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 and contactless payment cards
For most passengers travelling within London, the cheapest fares are available when paying by Oyster or contactless payment card. 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, or automated ticket machine if there is no ticket office available, 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 or a contactless payment card:
Oyster Pay As You Go/
contactless payment card
|Cash single fare|
|Tube:Oxford Circus to Liverpool St||£2.40||£4.90|
|Rail: East Croydon to Victoria (peak)||£5.10||£6.00|
|Rail: East Croydon to Victoria (off-peak)||£3.30||£6.00|
Prices: Jan 2017
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.
The video below from Londonist shows how contactless could work out (significantly) cheaper than Oyster on particular series of journeys.
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 £12.30 for zones 1-6. A peak equivalent costs £12.30 in zones 1 and 2 and £17.50 in zones 1-6. If you use Oyster 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). In Zone 1, the cap is £6.60 at both peak and off peak times (TfL withdrew the off peak Oyster Pay As You Go price caps in January 2015).
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.
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 three or four 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.
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, another is MyCommute4Less, which charges a fee of 5% a year. Wonder Rail offers a similar service although this does not involve a loan - commuters simply make monthly payments to keep their annual travelcard active.
Less regular travellers
If you intend to travel by public transport in central London for up to five days in any seven days it will be best to get an Oyster card. If you will be travelling for six or seven days in a seven day period, it is worth getting a seven day zone 1-2 Travelcard. 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 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.)
A visitor Oyster card is also available from TfL. As well as being one of the cheapest ways to pay for single journeys on bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services in London, a Visitor Oyster card also entitles you to a range of discounts at shops and attractions across the capital. Further information about travelling around London for visitors can be found on TfL's website.
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.
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: Children with a 5-10 Zip Oyster photocard can travel free on most* National Rail services where Pay As You Go is accepted, in addition to getting free travel on TfL services.
If a child does not have a 5-10 Zip Oyster photocard they will be charged a child-rate fare on most National Rail services in London.
*Child-rate pay as you go fares will be charged on:
- Southeastern high speed services between St Pancras International and Stratford International if you have a 5-10 Zip Oyster photocard
- All services between Merstham and Gatwick Airport
- Gatwick Express services between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport
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 an 11-15 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 if 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 £10/20 administration fee.
Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card
This is provided to those unemployed claiming Jobseekers Allowance or Universal Credit for 3-9 months (18-24 year olds) or 3-12 months (over 25s). Other benefit recipients may receive a Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card from three months of their claim and if they are actively engaged with a Jobcentre Plus adviser. Cardholders are entitled to a 50% discount on selected rail tickets. Further information is available on the gov.uk and TfL websites.
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 Tube ticket machines or any 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 Goldcard 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 five and 15 will pay £1. Gold Card holders can also buy another discount railcard for £10. 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 for £30 a year. A three year 16-25 Railcard is also available for £70: a saving of £20 on annual cards.
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. You can also buy a three year Friends & Family Railcard for £70: a saving of £20 on annual cards.
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. However, you cannot register a Two Together Railcard for discounts on Oyster.
Peak and off-peak
It is often 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 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.
In 2015, TfL withdrew the off peak cap on Oyster Pay As You Go (PAYG) journeys but reduced the cap for regular out of London commuters travelling during the off peak.
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.
The GB Rail Rover Guide website also has details of rail rover or ranger tickets available throughout Britain.
If you know of any special offers, please let us know.
It costs £11.50 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 £14 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 only pay £10.50 per day, a discount of almost 10%.
Walking and cycling in London
TfL and Walk London offer free guided walks led by experienced guides. These can be booked on the Walk London website. The TfL website also has information about walking in London, including their Walking Tube maps.
The TfL website also contains information for cyclists including free route maps and cycle guides.
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!'
We've also received a link to a video produced by Anparasan, a student at UCL in which he outlines ways that he saves money using his Oyster card.
Eurig tells us 'The Santander Contactless 123 Credit Card offers 3% cashback on all TfL journeys, for up to £100 per month. For me that's approximately 75% of my monthly commute so it's good to know that for 75% of the time I'm getting a 3% discount.'
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.