London’s Oyster Cards, Explained

Posted on 28. Jan, 2010 by in Destinations, Europe Travel, Travel Tips, United Kingdom

Oh the intricate world of transportation tickets! While I’m pretty sure some Londoners aren’t entirely aware of the immensity of the Transport for London ticketing system, it’s even worse for tourists - with reason! What’s the difference between a travelcard and Oyster cards? Why are the fares different? Let’s have a closer look.

Oyster cards

Oyster Cards are a fancy blue plastic card that allows you to load transportation titles. There are two types of those: travelcards, and pay as you go.


These are titles that allows you to travel in different zones and hours, depending on what you’ve chosen. You can choose daily, weekly or monthly passes. Please not that for some reason, daily travelcards are not available on Oyster Cards - you get a pretty piece of paper instead.

  • Different zones: while Travelcards will allow you to go on any buses to any destinations, it doesn’t work that way with the Tube. You have to pick which zones you will need to travel to and from, and the more you choose, the more expensive your ticket will be. Most tourists will only need the regular zone 1-2 travelcard.
  • Different hours: Travelcards come with a twist, depending at what time of the day you buy them. You can either get ‘Anytime’ or ‘Off-peak’ travelcards, the latter being a little less expensive. Pretty self-explanatory, right?

London Tube map (click to enlarge)

Pay As You Go

Pretty self-explanatory, too, and my personal favorite. You load money in it and travel around the network as you like. There is, however, such a thing as daily price capping for PAYG users, which is the equivalent of a One-Day Travelcard. What does this mean? It means that no matter how many times you hop on the bus, or take the Tube, it’s never going to cost more than a Day Travelcard (always depending on which zones you travel to-from). 

I definitely recommend the Pay As You Go option - not only do you not have to worry about losing a precious piece of paper, you also get to travel whenever you want, and get total control on the expense. I find it much simpler to use!

And for those who land at Heathrow…

That one requires a bit of strategy. Heathrow being in zone 6, it wouldn’t make sense to buy a Weekly Travelcard for zones 1-6. What you need to do is buy three titles – Pay As You Go credit for your central London journeys, and two single tickets zones 1-6 for your journeys from and to the airport. That’s the most cost efficient option.

Ready to go? Check out Transportation for London’s excellent journey planner tool over at TFL’s website.

Have you ever used Oyster Cards? Have you been on the Tube or London buses? What are your tips?


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2 Responses to “London’s Oyster Cards, Explained”

  1. Sofie

    02. Nov, 2012

    When I’m visiting London with my dad on our annual 2-day city trip (that has become an annual London trip), we always get a daily pass to use during off-peak hours for each day we’re there.
    When coming from Heathrow, we ise the Heathrow Express. Expensive as hell, but very easy and it does save us quite some time. And, I have to admit, as dad is willing to pay…

    Reply to this comment


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