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London Travelcard v Oyster Card v Contactless Card in 2015

Make an informed choice on the right London travel pass for you

Oyster Card London London Travelcard

For the visitor to London, the question of which travel pass to purchase can be very confusing. For those living and working in London they will almost always have an Oyster Card in their wallet and as a general rule of thumb the Oyster Card is the benchmark to be beaten although people are fast migrating to contactless payment cards. The contactless payment card is the new option available and the authorities have hopes this may become the dominant channel in the longer term. In 2015, for adult short term visitors to London who have a valid contactless payment card this is almost certainly going to be your best option.

However, every person travelling needs their own individual contactless payment card and they are not an option for concessions, i.e. children. If you are from North America, unless you have American Express it is unlikely your cards support contactless payment. If you hit any of these hurdles adopting contactless credit cards then Oyster Cards are going to come very much into the picture.

However, for the tourist or those making short visits to London there are aspects of the Travelcard that make them very appealing and if understood can make Travelcards cheaper than Oyster Cards or contactless payment cards, especially if you are visiting the major sights on a first time visit.

This page discusses the differences between Oyster, Contactless Payment Cards and Travelcards so you can identify the right product for you, our detailed Travelcard , Contactless Payment Cards and Oyster Card pages give a full explanation of each.

Oyster Card, Contactless Payment Card & Travelcard Transport - Any Difference

Travelcard or Oyster Cards In London Discussion

All three options cover the same London public transport :

- The London Underground network.

- The London red local bus network.

- The railway network in Greater London.

- Docklands Light Railway and Overground Railway.

- Discount on many scheduled river services. (though not contactless payment card and fragmented implementation on Oyster/Travelcard.

You cannot use any on the Heathrow Express train, the Heathrow Connect train between Heathrow and Hayes and Harlington and the High Speed trains between St Pancras and Stratford.

Gatwick, Stansted and Luton Airports are outside London beyond the scope of London public transport so the airport buses and trains from these airports are not covered. City Airport is serviced by the Docklands Light railway (DLR) and is covered.

Oyster Cards, Contactless Payment Cards & Travelcards - Differences In Ease Of Purchase & Admin Charges

Both Oyster and Travelcard can be purchased on demand from Underground Stations, Visitor Centres and literally hundreds of retail outlets like newsagents and convenience stores inside London. There are few places outside London you can purchase them.

Contactless payment cards are your normal personal credit/debit cards, so as long as your cards support the contactless payment technology then you don't have to do anything.

Contactless Payment Cards and Travelcards

In 2015, a £3 admin fee was introduced when you return an Oyster Card within a month of purchase.

When you buy a Visitor Oyster Card you pay a activation fee (currently also £3) which is not refundable.

For short term visitors, contactless payment cards and Travelcards are the only travel passes where you do not incur the admin charges of Oyster.

Oyster Card Deposits

When you buy an Oyster Card you pay a deposit (currently £5). You can claim the deposit back when you surrender the Oyster card, you will receive any outstanding balance too as a refund at the same time. However, if you return your Oyster within one month of purchase a £3 admin charge is applied.

When you buy a Visitor Oyster Card you pay a activation fee (currently £3) which is not refundable.

Oyster Cards v Visitors Oyster Cards

If you buy an Oyster Card on-line or anywhere else outside London including airport express trains, National Express coaches and overseas agents you will almost certainly receive a Visitors Oyster Card, not a standard Oyster Card received by purchasing in London.

The key difference with Visitor Cards is that you pay an activation fee which is non-refundable. If you buy an Oyster card in London you pay a deposit which is refunded when you surrender the Oyster card, though if you do so within a month there is a £3 charge.

With Visitor Oyster Cards if you have any balance left on your Oyster card you can send it to the central customer services department in London and they will send you a cheque (in British pounds). With an Oyster bought in London you just take it to the nearest Underground ticket office and they will return deposit and any balance left on the card there and then.

Oyster cards bought in London you also have the flexibility to load 7 day Travelcards onto the Oyster, you do not have this flexibility with Visitor Oyster Cards.

Photo ID

  • No photo id is required when you buy an Oyster Card, except where children are concerned. You may well need an Oyster Photo ID card of one kind or another to access child rates. See the child concession table at the foot of this page for which one (if any) and fees.

  • No photo id is required when you buy adult Travelcards from anywhere but railway stations.

  • A 7 Day Travelcard or longer (adult or child) bought from a railway station ticket office (not Underground) you need to bring along a passport size photo for a rail photocard to be made up on the spot and free of charge.

  • A 7 Day Child Travelcard or longer bought from anywhere but a railway station or on-line with TFL on-line shop requires an Oyster ID Card. Adults do not. See the child concession table at the foot of this page for which Oyster Id Card (if any) and fees.

London Oyster Card and Travelcards For Sale On-line

Contactless Payment Cards - Are Your Cards Compatible?

Like all new technologies, compatibility and speed of introduction varies across the world. To make sure contactless payment cards are even going to be an option for your credit/debit cards take a look at our contactless payment card dedicated page linked below.

Also do remember if you are a visitor with a non-UK issued credit/debit card you'll probably be hit for foreign exchange charges by your card issuer like all other foreign purchases.

Contactless Payment Cards - More Details

Oyster Card v Contactless Payment Cards v Travelcard - Which is Cheapest?

  • As a general rule a Travelcard is more expensive than an Oyster card or contactless payment card. The exception is if you make 3 or more journeys for 6 days or more within a 7 day period. In this case a 7 day Travelcard works out cheaper than an Oyster or contactless payment card. Otherwise an Oyster on a Pay As You Go basis or a contactless payment card is cheaper. If you are a resident or long term visitor there are monthly and annual Travelcards. You can load 7 day Travelcards onto an Oyster Card and switch between Oyster Pay As You Go and Travelcard as your travel patterns change. You cannot do this on a contactless payment card.

  • In 2015, a £3 administration fee was introduced if you returned your Oyster within a month of purchase, (there is a £5 refundable deposit when you buy an Oyster Card and you will want to reclaim any money left on your Oyster). Visitor Oyster cards have a non-refundable £3 fee when you purchase too. Contactless payment cards do not carry these £3 fees. As fares are identical on Oyster and Contactless Cards for the short term visitor to London contactless cards are theoritically going to be £3 cheaper than Oyster over the duration of yor visit. However, your card will be charged like any other overseas purchase so you should check whether you will be hit for punitive foreign exchange charges by your card issuer - there is a wide variance between different cards. The best cards have no fees.

  • If you have children under 18 year of age then your decision will probably be driven by access to child fares. Travelcards often give you access to child rates much easier than Oyster for short duration visits - see the getting child rates section further down this page.

  • Discount entitlements can't be added to a contactless payment card like an Oyster Card. So if you are eligible for free or discounted travel, you should continue using your existing Oyster card. This in effect rules out children using contactless payment methods.

  • If you are doing the sights in London like the Tower of London. London Eye, Madame Tussauds etc. then you really should read the 2 for 1 admission promotion which Travelcards can qualify you for, but Oyster Cards do not.

Oyster v Contactless Payment Cards v Travelcard Peak & Off Peak Travel - The Differences

In 2015 a flat price cap was introduced for Oyster cards and contactless payment cards. A price cap is the maximum you can pay in any one calendar day, (see next section down). Prior to 2015 there were separate price caps, peak and non-peak for Oyster. So if you travelled in the peak period then you triggered a 'peak' price cap - this is no more. However 1 day Travelcards do still have peak and off-peak products.

The 1 day Travelcard peak travel period is Monday to Friday before 09:30, there is no afternoon peak period. If you travel in the peak period you need a peak 1 day Travelcard. The substantial variance in fares is detailed on the price table below. All Travelcards with a duration 7 days or longer cover both peak and off-peak times.

Oyster / Contactless Payment Cards Price Caps v Travelcard Prices

Travelcards are a flat rate pass where you have unlimited rides for the time period purchased. Oyster / contactless payment cards are charged on a per journey basis but has a daily maximum you can be charged. Once you hit this 'price cap' through individual fares aggregating, you are charged no more for subsequent journeys made that day.

The daily Oyster/contactless payment cards price cap is less than the cost of a 1 day Travelcard so over one day is cheaper. Over longer periods Travelcards can work out cheaper depending on your travel. For instance a 7 Day Travelcard is less expensive than an Oyster or contactless payment cards if you travel 3 or more times each day for 6 days or more in a 7 day calendar period.

Travel Zones

All travel is charged by the number of zones you travel through. Most tourists never get out of zones 1 and 2 where all the main sights and hotels are, but there are exceptions like Heathrow Airport in zone 6. Look at the London Underground page for a full explanation and zone maps.

Using An Oyster Card With A 7 Day Travelcard Loaded Onto The Oyster Card

Most visitors will just travel in the central zones, 1 and 2. If you are staying more than 6 days in Central London then a 7 day Travelcard zone 1-2 is probably going to be cheaper than jus an Oyster card.

7 day Travelcards can be loaded onto your Oyster Card and be used in combination with Oyster on a Pay As You Go basis for a single journey.

Note this flexibility is not available on Visitors Oyster Cards or contactless payment cards.

This is very useful if you want to take the occasional trips outside the central area (zones 1 & 2), perhaps to Heathrow Airport in zone 6 from Central London in zone 1. By loading some PAYG money onto your Oyster as well as the Travelcard zone 1-2 the ticketing system will recognise the zone 1&2 Travelcard for the zone 1 and 2 segment of the journey and take the fare for zones 3 to 6 from the Oyster PAYG amount on your card.

Similarly if you are staying in London for 9 days you might buy an Oyster Card and use it on a PAYG basis for 2 days and have a 7 day Travelcard loaded and use that for the remaining 7 days.

Oyster & Contactless Payment Card Price Caps 2015

Compared To Travelcard Prices

Zones Travelled In

Oyster Daily Price Cap

1 Day Travelcard

7 Day
Caps ‡

(No Peak / Off Peak)



Zone 1-2





Zone 1-3





Zone 1-4





Zone 1-5





Zone 1-6





† Travelcard peak fares apply for any travel made Monday to Friday before 9:30 a.m. All other travel is off-peak.

‡ Prices for a 7 day Travelcard. Also the 7 day cap for contactlessp payment cards between Monday to Sunday - not available on Oyster.

SPECIAL CAP FOR BUS TRAVEL ONLY : £4.40 (For if you only travel on London's buses on 1 day).
CHILDREN'S OYSTER CAPS: Off Peak: £1.50 (all zones) Peak: half of adult cap.

Oyster Card & Contactless Payment Card Fares 2015

Compared To Single Cash Fares


Zones Travelled

Fare 1 Journey

Cash Fare




Within One Zone

Zone 1




Zone 2




Across Zones

Zone 1 To 2





Zone 1 To 3





Zone 1 To 4





Zone 1 To 5





Zone 1 To 6





Zone 2 To 6




No return fares.

ANY BUS JOURNEY : £1.50 (no fare zones)

* Peak fares apply Monday to Friday between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. except public holidays

Children travel free if under 11 year old or are between 11 and 15 years with an Oyster 11-15 Photocard

Childrens fares (11-15 yrs old) with an Oyster 11-15 Photocard on Oyster for any trip within zones 1 to 6 is £0.75 off peak, £0.80 peak

London Oyster Card and Travelcards For Sale On-line

Seniors Concessions

There are no seniors fares for visitors. If you reside in London and are over 60 you can get a Freedom pass or 60+ Oyer ID Card that makes free bus and Underground travel available. You can apply on-line or get a form from your local Post Office.

Anybody with an English National Concessionary bus pass can use that on London's red buses but not the Underground.

Child Concessions

This is a very complex subject and is covered in detail at the foot of the page.

In crude terms a child is defined as under 16 years old, but in the last couple of years it has been possible to get child fares after jumping through a few hoops up to the age of 17.

Children under 11 can travel free on the London Underground, DLR and buses without a ticket. If a child is between 11 and 15 years old you require an Oyster 11-15 Photocard (which has a fee see below). This allows 11 to 15 year olds to travel at child fares on the Underground, DLR, Overground and some trains, free on the buses.

If you are a short term visitor (in London for up to 14 days) with kids between 11-15 you can take advantage of the Young Visitor Discount. This means you can get half price fares on an Oyster Card on a temporary basis for your child without going through the hoops and expense of getting an Oyster ID card. You do need to read carefully the rules of this scheme though.

Child Fares - More Details

London Group Travelcard Public Transport Tickets

Group Tickets - 1 Day Group Travelcard For Groups Of 10 Or More

This ticket is for groups of 10 or more travelling together.

This in scope is the same as a 1 day off-peak Travelcard for zones 1-6 and 1-9 providing unlimited travel on all services after 9.30 Monday to Friday and all day Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays

The pricing is particularly attractive if you have kids in the group and those staying in one of the outer zones.

If you are a group of 10 or more then you really should look at this product. Click through on the blog link right for more details.

Oyster v Travelcard - Getting Child Rate Travel

One of the biggest nightmares for visitors on short visits to London with children is accessing child rate fares if they do not qualify for free travel.

Note child fares are not supported by contactless payment cards.

If after reading the table below you find that you require an Oyster ID Card, then are taken aback by the cost and time required to obtain one for your child read on. These are your options for travelling without the Child Oyster ID Card (if your child is under 16) at child rate:

  • Pay for individual journeys at child rate

  • Purchase a 1 day Child Travelcard each day

  • Purchase your Travelcards or Oyster Cards on-line from the TFL on-line shop (banner below)

  • Purchase 7 Day Travelcards or longer from railway stations (you will need to bring a passport size photo with you for a railways photo card which is made up on the spot free of charge).

Children's Fare Concessions
- Children Under 5

Children under five can travel free at any time on the Tube, DLR, buses and trams as long as they are accompanied by an adult with a valid ticket. You do not need a ticket for free travel. Children in this category do not need Oyster ID Cards*.

- Children 5-10

Under-11s can travel free at any time on buses and trams without the need for a Oyster ID Card*. You do not need a ticket for free travel.

They can also travel free at any time on the Tube and DLR when they are travelling with an adult who has a valid ticket. Up to 4 children under 11 years old accompanied by a paying adult travel free on the London Underground.

Unaccompanied children between 5 and 10 must have a valid Oyster ID Card*.

- Children 11-15
Child Fares On London Public Transport

Children aged 11 to 15 years must get an 11-15 Oyster ID Card* to travel free on buses and trams and at child-rate on Tube, DLR and London Overground services. You do not need a ticket for free travel, just the ID Card.

You cannot get a standard child rate Oyster Card without an Oyster ID Card.

Young Visitor Discount (for visitors to London staying up to 2 weeks)

If you are a short term visitor to London you can get child fares on a special child Oyster Card that expires after 14 days. There are restrictions. You can only get these Oyster Cards at Underground station ticket offices in Zone 1 and Heathrow Airport Underground Stations. For full details of this scheme click through on the Child Fares banner to the right.

Alternatives To Oyster Cards For Children

You can get around the Oyster ID card requirement by purchasing a 1 day Travelcard for the child, (longer length Travelcards do require an Oyster ID Card) or paying the cash fare or purchasing your Child Travelcard on-line in advance from the TFL Visitor Shop.

You can buy 7 day child Travelcards at railway stations (not Underground or Overground) with a railway ticket office. The railways will issue a railways photocard free of charge if you bring along a passport size photo of your child. You can only use this for buying tickets from the railways which in practise for visitors means Travelcards.

Children 16-17

All 16 to 17-year-olds can travel at child-rate on bus, Tube, tram, DLR and London Overground services with a 16+ Oyster ID Card*.

However, you can only use this concession on Oyster cards and 7 Day Travelcards or longer, not 1 day Travelcards.

Students 18+

If you are 18 or over and enrolled with a participating education establishment registered on the TfL scheme and are resident in London whilst studying there is an Oyster ID card that gives a 34% discount on Oyster Pay As You Go.

*Oyster ID Cards

Visitors to London from overseas can order an Oyster Photocard in advance for their children and collect on arrival at a travel centre. (There is a Travel Centre at Heathrow Airport as well as in Central London). If you are resident in the UK but live outside London you can again order on-line but the Oyster ID Card is sent to your home address.

Note you need to apply (online) at least 4 weeks prior to arrival.

Note: There is a non-refundable £10 administration fee for each Oyster ID Card

Advance application for Child Oyster ID Card

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