Five Star Virgin: First Class on the Heathrow Express – is it worth it?


Now, the Heathrow Express is nothing more than an overpriced 15 minute train ride so really isn’t worth an installment, though there are a few things that are worth mentioning. First of all, while I was initially going to stay near the airport in both directions, I figured it would make sense to go into the city on the way out since I had a full afternoon. Given that the Heathrow Airport hotels are incredibly inconvenient to get to and don’t even have free shuttles for the most part, getting to Paddington via the Heathrow Express is actually faster than getting to most airport hotels.

I had made reservations online for the Heathrow Express using a 50% off code, making my total fare a reasonable £16. To top off the 50% offer, a generous blog reader had some free first class upgrade vouchers to pass on, so I was able to upgrade to first class for free in both directions.

The Heathrow Express runs every 15 minutes and takes only 15 minutes to Paddington Station. While not the most interesting part of London, Paddington is certainly more interesting than the area around the airport.

Anyway, the real reason I’m making this post is to talk a bit about the value proposition (or lack thereof) of “First Class” on the Heathrow Express, vs. Express Class. Like I said, the upgrade was free, which I was very thankful for, though I doubt I would pay more than a premium of about $1 for first class. The only difference is that the seats are slightly larger (instead of the 2-2 configuration in Express Class, the configuration in First Class is 2-1) and the train is usually quieter since most people are sane enough not to pay about double for a product that’s only marginally better. They also have free copies of the Financial Times in First Class, whatever that’s worth.

While the train has free wireless internet, it’s incredibly slow, and frankly on a 15 minute train ride I can live without it. I arrived at Paddington Station by around 2PM and made the three minute walk to the Hotel Indigo.

So there are two lessons to be learned. First, if you have a layover at Heathrow, consider staying near Paddington. Second, First Class isn’t worth it on the Heathrow Express.

Walkway to the Heathrow Express station

Heathrow Express station at the airport

First Class

First Class

View (or lack thereof) enroute

Heathrow Express upgrade voucher

Paddington Station

Filed Under: Travel
  1. Lived 3 yrs in the UK and worked near Paddington – have now relocated back home to India.

    Your analysis of Heathrow express and the value it offers in first class vs second class is bang on…thanks also for the snaps which were a trip down memory lane !!

  2. The HEX isn’t worth it in my opinion, full stop. A very overpriced 15 minute ride.

    In saying that, perhaps the key in the value there is the time – 15 minutes. If you are in a real hurry and a HEX is close to when you need it, the price becomes extremely attractive.

    For everyone else who is not in a rush, the Heathrow Connect is probably a better proposition. For the real thrifts, there’s the Picadilly Line tube.

    VS most famously have the vouchers which allow free upgrades on the HEX (and Gatwick Express) to First Class. I don’t see why, for example, other carriers with F can’t do a similar kind of thing (e.g. F going to or from LON grants a free First Class HEX transfer…although I guess First Class on the HEX might just be crowded then).

  3. Ben, you’ve reported my exact routine for flights to London, except for the ‘first class’ upgrade – which I agree isn’t worth the money.

    The Heathrow Express is decent value for the time is saves me And the HEX drops me right at Paddington Station, a few minutes’ walk from Hotel Indigo, which is one of my favourite little boutique hotels. From the Indigo you can wander back to the main street and over tothe tube or (and this is my preference) catch a bus into the city, with services going straight through to Oxford Circus.

    That said, I find the HEX’s wireless is quick enough for shooing off all the emails I’ve done during my flight.

  4. HEX is definitely worth it if you have a 6am flight. I think it’s the best way of getting to LHR, as the Heathrow Connect has less frequent services. The first time I went out to LHR for a trip I took it, and on the way back into the city I waited for 45 minutes while 3 HEX services left. Ever since, HEX every time.
    PIccadilly line tube is just way too slow and a taxi is out of the question.

    Re: First Class though, I walk past those carriages all the time and have no idea why they don’t either a) scrap the product or b) improve it significantly to actually make it worthwhile. But even still, for a 15 minute journey, you couldn’t really take advantage of any perks anyway.

  5. The real problem with the Heathrow Express is that it goes into Paddington which is not where most tourists or business travellers want to be – and the same can be said for Heathrow Connect.

    I always recommend the Underground. It’s far cheaper and there are no changes if you want to go to South Kensington, Knightsbridge, Hyde Park or Piccadilly. So, although it’s slower, you actually arrive sooner with no messing about.

  6. I usually ride in f on the hex – I enjoy having what is often a private carriage. It is expensive for sure, but I find pleasure in a bit of solitude – even if just 15 minutes. Ymmv.

  7. I usually fly into Heathrow on Business, and have the first class upgrade voucher for this train, and STILL don’t use the HEX !

    Its just a rip off, and unless your business is right in Paddington, you will have to switch to the tube, or an expensive taxi, so thats a train station to subway station bag-schlep, and your time saving gone. I get onto the tube and sit it out. one ride takes me right to where I need to be.

    The HEX is fast and clean, plus cellphones work on it (yes, even underground) But its privately owned and they are just gouging anyone who wants to use it. Its one of the most expensive train rides in the world on a miles per $ basis, and it offends me how high those charges are, so despite my good fortune, I wont partake.

  8. Yes, it is an expensive train ride, and yes ‘First’ is not that much better than Express.

    That being said, it’s way cheaper and faster than a taxi to get into central London.

    Like nybanker, I usually go for F as well. Not being crowded in with a bunch of people and being able to ride in relative comfort is a very nice feeling after a TATL (sometimes in Y). Now granted, I am expensing it most of the time, so no skin off my bones, but I did pay for it out of pocket the last time the Mrs. and I went.


  9. Your comments about first class can also be applied to a number of trains in Europe. Usually riding in 2nd class is fine. The perks in first, except for being a bit quieter (which sometimes is important) usually isn’t worth the extra cost.

    There are some exceptions but generally first class isn’t worth the premium for many riders.

  10. Having lived in London previously, I would say that it’s actually easier (and cheaper) to catch the Piccadilly Line (blue) that goes direct from Heathrow pretty much to anywhere in the city (Kensington, Covent Garden, Hyde Park, Bloomsbury, Kings Cross).
    With an Oyster card it may be a maximum of 4£, plus you get to transfer anywhere on the Tube.
    With the Heathrow Express you’re stuck in Paddington (which is frankly a rather boring area).

  11. I usually have to head to Euston to catch a train up north when I arrive at LHR and I’ve taken both HEX and the Tube (Piccadilly to Victoria) and its easiest way – like other posters have said, all depends where you want to go / need to be.

    Lucky, would your opinion change if they served warm nuts 🙂

  12. The Classic is HEX worth it. Well the straight answer in any case is no.

    Plain and simple.

    Lets go through the reasons
    1) Cost £16 for a 15 minute journey? Puts it near enough on Concorde pricing per mile!
    2) First Class? For a 15 minute ride? Unless it’s a freebie not a cat in hells chance.
    3) WiFi. If you can knock out enough content to make it worthwhile, ok, but most of the time, you’ll be spending 5 minutes to get the laptop out, another 3 packing it away… leaving a grand total of 7 minutes work done. Good luck with that…
    3) Serves Paddington. Now as has been pointed out, Paddington is in the back end of the Tube Network, and only suitable for parts of North West/West London. Anything going East of Piccadilly Circus on the tube map will be quicker by Tube..
    4) Not so Time Constrained? HINT: Take Heathrow Connect. Goes from Platform 11/12 at Paddington, Costs £8.40 for a single. Takes a grand total of 10 minutes longer.
    5) As I stated before, there is a midpoint in where HEX/HEC becomes slower than tube – and it’s Piccadilly Circus. Any destination to the left of it is quicker with a HEX/HEC combo, any destination to the right will be quicker by Tube.

    A few more “Money Saving Tips” 😉

    Want the train but not in a rush? Take any train from Paddington to Hayes and Harlington with an Oyster Card, touch out, and catch the 140 to Heathrow Central (also good for the Heathrow Hotels) (Average 30 minutes not including bus waits)

    Tube – It’s not a lot, and use the Oyster Card, it’s a cheap trip.

    Time is money – you’ve got to work out which is the best use of time for you.

  13. The best way to get a cheap cab to LHR is to tell him to go to Paddington.
    With your bags in hands, he asks “You going to LHR? I can do it for X Pounds”.
    Depending in where you are this fare is way lower than standard meter fare.
    The other day I was offered a price of 20 pounds from Crowne Plaza, Earls Court
    to LHR. I did not take it since I was meeting someone at Paddington
    but the ride to paddington cost me 12 Pounds. For additional 8 pounds I
    could be going to LHR directly in the cab….HEX is expensive and
    I use it only when I am in a hurry…

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