Two years ago, ‘drive by the hour’ car club Zipcar launched Zipcar Flex one-way rentals at Heathrow Terminal 5.
We have written about this a few times but never covered the logistics in detail. I thought I would try it out in person to see how easy it really is.
A quick re-introduction to Zipcar Flex
The traditional Zipcar business model is based around picking up a car from a designated street parking bay and returning it to the same spot when your trip is finished. Trips should be pre-booked via the app to ensure a car is available. This is how Rob uses Zipcar, to save the trouble of owning and parking his own car in Central London.
Zipcar Flex is different. It lets you take flexible one-way trips without pre-booking. You can take a car and leave it wherever you want, within a designated local authority zone. Park and walk away. You don’t need to drive it back to where it came from.
The downside with Zipcar Flex is that you can never be certain that there will be a car near you. It obviously requires another Zipcar user to have dropped off a Flex car near you. To make life a little easier, you can put a 15 minute ‘hold’ on a vehicle via the app, giving you time to get there before it is released for another user.
The following boroughs now allow you to pick up or drop off a Zipcar Flex car. It is perfectly fine to drop off the car in a different zone to the one you collected it in:
- Hammersmith and Fulham
- Kensington and Chelsea
- Tower Hamlets
- Waltham Forest
- Plus Heathrow Terminal 5
Heathrow Terminal 5 is very interesting. Whilst there is an additional £5 drop off fee, it is still substantially cheaper than taking a taxi to the airport. Update: the drop off fee has now increased to £7.50.
You drop off your Zipcar in the Terminal 5 short stay car park (Zipcar is owned by Avis and uses some of their parking bays) next to the Sofitel, allowing you to walk directly into the terminal.
Zipcar Flex can make more sense than a taxi or public transport
I live in South London and getting to Heathrow is not the most pleasant experience. It normally takes upwards of 90 minutes and three tube lines, including a particularly long walk to connect at Green Park.
Heathrow Express makes little sense for me, as it offers virtually no time saving versus taking the Picadilly Line.
I can drive to Heathrow within an hour, assuming the traffic is average. It is an altogether more pleasant experience and certainly makes sense if you are travelling as a group, providing you don’t have too much luggage!
Back to the review ….
Zipcar is popular where I live and there is virtually always an available Flex car within five minutes walk of my house.
The pandemic has changed that a bit as more people try to avoid public transport, and availability has felt a little tighter in recent months, but Zipcar has been adding more cars to their fleet.
It took about 5 minutes of refreshing the app in my area for someone to drop a car off close by – and this was a Saturday – so if you are flexible with timings it isn’t a problem.
The majority of cars in the Flex fleet are VW Polos or eGolfs:
….. which means you can nip around in London relatively easily.
The cars are fairly basic but they do the job. I was pleased to see that my Polo had Apple CarPlay, which makes the whole driving experience much easier. No more faffing with unfamiliar and unintuitive car sat nav systems! I just plugged my phone in, it pulled up Apple Maps and off I went.
50 minutes later….
Zipcar has a three-step process for arriving at Heathrow:
Head to the Short Stay Car Park at Heathrow Terminal 5. Follow the signs for Avis Budget returns (level 4).
2. Arrive and drop
Barriers will automatically rise – no ticket needed! Park in the area branded Returns Line next to the Avis Budget office.
3. End your trip
Use your app to end the trip. Do not give your keys to the Avis staff – they can’t end the trip for you.
Whilst there are no signs for a Zipcar drop-off, the Avis Budget returns location IS well sign-posted and easy to find. You drive up the ramp to Terminal 5 drop-off and then turn off to the right just before you get to the top.
(Unfortunately I have no photos of this as I was driving so you’ll have to imagine it ….)
You drop off the car in any of the spots by the Avis Budget reception. You want to turn left as soon as you enter the car park and follow the one-way system until you see it. You know you’re in the right place when you see lots of other Zipcars!
You then drop off your Zipcar just as you would anywhere else. Easy peasy!
Zipcar to or from Heathrow for £19
Back when we first wrote about Heathrow drop-offs, the cost of driving to Heathrow would have been £17: £12 for the hour and £5 for the pleasure of dropping off at the airport.
Since then, Zipcar Flex has increased its hourly base rate to £14. Even now, driving to Heathrow is a steal at £19 if your drive is an hour or less.
Whilst it won’t suit everyone, if you’re underserved by the underground (as almost the entirety of South London is ….) then getting a Zipcar and driving isn’t the craziest idea in the world.
The process obviously works in reverse too. You can pick up a Zipcar in Terminal 5 and drive it home as long as you live in one of the council areas listed above.
Get £25 free driving credit with a free Zipcar membership
The easiest way is to try it for yourself is with the £15 free driving credit you can get when signing up to Zipcar via this link. Membership is free.
£15 is more than enough – you’re likely to get around 70 minutes worth of driving in – so it’s an excellent way to give Zipcar a go at no cost to yourself.