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Oyster Cards - Purchase Before or After We Arrive in England for The Best of London in 7 Days Tour

My wife and I are scheduled for The Best of London in 7 Days tour this June. I am wondering if we should buy Oyster cards prior to our trip or should we wait until we arrive in London? We will be arriving a day before our trip begins, so we should have time to purchase Oyster cards if that is the best strategy. I appreciate your suggestions. Thanks!

Posted by
5784 posts

We've arrived at Heathrow and used the underground from the airport to London. Buy your card at the tube station.

https://www.visitlondon.com/traveller-information/travel-to-london/airport/heathrow

Travelling by Tube to and from Heathrow Airport

The Piccadilly line connects Heathrow Airport to central London and
the rest of the Tube system. The Tube is cheaper than the Heathrow
Express or Heathrow Connect but it takes longer. Tube services leave
Heathrow every few minutes from approximately 5.10am (5.50am Sundays)
to 11.45pm (11.30pm Sundays).

The journey time to Piccadilly Circus is about 50 minutes. There are
three Tube stations at Heathrow Airport, serving Terminals 1-3,
Terminal 4 and Terminal 5.

Posted by
1322 posts

If you want them for the day before the trip buy them when you get there. I would put only 5 or 10 pounds on them as when we were on a RS tour that included London an Oyster card was given to us on arrival in London.

Posted by
11236 posts

When you leave London, you can return the Oyster Card you buy there for a refund of the 5 pound card fee plus whatever is left on the card.

You can't do that with the Oyster Card you buy before you arrive.

Buy it when you get to Heathrow. Or whatever your arrival airport may be. There will be machines but there will also be people there who can help. Every person needs their own Oyster Card.

Posted by
6338 posts

Bravo for going on the Best Of London tour.

First call the RS office to double check if you might be getting one on the tour.

If the answer is no then upon arrival at LHR on your flight from the left coast buy them there.

Each of your party will need their own. Use a debit or credit card at the kiosks. Easy peasy.

Have a wonderful trip! Great city!!

Posted by
1220 posts

It’s as easy as buying a soda from a vending machine to buy an Oyster card once you get there. No need to buy in advance.

Posted by
3681 posts

In my occasional experiences, staff at Underground stations can be quite helpful suggesting alternatives, etc. In bigger stations there are often attendants at the ticket machines helping the clumsy tourists push the buttons. This is a complete turn-around in attitude compared to when I first visited London a half-century ago. Credit where it is due: Cheers.

Posted by
3491 posts

You will be issued either a Travel Card or an Oyster as part of the tour for use during the tour which covers all the areas you will be going to. So your transportation needs for those days are covered.

Arriving early, an Oyster card will come in handy if you want to do any independent site seeing. Or if you want to take the Tube from the airport to near your hotel (I do this every time I am in London as the people watching is fun and the cost is less than £6). Buy the Oyster after arriving in London and put £20 or less on it which you can cash out and get all remaining funds refunded when you leave.

If you have enough contactless credit cards, one for each of you each with a unique account number, they can also probably be used in place of the Oyster and get the same rate (beware of foreign use charges though). Using a credit card may or may not work depending on who issued the card, so I find the Oyster is still the best option.

Posted by
1822 posts

One thing I'll add is the contactless credit cards "might work," which for me means just buying the Oyster card and eliminating the mystery. I don't want to be at the turnstile fumbling around with something that may not work.

And yes I'm one of those tourists getting confused at the ticketing machines. It's interesting how simple things become complicated with jet lag.

Posted by
4676 posts

All Amex cards will work though. The reason some visa and MC don't is through inept issuers.

Posted by
1220 posts

Just used a Capitol One contactless card on the tube as well as all over the UK, works perfectly.

I did run into a couple of pubs that had a £5 minimum, that was the only time I used cash or ordered two pints!

Posted by
1822 posts

Dale, I have a Capitol One but no pin number as it's not a debit card. I understand you have to have a pin? I've never used a pin number with a credit card. I wonder if I have to get a debit card and thus get a pin number?

Posted by
3491 posts

BigMike

Call Capital One and ask for the PIN for the card you have. It may or may not be needed when you are in Europe. If you are buying something and a clerk is involved, you will sign like you do here in the US. If you are using pay-at-the-pump gas, buying train tickets from a kiosk, or similar unmanned locations, it might ask for a PIN. Or it might not.

Cap One will claim that if you ever type in your PIN anywhere, the transaction becomes a cash advance. They lie. A cash advance is done at an ATM or a Foreign Exchange booth where you walk away with more cash in hand than you started with. Buying a beer at the pub and entering your PIN to pay with your credit card is not a cash advance. Can't be, and never will be. I have used my US issued credit cards with the so called cash advance PIN many times in Erope and have never been charged for a cash advance.

Posted by
1822 posts

Thanks, Mark. I just did that and got a pin number. Interesting that you shouldn't begin with 0 as that doesn't work at "some overseas locations." I'm glad I called them on the phone, although the guy at CapOne said I should only need the pin for cash advances. When I mentioned the tube he didn't understand why a pin would be needed there.

Dale, did you need a pin number for the Tube?

Is there a keypad near the turnstile where you input your pin number?

Posted by
8889 posts

Interesting that you shouldn't begin with 0 as that doesn't work at "some overseas locations."

That's an urban myth. Along with the myth that you need a 4-digit PIN.
I have a card with a PIN beginning with 0, and another with a 6-digit PIN. I have never had any problem with either card.

Posted by
8889 posts

Dale, did you need a pin number for the Tube?

Logically you can't, you just need to put the card on the reader, and it opens the gate. It would be totally impractical to have a number entry PAD at all the turnstiles. The big advantage of Oyster and contactless cards is you walk throught the gate without stopping. If you had to stop and enter a PIN, the turnstile capacity would go down from 1 person every 2-3 seconds, to 30-60 seconds per person.

Posted by
1220 posts

Nope, just tap on the the card reader. Same thing at a store or restaurant , usually for purchases under £25

There’s always confusion about PIN numbers. They’re different in the USA and Europe. When the USA went to a chip card system, we adapted Chip and Sign, I assume for all the stupid tipping we do. So, the card machines still spit out a receipt and we have to sign for larger purchases. A PIN in the USA is used to get money from an ATM, either as a withdrawal from a bank account or a cash advance from a credit card.

In Europe, they use Chip and PIN cards, the PIN is a security code that you enter on the handheld card machine rather than signing. It has nothing to do with a cash withdrawal.

Confused? It’s crazy that we can’t all be on the same system.

Contactless is wonderful and can be used for all of your purchases under £25. I did find a couple of pubs with a £5 minimum to pay by card but they weren’t in London. Of course, London prices are so high that you’re not getting a pint of beer for £1.90

Posted by
3491 posts

When I mentioned the tube he didn't understand why a pin would be needed there.

If you are talking about using the contactless card to pay for individual rides at the entry gates like you would an Oyster to badge in and out, then no, there is no PIN used. It would slow you down way too much and have a large number of locals queued up behind you getting very annoyed. The wave of the contactless card is enough to authorize a small amount that a Tube ride costs. Now, if you are purchasing an Oyster card, individual paper tickets, or something else that could cost £20 or more, then the machine you are making the purchase at may ask for a PIN. Or not. I have always made these purchases for the Tube in London with cash pounds so I don't know how the credit card part works.

Posted by
5126 posts

Just to clarify- a contactless card is not the same as a chip card. You may have a credit card with a chip in it, but it doesn't necessarily mean it is a contactless card.

You need to have symbol showing it is contactless on it as well. To see if a card features contactless technology, look for a wave-like or field symbol on either the front or the back.

Posted by
39 posts

I recommend you wait until you get there. I remember being rather stressed out about the Oyster card thing when I went over there in December but it is really very simple.

Posted by
1822 posts

Eddie Haskell...gotta love that name.

Thank you for your responses. I did look at a youtube video about purchasing an Oyster card, and it seemed idiot proof, but let's not call it that until I figure it out with jet lag. My plan at the moment is to just go contactless and if my card doesn't work, then go the Oyster.

Posted by
408 posts

We have Oyster Cards that we purchased six years ago (maybe as much as ten years ago). Are they still good? Is there a way to check online to see if they have stored value?

Posted by
11236 posts

Oyster cards don't expire.

You can register your cards online--I use the app--but you need a UK address. It should tell you your balance.

Posted by
408 posts

Unless I'm on the wrong place on their website, I won't be able to register the cards until we've had some recent usage. That's not a big deal - and I'll try to remember to get them registered after our trip so we have the account(s) for next time.

Posted by
1804 posts

Keri, you are correct. You can’t register without future use. Then you’ll be asked about a recent journey.

Finding your balance is easy when you arrive. Just go to a top up station and tap, then quickly add more if needed.

Posted by
902 posts

We are on the tour now. Today is our last day. You will get a Oyster card from your guide at the group meeting. We arrived one day prior to start of tour . Arrived at heathrow and caught the underground at airport. We bought just a one day pass and used it all day on Saturday.

If you are at the Washington Mayfair, take Piccadilly and get off at green park. Exit north side Piccadilly. Easy , 40-50 min

Posted by
11 posts

Thanks to everyone for the helpful information. We are looking forward to this trip!