Which London Airport Should You Choose?
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London is already well served by a variety of international and smaller carriers — it has five airports, after all — but as of May 1, 2016, there will be even more options for flying to the UK capital from the US. On that date, British Airways will begin operating daily flights between London Gatwick (LGW) and New York-JFK on a 275-seat, three-class 777-200 — bringing the total number of London airports served by BA to three. The schedule is as follows:
- BA2273 London Gatwick (LGW) to New York-JFK departing at 4:40pm, arriving at 7:30pm
- BA2272 New York-JFK to London Gatwick (LGW) departing at 10pm, arriving at 10am (+1 day)
Between British Airways and its joint-venture partner American Airlines, there are 12 daily flights between New York-JFK and London Heathrow (LHR) and two daily BA Club World flights between New York-JFK and London City (LCY). With BA adding additional flights to and from Gatwick next year, it begs the question: Which London airport is best for your travel plans?
To help you decide which airport will work best for you, we lined up the three hubs that offer service to the US — with the exception of London's Luton (LTN), which has one flight to Newark on La Compagnie — and outlined what each has to offer.
British Airways's latest addition, Gatwick, is about 30 miles south of the city. It's the UK's second-largest airport, and London's second-busiest airport by total passenger traffic. LGW is trafficked by airlines such as Norwegian, easyJet and Aer Lingus, among other carriers that fly to and from other European cities and beyond.
Switching terminals can take a long time at Gatwick, as they're spread far apart with few options to get between the two except walking. It's also a long trek from the gates to customs, which is usually topped off by an average 20- to 30-minute wait in line — a definite downside to traveling through Gatwick. But that being said, it does have a good selection of food and shopping options, such as a Wagamama and Harrods.
You have a few options for traveling from Gatwick to the center of London. The Gatwick Express is about a 30-minute trip and costs £17.70 (about $27) one-way from Gatwick to London Victoria station and vice versa. You could also take the National Express Coach to the Victoria Coach Station for £7 ($11), which takes about an hour and 20 minutes each way.
British Airways' flights out of London City Airport are geared toward business travelers. The carrier's Club World flights have been known to feel like you're flying in your own private jet, as each A318 features just 32 business-class seats in a 2-2 configuration in eight rows. Of the five airports in London, LCY sees the fewest passengers and the least amount of aircraft movement. However, that may change in the future, as the airport plans to undergo an expansion that will more than double its maximum passenger capacity to eight million. As of now, though, the interior is a bit outdated, and there are limited dining options.
The major advantage of flying to LCY is its proximity to downtown London. Thanks to a location less than 10 miles from the city center, there are a multitude of ways to get from your terminal to the tourist attractions. You could take London's public transportation system, the Tube, from London City Airport to Piccadilly Circus Underground Station in about 30 minutes for just £2.80 ($4) or £3.30 ($5) during off-peak and peak times, respectively.
Located about 15 miles west of downtown London, Heathrow is Europe's busiest airport and the third-busiest airport in the world based on passenger traffic. It's the hub for British Airways, which explains the volume of flights between LHR and JFK. With the renovation of Terminal 5 in 2008, it gained a long list of food and shopping options and premium lounges, including the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse. Changes like these have lead to Heathrow ranking as one of the top airports in the world.
More than five airlines fly from LHR to various cities throughout the US and Canada — including British Airways from Washington-Dulles (IAD) to LHR. Heathrow is one of those rare airports where it's actually fine if you get stuck there on a layover. That said, the airport is notoriously strict when it comes to carry-on liquids and gels, so be sure to pack your bags accordingly to avoid a hold-up at security.
There are many options for reaching downtown London from Heathrow – it's best to check out this page to figure out all of your options. The Heathrow Express to Paddington Station costs £21.50 ($33) one-way and takes about 20 minutes. Alternatively, you could take the Tube to Piccadilly Circus Underground Station, which will take about 50 minutes and costs £3.10 ($5) or £5.10 ($6) for off-peak and peak, respectively.
Unfortunately, if you're flying from the US to the UK on an award flight, your flight won't be entirely free of fees — in fact, many carriers (including British Airways) charge both government-imposed and carrier-imposed fees. However, using points for the flight can still be worth it. British Airways has two transfer point programs at a 1:1 ratio — Chase Ultimate Rewards (Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus Business Card) and Starwood Preferred Guest (Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express). American Express Membership Rewards (Premier Rewards Gold Card, or The Platinum Card, among others) now transfers at a 1.25:1 ratio.
With the addition of British Airways' latest flight from New York-JFK to LGW starting on May 1, 2016, there are now plenty of options to choose from when traveling from the East Coast to London — including which airport you fly to. The British Airways Visa Signature Card can help you get there, as it's offering 50,000 Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months. The Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard currently awards you 50,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first three months. You could use these points to fly to any of the three London airports served by British Airways.
Each of the three London airports that offer nonstop service to the US has something different to offer. If you're looking for an all-business-class private jet and a location near the city center, LCY would be best. And if you don't mind a lot of walking and prefer a less crowded facility than Heathrow, LGW might be up your alley. But when it comes to sheer number of daily flights, not to mention dining and shopping options, Heathrow is hard to top.
What's your favorite airport in London to travel to?