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My holidays in London would not have been complete without the London Oyster card and Railcard, seriously. I have saved so many Pounds because of these cards. There are various types of public transport in the city and all of it gives so many money saving opportunities. It is only a matter of knowing the opportunities, first-time visitors might not be aware of these but I will make sure to give you all the tips for travelling London on a budget.
London is divided into 6 fare zones which are connected by various kinds of networks like TFL, Underground, Nationa Rail, Overground, Docklands and many more. Heathrow Airport comes under zone 6 and most of the central London comes under zone 1. You need to know this to choose your card, I have discussed that below. You can read more about the zones here. To make the commute more economical for the travelers the officials came up with rechargeable cards suitable for various travel needs: the London Travel card & Oyster card. All this made the travel very comfortable and quick. In case, you are confused by the extensive transport system in London then don’t be. You will mostly use Underground(Tubes), buses or cycles for your local commute in London.
London Oyster card is simple as compared to the London Travel card. So I will talk about it first.
LONDON OYSTER CARD
The Oyster card can be used to travel on bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail, Emirates Air Line, River Bus services and most National Rail services in London. It is PAY AS YOU GO card, it means you just have to load the money into the card and you are good to go anytime and anywhere the transport allows. The benefit of the card is that you get tickets at discounted rates, almost half of the ticket price, like if the ticket for zone1 is 4.90 Pounds then with Oyster card you will only be charged 2.40 Pounds. You can buy this card from any Overground station, Tram station, Tube station. You will only be charged 5 Pounds security which is refundable upon depositing the card back. Like if you recharge the card with 50 Ponds, you can use 45 Pounds.
The day in London is divided into peak and off-peak hours. If you travel during the off-peak hours, you save more. It will be difficult to keep track of it while travelling but try and plan according to the off-peak hours, mentioned below, you will have to pay just half of the peak hour ticket.
On Tube, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail and National Rail services in London:
- Peak fares apply Monday to Friday (not on public holidays) between 06:30 and 09:30, and between 16:00 and 19:00
- Off-peak fares apply at all other times, and if you travel from a station outside Zone 1 to a station in Zone 1 between 16:00 and 19:00 Monday to Friday
If you are travelling on London Overground between Euston (National Rail station) and Watford Junction, peak fares only apply at the following times:
- Southbound: From Watford Junction towards Euston, Monday to Friday between 06:30 and 09:30 (not on public holidays)
- Northbound: From Euston towards Watford Junction, Monday to Friday between 16:00 and 19:00 (not on public holidays)
Off-peak fares apply at all other times.
Note: Download “TfL Oyster and contactless” app in your phone to keep track of your card.
You have to punch your card when you enter and exit the station. If you miss either of the two punches you will be charged approximately 6 Pounds no matter how short your journey is. This happened to me, I was carrying two cards, one for my partner and another for me. I was travelling alone and I accidentally punched card A on entrance and card B on exit and I was charged 5.85 Pounds on both the cards for only two stations! So, it would be better if you keep your cards separate.
You can recharge the card with whatever amount you like, if you want to calculate your expenditure then you can check this site. You just have to enter the station names and the tentative time at which you will travel. This way you can calculate the price for all the trips you plan to take during your stay in London. I did it to see how much will I be spending on my transportation.
The underground tube is available from the Heathrow station to the city centre, you can save some pounds if you travel during off-peak hours. Try and book flight accordingly. The only problem you will have while using the tube is when you are with a lot of luggage because in many stations there are no lifts, you will have to drag your bags up and down the stairs. It can be really tiring. I really had to drag my heavy shopping bags through the stairs.
You can easily recharge these cards at any station, buy it from the airport and return it at the rail station or at the London airport. Don’t forget to take your 5 Pounds back. It cannot be returned outside London.
LONDON OYSTER VISITOR CARD
There is also a Visitor Oyster Card available, you can order this and get it delivered at your home address. This will cost you extra 5 Pounds (non-refundable)+ shipping charges. I don’t think this is required. Getting the card at the airport is really easy and quick.
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LONDON TRAVEL CARD
You can use it on the bus, Tube, DLR, tram, London Overground, and most National Rail services in London. A Travelcard allows use any number of trips in a single ticket. You have a choice of picking up the zones, hours and days.
There are many types of Travelcards available:
- 1 day Travelcard:(divided into) Anytime or offpeak – (further divided into) zone options, 1-4 or 1-6
- 7 days Travelcard: Anytime – zone options: 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 1-5, 1-6
You pay according to your choices, you can choose either an anytime travelcard or an off-peak travel card for 1-4 zones or 1-6 zones. The prices start from 12.70 Pounds to 62.30 Pounds for adults. Children between 11 and 15 years pay less and below 11 years are allowed to travel free. You can buy the card or check the rates from this site.
I felt this was an expensive option as I had to travel between zone 1-6 for 5 days and price for 2 people would be 124.60 Pounds whereas with the oyster card we were covered under 100 Pounds. This is because at times we took the bus or we walked to nearby destinations. I also bought a one-day Hop-on-Hop-off pass so I really didn’t use my card that day, just once at night after dinner to reach back to my aparthotel.
I am sure that you should buy an Oyster card in London, it will turn out to be a cheaper option for you but still If you want to compare both the cards then do the following:
- Note down places where you want to visit during your stay.
- Check out the nearby metro/rail stations to the desired location.
- Check the following zone map and see which zones will you be traveling to.
- Put together your plan in such a way that you make maximum use of the card. for eg: cover the nearby attractions in one go.
Now you can calculate the total fare using the site I mentioned above or click here. This is a long task though, so as I always say Learn from my Experiences and make yours better and mine says that buy an Oyster card in London and it will be a better option for you as compared to the Travelcard.
Try and use buses more than the tube as it is a cheaper option, flat 1.50 Pounds for a ride, and more easily available. For tubes, you might have to walk a mile but bus stops are comparatively closer most of the times. You will have no problem in boarding the buses as they are mostly on time and are comfortable. You cannot pay by cash for the bus ride, you will have to use the Oyster card.
If you are only for a day in London then just calculate how many times you will be using the tube or the bus, Travelcard might suit you more in such a situation.
If you wish to travel to nearby countries like Scotland then you will need National Rail, even for Watford(Harry Potter studios) or sometimes for Wembley. I recommend Virgin Trains. It is a fast train in reasonable prices, provides a good and comfortable ride and the best part is if the train gets late, you get monetary compensation direct in your account. Book the tickets as early as possible as the rates vary, the sooner the cheaper. The prices also vary according to the Time of travel so it will be a good idea to stay flexible in choosing the train time. You also will get free access to wi-fi to enjoy the onboard entertainment site called Beam to enjoy movies, TV and more.
This is how the train looks from inside. Try to reach the station sooner if you have more luggage as the compartment for big luggage is small.
There is a mini canteen in the train and a talking washroom. This one is the first of its kind that I saw. Once you close the door, a lady starts greeting you and gives you some hygiene-related information. It is funny. The washroom doors(close, lock and unlock) are controlled by the buttons inside. Initially, I was looking for the handle to close the door, haha…
If you will be using National Rail often then I suggest you buy a Railcard as well, there are 5 types of it. I opted for the Two-Together railcard which helped me to save a lot. It will help you save 1/3rd fare price. Again you can compare the prices with and without the card. It will be beneficial if you are using the Rail more than twice. For two people Two-Together is a good option, for families, there is another option called Family Railcard. Read all about the cards here.
You will have to put photographs of the people for whom the cards are while purchasing the card. In case you don’t have any passport photographs then don’t worry just crop a headshot from any decent photograph and resize according to the required dimensions. I did the same and there were no objections. Definitely download the Railcard app and add your railcard number in it. It will be equivalent to the paper railcard.
Once you buy the card, book your Virgin train and before making payment fill your Railcard number in the option given at the bottom.
There might be situations where you will need to use rail instead of tubes in the city, like for Watford(Harry Potter Studios), you can use oyster card here but to get the benefit (discounts) of your railcard you will have to link it to your Oyster card. That can only be done by the staff members near the ticket machines at the stations. If you simply swipe your oyster card then you will pay the full price inspite of having a railcard. So to get the benefit you can get your Oyster card and the Rail card linked. It is a troublesome task because there are times when the cards don’t get linked. To avoid all this simply buy the tickets after showing your railcard. You will get the discounted tickets the only difference is that you pay the money directly to them instead of loading it to the Oyster card.
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HOP-ON-HOP-OFF BUS – BIG BUS CITY TOUR
Apart from the cards, you can buy a one-day Hop-on-Hop-off pass as it will help you to cover all the attractions in less time, you will be travelling through the streets and places like London Bridge. I kept my pass for my last day in London and I saw all the places that I couldn’t in previous days. It would have been really time-consuming by a tube. The bus has a multilingual audio system which narrates the information about all the places you pass by. It is really interesting. You can board the bus from any stop you like and follow any of the four routes. Check all the routes here. I would suggest you to buy a one-day pass(Classic Tour), it would be sufficient and you will also get a free one-way cruise ride on the Thames along with the pass. The 24hrs start from the time you board your first bus. I hope by now you have noted all the tips on how to save money on Transport in London.
I will be talking a lot about Tourist attractions in London in my upcoming post. Also, I will also be discussing good ideas to save money and time. Stay tuned and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog.
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