Contactless, Travelcard or Oyster card: Which is Cheaper and Best for Tourists

There are many ways on how to travel around London these days. Whether you decide to opt for Contactless Payment, Travelcard or Oyster card, you are sure to find the option that best suits your preference.

Among the three, which is cheaper for tourists?

It is cheaper to get an Oyster card if you are a resident of London who uses public transport extensively. As a tourist, it is also cheaper to get an Oyster card if you are exploring London for more than a week. On the other hand, it is cheaper to get a Travelcard if you are spending seven days or less in London.

While it is convenient to make your decision solely on the duration of your stay in London, there are still other factors that you can consider when deciding if you are going for a Contactless Payment, Travelcard or Oyster card.

If you are coming to London as a tourist, a simple research on the different ways on how to pay for your transfers will show you the best option possible based on your travel situation. Contrary to popular opinion, travelling around London can be cheap! See this blog post on how you can save money when travelling around London.

Read more: 49 Best Things to do in London, UK

Travelcard, Oyster and Contactless Payment

The choices with regards to travel passes can be overwhelming for a tourist exploring London for a certain amount of time. There is this seemingly indispensable Oyster Card that has long been utilized by residents, and then there is the convenience that only a Travelcard can offer. Quite recently, Contactless Payment is attracting long-time Oyster users and even travelers.

But what are these three, exactly? 

A Travelcard is a paper ticket bought by those who would be travelling around London for a day. Instead of topping up a certain amount and paying the regular fare per trip, you purchase a one-day or seven-day worth of unlimited travels within your chosen travel zones. 

An Oyster Card is an electronic plastic smartcard that you load up and use as you travel around London. In general, there are two types of cards in this mode of payment – the Visitor Oyster Card and the Oyster Card.

Contactless Payment uses the credit or debit card of your choice to substitute an Oyster Card when travelling around London. 

You can use Contactless Payment, Travelcard or Oyster card in the following modes of transport:

  • London Underground
  • London Red Local Bus
  • Docklands Light Railway
  • TfL Rail
  • London Overground
  • Select National Rail Services in London
  • River Bus (except for Travelcard)

Purchasing a Travelcard or Oyster Card

You can buy a Travelcard or Oyster Card in any tube or train stations, visitor centres, corner shops and numerous participating outlets around London. There are also a few stores outside London where you can purchase them.

London Day Travelcard:  Contactless, Travelcard or Oyster card: Which is Cheaper and Best for Tourists
London Travelcard: Contactless, Travelcard or Oyster card: Which is Cheaper and Best for Tourists
GetThePapersGetThePapers [CC BY-SA 2.5]

Alternatively, you can also purchase a Travelcard or Oyster Card (Visitor) online. If you would like to get your hands on your preferred travel pass prior to your arrival in London, you can buy through the TfL Website and have the card delivered to your home address. 

Contactless Payment Card

As of 2014, you can use your credit or debit card like an Oyster Card. Prior to your arrival in London, make sure to check if your credit or debit card supports contactless payment. You can also use Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or any other similar mobile applications as long as your enrolled credit or debit card is supported. 

Look for the wave-like Contactless Payment symbol to determine whether your credit or debit card is eligible to use in London as a travel pass. While most Visa, Mastercard and American Express cards are accepted, it is still wise to contact your card provider for verification.

Here are some of the common situations where your Contactless Payment Card fails to come through:

  • Your credit or debit card does not have the Contactless Payment symbol.
  • Your card was issued outside the UK.
  •  There is not enough balance on your card.
  • Your card is damaged.
  • Your card has expired.
  • Your card is new.
  • Suspicious travel has been detected.
TypePaper ticketSmartcardCredit or Debit card
Administration FeeNone£5 refundable (local)
£5 non-refundable (visitor)
Travel FeeFlat ratePay as you goSingle Daily charge
ReloadNot applicableConstant top-upNo need
Free or Discounted travelIneligible EligibleIneligible
Table of comparison of Travel card, Oyster card and Contactless Payment

Overview of Differences

To help you further in your decision-making, we have listed down the main points to consider when choosing which travel pass to use in London and which can guarantee the cheapest fare:

Oyster card vs contactless prices?

Which is better in pricing, Oyster card or Contactless Payment?

Contactless Payment involves your existing credit or debit card – that is the main difference in price with an Oyster Card. While you have to pay for a £5 deposit to have an Oyster Card, Contactless Payment requires no deposit as you will be using your own card.

Aside from this consideration, the difference in Oyster Card vs Contactless prices will greatly depend on foreign exchange rates and overseas transaction charges that your credit or debit card will be subject to.

Ask yourself this golden question: when you travel, do you pay in local currency or in your home currency? Your answer to this can somehow help you decide whether to go for an Oyster Card or Contactless Payment. 

Weekly capping for Contactless Payment

Consider sitting down and planning which zones you will explore when you go touring in London. Contactless payment specifically has weekly capping which can truly make traveling around London cheaper for you. The weekly cap for Contactless Payment has increased since March 1, 2021:

Zone 1£37
Zone 1 and 2£37
Zone 1, 2 and 3£43.50
Zone 1, 2, 3 and 4£53.20
Zone 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5£63.30
Zone 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6£67.70
Table of weekly capping for contactless payment

When going for Contactless Payment, just make sure that you use the same card or application every time. This ensures that you will not be charged double and that you can be eligible for the weekly capping.

What is the cheapest way to get around London?

The Oyster card is still considered by many as the cheapest way to get around London. You can even maximize your savings by planning your trip and using the different modes of transport like the Underground during off-peak times, as these have significantly lower rates than peak hours.

Furthermore, you have the ‘hopper fare’ which only charges you £1.50 for your multiple bus and tram transfers happening within an hour of travel time.

You can get an Oyster card and travel for free – or at least at a discounted rate – if you meet any of the following criteria:

  • if you have an eligible disability and you live in London, you can get the Disabled Person’s Freedom Pass
  • if you meet the age requirement and you live in London, you can get the Older Person’s Freedom Pass
  • if you are 60 years old and above and you live in London, you can get the 60+ London Oyster Photocard
  • if you served in the armed forces, you can get the Veterans Oyster Photocard
  • children ages 5 to 17 can apply for a Zip Oyster Photocard
  • children under 5 travelling with a paying adult travel for free

The game changes entirely for tourists. If you plan on travelling to different parts of London for only a day, an Oyster card need not be necessary. Opt for a Travelcard instead, an option which gives you unlimited travel passes to different modes of public transport for a day or for a week, depending on the duration of the card you purchased.

Is Oyster card free?

London Oyster Card: Travelcard or Oyster or Contactless: Which is Cheaper and Best for Tourists
Oyster card: Contactless, Travelcard or Oyster card: Which is Cheaper and Best for Tourists

No, Oyster card is not free. Even for those applying for free or discounted travels, their Oyster Card applications are subject to an administration fee.

What is the daily cap on an Oyster card?

What does the daily cap mean? In simple terms, when you reach a certain amount of fare as you travel within the day, you will not get charged more fees as you continue going from one point to another.

The daily cap on an Oyster card has increased since March 1, 2021:

Zone 1£7.40
Zone 1 and 2£7.40
Zone 1, 2 and 3£8.70
Zone 1, 2, 3 and 4£10.60
Zone 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5£12.70
Zone 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6£13.50
Table of the daily cap on an Oyster card

How much does a student Oyster card cost?

An 18+ Student Oyster Photocard is for students who are 18 years old and above living in London during term time. He or she must be enrolled at a school registered on the Transport for London scheme or on a mandatory work placement in the area.

A Student Oyster Photocard costs £25, payable upon registration. This fee is non-refundable.

After reading all the information above, are you going for a Contactless, Travelcard or Oyster card?
Why do you think is it cheaper for tourists?
Let us know your thoughts!


Everything Zany Dual Citizen Travel Blog

Everything Zany

Travel Blog

Everything Zany Travel Blog exploring the UK and beyond. Sharing travel guides, tips, history and culture. Our travel media brand is founded by travel and hotel industry expert – Ryazan Tristram, a Dual Citizen (British – Filipina) based in Birmingham, UK. Everything Zany is a reputable and award-winning travel blog. Our work and contributions have been featured in Huffington Post, CNBC, Discovery Channel, GMA, Readers Digest, and Lonely Planet. Our missions are to build a great travel community and resource of travel tips, visas and travel guides for travellers. Join us as we travel around the UK and beyond with a mission to share the best of the world.

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