Because we will not be returning by the way we departed, this trip is a little different to normal. We’re flying out to New York from Heathrow to pick up our ship, Sky Princess, then sailing back to Southampton via the Eastern Seaboard. This means that we can’t park at the airport like we would normally.
- Tickets are cheap. Like really cheap. Much cheaper than parking at Heathrow for a week.
- The coach stop at Marks Tey is not marked as such. Check for the location on the National Express website first which has a handy, precise map display for every stop on their network.
- The coach has free WiFi on board. It is rubbish.
- Journey time is slightly longer than driving yourself, but the coach stops right at the terminals in Heathrow. For us, we thought that was a decent trade-off.
- You can earn all-important Avios points by booking through the BA Executive shopping site.
When travelling from Heathrow on an early flight, we typically stay at a local hotel the night before. This makes choosing a hotel somewhat tricky because you have to park somewhere overnight, and then find a way to get to the terminal in the morning. We avoid taxis because they are ridiculously expensive for a 5 minute ride to the airport.
So far we have found four ways to reach Heathrow, each with their own complications.
- Choose a hotel on Bath Road
This involves catching the “Heathrow Hoppa” bus from the terminal to the hotel. Reverse the process next day. Problem? The Hoppa may not start early enough in the morning to get you to the airport on time.
- Book parking with Purple Parking
The long stay Purple Parking carpark is within easy walking distance of some of the Bath Road hotels, most notably the Premier Inn. Park up the night before and walk to your hotel. In the morning, walk back to the carpark and catch the free shuttle bus to your terminal. Problem? It can take quite a while to get to and from the terminals.
- Book official parking
Similar to above, park the previous day and catch the included shuttle bus to your terminal. Problem? Your choice of hotels is limited to those within easy walking distance of the actual terminals. This includes Yotel and Hilton Garden Inn (Terminal 2 and 3), Sofitel (Terminal 5) and Holiday Inn Express (Terminal 4) – all of which tend to be quite expensive because of their location. The runway view from the Hilton Garden Inn bar is amazing though, so…
- Stay at the Thistle Hotel
Heathrow has an unusual driverless transport system that runs to one of their ‘business class’ carparks. The Thistle Hotel Terminal 5 is located behind said carpark and they have an agreement with Heathrow to allow their guests to use the pods to get there. Problem? You need a code to get through the gate between car park and hotel – which will cost you £6 per person each way.
We decided to try option 4 this time for three reasons. First, the pods look like fun. Second, we were able to pick up a room at the Thistle for just £54 on booking.com, allowing you to earn Avios on the stay using BA Executive Club. Third, this seems to be a really hassle-free ending to our journey.
Top tip: You can ride the pods at Heathrow for free – just press the button to return to the terminal when you reach the end of the line.
Once at Heathrow, we make our way to Level 2 and the Pod Parking station. These self-driving pods are quite good fun and take just five minutes to reach the car park. The gate into the Thistle Hotel is easy to find and we are buzzed through by reception. It’s a bit of a walk with our suitcases to the front desk, but once there we are checked in in a matter of minutes. As an added bonus we are not charged for the inbound journey on the Pod.
Top tip: The Pods are not an option for guests at other nearby hotels like the Premier Inn. This is an exclusive agreement with Heathrow so Thistle staff will not sell gate access to non-guests.
We’re assigned room 173 on the first floor which is a bit of a pain when travelling with three suitcases. It’s quite a walk from reception and involves a few flights of stairs (there is no lift in that part of the building). However, the room does have a runway view which is brilliant. We’ve stayed in a ground floor room at the back of the Thistle before and it was very tired. This room is a bit knocked about, but the bathroom is nicer this time.
Later we head into the restaurant to watch the planes, consume some beers and have some dinner. Beers are ~£7 a pint. Expect to spend approx £15 on a main course. Lin says her steak and ale pie is good and I enjoy my bangers and mash which makes the bill a little more palatable.
Afterwards we head across the road to McDonalds for dessert. It’s busy but very, very efficient. It’s also much cheaper (and just as enjoyable) as dessert at the hotel restaurant.
That’s pretty much it. Next stop, New York.