Tip: Use Free Heathrow Airport Buses Instead Of The “Hotel Hoppa”

London’s Heathrow airport doesn’t allow the neighboring hotels to operate shuttles. Instead, there’s a common shuttle called the “Hotel Hoppa” that has a few different routes to the local hotels.

The Heathrow Express used to be the greatest ripoff at Heathrow, advertising 15 minute journeys to Central London (providing, of course, that you want to go to Paddington during the times of day the train runs frequently), but with outrageous pricing. The fares have been adjusted over the past few years, and now can be reasonable if you’re booking in advance and/or traveling off-peak.

The Hotel Hoppa is still charging ridiculous rates, however, with tickets priced £4.50 if you book in advance, or £5.00 if you pay the driver.

And those are per adult, each way.

I do appreciate that the lack of individual hotel shuttles helps with traffic, especially as there are so many hotels near Heathrow, but you don’t need to pay £9 for the round-trip when there is a FREE option that can actually be faster.

Heathrow Freeflow Free Fare Zone

As Heathrow is so spread out, some of the regular Transport For London buses essentially serve as landside shuttles, running around the perimeter roads of Heathrow.

Of course, as these are still normal public buses, they make stops along the way.

The end result is a zone around and between the Heathrow terminals where the buses are completely free. And you can use these to get to almost all of the Heathrow Airport hotels.

Here’s a very rough drawing of the area included in this scheme (I’m not 100% confident of the exact roads the buses use on the East and West of the airport):

And here’s a stylized map that shows the buses and some of the key stops:

Taking the bus

Depending on which terminal you’re arriving at or departing from, the bus setup is slightly different.

Terminals 4 and 5 have bus areas right outside their respective arrivals areas. Terminal 5, for example, uses the same covered area where you’d find a taxi:

If you’re using Terminals 2 or 3, they share a common and centralized bus station, so you have to walk a bit.

It’s right by the entrance to the Underground, and just a bit further than the Heathrow Express, so it’s not that far — maybe five minutes walking.

London bus routes are highly organized, and each stop has a letter identifier. Underneath that, the various buses that utilize a given stop are listed.

Be careful, however, as some route numbers might use multiple stops at a station, depending on which direction they’re going. Bus #7, for example, leaves from both stop 6 and stop 8 at Terminal 5.

Each stop has a full timetable of all the buses that use that post, so you can check the route list and make sure you’re heading in the right direction.

These timetables also show what stops are in the free fare zone, or if a given bus doesn’t participate in the scheme.

When you board, just tell the driver the stop that you’re going to (or that you’re going to Heathrow/Bath Road), and you don’t have to pay or tap your card.

Then, when your stop is approaching, be sure to press one of the “stop” buttons located throughout the bus. They won’t stop unless people are waiting in the shelter or you request a stop.

Cheating with Google Maps

I promise this is easier than it sounds once you actually try it, but if you want to simplify even further, the Google Maps integration with Transport For London is delightful.

Just enter your destination and location, and Google Maps will tell you exactly what your bus options are, including the letter code for the bus stop.

You’ll even get real-time updates if the bus is late, and can follow your journey on the map so you know when to request a stop.

It’s worth noting that Google doesn’t differentiate between free routes and paid routes. And sometimes they’ll even recommend the Hotel Hoppa based on departure times (these are designated with an “H” in front of the number) so you’ll want to cross reference with the Heathrow map or the posted signs in the terminals.

When is using the public bus a bad idea?

Well, if you have a ton of luggage, it’s going to be complicated. People use these to get around their neighborhoods as well, and they can get crowded.

I’d suggest that if you can’t get your stuff and your person onto the bus in one fluid motion, you may want to reconsider.

Similarly, the Sheraton Heathrow is located through a parking lot and across a dual carriageway (that doesn’t have a convenient or designated pedestrian crossing) from the bus stop. I’ve crossed that road before when walking to the nearby pub, but it’s probably not a good idea at night, or with luggage.

Head for Points notes that the Doubletree Hotel is just outside the free zone, but the excess fare is just £1.50, so it’s still a vastly more affordable option than the Hoppa.

But otherwise, it’s a great way to get to your hotel, or up and down Bath Road if you want to go to dinner outside of your hotel. And as there are a few good local places, you probably do.

Bottom line

My schedule last weekend provided abundant opportunities to take the bus around Heathrow (between Frequent Traveler University and the way my flights worked out I had four nights in Bath Road hotels).

While I’ve used the bus to get to and from individual hotels before (and it’s my preferred mode of transit in London proper), I hadn’t had the opportunity to do quite this much back and forth around Heathrow previously. Understanding how to hop on and off a local bus certainly makes staying at Heathrow more pleasant, as you don’t feel as trapped in your hotel if the weather is poor.

And you definitely can’t beat the price!

Any other tips for using the buses around Heathrow/avoiding the Hotel Hoppa?

Thanks to all the Londoners who helped me get the bus situation dialed in this weekend, it was much appreciated!

Comments

  1. Why Heathrow wont allow free shuttle bus like any other airports around the world??is crossrail reaching Heathrow??

  2. I get so angry seeing poor people being ripped off by the Hoppa! It pained me seeing them at the weekend whilst attending FTU!

    Especially at hotels like the Renaissance LHR which is literally on the LAST STOP before the tunnel – travel time 3mins.

    On the way back as well for the sake of crossing the road from the free bus saves you 15mins being driven round other hotels you aren’t staying at along Bath Road.

    I took the free bus from here before boarding my First Class flight to Vegas a couple years ago – I enjoyed the irony haha

  3. @ Mo — It’s a way to regulate traffic. Many airport hotels share shuttle buses with neighboring properties, and many charge a fee. So it’s mainly the scope of the Hoppa (and the free alternative) that’s unusual.

  4. @ RichT — Totally agree, though I did notice that when people asked, hotel employees seemed to be giving folks the right info at least.

  5. “I’d suggest that if you can’t get your stuff and your person onto the bus in one fluid motion, you may want to reconsider.”

    You clearly have not taken the M60 or the Q70 to LGA, have you? 🙂

  6. @ Airways and Travels — To each their own! I have found the bus to be very quick, and you don’t waste time coordinating pickup with a ride share service, but for sure could vary based on the time of day. And I linked to Rob’s post above.

  7. @ James Ukich — Thanks! I’m not familiar with that site, and I imagine most OMAAT readers aren’t either. Good recommendation.

  8. Great suggestion Tiffany – after discovering it a couple years ago, I’ve used this frequently to get to and from the Bath Road hotels during planned and unplanned layovers. I find it’s often easier / quicker than an Uber, especially during the evening rush – and not to mention more pleasant, as Uber drivers typically aren’t happy at all about the short fare once you get in the car.

  9. @Tiffany – sorry my bad did not see the link. It is true that the free buses can be very useful – do not get me wrong. When I travel with family we surely take advantage of them.

  10. @Tiffany, I think this post is loooong overdue, but I’m glad that you posted about it! 🙂 When I’ve had to stay at/near LHR, I’ve always used the local buses. It had never crossed my mind to use the ripoff that is the Hotel Hoppa. I’m not sure what the frequencies of the Hoppa, but the local ones come very often, since several lines go to/from the airport. IIRC, the longest wait I’ve had was late night, and that was maybe 10 minutes.

  11. My favourite LHR shuttle-avoidance trick (though not free from the airport) is to stay at the the Hilton Garden Inn, which is a short walk from the Hatton Cross tube station, one Piccadilly Line stop away from T2/3. I’d say the walk is similar to the distance between the Hilton T4 and T4 itself, and the HGI is usually much cheaper.

    When coming from Central London by tube, this option also has the benefit of increased frequency as you can take either the T123&5 train or the T4&123 train.

  12. Just be careful that London buses don’t accept cash fares. So if your hotel is outside the free bus zone you’ll need to pay using either an Oyster card, contactless payment card or Apple/Android Pay. Not all US credit cards are accepted, though the most common reason for non-acceptance is that you haven’t done a recent chip and PIN transaction.

  13. I’m SO glad you posted this @Tiffany. Many years ago I over-nighted at the Marriott Heathrow and was surprised and angered by the exorbitant Hotel Hoppa. I had assumed there would just be a free hotel shuttle like at every other airport in the world. So, when I had to spend more for the Hoppa than on a tube ticket all the way to central London, I was pretty pi***ed. I think I even made a point of noting it as a big negative in my tripadvisor review of the hotel. I had no idea that the Hoppa was because of a dumb Heathrow regulation! Good to know about the free local buses!

  14. I was stranded at LHR on Wednesday, 21 March, due to a Nor’Easter striking NYC. I was fortunate that American Airlines gave me a Hotel Hoppa certificate (roundtrip) to get to the hotel and get back — but I do remember thinking that it was really expensive!

  15. “My favourite LHR shuttle-avoidance trick (though not free from the airport) is to stay at the the Hilton Garden Inn, which is a short walk from the Hatton Cross tube station, one Piccadilly Line stop away from T2/3. ”

    Hatton Cross is in the free bus zone, so you can ride the 285 to Central Bus Station (directly above the T123 tube station) for free, though it does take longer. And for T4/T5 you have the 482 and 490. HC to T4 is only 3-4 minutes by bus.

    If you want a dirt cheap hotel a short tube ride away, check out Hounslow Central. There’s a Radisson, a Travelodge and an Ibis all a 3-5 minute walk from the tube station., and much cheaper than around Heathrow (and a pub right by the tube station for an evening drink).

  16. Good information, mostly, but, inevitably, I suppose, some errors, eg:
    – There are three Premier Inn hotels in the immediate viscinity of LHR, and two of them are within the Free Fare Zone. The ‘stylized map’ shows only one. Pity the poor traveller who ends up at the wrong hotel due to relying on the map.
    – The Sheraton hotel is not adjacent to a “motorway”. The M4 and M25 motorways are both a mile or more distant. Do you mean the A4 Bath Road?
    Your halo has slipped a little, Tiffany!

  17. Equally don’t stay at any of the further out T5 area hotels if you want to avoid the hopper. There are no London buses out this far. Also remember that the express and tfl rail are free within the airport, so if getting between terminals this is a better option.

  18. @ Mo

    “is crossrail reaching Heathrow?”

    Yes. The existing mainline trains – Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect – will disappear and all mainline services will be re-branded “Elizabeth Line” (the Crossrail name will disappear). Services will be operated by Transport for London, not the privatised Airport – so fares will come down from their current rip-off levels. Frequencies should increase substantially. The final changeover is currently scheduled for December next year – though some changes will happen before then (I think Heathrow Connect will disappear first).

    “…six Elizabeth line trains per hour will serve Heathrow Terminals from December 2019. Four will go to Terminals 2, 3 and 4 and two will go to Terminals 2, 3 and 5”. Later they will almost certainly double the number of trains to T5, giving 8 per hour to LHR.

    The Underground services will also change a little, with slightly reduced frequency.

    @ Tiffany

    If you were crossing a “motorway” on foot then you were at serious risk of prosecution (let alone death) – pedestrians are completely banned from motorways.

  19. Further information I have found useful in the past is the free buses are a great link between Terminal 4 and Terminal 5. Quicker than the tube and not much slower than a taxi. It’s a good link up to the National Express coaches that often only depart from the coach station and Terminal 5. With Terminal 5 often being the first stop for coaches after departing the coach station this free hop from terminal 4 to terminal 5 can be the quickest way to get to destinations outside of London.

  20. @paul

    Heathrow Connect is going but Heathrow Express will remain when crossrail opens. HEX will be the faster option but more than double the price

  21. @ The nice Paul

    Small correction, Heathrow Express won’t be disappearing, well not in the strictest sense anyway. The Department for Transport announced the service will be operating as a management contract under the Great Western rail franchise, with GWR taking over the service from August 2018 until 2028. Heathrow Airports Ltd will continue to own the Heathrow Express brand as well as manage Heathrow Terminals 2/3, 4 & 5 stations. Should be noted that ticket barriers are now being fitted onto the main line stations with Heathrow Express expected to accept Oyster Card and contactless payment from September 2018.

    http://www.railwaygazette.com/news/single-view/view/gwr-to-manage-heathrow-express-service.html

    @ Mo

    In short yes, Heathrow Connect services will be replaced by TfL Rail on 20th May 2018, operating from London Paddington to Heathrow Terminal 4, with the existing free shuttle between Heathrow Terminals 2/3 and Terminal 4 also transferred over to TfL Rail. Oyster Card and contactless payment will be accepted from the transition date. TfL Rail will be rebranded as the Elizabeth Line from December 2018 as that is when services through Central London will commence.

    https://londonist.com/london/transport/how-much-will-it-cost-to-use-crossrail

  22. I was stranded at LHR last year. BA gave me a Hotel Hoppa voucher. I waited 45 minutes for the bus, I think it was the #58. Painful…

  23. @ The nice Paul — Ah, I think that’s a vernacular error on my end. What words do you guys use to differentiate a multi-lane divided roadway from a more standard street? My point is that the Sheraton is after Bath Rd divides and widens into a more significant situation, but I don’t want to confuse people.

  24. @Tiffany, in the UK there is a difference between a “dual carriageway” and a motorway. The latter is the North American version of a freeway with higher speed limits and limited access. A dual carriageway is more like a major trunk road with controlled intersections (ie. traffic lights). I believe the Bath Road is a dual carriageway, not a motorway.

  25. Heathrow Express v. Elizabeth Line

    There are still significant uncertainties – the link to T5 was only finally confirmed a few months back, which seems extraordinary in the context of this mega-project.

    https://www.londonreconnections.com/2017/final-result-crossrail-heads-terminal-5/

    The HEx brand may survive to 2023 or even beyond (there are contractual commitments in place), but I’m not sure that’s yet certain.

    Or it may go earlier. One rumour is that the airport owner may agree to a swap, giving HEx to TfL in exchange for rights over either the new western approach line or the proposed southern (think ex-AirTrack) approach.

    The death of the (rip-off) HEx brand would certainly make sense in the wider context of Crossrail. Mile-for-mile, HEx is more expensive than a ticket in the final year of Concorde.

  26. I’m shocked at how many people seem to hate the Hex, I’ve always found it extremely convenient and relatively inexpensive. I tend to purchase well in advance though, so I get Saver fares. Last minute purchases on-board are more than double the price.

    They are putting gates in starting 20th May, which worries me greatly. There are already way too many clueless people who can’t figure out how to tap in to the Tube, and now we have to deal with them just to leave the airport.

  27. The last time I tried to use Uber at LHR, every single driver cancelled on me for a half hour straight. Given that track record, the free buses (and even paying for the Hoppa) are better alternatives for me.

  28. @Mike: Yes, this exact thing happened to me too. I was staying at the Sofitel in T5 and my flight from T2 left too early for me to take the usual London Underground transfer. I figured I’d just catch an uber since I didn’t want to figure out the buses. The Uber accepted my ride request but then he wasn’t showing up. I checked the app’s GPS and it just showed him stationary in a nearby neighbourhood. This was a couple of year’s ago, so I didn’t have roaming to call him in the UK (I am not UK-based). After about 20 minutes of waiting, I cancelled and then took a public bus. It was only after did I realize that he probably didn’t want to do a terminal transfer ride but he also didn’t want to be penalized for cancelling on me so he just waited me out until I cancelled.

  29. @M.O. For well more than a decade the Heathrow Express was unequivocally the best ride into town. It was *reliable*, it was *inexpensive* (£15 was just the fare), it was comfortable.

    I think the only thing that changed (and what I assume Tiffany experienced?) was the era where it got awfully expensive without any other positive changes.

    And as central London traffic continued to worsen, being at Paddington isn’t always a win though in midday or late evenings, you can certainly transfer an average amount of luggage to the Tube.

    I haven’t taken it lately because if you’re traveling with anyone, the walk-up fare is now more than a Uber. And while Uber is mediocre at LHR, it’s kind of dumb to pay more for a service to Paddington when there’s a car that will drive you to your hotel or AirBnB.

    If traveling alone, with light-ish luggage, it still seems like a solid deal — especially if you can book in advance and are staying close to Paddington. The avoidance of all that godawful traffic is worth something for sure.

  30. @ The nice Paul

    Elizabeth Line trains are expected to serve Heathrow Terminal 5 when the full Crossrail service commences in December 2019, 4 trains an hour are expected to serve Terminal 4 whilst 2 trains an hour will serve Terminal 5. Heathrow Airport Ltd had tried to scupper this plan with a High Court challenge but was ultimately thrown out in May 2017.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-40493290

    As for HEx, as already stated it is expected to run up until 2028 which was agreed by the DfT and will be operated by incumbent operator, GWR. There is contradiction that HEx only had planning rights until 2023 but that looks to have changed since the management contract was announced last month. It would be a complete waste to upgrade the 12 Class 387s transferring over to HEx from 2019 only to see service on the route for 4 years or even less, you may as well keep the existing Class 332 rolling stock for that period of time.

    As for the Western Rail Link connection, it is now in the final consultation stage and could be approved next year. It would be assumed the GWR franchise will take on the rail services for the Western Rail Link, or if the Elizabeth Line will extend the service to Terminal 5 towards Reading. I believe HEx may also wish to introduce a limited stop service to Reading with a stop in Slough once the link opens, but all depends on acquiring suitable paths on an already busy Great Western Main Line.

    You can easily compare what has recently happened with HEx to the Gatwick Express franchise which was fully integrated into the Southern (South Central) franchise in 2008, now part of the Thameslink, Southern & Great Northern franchise. I find the journey times similar on a standard Southern service than the Gatwick Express, and cheaper yet they co-exist. Don’t see HAL wanting to get rid of their HEx brand just yet…

  31. @ Ben Cavers

    That was a good summary, the only thing I’d question is this:

    “It would be a complete waste to upgrade the 12 Class 387s transferring over to HEx from 2019 only to see service on the route for 4 years or even less, you may as well keep the existing Class 332 rolling stock for that period of time.”

    How long were the purpose-built 379s kept on Stansted Express services?

    And the new Siemens trains ordered for SWT were replaced even before they were delivered, replaced by SWR with 717s.

    Rolling stock allocation in England is not necessarily logical. And of course the brand stuck on the side is easily changed.

  32. @ Tiffany, Your over the top (“Perfect”) praise of Justin’s post about road-definitions is undeserved. His statement “The latter is the North American version of a freeway” should, of course, be “The latter is the UK version of a North American freeway”. And his statement “A dual carriageway is more like a major trunk road with controlled intersections…. ” is misleading, if not entirely wrong. A ‘dual-carriageway’ in the UK is a road, on which the two carriageways, which carry opposing flows of traffic, are separated by a continuous or mostly continuous central reservation or barrier. A dual-carriageway road does not have to be a major trunk road or have controlled intersections. Notwithstanding the questionable advice you have received, your update works for me; The Bath Road, which is a multi-lane, single-carriageway road for most of its length past Heathrow Airport, becomes a multi-lane dual-carriageway in the viscinity of the Sheraton Hotel. But why stop there? If you are going to pander to the vernacular whims of the (minority?) British contingent of your readership, you should change “parking lot” to “car park”. I could go on!

  33. There are a couple of really ungracious comments on here. :-《 @Tiffany, Thank you for this post, it’s a much needed update and the pictures are great to have ( and yes, I was previously aware of the two other blog articles). Very useful!

  34. @ The nice Paul

    Very good point, we don’t exactly have a great reputation for keeping hold of existing new rolling stock for long, but I think the fault lies with the leasing companies rather than the train operators themselves although they are under pressure to meet the obligations of their franchise commitment.

    The Class 379s are being ousted from 2019 after 7 years, but remember that Greater Anglia isn’t just replacing them but their entire existing fleet with brand new trains. The Class 379s are owned by Macquarie European Rail (the only rolling stock in the country to be owned by Macquarie) and are not cheap to lease compared to the rest of Greater Anglia’s fleet, but these should easily find new homes with their existing interiors once gone from Stansted Express.

    The Class 707s were SWTs last hurrah before losing that franchise to FirstGroup/MTR. The reason for the Class 707s not being part of SWRs franchise is due to their higher leasing cost compared to the Aventras that SWR ordered after winning the franchise which will replace the eldest suburban rolling stock, plus Class 707s. If Stagecoach had retained the SWT franchise, the Class 707s wouldn’t be going anywhere and possibly more ordered.

    The same is true for the now 10 years-old Class 350/2s operated by LNWR and owned by Porterbrook which are being ousted, but not the near identical Class 350/1/3s and soon Class 350/4s arriving from Transpennine Express. The Class 350/2s leasing costs are higher than the other Class 350s owned by Angel Trains and will be replaced by Aventras from 2020.

    With what I said about Hex still stands, I’m sure GWR along with Porterbrook are co-operating to ensure the Class 387s are suitably upgraded for the service (which I somewhat doubt!), but this plan can easily change if FirstGroup loses the next GWR franchise, which is up for renewal from 2020.

  35. After finding out that we had none of the “right” types of payment for Hoppa, a helpful airport worker told us of the free zone on the bus routes. Some caveats are that the centralized bus station is a pretty fair walk (not real comfortable in January) the wait for the right bus can be pretty long and walking from the bus stop to the hotel can be a trek, at least for the Renaissance which bills itself as closest to the airport. I had quite a go-round with the hotel’s management on the lack of mention from their (or Marriott’s) site that it may be close but it’s not convenient.

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