Oyster card or Travelcard in London: How to choose

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When planning a trip to London you might have to choose between oyster card or travelcard if you are going to be using London’s public transport system, as single tickets are simply not recommended as they work out a lot more expensive.

However, choosing one or the other may seem a little complicated, so we are going to explain the main differences and hopefully help you make that decision.

London Oyster card or Travelcard

Both card are to be used by one person only, so remember that each person needs their own card and that they cannot be used for several people to pay for the same journey.

London Oyster Card: What is it

The London Oyster Card is a pay as you go plastic card, the size of a credit card. In order to get one you need to pay a £5 deposit, and you can top it up as many times you need and use it again and again. It’s valid for travel on the Underground, overground, DLR (docklands light rail), TFL rail, Emirates airline, and some trains. It’s also valid for travel within any of London’s Travel Zones, so you don’t need to choose what zones you will need it for when buying one. Every time you use it the fare will be calculated depending on the travel zones that you have travelled to and from, and the time of the day you have made the journey (peak / off-peak). You can also return the oyster card and get your £5 deposit back as well as any remaining balance after 48 hours of buying it.

It is definitely the best option if you are visiting London and going to use London’s public transport a few times a day, for example if you need to travel to get to central London from your hotel, then to get to a different place in central London and then back to the hotel.

With an oyster card you will pay for each journey you make, and there is a maximum daily cap. Once you have reached this daily cap, you will travel free.

⇒ Read More about London Oyster Card

London Travelcard

The London travelcard is a transport pass that entitles you to unlimited travel for a set number of days within the London Travel Zones chosen.

card that can be purchased for 1 day, 1 week, 1 month or 1 year, and with it you have unlimited travel for the London transport areas you have chosen.

Generally speaking, a one day London travelcard is something I don’t normally recommend as the oyster card’s daily cap is cheaper than the one day travelcard. A 7 day travelcard is useful if you are going to use London’s public transport a lot (which doens’t need to be the case if you plan your trip well), if you are going to be travelling outside of zones 1 – 4 every day or if you go are going to spend more than 5 days in London.

⇒ Read more about the London Travelcard

How to choose between Oyster Card or Travelcard

In order to choose between oyster card or travelcard of London to save as much money as possible when planning a trip to London, there are two things that we must take into account: The number of day that you are going to be in London and the travel zones that you are going to travel to and from.

> Number of days

As a general rule, after comparing prices, I usually recommend a London Oyster Card if you are going to be in London less than 5 days. If you are staying in London more than 5 days then it’s probably worth getting a 7 day travelcard, but you will be able to see a price comparison chart in this article.

> Travel zones

If you are buying a travelcard, you need to know what zones you’ll be using. London’s most popular attractions are mostly in zone 1. Some tourist attractions can be found in zone 2, such as Camden Town Market. But you also need to have in mind where your hotel is.

⇒ Read more about London Travel Zones

Oyster Card Daily Capping: Something to keep in mind when choosing between Oyster Card or Travelcard

I must mention that the oyster card has a daily cap, and once this daily cap has been reached for certain travel zones, you can travel free within the same travel zones. You still need to use your oyster card as you normally would, but you won’t be charged.

The cheapest one day travelcard for 2018 costs £12.70. This is the price of the 1 day travel card for zone 1, zones 1-2, zones 1-3 and zones 1-4. The maximum daily cap when using an oyster in zones 1 and 2 of London is £6.80, £8.00 for zones 1-3 and £9.80 for zones 1-4. So, if you use an oyster card and travel in zones 1 and 2, once you have reached £6.80 you can travel free within zones 1 and 2.

2018 Fares Comparison: Daily Oyster Card Cap – 1 Day Travelcard – 7 Day Travelcard.

Zones Oyster Card Daily Cap 1 Day Travelcard 7 Day Travelcard
1 – 2 £6.80 £12.70 £34.10
1 – 3 £8.00 £12.70 £40.00
1 – 4 £9.80 £12.70 £49.00
1 – 5 £11.60 £18.10 peak / £12.70 off peak £58.20
1 – 6 £12.50 £18.10 peak / £12.70 off peak £62.30

What’s cheaper according to number of days and travel zones taking into account 2018 fares.

Zones 1 day 2 days 3 days 4 days 5 days 6 days 7 days
1 – 2 Oyster Card Oyster Card Oyster Card Oyster Card 7 day Travelcard 7 day Travelcard 7 day Travelcard
1 – 3 Oyster Card Oyster Card Oyster Card Oyster Card 7 day Travelcard 7 day Travelcard 7 day Travelcard
1 – 4 Oyster Card Oyster Card Oyster Card Oyster Card 7 day Travelcard 7 day Travelcard 7 day Travelcard
1 – 5 Oyster Card Oyster Card Oyster Card Oyster Card Oyster Card 7 day Travelcard 7 day Travelcard
1 – 6 Oyster Card Oyster Card Oyster Card Oyster Card Oyster Card 7 day Travelcard 7 day Travelcard 

What you should never do if you land at Heathrow Airport

If you arrive at Heathrow airport, and you are going to be in London for several days, we wouldn’t recommend that you buy a 7 day travelcard for zones 1 – 6 to use during your whole stay. I would recommend that you to buy an oyster card at Heathrow underground station, and add a zone 1-4 travelcard onto it (if you are going to be in London more than 5 days), but use it with pay as you go to get to central London on the first day and then again when you return to Heathrow airport. At Heathrow you will be able to return the oyster card at the ticket office and get your £5 deposit back plus any remaining pay as you go balance.

Transport passes for children in London

Children under the age of 11 travel free within London travel zones. Children over 11 can also benefit from reduced fares, you can find out more about this in our article: Travelling in London with kids.

Find out more

For more information visit London’s official transport website: Transport For London

Hello! We moved to London (Yes, the best city in the world) in 2010, and since then we have been discovering everything that this fantastic city has to offer. We regularly plan our friends’ trips to London, so we thought we would create PlanTripLondon.com and share our suggestions with the world for everyone to be able to plan the perfect trip to London!

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Hello! We moved to London (Yes, the best city in the world) in 2010, and since then we have been discovering everything that this fantastic city has to offer. We regularly plan our friends' trips to London, so we thought we would create PlanTripLondon.com and share our suggestions with the world for everyone to be able to plan the perfect trip to London!

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