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Hop on Hop off buses vs. Oyster cards

Hello,
My daughter and I will be in London for three days. We have friends who will be there those amount of days as well, but instead of getting Oyster cards, they have 3-day hop on hop of bus passes. Is that a better idea with such a short visit? We are arriving into Gatwick but leaving out of Heathrow, so I was thinking of getting an Oyster card for the two of us. Any thoughts???
Thanks! Becky

Posted by
2125 posts

The Hop on Hop Off buses are tourist buses, not to be confused with regular public transport.

An Oyster card (you will need one each) will get you on the regular buses, tube and trains in London, and are an infinitely better way of travelling around the city. Buy one for £5 when you arrive, top up with say £25 and get any unused monies back when you leave.

You could read up the 2 for 1 offers - https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Travel-g186338-c133479/London:United-Kingdom:Paper.And.Oyster.Travelcards.2.4.1.Offers.html and see if those appeal.

To conclude, do not think that the Hop On Hop Off buses are a substitute for a simple oyster card.

Posted by
4684 posts

The tourist buses have relatively limited routes and low frequency. It's very unlikely that your friends will be able to get everywhere they want using only tourist buses.

Note that while you can use Oyster PAYG from Gatwick Airport to London, the fare is more expensive than single tickets bought online in advance, which are not necessarily limited to a specific departure time. You can only use Oyster to get to Heathrow if you use the Piccadilly Line, it is not valid on the Heathrow Express or Heathrow Connect trains from Paddington.

Posted by
27714 posts

Different kettle of fish, I'm afraid. I can't imagine how bored you will become on the HoHo buses, just going to the same places over and over.

And waiting at the stops for one to eventually show up.

Not like London buses at all.

Posted by
93 posts

Thank you all! We'll buy the Oyster cards then. Can we get those at the train station? Or do I have to buy online.

Posted by
27714 posts

You can get Oyster cards many places. You can get paper Travelcards which work on the 2-for-1 scheme from any staffed National Rail station, including the Gatwick rail station ticket windows.

Oyster cards can come from a machine or a Transport for London Underground or Overground station, many corner stores, and many other places

Posted by
27714 posts

By the way - there is a world of difference between a visitor Oyster card noted just above and a normal Oyster card.

A normal card has a £5 refundable deposit, and it is easy to get any remaining credit at the end of your need for it (always use the same method of applying credit and leave less than £30 on it and you can get all the credit back before you come home - which save receiving a cheque in Pounds Sterling to your home.

A Visitor Oyster has to (as far as I know) be posted to you with a delivery fee, it takes a while, it has a NON-refundable £3 charge, and I don't know that they will refund your card or cash for the remaining credit at the end.

Other than that they can use it in advertising material, I see no advantage to a Visitor Oyster over a normal one. If you had trouble speaking English or understanding London English, maybe.

Posted by
3491 posts

Wait till you get to London to purchase the Oyster cards. You can buy them from ticket machines at nearly every Tube station. These are not Visitor Oysters and have much less restrictions than the visitor cards.

I have not flown into Gatwick recently but have read you can get to London using an Oyster to pay for the train. I use my Oyster to take the Tube from Heathrow into London often as it is only around £5 per person and takes about an hour to get all the way to St Pancras station. The people watching is fun.

I have a Visitor Oyster because when I bought it the regular Oyster would expire (or so I was told by many sources) if not used fairly often and I wasn't sure how often I would be in London. Luckily I do visit London often and keep using the Oyster I bought initially, reloading as needed, and will probably use it down to close to zero balance and toss it in the trash and buy a regular Oyster on my next trip.

Posted by
2935 posts

Don't toss your Oyster card in the trash when the value gets down low. If you bought it in a London tube station vending machine, there is a five pound deposit on each card. Just the plastic card itself is worth that. There are several stations where you can walk up to the window and just receive cash back for your almost empty card. One such station is at Heathrow Airport. I don't know where the others are. If you have just a few pounds on your Oyster, do turn it in and get a refund. If you get back seven or eight pounds, that's a take away plate of fish and chips!

Posted by
2935 posts

Ed said, "I believe that you have purchase them in advance or there seem to be some visitor centers where you can buy them."

No, you do not have to buy them in advance. And you don't have to go to a visitor center to buy them.

Oyster card machines are located everywhere in London. At Heathrow airport, Gatwick airport, just inside the entrance to all tube stations in London, and in the train stations. They will look like an American ATM machine to you.

At the Oyster card machine, follow the instructions clearly posted. Push a very large button to choose the amount you want to load onto your Oyster card. Insert your credit card or cash into the machine. The machine will spit out your brand new Oyster card. That's it. Oyster is simple to get, and simple to use. And you can get it after you arrive in London. No problem.

You will need two Oyster cards. One for you, and one for your daughter.

When you enter to ride the tube, tap in as you go through the turnstyle. Tap out as you exit the station when your ride is over.

When getting on a bus in London, tap your Oyster card on the circle-shaped pad at the top of the stairs as you enter the bus. Can't remember if I "tapped out" on the bus when exiting or not.........

Can anyone refresh my memory? I was just in London in May, and can't remember whether I did a "tap out" or not on the buses. Of course I was running a fever and pretty sick when I was there, so that could account for not remembering.

Posted by
8889 posts

Rebecca, you do not "tap out" your Oyster card on buses. You do tap in and out on trains, because train fares are dependent on distance. On buses you only tap in, the fare is "per trip". There are no exit machines on buses, if you tap again when leaving the bus you will confuse it, and may get charged twice.
The really good thing about an Oyster card is when it reaches the cost of a one day pass, it automatically stops charging you and all other journeys for the rest of the day are free.
When you tap in there is a small display on the machine that shows how much is left on the card, but it only appears for about 1-2 seconds.
You can buy an Oyster card at any tube or other rail station. You can top it at any station, and at many small shops, This is what I usually do, I see the Oyster card logo on the shop door, walk in and ask for "£20 on this card please".

I think the Oyster card is a brilliant invention, you can use Public Transport whenever and wherever (in London) you want, and it always automatically gives you the cheapest fare option. I bought mine years ago, and keep using whenever I go to London.

Posted by
1775 posts

Nigel or Philip, a bit of advice..

We were just in London and planned to top off our Oyster cards ( we just keep them from one trip to the next). Did I miss something or do the ticket machines only take credit cards or coins, not paper money? I'm always sure I'm holding things up at the ticket machine, so when I couldn't find a slot for bills, I used a credit card.

Also, even though I have a chip credit card, the tube ticket machines are the only places that accept my pin. Every other transaction with that card was a chip and signature. Most of our US credit cards operate as chip and signature, so, it would seem if you're planning to use a credit card to top off, make sure you know the PIN. There aren't as many manned ticket booths as there used to be.

Posted by
27714 posts

There are different machines, some large and some small. The smallest ones only take cards the larger ones take notes, coins and cards. The layout varies from machine to machine but the place to put notes is usually towards the top.

Imagine trying to top up £20 all in coins. You'd go crazy.

It may be that the one you used had the notes slot blocked up for some reason. It should say on the red electronic sign above what it takes.

Posted by
3491 posts

Rebecca,

Yes, IF the Oyster I have was not a Visitor Oyster I could get a refund. Since I got the Visitor Oyster instead of a regular one the deposit is non refundable and the remaining value cannot be cashed out. Reasons why the Visitor Oyster is not a good option any more. I have about 20 pence left on it anyway, so no big loss.

Posted by
2935 posts

Mark, you are right, the Visitor Oyster card is not a good deal, since they do not refund your deposit! Good advice!
Chris, thanks for the clarification on the buses and why you don't tap out.

Posted by
27714 posts

Rules

Tube/Underground
Tap in

Tap out

DLR (Docklands Light Railway)
Tap In
Tap Out

Trains which take Oyster
Tap In
Tap Out
SPECIAL RULE, if changing between types of transportation like train to DLR, train to Underground and vice versa like at Farringdon or Stratford, or Kentish Town - you have to not only tap in at the first method of travel and out at the end of the last, you also have to tap the funny pink tap pad when you are changing types. It is easier than it sounds.

Buses (only Red ones)(or Red ones painted weirdly)
Only tap once on entry

Croydon Tramlink
Only Tap In

Posted by
5259 posts

So let me ask these experts -- I came across two Oyster cards left over from our 2008 trip to London. No idea how much we left on them but probably not much. Will they still work when we return this fall?

Posted by
1775 posts

I know we've had ours since 2007, but we did use them last in 2014. When were there last month they worked fine and still had 5£ on them. On previous trips we've "topped off" with a ticket agent, but, since there wasn't one at the station, I managed to figure it out myself and it was pretty easy.

Posted by
27714 posts

Dick, they should do.

If for some reason they have fallen asleep, I am sure that a member of staff will be able to wake them up.

Posted by
3491 posts

Dick,

Probably. If they give you an error when you check them at the ticket machine, any staffed ticket window can either reset them or reissue them with the same amount on them they last had.

Posted by
8889 posts

If you create an account and register your Oyster Card at the Transport For London website, you can look up how much credit you have on your Oyster Card online.
Link here: https://oyster.tfl.gov.uk/oyster/link/0004.do
It says you can top up your card online, but you can only do this if you have a UK address (note, I said address, I have a card from a UK bank, but a non-UK address and it won't let me top up the card online!).
Another useful place to top up your card is small corner shops and newsagents. If you pass a small shop with an Oyster Crda logo on the door, just go in and top it up with cash.