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 that we decided it would be worthwhile to purchase Oyster cards. While you need to pay a £5 deposit for an Oyster card, they can be tapped at the turnstile to enter and exit the London Underground and for travel on bus, tram, DLR, London Overground, TFL Rail, most National Rail services, and Thames Clipper River Bus service in London.
Just as we were so proud of ourselves for adapting to the new technology, that tech started to become extinct. By our next visit, 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 determines your fare. 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. Just remember that the weekly cap runs from Monday to Sunday, similar to the restriction with the OMNY weekly cap.
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 connected to my Sapphire Reserve card.
Many devices are compatible with the London Underground and here’s a list of mobile pay connected devices:
When using an iPhone, you can enable the “Express Transit” feature which allows you to tap on and off without unlocking your phone.
On this trip, Sharon learned the risk of using an Oyster card instead of her 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 Bonvoy Brilliant with contactless technology to tap on and off the Underground.
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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