There are a lot of things to know before travelling to London, so you don’t get confused when you land at any London airport.
Things to Know When Traveling to London
All London airports are well linked to public transport networks, but you need to know how you are going to pay for the onward journey to central London. It’s much easier to know about travelling options available if you plan your journey before you arrive.
London Journey Planner, Contactless, Oyster card
There are a few tools you can use to plan very quickly like, a journey planner app which you can download from Apple and Google Play stores. First, you should consider the flexibility and cost of travelling to and around the city.
The Oyster and Contactless cards and payment-enabled Smartphones offer the cheapest fares of travelling in London.
An Oyster card is a smart card you can use as a travel ticket on London buses, Underground (Tube) and Overground trains in zones 1 up to 9, trams, Docklands Light Railway (DLR), most National Rail services, some River Boat services, and on the Emirates Air cable cars.
What is an Oyster card?
An Oyster card is a reusable smart-ticket for paying journey fares in London on public transport networks.
The card allows a very fast and efficient way to travel around London. It can hold money so that you pay as you travel, or Pay As You Go (PAYG) as it’s commonly known in London.
There are two types of Oyster cards available for anyone visiting the London capital. The standard Oyster card is the one Londoners use every day for travelling around London on public transport networks. There’s also a Visitor Oyster card which is only available for foreign visitors.
What is a Visitor Oyster card?
The Visitor Oyster card works more like a standard Oyster Pay As You Go card except that – with the visitor you get discounts in London restaurants and on some attractions.
Anyone from outside the United Kingdom can buy a Visitor Oyster card before you leave your home country. But that depends on whether you have enough time to order online and then wait until it’s delivered to you. You’ll have to pay a £5 cost plus posting charges to get it posted.
You also have the option of buying a standard Oyster card on your arrival to any London airport. The standard Oyster card can’t be pre-ordered and get it posted like the Visitor one. But as soon as you get to any London airport you can buy one.
You can buy your standard Oyster card from any London Airport, Overground, and Underground ticket vending machines at the stations, train station offices, or from any shop advertising “Oyster Ticket stops” around London.
To get the Oyster you’ll have to pay a £5 deposit which will be refunded when you no longer need the card.
Add more money to an Oyster card
To add money to any of the Oyster cards, touch it first to the round yellow pad on the ticket vending machine located at every train station.
Different options will appear on the touch screen of the vending machine. Then choose and press “Top Up Pay As You Go” and follow the instructions.
It’s very important that you touch the Oyster card two times on the yellow reader. The first time you want to know what type of card you have before adding the credit.
The second thing after putting money in the machine, you want to ensure that the card has been credited. You can lose money if you don’t check to ensure that it’s loaded correctly.
You can also add credit on your Oyster card from the nearest small shops or Newsagents advertising “ Ticket stops” that are scattered around the city.
Please be aware that two people can’t use one Oyster card. In case you are travelling with other people and responsible for their travel expenses, you can’t use your Oyster card to pay for their journey.
It is possible to pay with a bank debit or credit card if it’s contactless-enabled.
What is a contactless card?
A contactless payment card uses a wireless communication technology to communicate with the card reader and allow you to pay for your journey fares.
With the contactless, you are using something which is already in your pocket. It takes away the hassle of topping up or buying a paper ticket – you just turn up and travel.
If you don’t have a contactless payment card, you can use your phone device if it’s enabled to make a mobile payment.
Contactless payments using the mobile phone
Contactless Mobile devices can also link with a card reader to allow you to pay for your journeys. Many Londoners use Apple pay, Android pay and Samsung pay to make payments for their daily journey fares on London Transport networks.
You just touch your contactless card or phone device onto the round yellow pad the same way you do with Oyster cards.
When you pay with a contactless card, or mobile device, for your journey, you get charged an adult-rate just like using an Oyster card.
One thing to be aware of is, your travel fares are calculated in the British pound, so, it’s more likely your foreign issued contactless card will incur fluctuating foreign exchange rates and any transaction fees in your country.
How to use an Oyster card on a bus and train?
Using your Oyster card on the bus is pretty very easy. Just touch the card on the yellow round pad when boarding, but not when you’re getting off. If you have enough credit on the card, no problem, you just continue moving forward to find a seat.
If there are insufficient funds on the card, it will beep several times and the driver will tell you don’t have enough money to travel.
Please be aware that bus drivers in London don’t accept money. And, it saves a lot of time – boarding passengers don’t have to delay the bus while they are paying for their journeys, or keep fumbling for their change.
Most London Underground stations are manned and have entry gates to the trains. But others are unmanned with no entry gates or barriers.
Make sure that you touch in your card on the reader at the start of your journey, and touch out when you reach your destination to avoid a penalty.
At the stations where the gates are available, they will not open for you to enter if you don’t have enough credit on the card or mobile device.
When you touch your Oyster card on the reader and it flashes the red light accompanied by two beeps, stop, and check your credit balance.
If you are coming out of the train station without enough credit on your Oyster card, the gates will let you out. But you’ll not be able to use that Oyster card again until it’s re-credited.
Pink Oyster card reader
You will find pink card readers at the London Underground and Overground stations. They are there to ensure that you pay the right fare for the routes you have taken.
Not all routes are the same. Some are cheaper than others – so whenever you change the train and see on those pink readers, make sure you touch your card or a mobile device on the rider to pay the right fare.
Peak and off-peak fares are applied on some London journeys, so always ensure that your Oyster card has enough credit to cover your entire journey. Otherwise, you will be penalized for travelling beyond the validity of your ticket.
Contactless, Oyster card daily and weekly cap
Oyster cards and all Contactless records where you’ve travelled so that things such as daily and weekly capping can work. Capping is the maximum amount you can spend (about £6.80) per day on your Oyster card. It’s even better on the bus.
Each journey is £1.50, so the highest you have to pay is £4.50. The capping starts after you’ve done three trips in a day. This means the three trips are the maximum you can be charged for the day and the rest is free. Each bus ride is £1.50, and for trains it varies depending on how far you go.
Weekly capping is available on the bus and tram, but not on the Tube and trains. Though it’s expected to be available on all London public transport networks within the next few months.
How to check the Oyster card balance?
You need to keep enough credit or money on your Oyster card before starting your journeys. If you are unsure, there are different ways you can check your credit balance.
You can download a TLF Oyster App from Apple or Google Play stores. After downloading, you can then check the balance on your Oyster card and even top up if necessary using the app.
The TLF Oyster App can even alert you when your credit balance is getting too low to make another journey.
Alternatively, you can take your card to the nearest small shop advertising “Ticket stop” and check your credit balance, or – go to any ticket vending machine on train stations and tap your Oyster card onto the round yellow pad to check the credit balance.
Oyster card deposit refund
You can always get the deposit back including all unspent money on the card if you no longer need it. The refund can be made at your last train station that has ticket vending machines.
Be aware before you go for the refund that your Oyster card will not be used again once your deposit is returned. To get a refund of £10 or under is easy from the train ticket vending machines.
Just tap your Oyster card on the round yellow pad, several options will be displayed on the screen. Make sure you select the “Oyster refund” option and then follow the instructions.
The machine will dispense all your refund in cash. However, any amount above £10 can be issued as a bank cheque from the ticket office.
Alternatively, if your Oyster card is registered you can ask for your refund by logging into your account. Then select the Oyster card you want to be refunded and follow the instructions to get a refund to your bank account.
If your card is not registered, you can still sign-up and link your Oyster card to that account before you can get a refund.