You are here: Home > London Transport > London Transport Tickets & Passes > London Oyster Card

London Oyster Card

Oyster CardThe Oyster card is not a ticket. It’s a reusable electronic card or ‘smart card’ which can be used to pay for travel on all types of public transport in London: buses, underground, DLR (Docklands Light Railway), trams and local trains.

There are two main ways to use the Oyster card:

As a Pay as you go (PAYG) Oyster card

You add money ‘or top up’ the Oyster card to pay for single journeys or for travel for one day. It’s a bit like a Pay as you go SIM card for mobile phones. When you use your card, the money for that journey is automatically deducted from your balance.

To store season tickets

In place of paper tickets, the weekly or monthly Travelcard or Bus Pass are ‘loaded’ onto an Oyster card. See the Travelcards or Bus tickets & passes pages for information on buying and using Travelcards and Bus Passes.

You can also add some Pay as you go money to your Oyster card if you have a Weekly or Monthly Travelcard. This is useful if you need to travel outside your Travelcard zone.

Are you visiting London? Please read our quick guide to London’s transport tickets and passes. It will help you decide if the PAYG Oyster card is the right choice for your visit.

Pay as you go (PAYG) Oyster card: an overview

The PAYG Oyster card is the cheapest and most flexible way to pay for travel, especially if your visit to London is between 1–4 days. Even if you only plan to take a few journeys, it’s much cheaper than paying the full cash fare.

How does it work?

Once you have an Oyster card, you add money to it (‘top up‘) and the fare for your journey is taken from your balance when you use it. It works out the cost of the journey and how many journeys you take when you tap your card on the Oyster card reader (‘tap in and out’) at a tube or train station ticket barrier, or by tapping the reader when you get on a bus.

How much does it cost?

The Oyster card itself is free, but you pay a £5 deposit when you first get your card. If you don’t want to keep the card for future visits, the deposit can be refunded along with any remaining balance. The amount you then add to the card depends on whether you want to use it to as a Pay as you go card, or if you want to add a Weekly or Monthly Travelcard.

Oyster single fares: 2014 prices

The Pay as you go Oyster card is the cheapest way to pay for single tickets on the underground. For journeys in central London (zone 1), ticket prices are more than 50% cheaper with an Oyster card.

Here’s a comparison between Pay as you go Oyster card single fares and the standard tube ticket fare if you pay by cash.

Zones Single: off-peak Single: peak Cash single
Zone 1 £2.20 £2.20 £4.70
Zone 1-2 £2.20 £2.80 £4.70
Zone 1-3 £2.70 £3.20 £4.70
Zone 1-4 £2.70 £3.80 £5.70
Zone 1-5 £3.00 £4.60 £5.70
Zone 1-6 £3.00 £5.00 £5.70


See single ticket prices for travel in zones 2,3,4,5 & 6.

Oyster single fares: peak and off-peak times

If you use your Pay as you go Oyster card only few times a day, the price you pay for each single journey depends on the time of day you travel.

Peak

Monday–Friday 6.30am–9.30am and from 4pm–7pm. If you travel into central London (zone 1) from an outer zone, there is no afternoon peak rate.

Off-Peak

Off-peak fares are charged at all other times, including Public Holidays.

See below for peak/off-peak fares for the ‘daily cap’

Oyster one-day fares: 2014 ‘daily cap’ prices

If you plan to travel by tube for the whole day, a big benefit of having an Oyster card is the ‘daily cap’. This is the maximum amount of money deducted from your card for unlimited travel in one day.

Zones Daily cap: off-peak Daily cap: peak
Zone 1 £7.00 £8.40
Zone 1-2 £7.00 £8.40
Zone 1-3 £7.70 £10.60
Zone 1-4 £7.70 £10.60
Zone 1-5 £8.50 £15.80
Zone 1-6 £8.50 £15.80


There’s a cheaper ‘daily cap’ if you only use the buses.

Oyster ‘daily cap’ fares: peak and off-peak times

The price of the ‘daily cap’ depends on the time you start your travel for the day.

peak Daily cap

If your first trip is between 4.30am–9.30am Monday–Friday you will be charged the Peak rate.

Off-Peak daily cap

The Off-Peak rate is for travel Monday–Friday 9.30am to 4.30am the next morning and all day (4.30am–4.30am) Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays.

How does the Oyster daily cap work?

For example, for travel in central London (zone 1) after 9.30am:

  • If you make 1 journey by underground, £2.20 is deducted from your card
  • If you make 2 journeys, £4.40 is deducted
  • If you make 3 journeys, £6.60 is deducted
  • Your 4th journey is charged at 40p, so a total of £7.00 is deducted.
  • Your 5th and any other journeys until 4.30am the following morning are free.

Top Tip: If your visit to London is for 5 to 7 days and you plan to use public transport every day, consider buying a Weekly Travelcard or a Weekly Bus Pass. It may work out cheaper than using a PAYG Oyster.

How much money do I need to add to an Oyster card?

It’s up to you how much money you add to the card. The beauty of the Oyster card is that it’s very flexible. Some people add enough for a single journey especially if they don’t use it regularly. Some add the price of the daily ‘cap’ for the zones they’re visiting for that day. Other people just add £15 or £25 and then keep an eye on their balance.

Best option for visitors

For visitors, the best option is to add the cost of the ‘peak’ daily cap to your card x the number of full days you’re in London. You can also add the cost of the ‘off-peak’ daily cap if you know you won’t be travelling before 9.30am Monday–Friday.

So, for example, if you arrive in central London and visit for 3 days, add £26. (3 x £8.40 ‘peak cap’= £25.20 but round it up). This means that you won’t have to worry about topping up your card again as you will never be charged more than £8.40 per day for unlimited travel (as long as you don’t travel outside zone 1-2). If you have any money left on your card at the end of your trip, you can get it back along with the oyster card deposit.

Important! If you plan to get a refund on your Pay as You Go balance and deposit, please make sure you only use one method of payment to pay for your deposit and to top-up your Oyster card. If you use for example, a combination of cash and credit card, or cash and debit card, refunds are much more complicated.

Where to get an Oyster card

Oyster cards are available from the following places. You can also top up your card there as well.

Underground ticket machines and ticket offices

At a ticket machine, you need to place you card on the yellow card reader and then follow the instructions on the screen. The machines take notes, coins and credit/debit cards.

Underground station ticket offices will top up your card. There’s a minimum £5 top up. If you want to add less than £5 to your Oyster card, you need to use a ticket machine.

Local newsagents

Many newsagents and corner shops are licensed to sell London Transport tickets. These are known as Oyster Ticket Stops. It might be more convenient to top up your card at an Oyster Ticket Stop as some underground stations are very busy, especially during rush hour. You’ll probably pass one on the way to the underground station. Just tell them how much money you want to add to your card and they’ll do it for you.

London train stations ticket machines and ticket offices

You can get an Oyster card at most train stations. However, not all train station ticket offices are able top up your Oyster card – you have to top up a card at a ticket machine.

London Travel Information Centres

Transport for London’s information centres are in Liverpool St tube station, Piccadilly Circus tube station, Victoria train station, King’s Cross tube station (near St Pancras station entrance) and Heathrow Terminals 1,2,3 tube station.

How to use an Oyster card

Underground

London Underground Ticket Barrier Place your card flat on the yellow card reader on the right-hand side of the ticket barrier and the barrier will open. Do the same at the end of your journey to open the exit barriers.

It’s very important to touch in and out when using a PAYG Oyster card. Even if there’s no physical barrier, you still need to touch the yellow card reader when you enter and exit the station. If you don’t, the full cash fare (£4–£7) is deducted for your journey.

If you have a lot of luggage or are pushing a pushchair, station attendants will quite often push open the barrier for you. Do make sure you touch the yellow reader for the reason mentioned above. The attendants don’t always remind you to do it.

Buses

Place your card flat on the yellow card reader near the driver when you get on the bus. You don’t need to touch out when you get off the bus.

How to check an Oyster card balance

If you want to check how much money you have left on you Oyster card, there are several ways to find out:

From an underground station ticket machine

Place your card on the yellow card reader on a ticket machine and your remaining balance will flash up on the screen. This is the easiest way to check your balance.

From an underground station ticket office

Any member of staff at a ticket office will be able to tell you how much money you have left on your Oyster card.

From underground station ticket barriers

When you place your card on the yellow card reader on a ticket barrier, the balance on your card flashes on the screen. When you arrive at your destination and touch out at a barrier, your remaining balance flashes on the screen along with the fare charged for that particular journey. Please note though that this does not work on all barriers.

How to get back unused money on your Oyster card

Anyone can get their deposit refunded and any unused money on your Pay as you go balance. See our guide on how to claim back unused money on a PAYG Oyster card.

The Visitor Oyster card

The Visitor Oyster Card is aimed tourists – you might be offered one by a tour company or airline. You can also buy one online.

The card comes pre-loaded with money and there’s a £3 non-refundable ‘activation fee’.

It can only be used as a Pay as you go card — you can’t load a weekly Travelcard or Bus Pass which makes it less flexible than the ‘ordinary’ Oyster.

The Visitor Oyster Card might be worth buying if:

  • You’re happy to pay a £3 non-refundable fee
  • You want to pay for your travel in advance
  • You’re arriving in London very late at night, after the tube stations have closed, and you want to use the night buses

Otherwise, just wait until you arrive in London and get an ordinary Oyster card from one of the places listed above.

See also

Last updated: 21 February 2014