Summary: Route X26 is generally served by buses with luggage racks. If not, use the wheelchair/buggy area instead.
Furthermore, travelling by Bus is generally the most economical option for this journey, but you shouldn't take bus 490 to start your journey, as you will be joining X26 after it departed Heathrow and hence be potentially deprived of luggage rack spaces. Consider taking the free Heathrow Express/Tube transfer between T5 and T2/3 and get on X26 at its terminus.
Route X26 is generally served by buses with luggage racks
I read somewhere that X26 has a luggage area.. can someone help confirm that?
Extremely highly likely. While I am unable to find official sources that confirm the definite existence of luggage racks in X26 buses, this bus and coach magazine suggests that when Go Ahead-London Metrobus has won the tender for X26 back in early 2017, they have send at least one bus to
undergo a full refurbishment, which included removing the rear door, installing luggage racks and fitting USB charging points.
Since then they have sent more bus for such refurbishment. I have employed an unusual way to check (nearly) all the buses running on X26 are indeed equipped with luggage racks - see the last section.
It is worth noting that a bus company can sometimes send another bus, which may or may not be equipped with luggage racks, to serve route X26. If you are lucky/unlucky to encounter one, read on.
Otherwise, use the wheelchair/buggy area
I'm worried that we luggage of this size won't be allowed on the bus. Am I right?
Not really. Let's start with the official rules, TfL condition of carriage states in Section 9:
9.2 You may bring with you:
• personal luggage that you are able to carry yourself (including on stairs)
In practice, people in London, commuters and tourists alike, regularly haul 23kg suitcases, large backpacks, shopping carts, and buggies (US read: strollers) with them on buses. Nowadays most of the London buses comes with a wheelchair area. While wheelchair users get the priority, when none of them are present the space is frequently used by parents with buggies and people with heavy luggage, provided there are enough space left.
The bus driver can indeed "refuse permission for you to take any item onto our services" (condition 9.4), but they usually only exercise that power if they think letting you and your luggage on would impose a risk to other passengers, say when the bus is packed, or there are already two buggies using the wheelchair space.
In general, it is considered discourteous if you attempt to squish yourself and your luggage past other passengers when the bus is getting tight (if it is just yourself, it is slightly more acceptable, but I will leave the debate open). Otherwise, especially during off-peak hours when the bus is less packed, do get your luggage on there.
Travelling by Bus is generally the most economical option...
What are my other inexpensive options?
Depends on how you define inexpensive, you can consider using the tube and sub-urban train(s) to get to East Croydon. They are a few times more expensive than the bus, but only deliver marginal time gain, assuming you don't get lost while changing trains.
If you can drive in the UK, sometimes car rental companies offer a £1 one-way trip to get you to drive their car to a specified location, so that they don't need to spend money doing that themselves. If you managed to find a match that could potentially be a good deal (mind the hidden cost, especially on petrol, which is expensive here), but I won't count on them for availability.
...but you shouldn't take bus 490 in Heathrow T5
While it is free to take Bus 490 (plus a number of other buses) within the Heathrow free travel zone, it means you are changing for a X26 at Hatton Cross, the first stop after it departs Heathrow Central Bus Station. This means you are more unlikely to get a luggage rack space when you board a X26, as they may be already taken by passengers getting on at Heathrow Central (which serves T2/3).
There are a number of options to get from T5 to T2/3 to board X26 at Heathrow Central instead:
All the options are free.
Bus nerd alert
For those who got some time to spare, you can check out the live bus map for X26, and as I type the following buses are being assigned to the route. For each bus I have linked a recent photo of it - all copyrights belonged to the original uploader:
- LX59 DFA (Photo in Aug 2018 by Howard Pulling)
- LX59 DDL (Photo in Jul 2017 by #RandomBuses Gίrl)
- LX59 DFD (Video in Aug 2017 showing it being assigned to route 293 on the day of filming)
- LX59 DDY (Photo in Nov 2017 by #RandomBuses Gίrl showing it being assigned to route 405 on the day being photographed)
- LX59 DDV (Photo in May 2018 by Bestieboy666)
- LX59 DDN (Video in Mar 2018 by the Independent)
- LX59 DFC (Photo in Sep 2017 by Aubrey Morandarte)
Notice all the buses come with only one set of doors and are fitted with luggage racks.