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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 they are fast migrating to contactless payment cards. For short term visitors its not so clear cut, if you have a credit or debit card that supports contactless payments that is probably going to be the front runner.

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 as your your transport ticket of choice. There is sometimes a case for visitors to use the alternative Travelcard scheme. especially if you are doing lots of sightseeing.

Unless you are going to make just one single journey on public transport in London then you should really be looking to either purchase an Oyster, 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 that paying 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. Londoners also have their season tickets loaded onto Oyster Cards as well and there are passes for one week and monthly durations. All can be loaded onto the one electronic Oyster card.

Contactless cards are standard credit or debit cards that support the contactless payment technology, the total cost of all the journeys that you make in one day is calculated at the end of the day and a single charge is made to your contactless payment card account.

No doubt in time this payment method may well supersede Oyster. In the near term, especially for overseas visitors there are barriers that may well favour Oyster. The main ones being that many overseas cards are not compatible and you will incur foreign exchange charges like all other payments if you have a non UK issued credit/debit card.

Contactless Payment Cards - More Details

The 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 Travelcard

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 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 much better bet as a means of getting a competitive fare, though even here some promotional fares and group fares direct from the railways may be cheaper for the day/time of your transfers.

By using Oyster on Thameslink and Southern Trains services to/from Gatwick you also trigger a very high daily Oyster cap - see table below. If you are travelling within Central London on the same day as your Gatwick train it may well be cheaper to buy a separate train ticket just to keep your Oyster cap for that day restricted to the cap for zones 1-2.

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.

Actually using them there is no difference.

The key difference with Visitor Cards is that 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 when you surrender the Oyster card.

The standard Oyster Card allows you to load Travelcards onto them (but not 1 day Travelcards) which if you are in London for more than 5 days will save most visitors money. This facility is not available on Visitor Oyster Cards.

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, 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 often required if your child is 11 years or older and wants child fares (see bottom of the 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.

You can buy Oyster Cards on-line from Visit Britain, (see link below) and have them delivered to your home address internationally. You will receive Visitor Oyster Cards, (see section above for differences between the Oyster bought in London).

London Oyster Card and Travelcards 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 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 pay an amount for a set time period, 7 days, 1 month or one year and you are covered for unlimited rides in that period. This way of using Oyster cards is covered on our Travelcard page.

Fare Zones

The London public transport system is divided up into zones that radiate from the centre. Nearly all the hotels and the main sights are in Zone 1. Heathrow Airport is in zone 6 and the furthest zone out is zone 9.

For the vast majority of visitors you will only travel in the two most central zones 1 and 2.

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 an exit barrier of a station that is journey completed. You can change trains at an interchange station and as you do not go through an exit barrier at the station your fare is not calculated until you exit through a barrier at your ultimate destination after switching trains.

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)



Zone 1-2





Zone 1-3





Zone 1-4





Zone 1-5





Zone 1-6





Gatwick Thameslink/Southern Trains




† 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

* Lower fare cap if you do not travel Monday to Friday from 0630 to 0930..

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




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




Gatwick Express Train





Other Gatwick Trains





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.

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 Card and Travelcards For Sale On-line
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