Review: National Express From Heathrow To Gatwick

Filed Under: Travel

My connecting flight was out of London Gatwick, which meant I had to get between the two airports. I’m terrible with ground transportation, though was pleasantly surprised by the National Express coach experience I had between the two airports.

Options For Getting Between Heathrow & Gatwick

I’m by no means an expert on London transportation, though the way I see it, I had three realistic options for getting between the two airports:

  • I could order an Uber, which is the most costly of the options, and on top of that might not even be the fastest, as I’ve consistently had really long waits for Uber pick-ups at Heathrow
  • I could take the National Express coach service, which runs over 80 times per day between the two airports, with travel times of as little as 65 minutes
  • I could take the tube and other public transportation, which is the cheapest option but also requires transfers and is more time consuming

I decided to book the National Express coach, which will mark the second-ever bus review here on OMAAT, as I also recently reviewed a bus service between Paris Charles de Gaulle and Paris Orly. 😉

Soon enough maybe this blog will be renamed OBAAT (One Bus at a Time?).

Booking A National Express Coach Ticket

National Express’ website is easy enough to use, and if anything it was overwhelming just how many services there were between the two airports. It required doing a lot of scrolling to get to the service that I wanted.

When you select your service you also specify which terminals you want to go to & from. I was departing Terminal 3 at Heathrow and going to the South Terminal at Gatwick.

I ended up deciding on a 12:05PM bus that was scheduled to arrive at 1:20PM, which was marketed as one of the fastest journeys, at 75 minutes.

The ride cost 28GBP, or about 37USD. That’s more expensive than some flights in Europe.

The booking process was easy enough, though National Express’ website reminds me a bit of EasyJet in terms of how much they try to upsell you.

The “base” fare was 27GBP, then there was a 1GBP booking fee.

They tried to get me to pay 2GBP to assign a seat, though I didn’t do that. It seems that you can just assign seats in the first five rows, but I prefer to sit in the back of the cabin, just as I do on airplanes. 😉

At least there were no fuel surcharges.

I was emailed an e-ticket, which I was told to show to the driver.

You can also buy tickets for the service at the ticket counter or through a machine, though you can’t buy the tickets onboard.

National Express From Heathrow To Gatwick Review

National Express coaches depart from three separate points at Heathrow. They operate from:

  • The Heathrow Central Bus Station serves Terminals 2 & 3
  • Outside of Terminal 4
  • Outside of Terminal 5

I headed to the central bus station, which was about a 10-minute walk from the terminal.

Walking to Heathrow central bus station

Walking to Heathrow central bus station

The central bus station basically looks like a terminal of its own, and they also have a departures board that shows what “stand” your bus departs from. Much like Heathrow has the habit of doing with planes, they only like to display it close to departure.

Heathrow central bus station

10 minutes before departure the monitor showed that my bus would be departing from stand eight.

Heathrow central bus station

Heathrow central bus station

The bus driver took my bag, and then I got on board.

National Express bus

Oddly my ticket was never checked (not on arrival or departure), which I’m confused about. I know a lot of public transportation uses the honor system (except when they randomly check), though I figured they’d check tickets on this service, given that it’s quite pricey.

The bus had swanky mood lighting, but really that was just a distraction from the tight legroom.

National Express coach

National Express coach

The seats were thick and well padded, but the legroom was limited. I guess they haven’t yet learned about slimline seats from airlines. 😉

National Express coach

The second to last row had a ton of extra legroom, though it was also right by the bathroom, and the bus driver kept a trash bag on the back of the seats right in front.

National Express Comfort+

Each seat had a tray table, though it really wasn’t big enough to accommodate all of the items distributed with the onboard service. It was large enough when the individual caviar tins were brought out (since they perfectly fit in the cupholders), but when the chateaubriand cart was rolled down the aisle, there simply wasn’t enough space for all the sides.

National Express seat tray table

Each seat had a 230v outlet, and the bus apparently had wifi, though I couldn’t get it to work (which wasn’t an issue, since I could tether).

National Express power outlets

We left five minutes behind schedule, at 12:10PM, though we had a pretty smooth ride with very little traffic. I guess that’s the benefit of driving on Saturday afternoon. The bus was pretty empty, as there were fewer than a dozen people on board.

Onboard entertainment was limited to a nose camera on the overhead monitor. It was better than nothing, though personally I prefer tail cameras.

National Express nose camera

Despite departing five minutes late, we arrived five minutes early, at 1:15PM. The bus first stopped at the North Terminal, and then at the South Terminal.

National Express bus

From there it was an easy walk to my next stop…

Gatwick Airport South Terminal

National Express Coach Bottom Line

Getting between Heathrow and Gatwick sure is painless with the National Express coach. They have a high number of frequencies, and it’s convenient to just get on board and not have to worry about anything until you arrive.

In the past I’ve avoided transfers between airports in London, and while it’s still not ideal, it’s not nearly as bad as I was expecting.

If you’ve transferred between Heathrow and Gatwick, what method of transportation did you use, and what was your experience like?

  1. You probably won’t get this (neither will anyone from outside the UK or Ireland) but there was band in the 1990s called The Divine Comedy who had a song called “National Express.” Solely from reading the title of this review I now have an earworm.

  2. The bus is OK until the Traffic Wombles (AKA the Highways Agency) shut down all lanes (for their safety) of the M25/M23 because a hedgehog got squashed on the road and they need to do a full investigation as to how the driver had been so thoughtless and hadn’t attempted to swerve across four lanes of traffic to avoid it.

    The short of it is that there’s no good way to get between these two airports. If you absolutely have to be there on time, take the Heathrow Express into Paddington and go from there. More expensive, a couple of connections but reliable.

  3. Can use Oyster/Contactless/Apple Pay/Google Pay to travel using the Tube to Victoria (Piccadilly to District lines), and then pick up the Southern trains to Gatwick, for 11 pounds off-peak. Takes about 1:30, so 15 minutes longer, and a few more steps, but significantly cheaper.

  4. For two people Uber used to be a much better deal than the bus.

    With recent price changes that appears no longer true.

    In fact Uber seems to be an awful deal in enough places with good taxi service like Heathrow that booking a taxi is probably now cheaper. And also cheaper than the bus for 3 or more. And possibly competitive for 2 or more.

  5. I wouldn’t recommend using these services during morning or afternoon rush hour, as the bus schedules don’t do a good job of factoring in traffic delays. Take a train instead. The M25 goes nowhere and accidents happen. Almost missed an early evening flight due to traffic/accidents, even though the bus to Heathrow was meant to arrive 3 hours before my flight.

  6. Lucky –

    No onboard entertainment isn’t correct – the buses are equipped with Wi-fi and once connected to the onboard network has an entertainment tv shows movies etc that you watch through your web browser

    But.. if you didn’t know it existed, having booked on their website, then that in itself is also a problem

  7. I have been reading long enough to think that Travis and/or Andrew could head up OBAAT. Having taken long-haul busses around the world, I would be thoroughly interested in those reviews and imagine they’d be very entertaining.

  8. Seems easier than taking Heathrow Express, Bakerloo Line, Victoria Line and Gatwick Express like I did a few months ago 😛

  9. @airfarer

    If you’re actually departing from Heathrow on the Piccadilly line I don’t see this is a big deal because in my experience they leave pretty empty from Heathrow so you’ll definitely get a seat and space for your bags

  10. @DCJoe

    Yes you can and that’s the way I would do it as they are more reliable than the M25 – although I’d probably check up to date information on Citymapper before making the final decision.

    @Airfarer – the Piccadilly Line starts at LHR so there’s no problem with space even in rush hour. Other people getting on is not your problem when you are sitting in your seat – just don’t take on reserved for people who are disabled or pregnant. Also the Heathrow Express is a crazy idea – it goes to Paddington from which you cannot connect to any of the services to Gatwick, so it’s inconvenient, crazy expensive and slower than the lot of them.

  11. 37 Bucks for a f***ing cramped coach service? Better off to book a RFS with Avios from Heathrow to somewhere in Europe and another flight with Easyjet/Ryanair to the other London Airport.
    Or even better, skipping Sadiq Khan’s Londonistan entirely.

  12. @JDS Also my instant ear worm. However for my business travel playlist it has to be “Come Home Billy Bird”

  13. My favorite meet and greet car service at LHR is Very reasonable rates to almost anywhere within reasonable driving distance. Always WAY cheaper than a black taxi and there are many other similar car services which are equally handy

  14. National Express LHR-LGW bus is an absolute rip off! The drivers are rude and unhelpful and £28 for a 1 hour journey is ridiculous. Plus if your flight lands late and you miss the bus you have booked on, they won’t let you on a later bus. Also, you’re at the mercy of the M25. If anything happens you’re stuck. You can’t get off and get a taxi or an alternative method of transport. At least using the train and tube, if the worst comes to the worst there are several different routes you can take and you can even jump in a taxi part way through the journey if necessary. Cheapest way to do it is Piccadilly line to Earls Court, District Line to West Brompton, train from there to Clapham Junction and then another train to LGW. You can also take a local bus to Feltham Station and catch a train from there to get to Clapham Junction. Even with luggage I point blank refuse to pay £28 for National Express.

  15. @Airfarer- he said he took the 12:05 PM bus, so well after rush hour. I have ridden the Piccadilly line into London at almost exactly that time. The train did fill up within about 5 stops, but as LHR is the beginning of the line, no issues with getting a seat.

    At rush hour it might even make MORE sense to take the train to avoid potential bad road traffic on the M25.

  16. First of all if you’re going to use National Express just download their excellent app and the tickets are kept in Google Pay/Apple Wallet.

    Much much cheaper and not much longer is the little known route: LGW-East Croydon-Hatton Cross-LHR

    Gatwick to East Croydon £3.30 (off peak) £5.50 (rush hour) – Oyster or Contactless!fares?orig=NRGTW&dest=NRECR

    From East Croydon the X26 bus goes direct to Hatton Cross for a mere £1.50 Oyster. From memory it is the longest bust route in London.

    From Hatton Cross it is one or two stops to any Heathrow Terminal by Tube (you should be near your daily cap on Oyster by this point).

    Apologies but the parsimonious Scotsman obsesses about cheap/free public transport.

  17. That is the best option to transfer from Heathrow to Gatwick. Some years ago National Express even had a trolley service, when you could order sandwiches, tea, sweets, etc

  18. I have used National Express several times and it was never a problem. The fellow passengers provide entertainment as they were all “unique in their own special ways”. LOL. The pricing is OK and they always get you there on time. So they are A-OK in my book.
    Plus you can take National Express to Southampton if you are going on a cruise ship.

  19. Used to love taking the National Express as a student. Always remember the injunctions from the driver: “No number 2s in the bathroom please!”

  20. @ Ben — Well, let’s hope this is better than the last bus your recommended. 😉 Assuming uber is operating, I would rather take that over another bus ride from hell.

  21. It wasn’t an honor system, they just check that there are as many passengers on board as the number of seats sold.

    In Korea, on the train, no one asks as long as you are in the seat you booked. Move to another seat and all hell breaks loose.

  22. Here’s a stark difference between the UK and the USA. If you did a similar coach transfer in the USA, it would socially mandatory for you to “tip” the driver. In contrast, in the UK, not only is it not socially mandatory to tip the driver, the driver wouldn’t expect to be tipped.

  23. If you’re not on a budget, in addition to Uber, next time you may want to try Wheely, which is effectively a high-end Uber/Lyft service with high end cars and licensed drivers. I noticed Wheely’s ad in the BA in flight magazine traveling to the UK last summer and during the BA pilot strike our return BA flight from Zurich to Heathrow was canceled. I was able to find a last minute BA City Flyer replacement flight to London City Airport and tried Wheely to drive us from London City to Heathrow. Bottom line is we were really impressed. Really nice new MBZ, well dressed polite driver and it cost maybe 20% more than Uber. Not cheap but especially if you have a more than one in the car… a really nice option.

  24. Thank you very much for this very practical and helpful guide. I’ve used it, but I’m waiting for the chateaubriand cart for awhile now.

  25. @Nick- not sure I agree with you. I have never seen anyone tip bus drivers in the US on buses which have paid tickets. I have only seen people tip drivers of free shuttle buses (like to airport car rental lot), and then generally only if they help with a bag.

  26. @JDS Neil Hannon is still recording as The Divine Comedy. He has a new (2019) album, Office Politics, with a single about jumping the que.

  27. OBAAT is a life saver because I need to get from heathrow to gatwick next month. I have to drop my dad off at heathrow and then get to gatwick for my ratchet Norwegian air flight to JFK.

  28. That is IF the Heathrow Express is late, late, late and not delayed for some reason that they wish to blame the National Railway so you won’t receive compensation for their delays.
    And you don’t mind walking a long distance at the airport.

    Should be much better, but then a whole lot in the UK should be alot better. Maybe now they can concentrate on the UK with Brexit separation.

  29. If you must use the coach between LHR-LGW, Megabus is a lot cheaper and there is virtually no difference between their coaches and NX ones, and they’re also direct (unlike some regular none airport coaches). You can get tickets with Megabus for about £15.75 looking just now so quite a lot cheaper.

  30. The best compromise is take the tube from heathrow to blackfriars and then thameslink to gatwick. You can often pick up a good thameslink fare via a train booking site. Make sure to put in the exact station a d not ‘london’ as you will get tons of options and an empty wallet.

  31. I’m willing to tip if they can get me there faster than the other passengers on the bus.

    I’m actually appalled you would ride with the Great Unwashed. The whole blog is about NOT doing so.
    Private car or taking the 2 express trains isn’t a bad idea (the latter if you don’t have too much luggage)
    I’m waiting for Elon to bore a private tunnel between the airports. We’ll see how the one in Vegas goes first.

  32. I’ve hesitated to post this since it was supposed to open last year, and even now there’s no fixed opening date, but…

    At some point the Heathrow Express will be connected to the new railway tunnel built underneath London as part of the Crossrail project, and then there will be through trains from Heathrow via central London to Docklands and the east. It will be called the Elizabeth Line.

    To transfer between airports, you will then take the Elizabeth Line to Farringdon, and change there for a Thameslink train to Gatwick Airport.

    It should be quicker — and certainly much more reliable — than the bus option. And fares will be set by TfL, not the airport, so they’re likely to fall dramatically.

    It seems likely to open early-ish next year (about 2 years behind schedule. And several billion pounds over-budget).

  33. I’ve booked a meet and greet private car through minicabit – this allowed me to make a connection time of 2 hours. It was £69, the guy was there on arrival and whisked me to his vehicle for the transfer. Economical for when the bus times won’t cut it.

  34. Cheapest way would be the X26 bus to Croydon (get off at East Croydon station) then take a train. Use Oyster or contactless, cost £1.50+£4. But takes nearer 2h.

  35. Here is another option. Take the 285 bus from Heathrow Central Bus Station to Feltham train station (about 15-20 min ride; operates about every 12 minutes). Take any inbound South Western Railway train to Clapham Junction (operates about every 15 minutes and uses Platforms 3-6 at Clapham Junction) and then change to trains bound to Gatwick (Platforms 12-15; these are Southern Railway fast trains to Brighton and only stop at East Croydon on their way to Gatwick). This can be a very fast service if good connections are made. The 285 bus is a city bus. As Feltham is not too far from Heathrow, you can Uber it to Feltham and save some time. While the tube is an option, it is a long ride on the Piccadilly Line, and to get to Victoria Station or Blackfrairs requires a change to the District Line at Hammersmith (although it is the same platform).

    Interesting comment about the X-26 bus. I have ridden it from Heathrow to East Croydon if I am staying in East Croydon. Interesting trip. It goes through neighborhoods where my wife grew up and went to school (Carshalton and Wallington High School for Girls).

  36. As Paul nice said above… If the bus takes the M25 it’s a bit of a gamble, it can get crazy sometimes. I’d probably take the Heathrow express to Paddington station and then the tube to Farringdon. From there there’s a direct train to Gatwick on Thameslink.

    You could change at kings cross too, but it’s a big station. Farringdon station is much smaller, and it’s definitively a shorter walk.

  37. I’ve used the X26 in combination with the bus from the end of my road (I’m on the Surrey/Croydon boundary) and with the Hopper fare it’s £1.50 all the way – remember there is a free travel zone around Heathrow. By comparison it’s £6.20 to get to Gatwick from the same bus stop… much closer but not TFL.
    If you have the time it’s an interesting option.
    Also if you book the Heathrow Express in advance fares drop considerably now.

  38. I think you were a bit unlucky with £28 as I’ve had it for as little as £17.50 very recently.

    While it’s technically true that the base ticket doesn’t allow you to travel on another service, in practice I must have rolled up early at least 10 times over the last couple of years and been waved aboard the previous service no questions asked.

    The drivers are variable – most are fine, the odd one is grumpy, some make a big thing of scanning your ticket, others can’t be bothered…

    Best one so far was last summer when he took a wrong turning out of Heathrow and added 40 minutes to the journey as he tried to find his way back to the M25 🙂

    There is an alternative route as well, which I have done a couple of times with great success Bus 285 from Heathrow Central to Feltham, train to Clapham Junction, train to Gatwick. The 2 changes are dead easy and it’s relatively fast door to door, especially if you’re going between T2,3 and South Terminal.

  39. All of these, ‘take the number 287 to Rushton Moors (only costs 28p), then walk a mile over to Biggins Copse and wait 28 minutes for the 367 ( 368 on weekends and Holy Days), then wait 18 minutes to grab the SuperSaver Express 189 to Bigglesthwaite (a snip at 67p), then if you walk in a east-north-easterly as the crow flies for another 27 miles; Gatwick is on your doorstep.’

    Seriously, this is the most convenient way of travelling between LHR and LGW.

  40. @ Bobby Spinks While I am certainly happy to vouch for that being an excellent way to transfer between the two airports, and I would like to commend you on your suggestion, I think you might be misleading other readers – I took the bus you mentioned (which cost £1.50 by the way, not 28p) from Biggins copse on a Sunday and I swear it was the 367, not a 368. Bigglesthwaite is a lovely picturesque village, well worth a visit in its own right. Enjoyed an excellent ploughman’s lunch there, as well as the beautiful countryside and moorland walks you recommended.

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