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Review: using Zipcar Flex to drive to Heathrow for just £19

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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.

Zipcar Flex to Heathrow

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-bookingYou can take a car and leave it wherever you want, within a designated local authority zonePark 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:

  • Hackney
  • Hammersmith and Fulham
  • Haringey
  • Islington
  • Kensington and Chelsea
  • Lambeth
  • Lewisham
  • Merton
  • Southwark
  • Tower Hamlets
  • Waltham Forest
  • Wandsworth
  • Westminster 
  • 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 to Heathrow

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:

Zipcar Flex to Heathrow

….. 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:

1. Navigate

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.

Zipcar Flex to Heathrow

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!

Zipcar Heathrow drop off

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.

Comments (49)

  • EvilDoctorK says:

    Shhhh don’t tell too many people 😉 … It is indeed a good option and use it regularly .. the problem is though availability of cars from Heathrow .. In pre-covid times it used to be very difficult to get cars after 7pm or so at Heathrow most evenings … now my experience is there’s even less availability

    So you can’t rely on it ( at least in the reverse direction ) … Also the Polos ( especially the older ones with a 17/67 reg ) have a tiny boot and won’t take much luggage

    The e-Golfs are great to drive , though beware of getting one with low charge – if you do you can get range anxiety on the way to Heathrow ! If that happens turn off the a/c – makes a huge difference ( I still don’t know how/when Zipcar charge them up !)

    • Dave says:

      I once dropped one off there with 7% remaining. I thought it was be interesting to monitor the app to see what happened – I assumed it would be off app and a staffer would take it for charging. But lo and behold it appeared for hire and less than 30mins later it was gone.

      • EvilDoctorK says:

        Can’t imagine they’d get very far on 7% !

        I did actually see one plugged in beside the Avis ‘hut’ in the Car Park yesterday .. so clearly they can top them up there .. though how they do it on street regularly I don’t know – must be more labour intensive than asking customers to refuel the petrol ones with the fuel card

    • Mark says:

      They have a team of people who collect the electic cars and take them to charging points.

  • Lumma says:

    Best use for this is the early morning flights, too early for public transport. (I did once get the N9 night bus from Green Park, never again).

    Traffic is too bad to do it during the day and will likely go over the 1st hour

  • Neil Murray says:

    The best bargain travel to Heathrow, bar none, is the X26 express bus service from Croydon.
    Boarding at Carshalton or Sutton, it takes about 70-90 minutes (depending on traffic) to the T3 bus station. For T5 it’s slightly quicker to get off at Hatton Cross and hop on the Tube.
    It makes about half a dozen stops en route – New Malden, Kingston etc etc.
    Cost? About £1.40. Free if, like me, you’re over 60, Quicker than driving, if you include time taken to park at the long-term car park and then wait for the shuttle bus.

    • Louise Westlake says:

      Exactly what I was going to post. Very reliable too. If you’re in South London on a train line that goes to West Croydon or Sutton, definitely the way to go.

      • The real John says:

        You lot have different experiences to me then. I only used it because it was direct, but it would often take 3 hours and kick you out at Hatton Cross because of poor timekeeping.

        And any bus that turned back at Hatton Cross obviously wouldn’t be available to start from Heathrow, meaning a 1 hour wait sometimes.

        Still better than standing between commuters on the Piccadilly line and lugging luggage up and down the stairs at Earls Court then round the maze behind the shops at Wimbledon station.

  • Sarah says:

    I regularly use Zipcar for Heathrow and it’s great, apart from the fact that there aren’t always cars in my area – they seem to be like gold dust. If it’s an early start then it’s a bit nerve-wracking looking to see if there’s a car available but there’s usually one within a 10 minute walk. The only downside at T5 is that you’re at the opposite end of the terminal to the F Wing! I too dropped one off at Heathrow with about 7% remaining and wondered what would happen to it, I can only assume that someone from Avis charges them.

    PS, if changing from Victoria to Piccadilly line or vice versa at Green Park, the easiest way is to go up the escalator to the ticket hall area and then down again – saves that long trek.

  • Julian says:

    15 minutes strikes me as a ridiculously short amount of time to get to the car after finding it although can I assume that if no one else has managed to get there by the end of the 15 minute hold period (rather likely I would say) the car will still be available to use? But if it had gone then you better have allowed enough time to walk home again and call an old fashioned Uber or other taxi. 30 minutes would be slightly more realistic…………..

    • Toppcat says:

      You can extend the hold on the app if you haven’t quite got to the car and the time is running out.

  • Max says:

    It’s worth mentioning that in covid times cabs to Heathrow are incredibly cheap. I took an Ola from Tulse Hill (south of Brixton) to T2 yesterday daytime in 1h5min for £27. Driver was masked and the car was a people carrier so no issues with luggage! If these prices remain (they won’t) I will never take the tube again.

    • Julian says:

      I think that’s still about 9 times the price of an Off Peak Contactless tube fare from Brixton to T2………………………

  • AJA says:

    I’m intrigued by ZipCar Flex unfortunately it’s not in my London borough. Shame!

    As for the tube ride I’m intrigued why Rhys changes at Green Park coming from South London. That suggests he’s using the Jubilee Line. Why not get off at Westminster onto the District Line and change to Piccadilly Line at Barons Court? Both lines use the same platform so no walking involved and often trains (pre-covid at least) used to arrive at the same time avoiding any waiting.

    But he also mentions 3 tube lines which also suggests a trip on the Bakerloo or Northern Lines first in which case disregard the Jubilee Line altogether and change at Embankment to the District line instead and then Barons Court as before.

    • Toppcat says:

      Agree with this! Barons Court all the way…

    • Julian says:

      No if Rhys has to take the very long tube interchange at Green Park he is talking about the seemingly endless tunnel from the Victoria line to the Piccadilly line.

      The best way to avoid this is to get on the escalator from the Victoria Line to the ticket hall and then get another escalator back down to the Picadilly line. Both somewhat quicker, less tiring and much less annoying that the direct Victoria Line to Picaddily pedestrian tunnel………………..

      • Julian says:

        It is of course possible to change from the Victoria Line to the Piccadilly at Victoria and then again from District to Picadlilly at Barons Court or Hammersmith (you have to change by Hammersmith or you end up on a District line stopper from Hammersmith to Acton Town) but the Victoria to Picadilly interchange at Victoria is absolutely horrid and also one way only at peak times (forcing you to go the very long way round) so I would not recommend that and would recommend changing using escalator from Victoria to Picadilly at Green Park.

      • AJA says:

        In that case change to District line at Victoria and then Barons Court to Piccadilly line. Especially in summer as the District line trains are air conditioned. I avoid Green Park if I can YMMV.

        • AJA says:

          Ah should have refreshed before posting. See you mentioned changing at Victoria. It’s not the best interchange but better than Green Park IMO.

          • Julian says:

            Don’t necessarily agree as interchanging from Victoria to Piccadily at Green Park means only one rather than two changes of train needed.

            Going up and down the escalators is really not too bad at all and not too much walking involved at all but using the direct Victoria to Piccadilly subway at Green Park is seriously annoying and hard work. Of course escalators may be awkward with large long haul type suitcases but no doubt the better heeled such as Rob would be using Mr Porter in that circumstance anyway………….

          • Julian says:

            Oh it seems Mr Porter is a menswear store and not what I thought it was at all. I could have sworn that HfP did have a link with a luggage to the airport from your home service.

          • Rob says:

            Airportr

  • Gavin says:

    I’ve used it a couple of times to/from Tooting. It’s a great option, as driving takes around 40-50 minutes (and is much easier if I have bulky luggage) but the tube takes around 1 hr 30 and requires 2 changes.

    Regarding the referral credit, I found that the £14 charge comes from the free credit, but the £5 airport charge was taken from my card despite having additional credit still in my account.

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