.)
Bear in mind that the Tube is also often disrupted by weekend and public holiday engineering works, so check the Tube website for up-to-date information.
More information: tfl.gov.uk/tube
Coaches at Heathrow are relatively cheap but aren't worth it for most business travellers.
An exception is the Airline coach to Oxford, which runs every 30 minutes from Heathrow Central bus station (terminals 1 & 3) and Terminal 5 (but not Terminal 4) during the daytime, but more frequently before 9am, when Australian flights arrive.
It takes about 90 minutes (80 from Terminal 5), has free wi-fi on board, and is a faster and more convenient option than the train.
The only other sensible coaches are the Railair Link buses to train stations at Reading (for the Westcountry and south Wales, though it's easier to go into Paddington on the Heathrow Express), Watford Junction (for the north and Scotland) and Woking (for the southeast).
More information: heathrowairport.com's coaches page
Your tips for getting to Heathrow
Got insider tips or hard-won experience in getting to and from Heathrow? Share your experiences with other Australian Business Traveller readers in the comments below.
About John Walton
Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.