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Will an Oyster card save me money in London?

by Rajul on May 11, 2009

Should I bother with an Oyster card?  Image from Mirka23's Flickrstream.

Should I bother getting an Oyster card? Image credit below.

The London Underground System – or “the tube” as it is affectionately known – has been transformed by its Oyster smart card system.

An Oyster card allows you to use “most” of the London transport network.

Despite the best efforts of the Mayor of London, there are a few stations which remain stubbornly outside the system!

Oyster offers significant discounts over simply paying as you go (sometimes 50% or more off!).  It also saves considerable time you might have spent queuing for tickets.

Moreover, the system saves you money by automatically calculating the cheapest fare retroactively at the end of each day.

For example, if you end up travelling more than you intended it will automatically charge you the cheapest travelcard fare rather than expensive singles and returns.

So what’s the catch?

The system can be a bit complex for visitors to get started with, as you need to buy an Oyster card – usually a few pounds’ deposit, which you’ll save in discounts in no time.

You must also remember to “touch in and out” on all legs of your journey.  However, you’ll get the knack of this in no time: just copy the streams of Londoners rushing to work.

So unless you’re making a very short day-trip to London, we’d strongly recommend getting yourself an Oyster card.

As far as we’re aware, there’s no date limit on Oyster cards so you can re-use them on future visits.

If you don’t plan to return soon, you can get your deposit back (though beware: Transport for London may make you go through the bureaucratic nightmare of waiting for a cheque, so do check before you buy).

What about the so-called “Visitor Oyster” card, available via overseas agents and through Eurostar, National Express and other outlets?

It is after all meant to be specially designed for tourists.  However, it has no special advantages we can identify (even the Transport for London person we phoned up struggled to come up with any!).

If you absolutely don’t want an Oyster card, you can instead buy the cheapest travelcard, preferably waiting until after 9.30am on a weekday.

You can also buy a weekly travelcard if staying longer which involves getting a photocard – free but hassle.

Oyster cards and travelcards can be used on both the tube and buses, though not in all national rail stations.  Always remember to wait until after 9.30am on a weekday to avoid paying London’s high peak-time fares.

For further information about Oyster and public transport in London please visit the Transport for London website.

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Photo credits: Mirka23’s Flickrstream.

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