Travelling around London: Travelcard, Oyster Card/Contactless Payment Cards

Travelling around London: Travelcard, Oyster Card/Contactless Payment Cards


If you are not that familiar with London transport, figuring out the cheapest way to travel around London may be tricky. As A money-saving measure, passengers using London Transport can buy a Travelcard, Oyster Card, Visitor Oyster Card or Contactless Card. All are valid for the same London public transport options. 

Let’s go into detail:


These money-saving methods are valid for:


  • The London Heathrow Express train
  • Heathrow Connect train between Heathrow and Hayes & Harlington
  • High Speed trains between St Pancras and Stratford.
  • All transport to Stansted and Luton Airports.

The convenience of Oyster, Visitor Oyster or London Travelcard depends on your personal needs. Here are some useful guidelines on how to get the best value for money when using London transport.


London Travelcards are flat-rate passes that give you  unlimited rides for the time period purchased. If you travel 3 or more times each day for 6 days or more in a 7-day calendar period, a London 7-day travelcard is best for you.

A 7-day travelcard:

  • Covers both peak and off-peak times
  • Can be loaded onto Standard Oyster Cards
  • Can be used in combination with Standard Oyster on a pay-as-you-go basis for a single journey

So, if you travel less than 6 days, you may find it more convenient to stick to the Standard Oyster card.

Example #1: I’m visiting central London for more than 6 days.

Most of the London tourist attractions are concentrated in central London (i.e. The London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Madame Tussauds, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, The Shard). If you are a tourist staying in London for more than 6 days, you will need to hop on and off London public transport very frequently within zones 1 and 2.

In this case, a London 7-day travelcard is the most cost-effective choice.


If you don’t need to travel outside your travelcard zones, stick to the weekly paper travelcard (or monthly, depending of your needs). Contactless payment cards and  London Travelcards are the only travel passes which do not incur the deposit/admin charges of an Oyster purchase. In this case, buy a 7- day paper travelcard  from a railway station ticket office and not on the Underground. You’ll be supplied with a railcard on the spot so remember to bring along a passport-size photo.


If you are a tourist wishing to visit the most popular sites like for instance the Tower of London, London Eye, Madame Tussauds, etc., you really should read the 2-for-1 admission promotion which Travelcards can qualify you for, but Oyster Cards do not.


Example #2: I’m visiting central London for more than 6 days and need to cover occasional journeys outside zones 1 and 2.

London 7-day travelcards can be used in combination with Standard Oyster cards on a pay-as-you-go basis for a single journey.

This comes in useful if you are a tourist visiting London’s major central sights, but also wishing to take occasional journeys outside  zones 1 and 2, either to head to Heathrow Airport (zone 6) or to visit tourist attractions and beautiful spots such as Kew Gardens, Greenwich, Richmond, Hampton Court or Windsor.


Travellers who own a Visitor Oyster Card (an Oyster purchased outside London) or a Contactless Card do not have this combination option. So, the best solution is to purchase a regular Oyster Card in London and put a 7-day travelcard on it as well as some pay-as-you-go cash for occasional journeys outside the travelcard zones you paid for. The ticketing system will recognize both.


Example # 3: I’m visiting London for 8-9 days.

You may load a weekly travelcard on your Standard Oyster as well as some pay-as-you-go money for the additional day, which will still be cheaper than purchasing 1 or 2 daily travelcards. A London 1-day travelcard is usually the most expensive solution for a single day.


oyster card

Oyster cards or Contactless cards on a pay-as-you-go basis are convenient when your journeys are limited. If you travel 3 or more times each day for 6 days or more in a 7-day calendar period, you’d better go for a weekly travelcard (or monthy, or yearly, depending on your needs).

Oyster is more convenient than a daily travelcard for the 1-day traveller.

Oyster cards and contactless payment cards are usually more convenient than the London 1-day travelcard.

Although they are charged on a per journey basis, they have a maximum daily cap after which you will no longer be charged. Most importantly, usually the Oyster/contactless payment cards price cap is less than the cost of a 1 day Travelcard.


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.


Discount entitlements can’t be added to a contactless payment card, so if you have children for instance, stick to the Oyster.

Standard Oyster Card

The Standard Oyster Card is the one you buy in London which requires paying a refundable deposit (currently £5).


If you plan on returning to London, you can retain your Oyster and use it again on your return however far in the future. Otherwise, you can reclaim your Oyster deposit and any cash balance left on your Oyster or Visitors Oyster using any ticket machine. Your Oyster card will be cancelled, and you’ll be refunded your deposit plus any cash left on your Oyster up to £10. Manned ticket offices can refund you for balances over £10. You can also post the Oyster card back to TFL Customer Services requesting the refund; please note that overseas visitors will be refunded with a cheque in British pounds.


If you are an adult, no photo or registration is required, BUT if you have children, you may well need a ZIP Oyster Photo card, so that they can benefit from child rates.

Visitors Oyster Cards

The Visitors Oyster card is the one you buy outside London, including at UK airports, train stations and National Express coaches, overseas agents and on-line, and you have to pay an activation fee (currently £3). This is a  great way if you wish to get hold of your Oystercard before arriving in London and not waste your time looking for a ticket outlet.

Senior citizen concessions

There are no senior concessions for visitors. However, if you are a London resident, you can travel for free if you are 60+.

Children concessions

Currently children under 11 can travel for free if

  • They have a 5-10 Zip Oyster photocard
  • Are accompanied by an adult who is using pay as you go, or has a valid ticket (excluding Group Day Travelcards), a Freedom Pass or an Oyster photocard (up to four children per adult)

Children 11-15 get reduced rates with 11-15 Zip Oyster photocard .

Check out present children concessions with the Zip Oyster Photocards.


As a short term visitor (in London for up to 14 days) with kids between 11-15 years old who haven’t got a Zip Oyster photocard,  you can take advantage of the Young Visitor Discount, a discount set on an Oyster or Visitor Oyster card that will allow them to pay as you go at half adult-rate for up to 14 days.

It can be set by a member of staff at:

  • Any Tube station
  • TfL Rail station ticket offices
  • Visitor Centres
  • Victoria National Rail station ticket office

No proof of age or identity is required, but you might be asked to confirm the child’s age. One adult can get the Young Visitor discount set for up to four children. For more information on Young Visitor Discount check the London Transport official site.


>>Check all 2016 London Transport fares.





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