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Helping Friends Plan 1st trip to UK - Travel Cards/Oyster/ !

HI! Been awhile since I posted anything. We have friends who are planning their first trip to the UK. They have asked us to give them ideas (we have visited the UK more than 40 times, but not recently). The one thing that I know has changed a great deal since we've been unable to do international travel, is the Oyster card for the Tube in London. We used to buy paper Travel Cards (either the 3, 5, or 7 day cards, depending on our length of stay). We could use them for the 2for 1 discounts at many sites.

So... a few questions before I give our friends misguided info.

1) Do paper travel cards still exist (and in what lengths) and do you still buy them from National Rail stations?

2) Are they still good for 2 for 1 discounts?
3) If paper cards are no longer around, can you load a Travel Pass on Oyster and what lengths are they available for?

If you have specific suggestions regarding Tube/Bus travel, I'd appreciate you input.

Happy and Safe travels, everyone!

Posted by
2432 posts

you can do much of this research with the Man in Seat 61. There are several discount card schemes for train travel as well.

Posted by
27485 posts

I'm glad that you are back planning trips to London again - even if vicariously.

I'll have a pop at this after breakfast tomorrow. Bed time now.

Posted by
20856 posts

As of 2019 the answer to #1 and #2 was "Yes", and I've found references to the 2-for-1 deals online even more recently, so I believe not much has changed. It's possible that--at least for some sights--it is now possible, due to COVID, to get entry time slots--or perhaps actual tickets--online in advance under the 2-for-1 deal. I'm generally a solo traveler and haven't checked on that.

I do recall seeing some time limitations on use of the deal for a few sights--places where the offer wasn't good on weekends or wasn't good during peak summer months. Advise your friends to read all the online 2-for-1 info on the places for which they are considering taking advantage of the 2-for-1 deal.

Unless there is a way to take care of the ticketing ahead of time, it is highly questionable whether it makes sense at some highly-popular sights to use the offer if you're the typical time-pressed traveler; it means standing in what could be quite a long ticket line. One such place is the Churchill War Rooms, which also has the potential to sell out. On the other hand, it was a piece of cake to buy 2-for-1 Kew Gardens tickets on site.

One other thing I should mention is that in the last few years I've visited London both with an Oyster Card and with a paper weekly pass. The Oyster Card worked like a charm. The paper pass didn't always open the fare gates as it was supposed to. That was only a minor irritant; fortunately, there was always an employee at hand when I needed one. However, if I somehow knew 100% for sure that I would only be making use of one 2-for-1 deal, I might not bother to get the weekly travel card, which is likely to take a bit longer than just buying and loading an Oyster Card. The modest savings from a single sight might not be worth the extra time. I don't know that it is still true, but I remember seeing a few places back in 2019 that gave about a 10% discount for buying online tickets. In those cases, the 2-for-1 deal effectively saves you 80% of the cost of the ticket you don't need to buy rather than the full 100%.

Posted by
3893 posts

Here’s a link to the Transport for London site dealing with contactless and Oyster cards. An Oyster is simply a card that you add funds to to use a bus or the tube. When the funds get low, you “top it up” by adding more funds to it. There’s a daily cap of £7.40 for zones 1 and 2, meaning once you’ve spent that, you don’t pay for trips the rest of that day. To use the card you tap it on the indicated spot going through the turnstile and again when leaving the tube. Easy to get, top up, and use.

You can download a tube or bus map from the TFL site.

Posted by
1664 posts

Will an oyster card purchased in 2015 still work or do I need to buy a new one because the format has changed? It worked in 2018 on our last trip to London. ( I know I need to put more money on it,)

Posted by
2654 posts

Cynthia, yes your Oyster Card will still works, you will just of to load it for the amount you want on it. You can do that at any station.

Posted by
20856 posts

Tell your friends if they keep their eyes open in Underground stations, they'll probably find small (pocket-size) leaflets with the Underground schematic plan. I have one of those accessible in the outer pocket of my purse every time I take the Underground; it's like a security blanket--I consult it constantly to be sure my train hasn't headed off course (joking). I don't care whether I look like a tourist. I'd much rather have that thing in my hand than a pricey smartphone.

Posted by
48 posts

Personally I like the TubeMap app, which will also find the shortest route for you. But I tend to use it when planning a journey, rather than whipping my phone out enroute.

Posted by
27485 posts

1) Do paper travel cards still exist (and in what lengths) and do you still buy them from National Rail stations?

First question: yes, railways still sell daily and weekly Travelcards but they are much less of a value than they used to be, There is no three-day Travelcard any longer.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Travelcards and Oyster cards, from the point of view of the railways, is at https://www.nationalrail.co.uk/timesfares/tickettypes/46575.aspx

Note that Travelcards are only now available in two flavours - Zones 1 to 4, and Zones 1 to 6.

They cannot be used to get to the Harry Potter studios because Watford Junction is beyond Zone 6 in what is effectively Zone 10.

As the vast majority of attractions for most tourists are in Zone 1 and a few in Zone 2, paying for Zones 1-4 or 1-6 is a waste of money.

Also - a Weekly Travelcard from the railways requires a Photocard which is made up at a ticket window with a passport sized photo you provide - so extra cost there too.

To a very great degree Travelcards are now somewhat of a dinosaur.

Posted by
27485 posts

2) Are they still good for 2 for 1 discounts?

Second question - yes. 2 for 1s were cut to nothing during the pandemic and haven't completely recovered. They are stuck in limbo because due to the dearth of tourists the attractions can't really afford to accept half payment, and because many places require advance reservations now that doesn't work as well with the 2 for 1 scheme which is based on walk up sales.

It is worth checking carefully what's on offer and the details. The webpage, including in the FAQs which tickets and under which conditions are acceptable, is at https://www.daysoutguide.co.uk/

Travel advice related to covid and 2 for 1 (Days Out) is at https://www.daysoutguide.co.uk/travel-advice

Read the conditions carefully.

Posted by
27485 posts

3) If paper cards are no longer around, can you load a Travel Pass on Oyster and what lengths are they available for?

Question 3 - Oyster doesn't care about zone boundaries and calculates the appropriate fare, Travel cards are zone based, and they aren't really compatible. Same with a contactless card or Apple/Android/Samsung Pay.

Since the pandemic the UK, and especially London is a land of contactless payments. Very rarely insert the card and pop in a PIN, even more rarely cash. I still have the same notes in my wallet I got at the end of 2019. Tap my phone for absolutely everything.

Only train tickets of some sort, either paper or show train app ticket, are valid with 2 for 1. Read the FAQs for what's valid and what's not valid.

Posted by
27485 posts

If you have specific suggestions regarding Tube/Bus travel, I'd appreciate you input.

Remember you need to tap in and tap out on every trip on the tube and on Docklands Light Railway. Sometimes on the DLR there are no gates but you still need to find the yellow tap pad and tap in and tap out.

If you forget to tap out you will automatically be charged for the longest possible journey as TfL has no way to know where you left the system and assumes the worst.

Only tap in on entering a bus - on a Boris bus with the 3 doors you can enter at any of the open doors, and tap in as you board; you can leave from the rear or centre door. On a regular bus, leave from the centre door. You don't tap out or the system will think you took 2 journeys.

Posted by
5389 posts

You need to double-check this, but I am pretty sure that an Apple phone with Apple-Pay operating is financially equivalent to an Oyster card, for tube and surface bus travel. Not sure about other modes of transport. I am saying that it has daily capping for a single rider, automatically.

Posted by
439 posts

We will be three people, me/brother/nephew. 4-5 days London. Can we all just use Apple Pay in iPhones or watches (since we each need our own thing) to tap in and out and just do pay as we go? Also does this work for buses as well? Some things we will be able to walk to but may be taking tube/bus here and there.

Posted by
195 posts

Boris buses cost twice a normal bus and been problems ever since introduced, engines need replacing and air con never worked properly
Another de waste of money in additions to £millions lost on his Garden Bridge scheme not to mention the £100Ks lost on water cannons be bought which he couldn't get permission to use and had to sold for scrap

Posted by
656 posts

Since the pandemic the UK, and especially London is a land of
contactless (sic) payments.

This is true! I just returned a week or so ago. I brought several hundred British Pounds I had left over from several years ago. I practically brought them all back with me (very few exceptions). What I couldn't understand was how to tip? Without paper currency to cash and get change from, I didn't have a pocket full of pound coins to leave for servers. And most places didn't have a system for adding tips on to payments with chip cards. Anyone else experience this? I probably under-tipped because of this.

Posted by
27485 posts

what is (sic) about contactless? Don't North Americans use the term which is in such ubiquitous use here?

Posted by
27485 posts

cchapin100 - We will be three people, me/brother/nephew. 4-5 days London. Can we all just use Apple Pay in iPhones or watches

Yes. They all must be linked to different cards.

Almost missed that question slipped in there....

Posted by
739 posts

As a reminder, please stay away from politics on our boards. It will result in the removal of this thread. I've already removed several posts. Thanks everyone.

Posted by
3428 posts

Thanks for the answers, everyone. Our friends have decided to just purchase Oyster Cards and load with PAYGO money. They will be spending time in London at the beginning and end of their trip, so that should work well for them.

Please do abide by the posting guidelines- we don't want the webmaster to have to remove this post.

Posted by
12957 posts

For those who are interested in the 2-4-1 offers, should they come back, you can still get a “paper Travelcard” that has the National Rail logo as required. Now it is called a London Card, and you must buy it in advance—-it is not available for purchase in London. And it seems that only the 7-day London Card for peak travel in Zones 1-4, costing around 53 GBP is reasonably priced (as compared to an Oyster Card.)

https://visitorshop.tfl.gov.uk/en/london-travelcard