How to get a discount on Gatwick Express (2019 edition)

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This is our updated guide to saving money on Gatwick Express tickets.  It is a companion piece to our guide on saving money on Heathrow Express tickets which we updated last week.

We get the occasional email from readers asking about the cheapest way to get to Gatwick Airport.  Learning how to get a discount on the Gatwick Express is totally different to saving money on Heathrow Express.  There are no online discount codes or Gatwick Express promotional codes to share.  What you do have are a variety of alternative train options to Gatwick, potentially saving over 50%.

When I was living near Clapham Junction, Gatwick was my favourite airport to fly from.  There are several trains an hour from Clapham Junction straight to Gatwick’s South Terminal and using your Oyster card, or a contactless credit or debit card, you can just rock up at the station and go straight to the platform.

If you want to save a bit of time and are close to Victoria the Gatwick Express or Southern services are an alternative.  You can also take Thameslink from stations such as West Hampstead, St Pancras, Farringdon, City Thameslink, Blackfriars and London Bridge.

So what’s the best option?

For readers not familiar with Gatwick, you need to understand the difference between the Heathrow and Gatwick Express services. The Heathrow Express runs, for the last part of its journey, on a dedicated piece of track paid for by Heathrow Airport itself.  Until Crossrail opens, only Heathrow Express and TfL Rail (ex Heathrow Connect) services use this track, and the airport is free to charge what it likes to use it.

Gatwick Airport, on the other hand, sits on the normal rail line from London into Brighton. The Gatwick Express is only one of several train services to use the station. Whilst the most expensive, it is only marginally the fastest and – for many people – its terminus at Victoria may not even be very convenient.

The station at Gatwick is based in the South Terminal, now home to British Airways. If you are going to or from the North Terminal, mainly used by easyJet, you need to change for the 3-minute ride on the transit train.

Here is a comparison of the different train companies using Gatwick.  Frequencies are based on Monday to Friday services.

Note that children under 5 do not require a ticket on any UK train service.

No seat reservations are possible on any of the Gatwick rail services.

Gatwick Express

  • Trains terminate at Victoria
  • Four trains per hour
  • Typical journey time 29 minutes
  • One-way ticket £19.90 (10% cheaper online at £17.80, not-same-day return £37.80 or £33.70 online)
  • The First Class Anytime Return ticket, which is very expensive on paper at £61.40, comes with a good perk – access to the No 1 Lounges at Gatwick North and Gatwick South (an upgrade to the Clubrooms lounge is available on the door for £15) – you can find out more here
  • If you use your Oyster card on Gatwick Express you will be charged the standard one-way fare – it is cheaper to book online in advance for the 10% discount.  You can also book via the Gatwick Express app which stores your ticket so you have nothing to print.

There are good group and family discounts:

  • If two people travel together, they can buy 2 x return tickets for £48.40 online, ie £24.20 each via Web Duo – see here for details
  • A group of 6 can travel from £11.70 each (based on an Anytime Single)
  • A group of 4 can travel from £22.25 each (based on an Anytime Return)
  • First Class group offers and ’10 for 8′ tickets are also available – see here for prices

First Class offers little additional benefit, based on Rob’s experiences (I’ve never tried it).  The seating is still 2 x 2, although there are additional tables.

The bottom line, though, is that the key to saving money on the Gatwick Express is to not take the Gatwick Express! Train tickets on other routes are available for as little as £8.50 per person each-way as we will see.  For a larger group, the premium for the Gatwick Express is less steep if you buy one of the ‘group save’ tickets above.

Gatwick Express new trains

Southern Railway

  • Trains terminate at Victoria
  • Four to five trains per hour
  • Typical journey time 31-38 minutes
  • One-way ticket £16.70 from Victoria (but using Oyster or a contactless payment card it is only £8.30 off-peak / £15.10 peak – this price is not available with a paper ticket)
  • Group Save offers a 34% discount when 3-9 adults are travelling together with kids travelling for £2 each
  • If you want to commit in advance to a specific train, tickets can be pre-booked online for £12 each way.  But unless you don’t have an Oyster or contactless payment card (and it’s worth getting one simply to use the train to Gatwick) I wouldn’t bother pre-booking a train as you would need to buy a new ticket if you missed your train.

As far as Oyster pricing is concerned, peak hours are Monday to Friday from 06.30 to 09.30 and from 16.00 to 19.00.

In theory, Southern sell a handful of £5 Advanced Purchase one-way tickets to Gatwick on each train.  These are difficult to get, however – they tend to appear at random 4-6 weeks before travel even though they are meant to be available 12 weeks in advance.  It is worth checking for these but prepare to be disappointed.

Southern

Thameslink

  • Trains pass through London, stopping at London Bridge, Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Farringdon and St Pancras International
  • Four fast trains per hour plus a further three trains which make additional stops
  • Typical journey time 28 minutes from London Bridge to Gatwick Airport on the fast services
  • One-way ticket £11 to/from London Bridge (Oyster or contactless payment card fare £8.10 off-peak / £15.10 peak)
  • Group Save options are discussed here

All Thameslink services to Gatwick are now operated by the new 700 series trains.  These are air-conditioned and have more luggage space.  The picture below is of a standard class carriage – First Class is also 2×2 seating but has tables and power sockets.

The First Class carriage at the rear of all Thameslink trains is declassified and standard class passengers can use itsee here for confirmation.  Not many people know this ….

For all of these services, it may make sense to buy a Network Railcard if you will be taking a number of National Rail trips.  The card costs £30, is valid for a year, and offers 1/3 off for up to four adults and 60% off for up to four children (if travelling together).  The only restriction is that it cannot be used before 10am Monday to Friday.

With Oyster and contactless cards being accepted on Southern Railway as well as the Thameslink all the way to Gatwick, I can’t find a reason why you should pay for a paper ticket unless you have a Railcard.

Summary

So, as you can see, there are plenty of cheaper alternatives to the Gatwick Express available.

The ‘Oyster or contactless credit or debit card’ fare on Southern or Thameslink is the overall winner at £8.10 – £8.30 off-peak.  That said, if you are travelling in a group the Group Save Gatwick Express tickets are decent value.

Gatwick Express trains have improved luggage space and marginally better seating than standard trains.  However, peak hours Gatwick Express trains run to and from Brighton, as do 50% of off-peak services.  This means that there will not be a train waiting at the Gatwick platform to board immediately and it may be full when it arrives at Gatwick.  The luggage space may also be taken up with fold-up bicycles!

(To add to the confusion, during off-peak times Southern uses Gatwick Express carriages to operate some of its standard services.  You can buy a Southern ticket – which is clearly marked ‘Not valid on Gatwick Express’ – and then find yourself getting onto a train with Gatwick Express branding!)

It is worth remembering that the fastest Southern trains between Victoria and Gatwick take 31 minutes.  The Gatwick Express takes 29 minutes.  There isn’t much in it!

It is important to note that the ticket machines at the airport station are owned by Gatwick Express. They are programmed to prioritise Gatwick Express tickets and you may need to work through a number of screens to find tickets from Southern or Thameslink. You don’t need to worry about the ticket machines if using Oyster or a contactless payment card of course – just touch in at the gate.

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Comments

  1. If travelling light, using Oyster/contactless, and you can be bothered, you can save a bit by getting off the train at East Croydon and tapping out, turning around and tapping in again. It does involve going up stairs or a long ramp though.

    Peak times for Oyster/contactless refer to the time of touch-in. So if you would be paying the peak fare of £15.10, this could be reduced to £8.80 if it is off-peak by the time you turn round at East Croydon. If it is still peak time it would be £10.60. If all off-peak the savings are less, £7 total instead of the £8.50 mentioned. There are also savings this way from any other origin except if you start in Zone 5 / 6 and don’t pass through lower zones.

    I find it a bit odd to say “for many people – its terminus at Victoria may not even be very convenient” yet this was not stated for the Heathrow Express. I would think Victoria is closer to where visitors want to be than Paddington. For the majority of London residents neither are convenient.

    “Until Crossrail opens, only Heathrow Express and TfL Rail (ex Heathrow Connect) services use this track” – TfL Rail is crossrail, they just don’t want people to associate crossrail with the current poor service.

    • David says:

      Note for the East Croydon touch-out trick, you need to touch back in with a different Oyster/contactless card, or TfL will just treat it as a continuation of the journey.

      • That’s not true. I’ve done this many times, East Croydon isn’t an “out of station interchange” so going out the barriers and tapping back in begins a new journey.

        If I want to really save money and can be bothered, I can get from my home in Whitechapel to Gatwick for £6 by avoiding going into zone 1 and tapping in and out at East Croydon during off peak times

        • David says:

          Hmm really? The first time I tried it with the same Oyster card it just continued the journey… Maybe it’s changed since then.

          • Sometimes there is a temporary OSI for example when there is engineering work on the BML with replacement buses

        • Lumma, can you expand on that? Whitechapel to Blackfriars?
          Thanks

          • Genghis says:

            Overground via Norwood Junction?

          • No, blackfriars has barriers between thamleslink and district. But you could take thameslink to farringdon then h&c to Whitechapel and still pay the avoiding-Z1 rate despite going through z1.

        • Genghis says:

          I agree. I’ve done it on the same card. Only good for me if a Victoria train comes and I’m headed to LB.

          • Confused…so Whitechapel to farringdon on handc, then thameslink from there to Gatwick?
            Where does East Croydon fit into this?
            Also is it the same from Stratford?
            Thanks

        • johnny_c-l says:

          +1 Possible on the same card. If you’re fast it’s possible to get up the stairs tap out and in, then get back on the same train!

          • worked using the same Contactless card for me.

            the first time i tried it, i even managed to get back onto the same train – which was held for an extra minute at E Croydon.
            next time i did it, i didn’t mange the same train, but it didn’t add that much time.

  2. Philip says:

    One can also link (some) National Railcards – in my case the Senior Railcard – to one’s Oyster Card to benefit from the additional 1/3 discount for off-peak travel. Details can be found here – https://tfl.gov.uk/fares/free-and-discounted-travel/national-railcard-discount

    • Spurs Debs says:

      Hope you have better luck than me adding your senior rail card, I’ve got a disabled railcard and have given up trying to get them to link it to my Oyster card.

      • David says:

        Station staff at Canary Wharf were very helpful in adding my 26-30 railcard – took me to a ticket machine and was all done in less than 2 mins.

        • TokyoFan says:

          Sounds similar to my experience at Russell Sq – done by a member of staff at the self-service ticket machine (Gold card discount applied)

          • It could be tricky at times as staff don’t know how to do that and it took me a while to convince them that such things exist but definitely worth trying

          • Self explanatory once they go into staff functions on the machines.

      • Spurs Debs says:

        That’s in central London try getting it done on outplaying stations, that’s if you can find a member of staff to start with. Yes Chalfont and Latimer station I am talking about you!

    • This is what I normally use and coupled with some portion of a journey covered by annual travel card, I have to pay only £4-5 extra to get to Gatwick from central London

  3. IslandDweller says:

    Pretty much in the money. Some small details.
    (1) All (not most) Thameslink services are now the new trains
    (2) The off peak oyster fare is £8.30, not £8.50
    (3) Services branded Gatwick Express run to/from Brighton throughout the day (50% of services), no longer just in rush hours
    (4) There are indeed four fast (28 minutes to London Bridge) per hour – but there are actually seven Thameslink services per hour on the route – three slower ones stopping at intermediate stations to East Croydon.
    (5) Why buy a paper ticket on this route? Rail ticket prices on this route are worthy of a doctoral thesis. Oyster is definitely convenient and cheaper most of the time. But at weekends, if arriving into Gatwick and expecting to use lots of public transport within London on arrival day, then the weekend Thameslink travelcard is cheaper than the oyster daily cap. (Only true at weekends, which has a cheaper travelcard fare)

    • Thanks, will tweak.

    • I have also found that a same day off peak return with Network Railcard from London to Gatwick for travel on Thameslink only (eg, to meet am arriving passenger) is cheaper than using contactless – as are some other tickets with Network Railcard. As mentioned above, worth a doctoral thesis!

      • Be careful when the rail companies and government talk about “fares simplification” then. They want to make things simpler by removing the cheaper returns, so it will be simpler but more expensive.

    • Good points! Regarding 5. How do you buy a weekend Thameslink travelcard?

      • > How do you buy a weekend Thameslink travelcard?

        The fare you’re looking for is a return Gatwick – LONDON ZONE U123456. Type this into, say, the LNER booking engine. Should be £13.10, or £8.65 with a railcard.

        You used to be able to type ‘0035’ as the destination code, but this seems to have stopped, at least on LNER.

        Good fares available this way to other Southern destinations, too, and they often work out cheap for a day travelling around London before heading out to the airport or Brighton even if you don’t need the ‘outbound’

  4. Note the Network card also has a minimum fare of I think £13 after the discount, Monday-Friday. That will limit its value on the cheap services.

  5. Mikeact says:

    I think I may be right that you can connect your Network rail card to your Oyster card, for a permanent discount of a third off, off peak. You certainly can with the Senior discount card. You need to go to any Tube ticket office to request.

    • Mikeact says:

      Sorry, just picked up the earlier comments on this worthwhile saving.

    • You can’t link network railcards to oyster because of the £13 minimum fare – I guess nobody thought there would be fares over £18 on oyster so it isn’t programmed to do that

      • Philip says:

        Well that’s somewhat surprising, because I regularly travel between Brentwood/Shenfield and LGW, and with my Oyster and Senior Railcard linked, it costs me £8.80 (off-peak).

        • There is no minimum fare on the senior railcard hence it can be linked

      • Dickie_H says:

        It depends on the railcard.

        You CAN link 16-25; 26-30; Senior; Forces; and Disabled Persons national railcards to an Oyster card to automatically receive a discount (off-peak). You CAN also link any annual National Rail season ticket that comes with a Gold Card.

        However you CAN’T link Network; Family & Friends; or Two Together Railcards to an Oyster Card.
        (Bear in mind that the terms National Railcard and Network Railcard do not mean the same thing: a Network Railcard specifically refers to the railcard which anyone can purchase for £30, to obtain a third off standard class rail travel in the South East after 10am weekdays (subject to a minimum fare of £13) and at any time at weekends).

        It’s not easy is it?!

  6. Andrew Stock says:

    I have a Zone 1 to 5 travel card, therefore I just buy a East Croydon to Gatwick single. Off peak it’s £3.50 on Thameslink and £3.55 on Southern with railcard discount applied.

    • Are you not aware you can use oyster payg with travelcards… When you go from zone 1 to Gatwick it will only charge you an additional zone 6-14 single fare which with railcards is 2.10 off-peak and you can take any train. You don’t need to get off the train and it doesn’t need to stop.

      You would only need to use a paper ticket in the oyster afternoon peak as there is no afternoon peak for paper tickets on this route and oyster doesn’t apply railcard discounts in the oyster afternoon peak.

  7. Mikeact says:

    Disadvantage of using a contactless card for travel, is of course, you can’t add to it any of the previously mentioned discount rail cards…..I guess most Londonders use Oyster anyway, only non regulars use contactless.

    • I don’t know about that. I live in London and haven’t used an Oyster card for probably four years now. I use Apple Pay. Obviously I have no idea how many people do the same but I do see plenty of people using Apple/Android Pay or a contactless credit/debit card, rather than an Oyster, to tap in/out.

    • Non-disabled adults without travelcards are probably better off with contactless. Though you can top up oyster with weird amounts to maximise amex points rather than letting odd pence go to waste, if you haven’t cancelled all your amexes in disgust

    • Genghis says:

      I buy a southeastern travel card to London termini as much cheaper. However, should I then be doing additional travel on the tfl network to justify buying a travel card, if I’m starting this on a Monday I’d go contactless to benefit from the Mon-Sun weekly capping and have some optionality and if not a Monday then put a travel card on an Oyster

  8. Nick_C says:

    Excellent article, demonstrating the total mess of our train fares system and the nightmare of trying to find the best price.

    Southern, Gatwick Express, and Thameslink, are not three different companies. They are three different brands for the same company (Govia). So no real competition. Just a monopoly trying to fool people into thinking that competition exists where it does not.

  9. One bad thing about the new Thameslink trains is the lack of plug sockets on them (the old trains had plenty), one late arrival into Gatwick ended up with arriving at Blackfriars at 1am with no phone and having to get on the night bus as I couldn’t get an Uber as my phone was dead

    • Andrew says:

      There are plugs in the first class sections. As pointed out the first class section at the very rear of all thameslink trains is permanently declassified so sit here if you need power

  10. Charlie says:

    My Gatwick Express trip report from 2 weeks ago, it was out first Gatwick experience for a long time.

    We arrived Gatwick early morning after a nice Disney Orlando holiday, 2 adults + 2 young kids + luggage + baby seat + car seat, so we chose Gatwick Express to get into London thinking it’ll be more convenient. It’s great that the train station is near the airport, but for us the experience went down hill from there.

    The queues for tickets were huge, so we decided to use Contactless and touched in to enter the main platform bridge, platform 1 etc. Unfortunately the Gatwick Express (platform 4) has a separate lift entrance, so we had to touch out and touch in at the right entrance. A small faff when travelling with the offspring. They really need to add some signage like this “Gatwick Express WITH LUGGAGE” pointing to the right direction.

    Small tip: There is a ticket machine at the lift for the Gatwick express platform, which had no queue, I wish we used it but we decided to continue with contactless.

    Getting into our carriage, the Gatwick Express train doors liked to shut quickly, not great when trying to get all your luggage in, bit scary actually.

    The train itself was fine, lots of space, clean toilet. The train was pretty empty despite having people already onboard from Brighton. A conductor went through the carriages to check tickets.

    In total it took about 50 minutes to get in, so there was an announcement apologising and told us to use the Delay Repay website for compensation.

    A few days later after checking our credit card statements, we were charged incorrectly, I assume because we touched in and touched out at the airport. We called TFL who refunded us the amount, but it did take over 30 minutes to do this.

    Finally, for some bizarre reason, my credit card cannot be registered on the TFL website, it tries to do an authorisation and the card company rejects it. It’s an IHG creation card, I mention this because it means I cannot download my journey history for Delay Repay. Have already tried calling both Creation and TFL to sort this, losing an hour of my life with no progress, soI will give up on this.

    So in the end it was a faff for us, we were not prepared, but they don’t make it easy for you either!

    • mvcvz says:

      An IHG Creation card being rejected? Surely not!

    • My IHG card is linked to oyster and has been for a long time with no issue.

      • Charlie says:

        Both TFL and IHG say they cannot see what the issue is, the attempts at registering the IHG card on TFL can be seen by IHG, and IHG are saying they are authorising. But TFL’s registration page results in this message

        “Sorry, your card could not be added.

        Please ensure the card details you provide are correct and the address you enter is exactly as it appears on your payment card statement. If you continue to experience this message please contact your card issuer as there may be a problem with your card.”

        I tried variations of the address but no joy.

  11. Does anybody know if the 60+ free Oyster card works for Gatwick?

    • I don’t think so, I believe you can’t top it up? It’s only free to coulsdon south. you need a separate ticket for Boundary Zone 6 to Gatwick, but the train doesn’t need to stop there. You can use senior railcard discounts for this. If not available, coulsdon south or Croydon stations to Gatwick also works and may be cheaper at certain times

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