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Oyster cards, travelcards, and more: the cheapest ways to get around London

Oyster cards, travelcards, and more: the cheapest ways to get around London
Image source: Getty Images.

London is one of the most expensive cities in the world to travel around. Trust me, I live here! But that does give me insight into various ways of keeping travel costs down. So without further ado, let’s start with the humble Oyster card.

Launched in the summer of 2003, it is a contactless pay-as-you-go card for public transport in the capital. As an alternative to buying a paper ticket to feed through the barriers each time, the intention was to make public transport as swift and hassle-free as possible by paying with a tap of card.

They are still available via the website, in three different types. Pay As You Go, Bus & Tram Pass, and Travelcard. If you’ve selected the former, you’ll be asked for the amount of PAYG credit to initially add to the card. Additionally, you can choose whether to enrol in an ‘Auto top-Up’ option, whereby either £20 or £40 is taken from your linked bank account and added to your card whenever your Oyster card’s balance falls below £20.

If you’ve opted for a Bus & Tram pass, you’ll be asked to select from a weekly, month or annual ticket. A Travelcard has similar options, with the addition of a three- and six-month pass, or an ‘Odd period travelcard’. You’ll also need to select which zones the card should cover.

Cards are posted first class, free of charge. Alternatively, you can pay £5.65 for special delivery.

Talking of costs… 

On a PAYG Oyster or travel card, price caps apply for how much you pay for all your journeys in a day or week. Meanwhile, there is a separate price cap for daily/weekly journeys made solely on either (or both) bus and trams. Check the website to see how much your journeys would cost you.

Different price caps also apply for whether you travel at peak times (06:30-09:30, 16:00-19:00) and off-peak (04:30-06.30, 09:30-16:00, 19:00-04.30). Weekends, as well as Bank Holidays, count as off-peak all day long.

Alternatives to travelcards

Using a set-period travelcard doesn’t always mean you’re getting the best value. It will really depend on the number of journeys you’re making, and whether those together come to a lower total than the amount you’re paying for a travelcard. If so, a pay-as-you-go Oyster card might provide better value. So it’s worth doing your research before committing to one over another.

However, I’m someone who likes as little clutter in their life as possible, and that includes my wallet. And since Transport for London now accepts payment by contactless bank cards (one of the first public transport providers in the world to do so), I no longer carry an Oyster card in addition to my credit and debit cards, since they carry the same functionality. That works for me but, again, everyone is different.

Finally, one way I personally cut down on costs travelling around the city has been to walk. Where possible, I strive to carve out some time to walk from A to B if the distance is manageable. There’s the added benefit of exercise, of course, but I’ve found it’s enriching to take the time to look around at the city I live in where possible, rather than popping up out of tube stations like a rabbit in a warren… 

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