As travel, meetings and events experts, it’s our job to help companies examine the decisions that their employees make about these services. We can help companies and their travellers by analysing behaviours and their impact – and putting these into context with what customers want to achieve. Here, we compare the three key London airports, Gatwick, Heathrow and London City, and ask if Gatwick – traditionally considered further afield – is a viable choice for business travellers flying into the capital for meetings and events.
What’s the cost difference between London airports?
We looked at four key UK flight routes to focus our discussion – Edinburgh Airport and Glasgow Airport to London City, and Edinburgh and Glasgow to Heathrow. We then compared these routes with flights from the Scottish airports to Gatwick Airport.
We found that the cost savings of a one-way flight via Gatwick, rather London City or Heathrow, ranged from 44 to 52%. That’s a significant saving from choosing Gatwick, which grows when you factor in the cost of a return journey.
There are also big savings opportunities available on other UK and European routes using Gatwick – far too many to list them all here.
Although it may be more cost-effective to use an airport such as Gatwick that is perceived to be further away from the city centre, chances are that if a traveller is flying to a destination close to Heathrow or London City, it will be difficult to persuade them to travel via Gatwick instead. So, being able to quantify the benefits to them will be key.
Why is flying via Gatwick cheaper than other London airports?
In a nutshell, there’s a lot of competition, putting pressure on airlines to keep prices attractive. Gatwick Airport is the hub of various low-cost airlines, including easyJet, Monarch and Norwegian.
British Airways (BA) also maintains a hub at Gatwick Airport and operates an extensive UK and European route network. As BA is competing with easyJet on almost all UK and European routes from Gatwick, its pricing has to be competitive. In BA’s case, this means the airline’s pricing structure is different to its flights from Heathrow and London City.
Airport taxes are also generally higher when flying into London City and Heathrow Airports.
How long will it take to reach my final destination?
We identified three key traveller destinations in London: the City via Bank station, the South Bank via Waterloo and the West End via Oxford Circus.
We used Transport for London (TfL) information to compare the travel times when using public transport to these destinations from London City, Heathrow and Gatwick Airports.
London City is the closest airport to our chosen destinations, and came out on top of all three airports for a speedy trip into town, with journey times to our three destinations ranging from 22 to 35 minutes.
Journey times to our destinations from Gatwick ranged from 39 minutes (to Waterloo) to 46 minutes (to Bank). Meanwhile Heathrow had the longest journey times, with the quickest journey at 48 minutes (to Oxford Circus) and the slowest at 57 minutes (to Bank).
What about the cost of reaching my final destination?
What about total journey cost, including transfers? We looked at the peak-time Oyster and Contactless single fares for available train and Tube journeys into town from the three airports. We used the same three destinations: the City, the South Bank and the West End.
We focused on the overall trip cost, taking into account the cost of the flight as well as the onward journey. Overall, we found that it was significantly cheaper to travel into town via Gatwick.
What are the other pros and cons of Gatwick?
Due to the much-publicised current capacity issues at London airports and the differing airport fees, many airlines are expanding their services at Gatwick rather than Heathrow.
London City Airport has many restrictions on flight times and load factors (the capacity of the flights used to assess how efficiently airlines fill seats and make money). That means it isn’t really a commercially viable choice for some airlines, especially the budget carriers.
EasyJet’s largest base is at Gatwick Airport, and long-haul airlines have also started to increase their operations and add new routes from Gatwick.
There are other bonuses to choosing Gatwick. By signing up to a scheme called ‘My Gatwick’, customers can take advantage of 90 minutes of free Wi-Fi at the airport. When they complete the sign-up process, they get one hour’s complimentary airport lounge access landside, with a free coffee thrown in. The scheme also provides special offers on food, drink and shopping at the airport terminals.
It could be argued that Gatwick Airport has better access to central London than Heathrow, with a dedicated Gatwick Express rail service into London Victoria taking less than 30 minutes. Meanwhile, rail operator Southern also operates fast services from Gatwick to London Victoria at a cheaper cost, while Thameslink runs services to London Bridge station and the heart of Central London. This gives passengers multiple options for their onward journey.
What are the pros and cons of Heathrow and London City?
By comparison, Heathrow Airport offers the dedicated Heathrow Express into London Paddington. The journey only takes 15 minutes – even if this premium service has a premium cost attached.
Unlike Gatwick, Heathrow is also connected to the London Underground, although it can take up to an hour to reach central London by Tube. And Heathrow is also the best-connected airport for the UK destinations, a key hub for onward travel internationally, and extremely well located for the growing business areas along the M4 corridor.
Meanwhile, London City is the airport with the quickest connections into town, but it’s generally the most expensive choice. Increased competition on routes into London City has helped lower the overall average ticket cost, but Gatwick is still a far more cost-effective alternative.
So which is the best London airport for your business travellers?
Many travellers, business or leisure, could be making their airport choice based on the misconception that Gatwick is a leisure-focused airport, located a long way from the city centre. In reality, it’s only around 30 miles from Central London.
When full trip costs and journey times are factored in, using the more central London City or Heathrow is not necessarily cheaper or more convenient for business travellers, as we’ve shown. But of course, we’ve only considered a few key London destinations, so travel managers would be wise to look at their individual business and traveller needs.
Businesses with a desire to reduce travel costs without upsetting travellers should view airport choice as a real opportunity. Gatwick is starting to market itself to take advantage of this. Traveller behaviour needs to be managed so that customers can take advantage of opportunities where they are of most benefit and relevance.
Josh Collier is a consulting analyst at Capita Travel and Events