Note 

Fares increase each year in at the beginning of January.

The guidance that follows sounds horrendously complex, particularly for those who are not regular users of urban public transport systems. However, do not despair, it is really very simple and you will get the hang of it very quickly.

Transport for London (TfL) is encouraging use of the  Oyster Card, a plastic smart card that can be "charged up" with different kinds of tickets. The main types you can get are:

  • Pay As You Go (PrePay): load your card with electronic money which is then deducted each time you travel.
  • Bus & Tram Pass: weekly or monthly season ticket for bus and tram only. Travel at will.
  • Travelcard: weekly or monthly season ticket for underground, overground, train, bus, DLR and tram. Travel at will within a specified range of zones (see Tube maps for Zones).

Alternatively, if you have a contactless payment card, or Apple Pay, you can use this in the same way as an Oyster card - it will deduct the pay as you go fare as mentioned below in the same way as an Oyster card, and any payments are capped at the relevant daily or weekly travelcard rate.

If you buy a single Tube with cash it is much more expensive (and it is no longer possible to pay with cash on buses) - Zone 1 Tube prices start at the intentionally high price of £4.80, but the same ticket using an Oyster card (or contactless) is £2.30.

It is really worth getting an Oystercard if you are in London for more than one day and you don't already have a contactless card -  you can ride the Tube and buses all day to your heart’s content. So the question is, "which ticket should you put on your Oystercard? ".

PrePay 'Oyster' (Pay As You Go):

This is great if you are staying in the centre of London. PrePay can be used on the tube, buses, the Docklands Light Railway and The Emirates Air Line. Just remember to charge it up with cash before you travel - you can do this at any tube station (in person or at a ticket machine, and you can also check your balance), or even at some 2,200 newsagent shops. Pre-pay (pay as you go) is cheaper than cash fares. Additionally, your fares will be capped so if you make a lot of tube or bus journeys, you will not be charged more than the price of a one day Travelcard.

One thing to note however is if you don't have an Oyster card, but you have a contactless payment card or Apple Pay, then you can use that instead and it works in the same way for pay as you go payments. You simply tap your contactless payment card or Apply Pay on the yellow disc at the station (don't worry you will see other people doing this), and it will deduct the Oyster pay as you go fare from your account. Plus, if you end up making more journeys than planned, any pay as you go payments made via a contactless card are capped at the applicable daily or weekly travelcard rate - so you will never end up paying more than a travelcard.

So if you are traveling for multiple days, and you don't have a contactless card or Apple Pay, the convenience is worth the effort of getting an Oyster card and redeeming it. At the end of your stay, if you have any PrePay funds left over on your Oyster Card, you can cash it in and get a refund!

Travelcard:

A Travelcard provides unlimited travel for 1 day (peak or off-peak) or 7 consecutive days (or one month or a year) for the combination of travel zones purchased. This is a season ticket, so you are paying up-front for your travel. Travelcards are valid on London Underground (the tube), London Overground, buses, night buses, the Docklands Light Railway, trams, and National Rail (but not  the Heathrow or Gatwick Express). They also give you a one-third discount off river boat services. If you want to save a bit of money, you can buy a one-day off-peak pass which only works after 9:30 am, Monday - Friday or any time on weekends and public holidays.

One-day Travelcards are issued as a paper ticket. All Travelcards for longer periods will be issued in the form of an Oyster card (except if you buy them from a National Rail station - see the note below about National Rail and Travelcards).

If you are just sticking within Central London, pick up a Zone 1 & 2 pass.  There is no need for an All-Zone pass unless you plan on heading out to the more suburban areas of London. The more zones and days you choose, the more you pay. Travelcards prices start at £12 (1 day, zones 1-4). A 7-day Travelcard covering Zones 1-6 will cost an adult £58.60 - only worth it if you will be using the transport system across a variety of Zones, hopping on and off a lot of trains.

Tips:

  • Don't worry about whether a 1-day Travelcard would be cheaper than using an Oyster card or a contactless payment/Apple Pay for your bus and Tube fares - however many journeys you make, the Oyster card/contactless payment card/Apple Pay will automatically cap the day's charges at cheapest ticket or combination of tickets.
  • A Travelcard (Not an Oyster Card), will get you discounts on attractions you might want to visit throughout England, but only if purchased at a British Rail vending location. If you make the mistake of purchasing it elsewhere, i.e. a Tube station, it is not good for discounts. A full list of 2 for 1 tickets and discount offers is listed on the BritishRail home page.This alone can save you a lot of money. The Travelcard ticket must be valid on the day you wish to take advantage of any 2 for 1 or discount. For example, you use the Travecard to get to The Tower of London, and you will receive a 2 for 1 admission. If enough places you wish to visitoffer 2 for 1 or discounts you can actually save more than the cost of the Travelcard.
  • If buying a Travelcard at a station, be sure to pick up the booklet which lists all the 2 for 1 offers - at the back are 3 vouchers which can be torn off to complete before arriving at your chosen venue but go on-line and download additional vouchers to use during your stay rather than picking up lots of booklets.

Validity of tickets

To simplify Oyster Card  validity, here is a summary table of which tickets you can use where:

  Bus London
Underground
London
Overground
National Rail DLR Tram Airport Express trains
 PrePay/Oyster  yes  yes  yes London only  yes  yes  no
 Travelcard  yes  yes  yes  yes  yes  yes  no
 Bus Pass  yes  no  no  no  no  yes  no

 

  • Airport Express trains are Heathrow Express, Gatwick Express and Stansted Express.
  • Piccadilly line to Heathrow is a London Underground service, so Pay as You Go Oyster is valid.
  • Travelcards are only valid within the zones you buy.

How to use Oyster/Contactless card  

Be sure to use your Oyster card properly. On a bus, touch the card on the reader (the yellow disc) in order to debit your card with the amount of the fare. At the Tube entry gate, touch your card on the reader to tell the card where you are starting your journey. Be sure to touch at the reader at the exit gate at your destination as well, so the card can calculate the journey made and the fare to be deducted.  If you do not "touch out" the card will think your journey is continuing, and you will be charged the maximum fare for a trip, £4.90 or £7.20. This is less of a problem on the Tube, as most stations have exit gates, but on the Docklands Light Railway, and on the National Rail lines that accept Oyster, the stations often do not have exit gates and there will be an Oyster reader positioned in a prominent place at the exit on which you must remember to touch your card.

CHILD TRAVEL:

  • Children under 11 can travel for free in London when accompanied by a fare paying adult. (Up to four children per one adult).
    You do not need a ticket for under 11's on London buses, DLR or the Underground, just ask a member of staff to let your group through the gate (Adults must 'TAP' through as usual).
  • Children from 11 to 17 can travel for a reduced fare in London, with a photo Oyster card.
    If you are travelling from overseas, you can apply for this on-line. This card costs £10 (non-refundable), so if you are only in London for a couple of weeks or so it may not be worth the time or expense (see http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tickets).

TIPS:

  • Main interchanges like Kings Cross can be confusing, and anyone can make a mistake. If you 'TAP' your Oyster card in, and then realize you have gone through to the wrong Underground line, and find yourself having to 'TAP' back out to get to back out again, your Oyster card will automatically get charged for a journey. If this happens, you can get the charge refunded to your Oyster card. Just go to the customer/ticket kiosk and explain what happened and ask for a refund. But be aware that after any intervention by ticket office staff on your Oyster card (ie a refund) any price cap or progression towards price cap is reset at zero. All Oyster card time data is saved on your card, and customer services will see that you did not have time to make a journey between your 'TAP's. Be aware that late at night some station kiosks are unattended, and you will not be able to get an immediate refund so you will have to return the next day to try to get your refund.
  • Remember to 'TAP' in AND out every time, even if you have made a wrong turn! You can always go to customer service to get a refund if you have recorded your 'TAP's.
  • Do not try to put your card in the slots! It doesn't work, and really upsets the locals waiting behind you!
  • Remember: As you 'TAP' the yellow circle, you can see your remaining balance on the barrier as you go through.
  • Oyster cards are not valid outside of Greater London. If your journey is ending outside of the Greater London Oyster area, you will need to purchase a ticket to you destination (and back). Sometimes it can be cheaper to use your Oyster as far as you can, disembark and buy a ticket for the remaining journey. This is not always the case, so ask at the Ticket Kiosk before you travel.

Buying Oyster

  • Worldwide: you can buy an Oystercard before you visit the UK from the Visit Britain online shop (link below).
  • London Airports: Heathrow Underground stationand Gatwick Express station sell Oyster (remember that Oyster is not valid on Heathrow/Gatwick Express trains, only on London Underground from Heathrow!)
  • When you arrive in London: any tube station, some newsagents shops and some National Rail stations.
  • Ticket machines that dispense Oyster cards are now beginning to appear at some Tube stations.

In addition to the money loaded on to the Oyster card, you have to pay a refundable deposit of £5.00 when you buy your Oystercard.  Note - If you buy a Visitor's Oyster Card you pay no deposit, only a charge of £3.00. You can also get any unused PrePay funds refunded at the end of your stay. Note: if you want a refund of unused pay as you go on your Oystercard make sure you either only pay by cash or card as refunds are not possible of "multiple tenders" (a mix of cash and card payments).  Alternatively you can keep your card for your next visit to London - as the credited funds on your card never expire and can be used again on your return.  If you are keeping the card, it is a good idea to register it on the Transport for London website - this way you are guaranteed to get a refund if the card gets lost.

National Rail wrinkles

As well as the tube network, London is served by National Rail trains.  This may seem a subtle distinction to visitors who aren't familiar with public transport system, but the different ownership and operation of these services does have some effects on tickets and travel. For most Londoners, the phrase "railway station" (or latterly the American import "train station") will mean a station for National Rail trains, not a tube station.

While paper, and latterly Oyster, TravelCards have long been accepted on National Rail (only within the TfL travel zones, of course), it is only recently that Oyster Pay As You Go has been accepted. The system now works just as it does for the tube.  Note that apart from the major termini (Waterloo, Liverpool Street, etc) many railway stations do not have ticket barriers, so if you are using PAYG you will need to remember to seek out an Oyster reader (usually on the platform near the exit) to touch in and out.

It is still generally the case that National Rail ticket offices do not sell or top-up Oyster cards. You can usually, though, top-up an Oyster card at a ticket machine at a railway station (but not make the initial purchase of the card).

LINKS

London Travel Zone - http://www.tfl.gov.uk/maps

Transport for London: Visiting London Page - http://visitorshop.tfl.gov.uk/

Transport for London: Travelling with children - http://visitorshop.tfl.gov.uk/help-ce...

Transport for London: Zip Oyster Photocards for Children living outside of London - https://photocard.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/goto...

Visit London Official website: http://www.visitbritainshop.com/world...

Oyster Card Explained: http://oystercard.webege.com/

Oyster Card Refunds: Return Oyster Cards via post to receive a refund - http://leftovercurrency.com/oyster-ca...