London Toolkit (Spanish Pages)

London Oyster Card 2016

Transport Pass For Buses, Trains & Underground In London


Oyster Cards London

The vast majority of Londoners currently use an Oyster Card routinely to pay for all their public transport needs, although many are fast migrating away from Oyster Cards to contactless payment cards, typically the Visa, MasterCard or American Express cards they use for everyday expenditure.

For short term visitors to London its not as clear cut and the Oyster Card continues to dominate as the preferred option for public transport around London.


Why Visitors Mostly Use Oyster Cards And Not Contactless Payment cards

For an overseas visitor your credit or debit card that supports contactless payment will probably incur significant foreign exchange charges as fares are converted from Pounds Sterling to your local currency. This is compounded by the nature of continuous small daily debits on your account that is the nature of contactless payment.

Like Oyster Card you need a contactless card for each person travelling and you cannot use contactless payment for child fares.


If you are staying 5 or more days in London with an Oyster you can load a 7 day or monthly Travelcards electronically onto the Oyster Card which has the potential to make significant cash savings - this is not available with contactless cards. Visitor Oysters and Travelcards can also qualify you for discounts on sightseeing.

Contactless Payment Cards - More Details

What Is An Oyster Card & Why Very Few People Buy Single Tickets

Unless you are going to make just one single journey on public transport in London then you should really be looking to use either an Oyster card, contactless payment card or a London Travelcard travel pass and not pay for single tickets. For example, paying cash for a single Underground journey in the centre of London is more than double the price of the same fare with an Oyster Card.


The Oyster card is a permanent reusable electronic ticket of credit card size (see image above) which is topped up from time to time by its owner with cash that is used to pay the fares. You can top it up at ticket machines or on-line for standard Oyster Cards if you register the card.

After each journey the fare is taken from the cash on your Oyster Card. This is called Pay As You Go.


Key Point: The Oyster fare for any individual journey is the lowest fare available, (contactless card fares are identical to Oyster). For each calendar day there is a fare cap (the maximum you can pay in a single day on public transport) and this is always less than the alternative 1 day Travelcard. Oyster fare caps are explained in more detail further down the page.


The alternative travel pass called Travelcard is a much more simple product. You buy it for durations of 1 day, 7 days, 1 month or one year and it give you unlimited travel in those days for a set fee paid up-front. We have a dedicated page for the London Travelcard


Key Point: If you use an Oyster Card for 5 or more days in any 7 calendar days a 7 Day Travelcard will normally be cheaper than using Oyster on a Pay As You Go basis every day.

Oyster Cards (but not Visitor Oyster Cards) have the flexibility to load a 7 day Travelcard electronically onto the Oyster and you can use both Oyster Pay As You Go and a 7 day Travelcard seamlessly together. So if you are in London for 10 days, you can use Oyster for 3 days and the 7 day Travelcard for the other 7.

Where You Can Use An Oyster Card

Travelcard or Oyster Cards In London Discussion

The Travelcard pass covers :

- The London Underground network.

- The London red local bus network.

- The railway network in Greater London.

- Docklands Light Railway, TFL Rail Services and Overground Railway.

- 33% discount on many scheduled river services.

- Train services between London and Gatwick Airport.


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

Stansted, Southend 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 & Gatwick Trains

From January 2016 you can now use London's Oyster Cards and contactless payment options to pay for fares on the Gatwick Express, Thameslink and Southern Trains services between London and Gatwick Airports.

For the Gatwick Express train service the cheapest fares are obtained direct from Gatwick Express and not using an Oyster, so do look at the Gatwick Express page.

For Thameslink and Southern Trains the Oyster is a cheaper for a single journey using Oyster but for return journeys and visitors arriving then departing at Gatwick there are good reasons to buy train tickets instead.

Oyster Cards & Visitors Oyster Cards

There are two types of Oyster Card. If you buy in London you get the standard Oyster Card, if you buy outside London including airport trains and National Express coaches, overseas agents and on-line you will get a Visitors Oyster card.


Oyster & Visitor Oyster Card Differences - The Key Facts:

Visitor Oyster Cards In London On-Line Shop
  • Oyster fares and caps are the same whether you use a standard Oyster or a Visitor Oyster, a common misconception.

  • Visitor Cards you pay an activation fee (£3 in 2016) which is non-refundable. If you buy an Oyster card in London you pay a deposit (£5 in 2016) which is refunded (in cash/coins) when you surrender/cancel the Oyster card.

  • You cannot load 7 day Travelcards on Visitor Oyster Cards only standard Oyster Cards. If you are in London for 5 plus days having a 7 day Travelcard loaded on your Oyster can save you significant cash. Very crudely, for 5 days daily travel in London, Oysters and 7 day Travelcards for most visitors will be almost identical in price. For 6 or 7 days the sixth and seventh days are effectively free for a 7 day Travelcard compared to the Oyster total price.

  • At the end of your trip both Visitor Oyster Cards and standard Oyster Cards you can cancel at ticket machines and get any cash left on the Oyster refunded, (in cash/coins). However at the time of writing there is no such facility at Gatwick Airport to get refunds.

  • A standard Oyster Card you can if you wish register on-line, Visitor Oyster cards you cannot. The main advantages of being registered on-line is that if you lose your Oyster you can stop its use, you can get a good audit trail of your journeys and you can request a refund of cash left on your Oyster on-line direct into your bank account.

  • Visitor Oyster Cards have “special offers” made available to purchasers, normally discounts on anything from food to theatre tickets relevant to visitors. Whether you would make use of any of these offers is another thing and the specifics of offers are often not clear.

Returning Your Oyster Card At The End Of Your Trip

If you plan on returning to London at some time then you can retain your Oyster and use it again on your return however far in the future.

Otherwise you will want to reclaim your Oyster deposit and any cash balance left on your Oyster or Visitors Oyster. You can do this using any ticket machine (though notably not at Gatwick Airport). The machine will cancel the Oyster card and refund your deposit plus any cash left on your Oyster up to £10.


If you forget to get the refund whilst in London you can post the Oyster card back to TFL customer services requesting the refund. For overseas visitors the big disadvantage is that the refund will be in the form of a cheque in British pounds.

This procedure is the same for both Oyster cards and Visitor Oyster cards.

Can I Share Oyster Cards?, Do I Need Photo ID?

Only one person can travel with an Oyster Card at any time. If 2 people are travelling together they need 2 Oyster Cards. However another person can use your Oyster Card when you are not travelling.

No photo is required for an Oyster and your name is not stamped on the card. You can register the Oyster card if you want but that is entirely voluntary.

For concessions, principally child fares, a separate Oyster Photo ID card is required (see bottom of the page). For short term visitors of less than 2 weeks, there is a facility called the Young Persons Discount that enables child fares for a short period without photo id - see bottom of page.

Where Is The Best Place To Buy An Oyster Card

The most convenient place to buy Oyster Cards for visitors are Underground Stations, including Heathrow Airport. You can pay cash or credit card.

However there are no longer manned ticket offices at Underground and DLR stations, you have to buy from a ticket machine.


If you prefer a human to serve you there are also many Oyster Ticket Stops all over London in neighbourhood stores, newsagents etc that display a sign in their window.


If you feel nervous purchasing a public transport pass from a ticket machine after entering a strange country you can buy Visitor Oyster Cards on-line from Visit Britain, (see link below) and have them delivered to your home address internationally. See section above for differences between the Oysters bought in London and Visitor Oysters.


London Oyster Cards For Sale On-line

2 Ways Of Using Oyster Cards

You can use Oyster Cards in two ways:

  • Oyster 'Pay As You Go' mode - you purchase say £10 to be loaded onto your card. Every time you make a journey the appropriate fare is deducted automatically from your original £10 on the card. The fare deducted is far cheaper than if you purchased tickets individually.

    You then top up the Oyster Card with further amounts as required. A key point is that there is a daily price cap (see section further down the page) where however much you travel in a day your total outlay never goes above this price cap.

  • Fixed Duration, Flat Fee With Unlimited Travel - you can buy Travelcards and electronically load them onto your Oyster, (but not 1 day Travelcards and you cannot load any Travelcard onto a Visitors Oyster Card). This gives you a fixed cost for unlimited travel for a set time period 7 days, 1 month or one year. If you travel less than 5 days in any 7 then the Oyster Pay as You Go option will almost certainly be cheaper. This way of combining Oyster Cards and Travelcards is covered in more detail on our London Travelcard page.

Fare Zones

The London public transport system is divided up into zones that radiate from the centre. Nearly all the main hotel districts and the main sights of London are in Zone 1.

For the vast majority of visitors you will only travel in the two most central zones 1 and 2, though many may make an odd trip to places like Heathrow Airport or the Harry Potter Film Studios in the outer zones.

The Underground Map (link right) has the stations and their zones marked.

Some stations like Turnham Green are in two zones, you use whichever zone for these stations is most beneficial in working out your fare.


The fare you pay is set by which zones your departure and destination stations are in. Your journey starts when you go through the ticket barrier of the station entrance you depart from and finishes when you pass through the ticket barrier at the exit of your destination.


You cannot break a journey on a single fare - once you go though the exit barrier of a station that is journey completed. At London Underground and DLR interchange stations you do not normally go through a ticket barrier to switch train and your fare is calculated as one journey, the exit barrier at your ultimate destination being the end point of your journey.


At major railway stations like Victoria and Euston where you may interchange between a commuter train and the London Underground you will normally have to go through ticket barriers to make the interchange. At these stations you are given a short time period (15-30 minutes) to make the interchange - have a coffee or take a longer break and you will be charged for 2 separate journeys.


London's red buses do not have zones. With Oyster, a flat fee per bus journey is charged wherever and whenever you ride.

The Oyster Daily Price Cap

Price caps are the maximum you will pay in a day, a price ceiling. No matter how many individual trips you make in any 24 hour period between 04:30 and 04:30 you will not be charged more than the price cap amount. This price cap spreads across all modes of transport, so if you mix bus, underground and DLR in one day the same price cap applies.


Oyster & Contactless Payment Card Price Caps 2016

Compared To Travelcard Prices

Zones Travelled In

Oyster Daily Price Cap

1 Day Travelcard

7 Day
Caps ‡

(No Peak / Off Peak)

 Peak† 

Off-Peak

Zone 1-2

£6.50

£12.10

£12.10

£32.40

Zone 1-3

£7.60

£12.10

£12.10

£38.00

Zone 1-4

£9.30

£12.10

£12.10

£46.50

Zone 1-5

£11.00

£17.20

£12.10

£55.20

Zone 1-6

£11.80

£17.20

£12.10

£59.10

† 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 : £4.50 (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 & Contactless Payment Card Fares

Every time you make a journey on London's public transport your Oyster Card is charged a fare. Once you reach the daily cap (see above) in a day no more fares are deducted from your Oyster Card.


Oyster Card & Contactless Payment Card Fares 2016

Compared To Single Cash Fares

 

Zones Travelled

Fare 1 Journey

Cash Fare

 Peak* 

Off-Peak

 

Within One Zone

Zone 1

£2.40

£2.40

£4.90

Zone 2

£1.70

£1.50

£4.90

Across Zones

Zone 1 To 2

£2.90

£2.40

£4.90

 

Zone 1 To 3

£3.30

£2.80

£4.90

 

Zone 1 To 4

£3.90

£2.80

£5.90

 

Zone 1 To 5

£4.70

£3.10

£5.90

 

Zone 1 To 6

£5.10

£3.10

£6.00

 

Zone 2 To 6

£2.80

£1.50

£5.90

Gatwick Express Train

 

£19.80

£19.80

 

Other Gatwick Trains

 

£14.00

£8.00

 

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, £0.85 peak

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, (however if you are staying in the centre of London zones 1 to 3 it will be cheaper to purchase individual Oyster Cards.

If you are a group of 10 or more then do check out this product. Click through on the blog link right for more details.

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 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 too and travel free of charge.


If you have a railways Seniors Railcard you can get your 1/3 rd discount on off-peak Oyster fares. You have to ask a member of staff to load the concession onto a standard Oyster Card (note, not a Visitors Oysters Card) at an Underground Station after showing your Seniors Card.

If you have a railways Seniors Railcard you can also buy 1 day off-peak zone 1-6 Travelcards at with the discount applied.

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.

London Underground Ticket Barrier London Underground Wide Ticket Barrier

Standard & Wide Barriers


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

Using Your Oyster To Gain Access To Trains

To gain access to the trains of all types, and again to exit a station you have to pass through automatic barriers, (pictured right). There is always one wide ticket barrier for wheelchairs, pushchair's and people with large suitcases, (see image above).


You swipe the Oyster Card over a bright yellow pad, the barrier will check validity and then open the barrier. This process is repeated at the destination station and the fare is calculated and deducted from your Oyster.

On buses you swipe the Oyster over the same yellow pad. That's it, you don't swipe again on exit.


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, DLR , Overground and any TFL train service 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.

Travel on the national railways which operate suburban commuter trains in London only have free travel for those under 5. In the last year or so many train routes in London have switched from the railways to TFL Rail. Confusingly a few national railways routes where both rail and TFL rail operate on the same tracks children under 11 can travel free on the railways trains - this includes the popular route for visitors between Euston and Watford Junction (for Harry Potter Studio Tour).

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 credited with a Young Persons Discount at Underground stations, TFL Rail stations, Visitor or Travel Information Centres and Victoria National Rail station ticket office. 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-£20 administration fee for each Oyster ID Card

Advance application for Child Oyster ID Card


London Oyster Cards For Sale On-line
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