How to Pay

1 January 2016 (2017 update mid February due to work load)

Transport for London Fares from 2 January 2016

Information on this page is for the Travel Card, Travel Card paper, Oyster Card, Oyster Travel Card, Carnet Cards, Visitor Oyster Card, the London Pass, and paying with cash.

This information should help you decide what type of transit pass to use but it is fixed around you being in town for a few days or a few weeks. Students may want to read this also. This information is not for sightseeing buses or cabs.
Transport for London gives you a lot of options and deciding what to do can make your head spin. Yes, there is a lot of information on this page as London is a complicated city. That’s why they have so many pubs. Trying how to pay for transport can be confusing and in speaking to others I can see where the confusion is coming from. TfL is not very clear in their publications and they have just too many options. I would like to think that I have clarified this somewhat. If you have complaints, comments or other information then please pass it on to me. The website, UK Student Life has good information if you are inclined to read more. They are here:

Public Transportation

Public transportation is available by bus, underground, DLR and rail. Let us not forget London Overground and trams. There are a number of ways to pay for your ride and cash may be the worst way to go. The Black Cab and sightseeing buses are not a part of this page. If you are travelling with teens and children you should read this. For some fun facts on the tube you should look at this from the mole. The mole also has a great underground blog.

General Information

Travel Zones

A large portion of central London is in travel zone 1. Zones 2 thru 6 are similar to ever enlarging rings of Saturn, but encircling the central zone. As you travel from zone 1 to the other zones the cost goes up. But, traveling from one outer zone to another outer zone may be cheap. For most of your trip you should see most of what you want in zone 1 although it is hard to buy zone 1 only; typically zone 1 & 2. Here is a link to the zone map (PDF). Just a reminder, Heathrow is in zone 6 and the only airport served by the tube.

Travel Times

A travel day is from 4:30am to 4:29 am the next day. Peak travel time for bus and tube is from 04.30 to 09.30, Monday through Friday. There is no peak time on Bank holidays or weekends. Off-peak time begins at 9:30 am. If you don’t plan on traveling between first rooster and 9:30 am, then the off-peak cards will save you money. The tube does not operate 24 hours a day but are in future plans. Most bus routes do not either but many are going 24 hours. There is a night bus service for most of all London.

A travel period is a series of days that your pass is valid for. Don’t think of a week in usual terms as tickets and passes can start on any day of the week. You decide. A monthly or annual pass is sometimes referred to as a season pass.

Where to Buy

Transport for London has this page for ticket information. If you know your postcode just enter it in and click. It will give you a map showing locations of shops authorized to sell Oyster cards. The site also has information about buying at stations and bus stops. If you buy your travel cards from a newsagent you may be charged a small supplement if paying with a credit card.

Third parties such as newsagents sell Oyster Cards and Travel Cards. Just look for the sign on the window or door. Should you pay with a credit card you could have a transaction fee added to the total cost. It is not much and buying from an agent saves time from standing in long lines at stations.

Checking for Valid Tickets

At any time you can be stopped and asked to produce you ticket or card. Should you have no card, an invalid card or a card not for use for a zone you are travelling in, you will be given an on the spot fine. I have been stopped twice and as I always have a valid ticket. I found both experiences rather pleasant, as the Transport Police are very courteous and professional. Actually, I almost got busted. I was stopped at the Harrods stop and asked for my card. The gentleman swiped it and asked me some questions. He wanted to know where I began my journey. I was going to say Russell Square, as that is where I usually start all my journeys. But the station was flooded that morning and I walked to Holborn station. I just started to say Russell Square when I caught myself. Every swipe leaves a record.

Types of Payment
This section illustrates four payment methods:
Cash, Contactless Cards, Oyster Card, Travel Cards

Travel Cards originated as a paper card and the day travel card is still issued as such. The longer period travel cards are placed on an Oyster Card, which is a plastic card. Although the Oyster Card can contain a travel card or a bus pass it was designed to be a pay as you go card.

Not only are there a number of ways to travel in London there are a lot of ways to
pay for it. Do not get confused, as it is not too hard to understand. My recommendation is an Oyster Travel Card or the London Pass. The Carnet Cards are ok. The Oyster – Pay-as-you-go is good and can act as a day travel card.

The Oyster Card

The Oyster Card is the size of a credit card and has a radio-frequency device in it along with a microchip. In essence it is a debit card but with a difference. To use it you just touch the yellow Oyster pad at a station or on a bus. With this card you can scurry around London like a hedgehog. You can have two time periods placed on it (two 7 day periods) or just a bus pass. Originally this was for a pay-as-you-go scheme (below) but it is also being used for Travel Cards or bus passes (below). They are safer than paper tickets as it never leaves your hand.


As I have said, this card is similar to a debit card in function. You pay to add value to the card and value is deducted when you touch an Oyster terminal. This is similar to the EZ pass scheme in the US. I think that you need to keep track of what you have on the card and this may not be paramount on traveler’s minds. This card is ideal for workers on their daily commute. The cost of travel is deducted when you use it and you can have extra money deducted if used incorrectly. I don’t think this is the best way for visitors to pay although Transport for London disagrees. See my commentary below. You also have to pay a refundable fee for the card but if you see yourself coming back to London you can keep it fir future visits and even let friends use it should they pop over.

Transport for London is pushing for everyone to use Oyster for public travel in London. Oyster is not a travel pass but rather a device used to pay for your travel. As mentioned above, there are several “items” that can be placed on your card but the focus of Transport for London is their pay-as-you-go scheme. The card can also hold a bus pass or travel card, which were paper at one time although paper is still issued at times. In a clamshell, Oyster is good for tourist. You can use it as pay-as-you-go or with one or more seven-day travel cards. It can be used with only a bus pass on it. The pass and cards can be purchased up to a month in advance. You just touch the yellow Oyster symbol when you come and go, but only in when you board a bus.

Pink Card Reader
Should you use pay-as-you-go Oyster or have a Travel Card that DOES NOT include Zone 1, then you should read what Transport for London has to say at this page: The reader sees what routes you have taken and can show you a cheaper route to follow.

Oyster Travel Card

Should you desire to buy a Travel Card that allows unlimited scurrying within a given time period, you can have it placed on an Oyster Card rather than using a paper ticket. It is faster and safer.

Oyster Bus Pass

If you only wish to use the bus you can buy a bus pass and have it on an Oyster Card. You pay for your ride by touching the yellow pad when getting on a bus (and off of a bendy bus). Otherwise you will nee to buy a ticket from a machine before boarding. To make stopping time short, TfL has made paying with cash very expensive. Using Oyster does speed things along but sometime people just need to make a bus trip every now and then. Most bus stops have red fare boxes in which you buy your ticket to your destination before you board. Should your stop not have a box you simply pay the driver. Remember that Travel Cards permit unlimited travel on all London bus routes.

How to use the Oyster Card

You simply touch the card (in its jacket or by itself) on the yellow touch pads at stations and on buses. Although this sounds simple enough people have had trouble with this and I had to make two or more contacts. At some stations you may have to touch a pad to move to another area but you will see signs. You touch when you get on a bus in front but not when you exit. Remember: on in front, off in back. Some bendy buses allow you to enter from the rear so you must touch in should you enter that way. This independent site: has a lot of good information that includes questions and answers. It will also tell you when not to use Oyster.

The Travel Card

A Travel Card is an instrument that allows unlimited travel for a given period of time within one or more zones. It can be purchased in advance or in London. You can use it as much as you want without worry. This is the card you want if you are visiting for one or more weeks. In-as-much as this is ideal for visitors this is not the Visitor Travel Card (see below).

Travel cards are known as a period card or season card. That means that they are good for a prescribed period of time. You can buy a day card good for just one travel day (see above). Seven-day cards are good for 7 consecutive days and you decide what day it is to begin. Monthly cards are available as well. They can be purchased in advance and can be for peak or non-peak (not before 09:30am) travel times

Day cards are issued as a paper ticket but the 7-day and monthly cards are placed on an Oyster Card. You can have a day card placed on Oyster by using it as a pay-as-you-go card. Just add the cost of a day card to the Oyster and us it as you would as a travel card. With daily price capping you will not be charged for more than the cost of a day travel card. It may sound confusing but I have done this and it works.

How to use a Paper Travel Card

A paper travel card or any card that has a magnetic strip on the back needs to be inserted into a turnstile slot when entering or exiting the system. You feed it in from the front and it pops up in front of you on the top of the machine. This is so easy that I have been known to do this on my own. However there is a caution with this. The card comes up fast and it you are slow to catch it somebody can snatch it and run off with it. It happens. When going through the system always be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye on your belongings. An electronic version of the travel card can be placed on an Oyster card, as I described above.

Monthly & Annual Oyster Travel Cards

Good for extended stays or for those working, and actually earning a living in London. See the Transport for London site for more on this. For extended stays having a pay-as-you-go Oyster card could be beneficial.

Contactless Payment Cards

Contactless payment cards use new banking technology that lets you pay for items by tapping a debit or credit card on a card-reading device.
You do not have to get load and reload an Oystercard, which also makes payments by tapping on readers.

Transport for London accepts contactless cards
issued in the UK on Visa, MasterCard, Maestro or American Express. Using these cards offers the same cost benefits as the Oyster so if you have one you really don’t need any other type of payment method. So, as it may not be available to Americans it is a move in the right direction.

Bus & Tram Pass

As it says, this is only good for the bus and Trams and not the tube, rail or DLR. It should be an option as it is cheaper. But then you will miss seeing the little brown mice scurrying about the tracks on the tube. The bus pass can be placed on an Oyster card. People in wheelchairs ride the bus for free. Trams do not exist in central London although the District Line connects to the Tram system at Wimbledon.

Bus Fares

You pay when you enter the front (exit to the rear please) and to speed things along you will need to buy a ticket before you enter. Most bus stops have a red ticket machine with all the information. If your stop does not have one you can pay on board. People using wheel chairs ride free. The cost of travel is moot if you have a travel card. More bus information here.

For most methods of public travel you need to be aware of the zone you are in and if you are going to or thru another zone. Not so with the bus. You can travel in any zone with you bus pass or travel card.

When you are standing at a bus stop take a look at the top of the pole. If it says
REQUEST STOP you will need to wave to the driver to have him stop. Also, when on a bus make sure that you press the call button to let the driver know that you want off at the next stop. Don’t assume the bus will stop at all stops.

Bus Map

One of the best maps to have is the Central London Bus Map: found in Transport for London Service Centers. These are located in most national rail stations such as Victoria, Liverpool Street and Euston. They not only show the bus routes but tube, rail, DLR, and London Overground (rail) lines as well. It’s free and a must have. Here is link to the Transport of London spider map that shows all the London boroughs. Click on an area and the tube stations will be listed. Click a station name to open and the map will show the bus stops and routes. Click this for all TfL maps.

Other Options

There are several ways American visitors can pay for travel within London. For the most up-to-date information, visit the Transport for London site: Briefly, here the payment options for bus, tube, Dockland Light Rail (DLR) trams, and limited National Rail train service within London.

Carnet Cards

Carnet is a book of 10 single journey paper tickets. Not a bad way to go if you don’t plan a lot of on and off trips. Still, this was with commuters in mind.

Association of Train Operating Companies lists companies that sell Carnet Cards. GroupSave offers groups of three to nine adults travelling together 1/3 off Off-Peak tickets on participating train company services.

Cash Fares

Certainly the easiest but it may be the most costly as fares are adjusted to get you to use the cards. One can buy a single trip paper ticket at dispensing machines at tube and rail stations. You will need to insert the ticket into a turnstile when entering and exiting. At the end of your trip the machine will keep the ticket.

London Pass
Made for people who can’t see enough attractions

This pass allows visitors entry to over 50 attractions in London and also Windsor Castle. It is not valid for travel by itself but you can buy it with a Travel Card included. The number of days allowed for travel is slightly different that the regular travel cards. See: London Pass or London Pass UK for more information. Keep in mind the cost of the travel portion, if you buy this option, and the number of zones it takes in. Purchasing the London Pass on-line gives you the option of picking it up in London or having it sent to your home. As of July 2014, travel periods are 1 day, 2 days, 3 days or 6 days. The London Pass website has more information on travel days and cost and well worth reading should this interest you.

Visitor (Oyster) Travel Card

This is a seven day travel card that Americans can buy before they leave home. A selling point for this card is that you have it when you get off the plane as it is mailed to your home address. However, you will probably be buying more than you need and that could be a waste of money. I have seen other writers promote this and they left me with the thought that I had to buy a card covering al six zones. This is not true but not always explained by those writers. A Visitor Travel Card is just like a regular travel card only that you buy it before you leave home. It can be purchased as a paper card or as an Oyster Card. The Oyster Card is a plastic smartcard but a paper Travel Card is available. You will pay a card fee for the Oyster.

National Rail & London Overground

Travel cards and Oyster Pay-As-You-Go are accepted for travel on rail. The stations and journey can only be within the zones that you card covers, which means that you can only travel within London. The map covering the national rail service in London is
here (PDF) and the Overground map is here (PDF). The Overground map does not show what zone the stations are in so compare this with the rail service map.

Stations allowing transfer between tube and London Overground have pink Oyster route validators. Make sure you touch these with your Oyster card. TfL has more information on this

National Rail’s website (accessed 18 August 2010) has information on using
Travel Cards and Oyster on the system. It is very informative.

Railcard is available for people living in the UK and not really for tourists. More information can be found on the
Railcard website.

My Commentary Below

Transport for London has a lot of information posted on its website but I think there is too much and it is a bit confusing. Certainly, in my opinion, they do not explain the differences between the various travel cards and how they work with Oyster. I do not think that they are too clear. The Oyster card is a pay-as-you-go debit-card method of payment but the card is also used for several types of travel cards. Travel cards are not pay-as-you-go but Transport for London does not make that too clear. If you buy a period travel card, it can be “downloaded” if you will, on an Oyster Card.

Fares for 2016

Transport for London has a complete
fare schedule PDF for adults and students and children. This is TfL Fares & Payments.

Travel Cards (Paper or Oyster)

For the sake of brevity, I am showing the prices for central London only. An Anytime one-day Travel Card is valid for travel 4:30am to 4.30am the following morning:

£12.10 (adult) Zones 1 only or Zone 1& 2 for a Day Travel Card (Peak)
£32.40 (adult) Zones 1 only or Zone 1& 2 for a 7-Day Travel Card

An off-peak one-day Travel Card is valid from 9.30am Monday to Friday and all day (12.01am to 4.30am the following day) at weekends and public holidays. The cost for selected zones is as follows:

£12.10 (adult) Zones 1 only or Zone 1 & 2 Off-Peak Day Travel Card

Travel Cards do not have a daily price cap as they are made for unlimited travel for the period they are valid for. If you will be in London for less than 7 days (but for 4 days at least) it would be cheaper to buy the 7-day travel card. Remember to adjust for your exchange rate. Also, the visitor’s Travel Card is valid throughout the system on a bus (but not trams). No need to worry about zones.

Oyster Pay-as-you-go

For the sake of brevity, I am showing the prices for central London only. Pay as you go does not have a time period, as they are good as long as there is money stored on them. Every time you make a journey the fair is deducted from your account.

£2.30 (adult) Zones 1 only peak single
£2.90 (adult) Zones 1 & 2 peak single
£2.30 (adult) Zones 1 only off-peak single
£2.30 (adult) Zones 1 & 2 off-peak single.

Bus Only Fares

A travel card is good on any route and is zone free. If you want to use the bus and not the tube, DLR, or rail these are the fares for 2016.
£1.05 pay-as-you-go (for one journey) with a £4.50 daily price cap.
£5.00 One-Day Bus & Tram Pass.
£21.20 7-Day Bus & Tram Pass.
Here is TfL
Bus & Tram Fares.

Price Capping Explained

It you buy a Travel Card, you get unlimited travel for a certain period of time. This can be for one day or seven days. There is no price cap to speak of for Travel Cards. If you buy Oyster Pay-As-You-Go, you pay a set price for each trip. You don’t ever loose as whatever money is on your card can be used another day. Should you make several trips in one day with PAYG, you pay for each trip, but up to a point. On a daily basis, no money will be deducted from your account for more than what a day travel card sells for. Cost of daily travel is capped at that price.

For example, a day travel card cost £8 (a made-up number). Cost to travel the tube is £2 (another made-up number). If you make 4 trips in one day the cost to you is £8 on your Oyster PAYG. If you make a fifth trip or more that same day, the additional cost to you is zero. You will only have £8 deducted from your account that day. In essence, your Oyster PYG becomes a de-facto travel card.

Fares for Groups

To be updated at another time.