Home Ground Transportation (Bus, Lyft, Subway, Taxi, Train, Uber, etc.) The Effortless Way To Get The Cheapest Fare For The London Underground

The Effortless Way To Get The Cheapest Fare For The London Underground

by joeheg

On our first several trips to London, we purchased a single trip or a return (round-trip) ticket every time we rode on the London Underground (or tube). This paper ticket was good for a ride to point A to point B (and back). It wasn’t until 2013 when we decided it would be worthwhile to purchase Oyster cards. While you need to pay a £5 deposit for an Oyster card, these cards can be tapped at the turnstile to enter and exit the London Underground and for travel on bus, tram, DLR, the Emirates Airline, London Overground and National Rail services in London.


Just as we were so proud of ourselves for adapting to the new technology, that tech started to become extinct. By the time our next trip came around, many passengers were no longer using Oyster cards and instead were either using contactless credit cards or a mobile wallet.

There’s a very good reason to use an Oyster card, contactless credit card or mobile payment instead of purchasing single-use tickets. You’ll save money!

The pricing model of the Transport for London system is a bit confusing. There are several zones around London. Whether you travel within or between zones, and the time you travel, will determine your fare for that trip. You can also purchase Travelcards which provide unlimited rides over a certain time period but do you really want to figure out how much you’ll be taking the tube during the trip ahead of time? What if your plans change?


Instead of worrying about your plans, you can just use an Oyster card or a contactless payment (card or device). When doing so, Transport for London will figure out your fare taking into consideration any daily or weekly caps. This can make a huge difference depending on how much (or how little) you use public transport when in London. All you need to do is make sure you tap in and out with the same card or device every time.

For scientific reasons, Sharon insisted on using her Oyster card to tap in and out, because she could, and I used Apple Pay on my iPhone X connected to my Sapphire Reserve card.

Here’s a breakdown of our charges:

  • Day 1 – £3.10 (Heathrow Airport – King’s Cross – off-peak)
  • Day 2 – £4.80 – 2 rides at £2.40 each (one return trip)
  • Days 3-4 – £7.00 – 4 rides each day (Cap of £7.00/day)
  • Day 5 – £4.80 – 2 rides at £2.40 each (one return trip)

Besides the ride from the airport on Day 1, all of our rides were within zones 1-2. For comparison, the cash price for a one-way ticket is £4.90. 

Many devices are compatible with the London Underground and here’s a list of mobile pay connected devices:

During this trip, I learned a trick using Apple Pay. For the first several days, I started by tapping my phone and then I had to double click the power button followed by looking at my phone to confirm with Face ID. Not the easiest thing to do while walking through a busy subway station. I eventually learned that I could unlock Apple Pay ahead of time and then I just needed to tap the phone to open the turnstile. Much easier.


On this trip, Sharon learned a risk of using an Oyster card instead of your phone. If you accidentally drop your Oyster card after going through the turnstile, you need to find a nice London Underground employee and apologize for being a dumb tourist and losing your Oyster card in order to get out of the station.

(Note from Sharon: Hey, it worked, did it not? He let me through for free. I perfected that “I am a helpless tourist in a foreign land” look in Japan in 1993 and it’s served me well. Don’t be a hater just cuz you can’t do it, too LOLOL!)

For the rest of the trip, she used her AMEX SPG Luxury card with contactless technology to tap on and off the Underground (She upgraded to the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card for the 100,000 point offer but AMEX is out of the metal cards and sent her an old SPG card for the meantime).


So before you go to the ticket machine to load your Oyster card or purchase a single use ticket, consider using either a card or device that can handle contactless payments. You’ll be glad you did.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


1 comment

Mike March 28, 2019 - 1:20 pm

I had no idea this could be done. I’ve always used those Oyster cards. I will use my iPhone next time. Thanks for the post!


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