Review: Heathrow Express and the Great Northern London Review

A hipster friendly hotel at King's Cross.

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand Park Lane, London
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
Royal Air Maroc Business Class Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Ethiopian Airlines B787 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Q400 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A330 “First” Class DOH-MCT
Oman Air Business Class Lounge, MCT
Oman Air E175 Business Class MCT-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways Business Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Vistara A320 Business Class BLR-DEL
Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class DEL-HKG
Cathay Pacific Arrivals Lounge HKG
W Hong Kong
Touring Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN

After exploring the arrivals lounge, my colleague and I took the Heathrow Express for the 15 minute ride into Central London. I know, I know. The Heathrow Express has its share of detractors, and it’s often far from the cheapest option, but those are the perks of business travel.

That said, Heathrow Express tickets can be mighty affordable if you’re willing to commit to dates in advance. Like, way in advance. Here’s how the pricing (in GBP) looks for one-way (OW) trips depending on what day you travel and how far out your book:

  • >90 days: Weekend- 5.50 OW, Weekday- 12.10 OW
  • 30-89 days: Weekend- 8.80 OW, Weekday- 14.30 OW
  • 14-29 days: Weekend- 12.10 OW, Weekday- 16.50 OW
  • Within 14 days: Offpeak- 22 OW, Peak- 25 OW, Return- 37

For comparison’s sake, it’d take GBP 5.70 and about an hour to take the tube from Heathrow into Central London. Of course, taking the tube doesn’t require you to buy a non-refundable ticket 90 days out, and the Heathrow Express drops you at Paddington, which depending on where you’re heading may or may not work for you.

It’s easy to find the Heathrow Express from the arrivals area. Just follow the many, many signs.

You’ll eventually need to head down a lift to the train platform

It can get a bit confusing for first timers because it’s not just the Heathrow Express that departs from this platform- the cheaper, slower Heathrow Connect service does too. But there are many announcements and as long as you can read basic signage you’ll be fine.

The Heathrow Express is also clearly labeled, so as I said, you’d have to be simple or something to get on the wrong train.

photo credit: kwokanathan

My colleague and I both bought standard class tickets, but by virtue of us being Star Alliance Gold members we got a free upgrade to the BusinessFirst cabin. The T&C of this promotion technically say that you need to buy a full fare standard class tickets (i.e not advance fares) to be upgraded, but the fare conductor on both my inbound and outbound legs didn’t care.

BusinessFirst seating is much nicer than the regular cabin, but let’s be honest. It’s a 15 minute ride. You’ll survive being in coach.

Each seat is private and has its own work tray that will just about fit a laptop computer.

Power points are available too, for topping up your devices on the short ride in

There is plenty of luggage storage space throughout the train cabin.

The ride was unmemorable, but perhaps that’s the mark of a good airport transfer. 15 minutes to Paddington, then an Uber to Kings Cross where we had booked ourselves at The Great Northern Hotel, a Starwood Tribute portfolio property. We chose Kings Cross because we had to take a train to Cambridge the next day.

If you pressed me to classify the Great Northern, it would have to fall in some sort of catchall boutique category. It’s not quite business-focused, but its proximity to the train station makes it a good choice for business travelers. It’s not cheap enough to be in the mass market leisure segment, but then again few properties in London are.

The website lists various accolades such as:

Proudly acclaimed in the prestigious Condé Nast Traveller 2014 Hot List, Telegraph’s Top 10 UK Hotels, Tatler’s Top 300 UK Restaurants and presented the Trip Advisor 2015 Certificate of Excellence award.

I wouldn’t put too much trust in Trip Advisor ratings of late, though, because of Trip Advisor’s frankly deceptive attempts to boost their revenue by “enhancing” your search results by the nebulously defined term “relevance”, showing you the hotels that have paid them more to get featured higher in the list as opposed to those which were actually rated highly by guests.

The hotel was a short Uber ride from Paddington station that couldn’t have been more than GBP 10 in total. UberX has been a real boon to London, in that you can finally get affordable private car rides without getting ripped off by Black Cabs.

The hotel lobby is small and narrow, and doesn’t have a lot of waiting room. The idea is to get your check in done quickly and head on out.

Our rooms weren’t ready when we arrived at about 10 in the morning, but that was fine with me. It was Sunday, and I headed out to watch Arsenal’s final game of the season, where we won the coveted 5th place trophy after defeating the overwhelming forces of Everton. We even chose to play most of the game with 10 men because awesomeness.

After the match the players did a lap of the field with a thank you for your support for the season banner.

It was exhilarating. Never before had I seen mediocrity so up close and personal before.

I came back later and got my keys. The hallways to the room are filled with hipster black and white photos.

The room itself  is pretty nice. A bit cramped but definitely a welcome change from your usual Westin/Sheraton decor.

Unfortunately, unlike other boutique hotels the minibar is not complementary.  The minibar prices were…well, minibar prices.

There’s a premium coffee machine in the minibar as well. That’s free, fortunately.

Although it’s an old-ish property I’m glad they made the effort to install USB charging outlets in the room.

As well as a modern A/C controller on the wall. Those old fashioned controllers with knobs and switches and no display bug me to no end.

They even have these cute do not disturb and make up room hangers.

The bathroom had 0 sink space, so minus points for that. It’s really not that difficult to install a separate shelf or at least have a side table to put all your washing up barang barang right?

My favorite feature was the heated towel rack. I scalded my hand touching it but was thankful for the warm towels when I stepped out of the shower on a cold evening.

The shower amenities were Malin + Goetz branded.

Breakfast is served at Plum and Split Milk, the hotel’s restaurant. There’s no buffet, so you order off the menu.

Unfortunately, SPG Elite members need to choose between 500 points and breakfast. Since it was a work trip, I took the points and paid about 17 pounds for the full English breakfast.  I quite enjoyed it, just look at the color of those egg yolks!

On the second day I had something simpler but just as good.

Overall I quite enjoyed the Great Northern. It was a welcome change from the usual cookie cutter Sheratons, and despite the proximity to a major train station they did a heck of a job sound proofing the windows so there was no noise pollution. That said, King’s Cross may not be the most convenient location for you if you’re in London for a vacation, and there are hotels in better located areas at cheaper price points as well.

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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