Oyster card London

Oyster Card: Pay as you go or Travelcard?

If you’re going to spend few days in London, transport costs will take a good share of your budget. Find out how to optimize it at best!

In a previous article we’ve seen in details how the public transport in London works, but some of you might still wonder: what do I need to buy? Oyster Card or Travel Card? Pay as you go or weekly pass?

Well, let’s work it out. Mathematically.

Sheldon Cooper explaining stuff

If you ask me I’d say that the Oyster Card is always the best option. You will be charged a £5 deposit when you purchase it and both the deposit and unused credit (up to £10) will be refunded when you hand it back at any tube station before leaving London. Some people like to hold on it in case they’ll need it again, or as a souvenir… especially if you’re lucky enough to get a special edition.

From now on we will assume you won’t take the tube on rush hour. Don’t do that! Always travel off peak, it’ll save you money and stress. Moreover the rates I’m mentioning are for zones 1-2 which is pretty much all you’ll need. Unless you go, for instance, to Wimbledon or Heathrow.

Pay as you go

The Oyster Card works on a “pay as you go” basis, where the amount of the ticket gets deducted every trip and you will stop getting charged when you reach the daily pass capping.

  • You will be charged £2.30 for each tube trip until you reach the daily capping of £6.40, which is less than 3 trips and it’s £2 less than the previous year!
  • You will be charged £1.50 for each bus trip until you reach the daily capping of £4.40, which is just 5p more than 3 trips.

This solution is ideal for a few days visit as it gives you maximum freedom. Top up your card and use is without stress.


Travel Card

The only travel card options available are for 7 days or 1 month, and they can both topped up on your Oyster Card

  • The 7 days travel card for the tube is £32.10, which is roughly 5 full days on the tube or less than 15 tube trips.
  • The 7 days bus pass is £21.00, which is less than 5 full days on the bus or less than 14 bus trips.

As you can see the 7 days travel card or pass is worth considering if you’re staying at least 5 days in London, and you’re planning to travel a lot.


Refunding an Oyster Card

Now it’s easy to have a refund if you’re no longer going to use your Oyster. Touch the card on the yellow reader of the ticket machines you’ll find in any tube station, tap on “Oyster refund” and follow the instructions. You will receive up to £10 of your pay as you go credit and the £5 deposit in cash. After getting this refund you won’t be able to use your Oyster again.

Buying from abroad

If you’re meticulous and want to avoid any possible inconvenience upon arrival you can order your oyster card in advance, using this link. I never tried so if you do please let me know how it goes!


I always recommend to take the bus rather than the tube, to be able to look around, and to walk as much as possible, but obviously London is big and if you have a busy agenda you might have to take the tube, especially if going through the city centre.

I hope now it all looks less complicated, but each trip is different so feel free to ask for tailored suggestions!

5 thoughts on “Oyster Card: Pay as you go or Travelcard?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.