The least expensive airfares to England are often priced for round-trip travel and usually must be purchased in advance. Airlines generally allow you to change your return date for a fee; most low-fare tickets, however, are nonrefundable.
Flying time to London is about 7½ hours from New York, 7¾ hours from Chicago, 9 hours from Dallas, 10½ hours from Los Angeles, and 23 hours from Sydney. From London, flights take 1¼ hours to Paris, Amsterdam, or Luxembourg; 1¾ hours to cities in Switzerland; and 2½ hours to Rome.
Most international flights to London arrive at either Heathrow Airport (LHR), 15 miles west of London, or at Gatwick Airport (LGW), 27 miles south of the capital. Most flights from the United States go to Heathrow, with Terminals 3, 4, and 5 handling transatlantic flights (British Airways uses Terminal 5). Gatwick is London's second gateway, serving many U.S. destinations. A third, much smaller airport, Stansted (STN), is 40 miles northeast of the city. It handles mainly European and domestic traffic.
London City Airport (LCY), a small airport inside the city near Canary Wharf, has four flights daily to New York, including a business-class-only flight on British Airways, as well as flights to European destinations. Luton Airport (LLA), 32 miles north of the city, is also quite small and serves British and European destinations. Luton is the hub for low-cost easyJet. Manchester (MAN) in northwest England handles some flights from the United States, as does Birmingham (BHX).
Heathrow and Gatwick are enormous and can seem like shopping malls (Heathrow even offers a personal shopping service). Both airports have several bars and eateries. Several hotels are connected to each airport, and both Gatwick and Heathrow are near dozens of hotels that run free shuttles to the airports. Heathrow has a Hotel Hoppa service that runs shuttles between the airport and around 39 nearby hotels for £5.50 (online) or £6 (on bus) each way. You can find out more at the Central Bus Station or at the Transport for London (TfL) Information Centre in the Underground station serving Terminals 2 and 3. Yotel has budget pod hotels in both Heathrow and Gatwick with cabin-size rooms to be booked in advance in four-hour blocks or overnight. Prices begin at about £45, depending on how long you stay and the time of day.
In comparison, other British airports have much more limited shopping, hotel, and dining options; a delay of a few hours can feel like years.
London has excellent bus and train connections between its airports and downtown. Train service can be the fastest, but the downside is that you must get yourself and your luggage to the terminal, often via a series of escalators and connecting trams. Airport buses (generally run by National Express) may be located nearer to the terminals and drop you closer to central hotels, but they're subject to London traffic, which can be horrendous. Taxis can be more convenient than buses, but prices can go through the roof. Minicabs are more economical, but stick to recommended companies. Uber is currently not allowed to operate in London, but it can take you to other destinations, and you can use alternative ride-hailing companies like Bolt, Ola, Kabbee, and Kapten. Expected to open in summer 2022 (only four years late), the Crossrail (aka Elizabeth) Underground line will provide high-speed service between Heathrow Terminals 2, 3, 4, and 5 and central London, while the Heathrow Express train runs a 15-minute nonstop service between Heathrow and Paddington Station. Alternatively, the slightly slower (25-minute) TfL Rail runs between Heathrow Central and Paddington Station.
The Transport for London website has helpful information, as does Airport Travel Line. The official sites for Gatwick, Heathrow, and Stansted are useful resources for transportation options.
Heathrow by Bus: National Express buses take around one hour (longer at peak time) to reach the city center (Victoria Coach Station) and cost £6–£7.50 one way and £15 round-trip. Buses leave every 5 to 75 minutes from 4:20 am to 10 pm. The National Express Hotel Hoppa service runs from all terminals to around 25 hotels near the airport (£6). Alternatively, nearly every hotel in London is served by the Heathrow Airport Hotel Shuttle service. Fares to Central London begin at £21.30. The N9 night bus runs every 15 minutes from 11:35 pm to 4:55 am to Kensington, Hyde Park Corner, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, and Aldwych; it takes about 75 minutes and costs £1.50. Like all London buses, the N9 takes cash, Visitor Oyster cards, Oyster cards, or contactless "tap and go" debit cards only.
Heathrow by Train: The cheap, direct route into London is via the Piccadilly line of the Underground (London's extensive subway system, or "Tube"). Trains normally run every three to seven minutes from all terminals from around 5 am until just before midnight (a 24-hour service runs every 10 minutes to Terminals 2, 3, and 5 on Friday and Saturday). The 50-minute trip into central London costs £6 (cash), £5.10 (Oyster card peak times), or £3.10 (Oyster card off-peak). The Heathrow Express train is comfortable and very convenient, if costly, speeding into London's Paddington Station in 15 minutes. Standard one-way tickets cost £22 (off-peak), £25 (peak), or £32 for first class. All fares are substantially discounted if booked in advance online. If you arrive without tickets you should purchase them at a kiosk before you board, as they’re more expensive on the train. There's daily service from 5:10 am (6:10 am on Sunday) to 11:25 pm, with departures every 15 minutes. TfL Rail runs a slightly slower (25 minutes) non-express train service along the same route approximately every 15 minutes from 5:22 am (6 am on Sunday) to just after midnight. Tickets are £10.20.
Gatwick by Bus: Hourly bus service runs from Gatwick's north and south terminals to Victoria Coach Station with 11 stops along the way. The journey takes 80–120 minutes and costs from £10 one way. Make sure you get on a direct bus not requiring a change; otherwise the journey could take much longer. The easyBus service runs to West Brompton Underground Station in west London from as little as £4; to get to Victoria Coach station, the price is as low as £1.99. The later the ticket is booked online, the higher the price (up to £12 on board).
Gatwick by Train: There are three train services to Gatwick. The fast, nonstop Gatwick Express leaves for Victoria Station every 15 minutes 5:41 am–11:11pm. The 30-minute trip costs £17.80 one way online. Tickets cost more on board. The Southern rail company's nonexpress services are cheaper. Trains run regularly throughout the day until midnight to London Victoria, London Bridge, and Blackfriars Stations. Daytime departures are every 15 minutes from 5:44 am to 12:41 am (plus a 4:40 am departure), and the journey to London Victoria takes about 40 minutes. Tickets are from £10.70 one way, and you can pay by Oyster card. You can also reach Gatwick by Southern trains coming from Brighton in the opposite direction. Thameslink offers a service similar to Southern but terminating at St. Pancras International instead of Victoria. The Thameslink and Southern services are on commuter trains, and during rush hour trains can be crowded, with little room for baggage and seats at a premium.
Stansted by Bus: National Express Airport bus A7 (24 hours a day) to Victoria Coach Station via Waterloo Station and Southwark costs from £12 one way, leaves every 15 minutes (hourly 2:40 am–5 am, then half-hourly until 7:50 am), and takes 90–120 minutes. The A6 National Express bus serving west London goes to Portman Square, with stops including Golders Green, Finchley Road, St. John's Wood, Baker Street, Paddington Station, and Marble Arch. It leaves every 20–40 minutes, and the journey time is 90–180 minutes, with fares from £12. The east London A8 service leaves every 30–40 minutes before 11:50 pm and after 6 am (hourly otherwise), terminating at King's Cross and stopping at Farringdon, Liverpool Street Station, Shoreditch High Street, Bethnal Green, and South Hackney. Fares are from £8, and the journey time is 67–77 minutes.
Stansted by Train: The Stansted Express to Liverpool Street Station (with a stop at Tottenham Hale) runs every 15 minutes (every 30 minutes early morning and late evening) 5:30 am–12:30 am daily. The 45-minute trip costs £19.40 each way if booked online. Tickets cost more on board.
Luton by Bus and Train: A free airport shuttle runs every 10 minutes from Luton Airport to the nearby Luton Airport Parkway Station, where you can take a train or bus into London. From there, the Thameslink train service runs to St. Pancras, Farringdon, Blackfriars, and London Bridge. The journey takes 25–50 minutes. Trains leave every 10 minutes or so from 6 am until 12:40 pm, 20–60 minutes at other times. One-way tickets begin at £18.80. The Green Line 757 bus service from Luton to Victoria Station runs every 30 minutes between 7 am and 12:35 am (hourly other times), takes 60 to 100 minutes, and costs from £11.50, while an easyBus shuttle has tickets starting from £2. National Express runs coaches from Victoria Coach Station to Luton from £5 one way.
Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, and Luton by Taxi: This is an expensive and time-consuming option. If your destination is within the city's congestion zone, £11.50 will be added to the bill during charging hours. If you get stuck in traffic, a taxi from the stand will be even more expensive; a cab booked ahead is a set price. A taxi trip from Heathrow to Victoria, for example, can take more than an hour and cost between £48 and £90. Private-hire cars may be the same price or even less—at this writing, the fee to Victoria Station is about £50 from Heathrow and £70 from Gatwick and Stansted, not including the congestion charge. Another option, if you have friends in the London area, is to have them book a reputable minicab firm to pick you up, or you can book one yourself via the Kabee app. The cost of a minicab from Heathrow to central London is approximately £47. The Uber fare from Heathrow is currently £28–£37, from Gatwick £60–£75, and from Stansted £55–£71, but Uber's ability to operate in the London area is the subject of ongoing legal proceedings. Your hotel may also be able to recommend a car service.
Transfers Between Airports
Allow at least three to four hours for transferring between airports. The National Express Airport bus is the most direct option between Gatwick and Heathrow. Buses depart from Gatwick every 5–35 minutes between 6:45 am and 11:45 pm (25–120 minutes from 3:05 am to 5:50 am) and from Heathrow every 5–35 minutes. The trip takes 75 to 120 minutes, and the fare is £27 one way. Book tickets in advance. National Express buses between Stansted and Gatwick depart every 15 to 100 minutes and take between 3 and 4½ hours. The one-way fare is from £20 to £52. The National Express bus between Stansted and Heathrow takes about 90 minutes on a direct route, runs every 20–100 minutes, and costs from £22.50. Some airlines may offer shuttle services as well—check with your airline before your journey.
The cheapest option—but most complicated—is public transportation: from Gatwick to Stansted, for instance, catch the Gatwick Express train to Victoria Station, then take the National Express bus to Stanstead, or from Victoria take the Tube to Liverpool Street Station and hop on the train to Stansted. Alternatively, take the Thameslink train to Farringdon and transfer to the Tube bound for Liverpool Street. From Heathrow to Gatwick, take the Heathrow Express to Paddington, transfer to the Metropolitan/Circle line to King's Cross/St. Pancras, then take the Thameslink train to Gatwick.
All this should get much easier when the Crossrail (Elizabeth line) service becomes fully operational in summer 2022 (the latest estimate). It will travel directly from Heathrow to Liverpool Street Station for Stansted connections and directly to Farringdon for the Thameslink to Gatwick.
Check the Transport for London website (www.tfl.gov.uk) to make sure trains and Tube lines are running, especially on weekends when service may be suspended for engineering works.
British Airways offers mostly nonstop flights from 24 U.S. cities to Heathrow, along with flights to Manchester, Leeds, and Newcastle and a vast program of discount airfare–hotel packages. Britain-based Virgin Atlantic is a strong competitor in terms of packages. Norwegian Air offers low-cost flights on A380s to New York, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Austin, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Orlando, Miami, Tampa, and Fort Lauderdale. London is a very popular destination, so many U.S. carriers have flights and packages, too.
Because England is such a small country, internal air travel is much less important than it is in the United States. For trips of less than 200 miles, trains are often quicker because rail stations are more centrally located. Getting to and from airports can be expensive and complicated compared to train stations, but for longer trips air travel has a considerable time advantage (you need to factor in time for those airport transfers, though).
British Airways operates services between Heathrow or London City (Friday and Sunday only) and Manchester, and frequent daily flights between Heathrow or Gatwick and Edinburgh. Low-cost airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair offer flights within the United Kingdom as well as to cities in Ireland and continental Europe. Prices are low, but these airlines usually fly out of smaller British airports such as Stansted and Luton, both near London. Check www.cheapflights.com for price comparisons.