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Money Saving London Transport Tips: How To Get The Best Fare

We feel that there is lots of advice on how to book long-distance, leisure journeys, but very little on everyday, more local travelling around London and its surrounding area.

Here, we give some advice on how to get the best fare when travelling around London as well as tips on discounted and concessionary fares.

We are keen to hear your money-saving tips to share with other Londoners, or those visiting London. Email or tweet us with any of your own tips or if we've missed out any obvious benefits and we'll post your recommendations here. 

Travelling around London

Oyster

For most passengers travelling within London, the cheapest tickets are available on Oyster. An Oyster card is a smart card you can use instead of paper tickets, available on buses, tubes, trams, rail, DLR and some river services.  Oyster can also be used on the Emirates Air Line but at a higher cost.

When you obtain an Oyster card, you will have to pay a refundable deposit of £5. If you are visiting London from around the country or from another country, it may work out much cheaper to use an Oyster card and save you time. You can order Oyster online. 

If you want to travel outside the area covered by your Travelcard make sure you either purchase an extension ticket from the ticket office as this will be cheaper than buying an individual ticket between the last station covered by your Travelcard and your destination, or if your destination is still within the Oyster area, that you put sufficient Pay As You Go credit on your Oystercard before you travel.  Also make sure that you touch in at the start of your journey, and touch out at the end even though these parts of your journey might be covered by your Travelcard, to avoid a maximum fare, a penalty fare or prosecution.

Here are a few examples of how you can save money using an Oyster card:

  Oyster Pay As You Go  Cash single fare 
Bus  £1.45 N/A
Tube:Oxford Circus to Liverpool St  £2.20 £4.70
Rail: East Croydon to Victoria (peak) £4.80 £5.80
Rail: East Croydon to Victoria (off-peak) £3.00 £5.80

                                                                                                       Prices: Jan 2014

Please remember:

When buying an Oyster product you must remember to touch your card twice - once to show what type of card you have before you select what you want to add to your card, and once again when you have paid, to ensure that it loads the product you have purchased correctly.  If you don't touch the card for a second time you could end up losing the cash you paid or having money taken from your credit/debit card but not having your product added to you card.

You also need to make sure that you do not hit the 'back' button on your computer once you have entered you card details if you buy a ticket over the internet.

Oyster is designed for simple journeys, usually with a gap between each one.  So it might be better to use a Travelcard if you want to make lots of rail journeys one after the other without a gap between each one, especially if you arrive at one station and depart from a different one nearby.  This is because many nearby stations are linked by out of station interchanges which join journeys together and could mean that you exceed the maximum time allowed for a journey between two points.  The maximum journey time allowed depends on the distance involved and the frequency of trains. 

Contactless payment cards

You can use a contactless payment card to pay for travel on bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services in London.

You will be charged an adult-rate Pay As You Go fare each time you make a journey. You benefit from all the features of Oyster Pay As You Go if you use a contactless payment card as well as being able to take advantage of daily and Monday to Sunday capping. This provides you with another option if you have run out of credit on your Oyster card or have lost or forgotten your Oyster card. Contactless is also a useful way for tourists and visitors to London from other parts of the UK to get the same benefits as people using Oyster Pay As You Go.

Further information on contactless payments can be found on TfL's website.

Travelcard

Alternatively, you can buy a Travelcard which allows unlimited travel within specified zones. These tickets range in price according to zone. The cheapest is a day off-peak (after 9.30am Monday to Friday, all weekend), which costs £8.90 for zones 1-6. A peak equivalent costs £9.00 in zones 1 and 2 and £17.00 in zones 1-6. If you use Pay As You Go, the price charged is capped so you should never pay more than the Travelcard price and will often pay less. Be aware that Travelcards are not available for every combination of zones, and some, such as the off-peak paper Travelcards for zones 1-2 and 1-4 have been withdrawn (January 2014).  (Be aware that if any of your journeys are made within peak hours, i.e. 6.30-9.30am or between 4-7pm, if you use PAYG your journey will be subject to a higher price cap than if you travelled off peak.  In Zone 1, the off peak price cap is £7 and the peak cap is £8.40.)

If you have a Zone 1-3 Travelcard and are making a peak journey outside this area, it is often advisable to break your journey in Zone 1 to avoid being charged the maximum peak Oyster fare for the extension part of your journey.  For example if you travelled to Farringdon from Harrow on the Hill (zone 5) between 4-7pm you would be charged the off peak Oyster fare but if you went from Harrow on the Hill to Herne Hill via Farringdon you would be charged the peak Oyster fare.  If you wanted to travel to Herne Hill you could avoid paying peak fare by getting off at Baker Street and get a number 2 bus from there to Victoria and then catch a Southeastern train to Herne Hill.

Regular travellers/commuters

If you travel regularly or commute around London, a season ticket will usually provide the best deal for you. The most popular are weekly, monthly or annual tickets. They allow unlimited travel in London and are sold according to the London fare zones or as railway tickets between specific stations. 

You do not require a photocard for weekly season tickets, but do for monthly and annual ones. This also means however that if you lose your weekly season ticket, you cannot claim a refund or replacement.

Annual season tickets generally provide the best value as you will get about a year's travel for the price of 10 months'. An annual season ticket also gives you Gold Card discounts (see Discount Railcards). If you make the same journey more than 3 or 4 times a week, on most routes, season tickets will be the best value for money. 

We always advise to make sure you renew your season ticket just before annual fare rises (usually 2 January), so any fare rises are, at least, held off for a year.  (This year TfL's fares changed on 19 January 2014.)

However, you should always check the TfL Single Fare Finder, as for some people making fewer, shorter journeys in particular, it may still be cheaper to use Oyster Pay As You Go.

Passengers should also read the National Rail Conditions of Carriage.  

Some employers offer staff a low interest/interest free season ticket loan to help them spread the cost of their travel.  There are also private companies, which run schemes to allow commuters to spread the cost of an annual season ticket for a fee.  One such organisation is Commuter Club, which charges commuters a fee of 5.6% a year.

Less regular travellers  

If you intend to travel by public transport in central London on five or more days in any seven days it is worth getting a seven day zone 1-2 Travelcard.  If you are not travelling five in any seven days it is best to get an Oyster card.  If you are travelling from Heathrow Airport, which is in zone 6, but staying in central London and visiting the many attractions that are located centrally, it is still best to get a zone 1-2 seven day Travelcard and pay extension fares for zone 3-6 when you travel to and from the airport.  (You cannot use Oyster or Travelcards on the Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect services.) 

Further information about travelling around London for visitors can be found on TfL's website.

Concessionary passes

There are several passes that give you discounts on transport in London (if you live or have your principal residence in a London borough). 

Freedom Pass: This pass, for London residents only, entitles the holder to free transport in London (and after 9.30am on most national rail services if you have a Senior Freedom Pass). It is available for all London residents with disabilities or who are over 60. However, if you are turning 60 between 6 April 2010 and 5 April 2015, you will no longer be eligible on your 60th birthday. You can use the calculator here to see when you will be eligible and when you can apply. 

Holders of Senior and Disabled Persons Railcards may also be able to obtain a discount on the price of extension tickets and many Thames river boat services.

From November 2012, Londoners who reach 60 years of age have been able to apply for a new type of Oyster photocard which will restore their entitlement to free travel on Transport for London services 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The concession, known as the 60+ Concessionary Travel Scheme, will expire when a customer’s age reaches the age of eligibility for the London Councils Freedom Pass.  TfL buses accept the over 60’s card throughout but non-TfL buses do not accept the card.

Freedom pass holders can

English Bus Pass: This entitles the holder to free bus travel in London. It is available to passengers over 60 who are resident outside London. Unlike the Freedom Pass, it cannot be used to get free travel on tubes, DLR and national rail services in London.

War Veterans Pass:  If you are receiving payments under the War Pensions Scheme, or Guaranteed Income Payment under the Armed Forces Compensation you are entitled to free transport around London (after 9.30am on most national rail services).

Children: Under 5s travel free on transport in London. They must be accompanied by a person who has a valid ticket. Children between the ages of 5-10 can travel free if they are accompanied by an adult (up to four children per adult) or if they have a 5-10 Zip Oyster card. Children between the age of 5 and 10 can travel free on buses and trams unaccompanied and without needing a Zip card.  

If the child is aged between 10 years, 11 months and under 16 before 31 August, you can travel free at any time on buses and trams and pay child fares on the tube, DLR and national rail services if you have a Zip Oyster card.

If you are aged 16-18, you can get a 16+ zip photocard and receive a child rate for weekly, monthly or annual travelcards and bus passes and half the adult rate when using pay as you go on buses, tubes, trams, DLR, London Overground and some national rail routes. You might also be able to get free travel on buses and trams. 

Student: You can get an 18+ student Oyster card if you are 18 or over, enrolled in an eligible full- or part-time course registered with an education establishment participating in the scheme. This means you can save 30% on weekly, monthly or annual Travelcards and bus passes. Although this is a good discount, please be aware that it you do not use public transport regularly, it may still be cheaper to use Pay As You Go. 

Note: ALL Zip/student Oyster cards require a photo and charge a £10 administration fee. 

New Deal: If you are unemployed or in receipt of Job Seekers' Allowance you are entitled to reduced rates while travelling around London. You are entitled to a child rate for cash tickets on tube, DLR and national rail services. Make sure you get your entitlement added to your Oyster and you will then be able to buy weekly, monthly and longer period (up to three months) Travelcards or bus passes at a reduced rate, get Pay As You Go at half fare and day Travelcards at the child-rate.  You may also be able to get help with fares during the first few months of a new job. Check with your local Jobcentre Plus to apply and for information.

Discount railcards

If you use public transport in London regularly, there are several railcards which have money saving benefits. If you have an Oyster card, make sure you register your Railcard at any tube or London Overground ticket office to get your discounts on tube and train services in London. 

Gold Card: If you buy an annual season ticket in London and the surrounding area (called the Network Railcard area), you automatically receive a Gold Card. If you upload your Oyster with an annual ticket, you should be issued with a separate Gold record card. The Gold Card will give you a third off standard single and return rail and tube tickets within the railcard area on off-peak services. If you are travelling in a group, your fellow passengers are also able to get a discount, up to four children between 5 and 15 will pay £1. Gold Card holders can also buy a Network Railcard for another adult at only £1.  As always with rail fares, there are exception and complications, so make sure you have looked at the National Rail Gold Card page which should answer any questions. 

Network Railcard: This gives a third off most rail fares for journeys in the Network Railcard area and saves you money around London. It costs £30 and is valid for a year, subject to a minimum fare of £13. However, you cannot register a Network Railcard for discounts on Oyster. 

16-25 Railcard: Those aged between 16-25 can get a third off rail fares across Britain.   

Senior Railcard: If you are over 60, you are eligible for a Senior Railcard. This gives you a third off rail fares throughout the country (with a few exceptions). It costs £30 a year. You can also buy a three-year Senior Railcard, which costs £70: a saving of £20 on annual cards. 

Family & Friends Railcard: This gives you a third off adult fares and 60% off child fares across the country. It costs £30 and is valid for a year.  

Disabled Persons Railcard: This gives you a third off rail travel throughout Britain for you and a companion. It costs £20 for a one-year Railcard or £54 for a three-year: a saving of £6. You need to check you are eligible for a Disabled Person Railcard and show proof.  

Two Together Railcard: This gives you and one other person - a friend, partner or sibling a third off most adult fares across the country when you travel together.  It costs £30 (for two people) and is valid for a year.

Peak and off-peak

It is always cheaper to travel off-peak (on rail and tubes). However, this is not simple as restrictions can vary between operators. Therefore, always check the off-peak hours on your route before planning your journey.

Generally, on rail services, off-peak fares are available on services arriving into London after 0930 on weekdays. However, some companies also provide 'super off peak' tickets, which are cheaper and usually available from later in the day. Most train companies operate some evening peak restrictions on some routes. It is confusing and a potential minefield, so please research your particular journey before you book. 

On tube, DLR, National Rail and London Overground services within London, peak hours are between 0630-0930 and 1600-1900. If you are using Pay As You Go, you will be 'capped' at the Daily Peak Fare if you touch in between 0430 and 0930, and the Daily Off-Peak Fare if you touch in after 0930 until 0430 (the following day).

On the tube, DLR, London Overground and some National Rail routes, the off peak fare towards zone 1 is charged between 1600-1900.  

If you have a railcard attached to your Oyster card but only want to use trains in the afternoon peak which are not enough to trigger the price cap it may cost you less to use your railcard and a paper ticket instead. 

Transport for London's fare page explains the difference in peak and off-peak fares.

Special offers

Many rail companies offer special discounts and offers with rail tickets, railcards and your Oyster card to local attractions, restaurants and places of historical interest, which can save lots of money, especially if travelling with a family or in a large group. 

If you are travelling in a group, most rail companies in the South East, provide Group Save tickets which allow three or four adults to travel together for the price of two.

Check individual train company websites for their special offers, check the Railcard website to see any special offers or competitions. 

If you know of any special offers, please let us know. 

Congestion Charge

It costs £10 a day to drive into the Congestion Charging Zone between 7am and 6pm, Monday to Friday if you pay in advance or on the same day (or £12 if you pay the following day). However, residents, blue badge holders and some vehicles including electric ones are entitled to a discount or exemption. If you are a resident and driving in the zone regularly, it is worth getting a weekly, monthly or annual ticket which will give substantial discounts. 

Congestion Charging Auto Pay is an automated payment system (you need to register with TfL) which records the days you enter the zone and charges you accordingly monthly. This means you will not have to remember to pay every time, thereby reducing the likelihood of a fine and also means you will get a only pay £9 per day, a 10% discount. 

Your tips

Here we will post any tips, advice or special offers that have come to our attention. 

John S has sent in the following tips:

"Cash and Oyster PAYG customers should consider whether cross-London journeys can be made more cheaply avoiding zone 1.  The introduction of Oyster, out-of-station interchanges (list of OSIs are available from TfL) and development of the London Overground has increased the possibilities to do this. The savings can be significant."

For example, Richmond to Upminster is far cheaper going via London Overground that through central London.  

Ms Virginia R has sent us the following wise advice via Twitter:

"Best money-saving travel tip: go on foot wherever possible!"

Send your tips to us

The information provided on this page does not constitute legal or financial advice. You should always do research to ensure any of these tips suit your particular needs.