Back in 2003, London introduced a new credit-card-size travel card that can be used across several travel modes in London. Today, this card is widely used in the capital and most Londoners have one in their wallet. We are going to share with you a bit of information about it and show you some ways (even Londoners might not know) you can save money using it.
Oyster Card – The Basics
London’s public transport network is divided up into nine travel zones. Zone 1 is in Central London and zones 6 to 9 are on the outskirts of the city. The price of a ticket depends on which zones are being crossed. For example, a journey from Walthamstow Central station to Leicester Square will cost you £3.30 (adult ticket), compared to a single journey ticket priced at £4.90. There are free transport maps available on tfl.gov.uk/maps. You can also check the cost of a single journey to your destination with the Single Fare Finder.
The Oyster card is a transport card that Londoners use to travel across the public transport system in London, and the ways to do that are pretty simple. Touch in (scan) the card on entry on one of the yellow (or pink) card readers (see below). This checks in the station/zone at which you board. When you reach your destination, before you exit the station you must touch out (scan) your card to complete the journey. If you do not, you will be charged a fine (the fee varies depending on the transport used, but is usually at least double the amount you would’ve paid for the journey). If you’re boarding a bus, you will be charged a flat fee of £1.50 and you do not need to touch out when you leave.
Important: It is always advisable to check your journey before you embark on it. Often there are line closures, delays or unexpected difficulties. Transport for London’s Journey Planner is something you should visit before leaving the house. Or if you are on the go, check your journey with the app for Android (tested and recommended) or iPhone.
Visitor Oyster Card
The Visitor Oyster card is great for tourists who like to be prepared, as you can buy it before you travel to London and have it delivered to your home address. The card costs £3 (non-refundable) plus postage. You can choose how much credit to add to your card. If you are visiting London for two days, a £20 credit would be a good start. There is also an option to pay in your own currency.
Benefits of a Visitor Oyster:
- Saves time – your card is ready to use as soon as you arrive in London. You don’t have to queue at the long lines outside a ticket booth.
- Save on transfer cost – if you land in Gatwick, London City airport or Heathrow you can use it on the train to your city destination. This will save you the additional cost of airport transfer bus/taxi.
- It’s more than 50% cheaper than buying a paper Travelcard or single tickets with cash. It is also sturdier (plastic) and you are less likely to lose your credit if you spill coffee over it!
- There is a daily price cap (depending on which zones you travel to) – once you have reached this limit, you won’t pay any more.
- Enjoy special offers and promotions at leading London restaurants, shops and entertainment venues – plus discounts on the Emirates Air Line (£3.50 Oyster/£4.50 ticket) and MBNA Thames Clippers river buses.
Note: Oyster cards work in the same way as Visitor Oyster cards but do not include special offers and promotions. Oyster cards cost £5 (refundable) and can also be loaded with credit. If you register your card at tfl.gov.uk, you will be able to top up online 24/7, check your current balance and even see your past journeys and how much you were charged for each.
Travelcards allow you to use the bus, Tube, DLR, tram, MBNA Thames Clippers river bus service, London Overground and most National Rail as often as you wish within the specified period. The travelcards available in London are:
- 1 Day
- 7 Days
- 1 Month
- 1 Year
You can add a Travelcard onto your Oyster card (only 1 Day travelcards can be purchased as a paper ticket).
Anytime Travelcards are slightly more expensive, but they let you travel at any time on the day, any days of the week.
Anytime Off-Peak Travelcard lets you travel from 9:30 Monday to Friday and all day Saturday and Sunday as it avoids the peak time range (06:30 – 09:30 and 16:00 – 18:59 Monday to Friday + all weekend for most of the transport network). Click here to get the full detail about peak-time.
Your Oyster card has ran out of credit when you’re in a real hurry? No need to panic! You can use your Contactless debit or credit card (see picture below). Just scan the card as you would scan your Oyster card.
There are a few benefits for using contactless payment cards:
- Never run out of credit (as long as you have money in your bank account)
- If you use the same card for all your journeys your fares will be automatically capped daily and weekly (Monday to Sunday) so that you only pay the cheapest fare.
Contactless payment cards issued outside the UK may incur transaction fees or bank charges.
Which Ticket to Buy?
Deciding which ticket to buy – a Visitor Oyster card, Oyster card or Travelcard – depends on how long you’re planning to stay in London and how often you’ll be using public transport.
If you plan to make a few journeys a day for a couple of days, or you want to travel to the outskirts of the city, or simply you’re not sure how many journeys you’ll do then a Visitor Oyster card, Oyster card or contactless payment card will be your cheapest options (these are all pay-as-you-go).
If you are visiting London for a week or longer, and plan to travel a few times a day every day, then a 7 Day Travelcard may be the most cost-effective option.
Money saving tips
There are a few ways to save money using the Oyster card:
- Avoid Zone 1: Crossing Zone 1 is expensive. So if you are not in a hurry, try avoiding it. You can do so by looking at the travel map and deciding where to change trains in order to avoid Zone 1. The Overground and DLR help in this instance as most of their lines are outside zone 1.
- Avoid rush hour: another option is to avoid the rush hours (= peak time) between 6:30am to 9.30am and 4.30pm to 7pm, Monday to Friday. Travel is more expensive during these hours than it is during off-peak travel times.
- Add a travelcard onto your Oyster card: if you have purchased a day, week, month or annual travel card, all buses come at no cost. You still must scan your card at entry, but no extra money will be taken off. That way, you can travel from any zone to zone 2, where you can get a bus to pretty much anywhere in zone 1 for free! (be aware that total journey time will be longer)
- Use the traditional bus and not the tour bus: tourists wishing to tour the city from the heights of a double decker bus can save a fortune with this little trick. Instead of paying for an official tour bus (£22 and more, depending on package), opt for the good old traditional London red bus! This will give you:
- a real sense of how Londoners travel
- you get to see some amazing views from the second floor of the bus that you cannot see from a tour bus
- you have a roof over your head (let’s face it, it rains a lot in London!)
- you only pay £1.50 per journey! Most London buses travel a long distance (roughly 1hr from start to final stop) and cover a few areas/zones.
Indeed, you do not get a live tour guide, but if you download a tour app you can get the facts yourself for free!
Discounts and concessions are also available:
- 18+ Student
- 5-10 years of age
- Job Centre Plus
- National Rail Cards and Gold Cards
- Disabled Persons Railcard
We hope you learnt a few useful tips about the Oyster card that will help you travel more cleverly in London and save money in the process. So don’t forget to use it and remember London…. is your Oyster!
P.S. > Don’t forget to get your Oyster in advance 😉 Click on the banner below.