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purchase and top off oyster card for London

can I use my credit card to purchase and/or top off an oyster card? Or does it need to be GBP cash? can I obtain an oyster card for zones 1 and 2 at LHR? I do not expect to use it to get into the city but it will certainly need an oyster card once I checked into the apartment. I won't be staying near an underground station but I will be near Denmark Hill which appears to have various overground/rail connections to city center. Any advice about this? Thanks so much in advance.

Posted by
6841 posts

Sure you can get it at LHR and You can use a credit card. Pay heed that The oyster is so over hyped that tourists that do not ever plan on returning again to London tend to put too much money on it that they do not end up using, and complain that getting a refund is not easy if you have 10 pounds or more left on it.

Posted by
9806 posts

I have been using the same Oyster Card for years.

You can purchase it and top it off with a credit card. Topping up takes a minute. Every time you use it, the barrier will show you how much you have left. You can also go to any ticket machine, tap your card and it will show you how much you have left.

The oyster Card is good for all types of transit in London except Heathrow Express and taxis. Your overground trains are covered. It is not limited to any specific zone since it is theoretically pay as you go. (You can purchase a travel card for zones 1&2 that can be put on your Oyster Card. )

Using the Oyster Card will save you money as there is a daily cap. The fares associated with using it are cheaper than cash fares. And get it at Heathrow since you can use it to get to your apartment.

Buses do not take cash. Either Oyster Card or contactless card.

If you have a reliable contactless payment method you could use that instead of an Oyster Card but since I have never done that I can't comment.

Posted by
4898 posts

My reconditioned iPhone 5 is too old, but a more recent iPhone can function exactly as an Oyster Card. Read that here, as I can't do it!

Posted by
25771 posts

Oyster cards with PAYG pay as you go cash stored on it are not restricted to particular zones, as long as there is sufficient funds; it is a travelcard which is restricted to particular zones.

It is easy to get them confused and use the wrong name. They are quite different in use,

Posted by
5635 posts

First, GO BEARS!

Second, the answer to both questions is yes.

Third, you can use the Oyster to leave LHR if you take the Tube ( London Underground ) or what used to be called the Heathrow Connect train. It is now TFL Trains.

This link helps to explain travel from Heathrow into London using the Oyster. https://www.londontoolkit.com/travel/heathrow_connect_train.htm

Lastly, put 25 pounds on the Oyster at LHR
( remember there’s a refundable 5 pound deposit) and off you go. I’ve never gotten the refund as I return to London as often as possible. The Oyster works every time.

Posted by
421 posts

thanks everyone, for the good advice. Does anyone know if my US credit card will be charged a cash advance fee for this? Or will this read as a purchase? I would ask my credit card company but I don't think they're familiar with the oyster card.has anyone had experience with a cash advance fee (or not) when using a US credit card to purchase/load and oyster card? Again, many thanks.

Posted by
25771 posts

with most cards it is purchasing tickets so if you get extra cashback for travel you will get the extra.

check yours.

Posted by
3465 posts

If your credit card charges foreign fees for purchases outside the US, they will charge a fee for loading your Oyster. It is simply a purchase.

Oyster will allow you to get the remaining balance refunded to you at a ticket machine at any tube station once you are done traveling through London. In order for that to work, you have to have less than £10 on it. If you have over £10 left, you will need to send in your Oyster and they will send you a check in Pounds for the remaining amount. Or just keep it for your next visit to London as the funds never expire.

Oysters are not limited to zones. You will pay up to the daily cap for journeys within whatever zones you enter and exit through, so if you only visit zones 1 & 2, that is the cap you will see used for your journeys that day. The good thing about Oyster that is not true of passes is that if you do happen to stray outside the expected zones, it will charge you the proper cost and let you go on provided you have enough on your Oyster.

Edit: Removed outdated info about Oyster. All now agrees with what TfL has posted on their site.

Posted by
421 posts

so… 5 GBP required as a deposit for the oyster card. I assume the deposit would not be counted as credit left on one's oyster card when one checks the balance going through a turnstile, correct? In other words, if the balance reads 7 GBP that means I have 7 GBP to use on transportation +5 GBP refundable deposit? That would make a total of 12 GBP on the oyster card. If I turn it in for a refund at that time I can only be refunded 10 GBP on the spot, correct? So I would lose to GBP on the transaction. I know this is probably straightforward but it's all new to me. I understand I can receive a check in GBP but don't think that will do me much good as my bank here cannot take foreign-currency. Again, many thanks for all your help.

Posted by
25771 posts

Note that that is no more than £10 in PAYG credit plusthe £5 deposit.

On a "normal" PAYG Oyster (Pay As You Go).

If it is a "Visitor" Oyster you don't get the £3 deposit back.

Posted by
421 posts

Thanks, Nigel! So let's see if I have this right: if I have 10 GBP credit left at the time I would turn in the card I would get 15 GBP back? As obvious as this seems I have found that sometimes what seems obvious is not always the case so just checking again. Thank you so much for your help Nigel.

Posted by
25771 posts

that's what it says

Also - I don't know this first hand but there has been a report here that the same method of topping up has to be used throughout the life of the Oyster in order to receive the money back in cash. That's not what the rules say, but it might be worth doing it in case it is correct.

Posted by
18911 posts

One other limitation on refunds that was mentioned in (I think) a different thread quite recently: It seems that you cannot get a refund if there is an open travel card (7-day pass, for example) loaded on the Oyster Card. So you wouldn't want to put a weekly pass on the Oyster too close to the end of the trip; you need to be sure the pass will expire before the time you intend to ask for a refund.

Posted by
421 posts

Thank you Nigel and acraven. I think I'm actually beginning to understand this and see how it works. So again, many, many thanks.

Posted by
3465 posts

Thinking about what I know of Oyster, I decided it was time to refresh my memory so I read up on all things Oyster again in preparation for my upcoming visit to London. I was wrong on several things. Here is the correct info as found on the TfL web site.

  1. The fee for an Oyster card is £5. Doesn't matter if it is Visitor or Regular. This was changed in September 2017.
  2. The fee for a Regular Oyster is refundable along with the remaining balance.
  3. Visitor Oysters are now refundable, minus the £5 fee.
  4. Combining payment types no longer restricts refunds.
  5. Refunds can only be given after 48 hours from the first use of the Oyster.

Sorry for misinformation I provide. I guess I should follow my own advice and only comment on things based on current and verified details, not on things the way they were at some point in the past.

Posted by
623 posts

I'm just home - as of last evening - from 8 days in London. I took along an Oyster card I bought in 2015, and also used last year. I couldn't remember how much PAYG money was left on it. At my first opportunity I checked at a ticket machine and found the balance was £7.50, so I topped it up with £30. Generally I just load an Oyster with PAYG funds and vaguely remember that if I don't stray outside Zones 1-2 I won't be charged more than £6.80 per day for all my rides on TfL (buses and tube).

But this time - partly because I was reading this very discussion one evening in my hotel room - I did something new. I registered my Oyster card on TfL's website. BTW you can't register an Oyster card if it hasn't been recently used so I registered it about mid-point in my stay. Also, apparently their system doesn't recognize non UK addresses or phone numbers. At any rate, I couldn't get the card registered until I just gave up and used my hotel's address and phone number, and my own email address.

With a registered Oyster card, you can sign in and review up to 8 months' worth of details of card use, charges, and top-up transactions. There's sometimes a bit of a posting lag, 24 to 48 hours. This morning here at home, I signed into my Oyster card account and was able to see, and download in . csv and .pdf formats, my journey statement. Yep, I didn't go outside zones 1-2, and I used the tube and buses enough that my total for each day was the max of £6.80. The statement has timestamped info on each of my Tube and bus journeys, although of course since you just tap in on buses and not out, it's just the time I boarded a bus that's noted. I suppose this is all a little geeky, but I've printed the pdf version of my journey statement because it's a nice little record that has already helped jog my memory of my movements around London. And I have a record, for I hope a future trip, that the card balance is £23.60. Spendthrift that I am, I see that I topped it up over-generously on Sunday 11 November.

Just to be clear, you absolutely do not have to register an Oyster card to use it. I did it because I had time and a good internet connection, and was curious. Millions of Londoners never bother, according to this story: https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/2018/04/millions-of-londoners-using-unregistered-oyster-cards---heres-why-you-should-register-yours/

Posted by
1402 posts

That's interesting Sue, thanks!
I'm leaving soon for a few days in London.
Last night I tried to register an old card from, I think, 2011 or so.
It didn't reject my address, but I couldn't register the actual card as it hadn't been used within the past 8 weeks.
I did create an account though, so I'll add the number of the card in after I've used it.

Posted by
421 posts

thank you Mark and Suz and C Jackson,
I very much appreciate all of your help. I happen to call my credit card company (Chase) on another matter today and they told me that a plan was in the works to issue contactless credit cards. They said the personal cards would be the 1st to offer this feature and then the business cards. Of course, they could not give me a start date for any of this but I thought this information might be useful for anyone reading up on the subject in the travel forum. My understanding from previous reading was that this would work just like the oyster card (scan it in and out of the underground, scan it when entering a bus, and that the maximum per day (per zone/time/etc.) would be the same as with the oyster card. Anyone know if this is correct? Again, many thanks

Posted by
1402 posts

That sounds right, but remember if you use a card from outside the UK, your bank might be charging you a fee each time!
So maybe not a good idea to use a Canadian or American debit or credit card as a way of paying on tap in -tap out European transport , till you've checked with your bank at home.

Posted by
3222 posts

We just add £20 or so upon arrival at LHR and top off as needed.

S Jackson - this is what I was sent in 2015 in an email reply when I tried to register my Oyster.
“As you’re already aware you won’t be able to register your Oyster card online using your address in the United States, as the system will only accept a UK address.

You can however, for the purposes of registering the Oyster card use our address.

14 Pier Walk
London
SE100ES

Please be aware that when using a non UK computer you may not be able to view your journey history and you won’t be able to make any purchases online as the system will only accept a UK billing address and payment card.”

Posted by
25771 posts

If you use a contactless card the individual trips aren't billed to the card until the end of the day when they are combined and one charge (bearing in mind the daily cap) is put through.

So if your card makes UK transaction charges, you only get one per day instead of one per trip.

Posted by
421 posts

A new wrinkle may have just appeared I was just told by Chase that they intend to roll out contactless credit cards, possibly within a year or even sooner. Show my new question is this: where are use it exactly the same way that I would use an OYSTER card? It seems this would be simpler as it appears no deposit would be required and I would not have to top Off the card. So if this is doable and I My bank does not charge Foreign transaction fees it seems like this might be the best way to go. Any suggestions?

Posted by
4528 posts

Yes it could possibly do, although some non UK issued cards don't work. More problems with MasterCard than Visa. Amex all should work.

Posted by
12355 posts

I have been using the same Oyster Card for years, almost a decade now, it always has money on it, ie, loaded, when I leave London so that it can be used for the next visit to London.

To top up the card I use both cash and the credit card. Be sure you're standing in front of the correct machine for this transaction, some take only cash, ie, bills, some take credit cards but not all. Numerous machines at Kings Cross St. Pancras.

Posted by
3173 posts

Does anyone know if my US credit card will be charged a cash advance
fee for this? Or will this read as a purchase?

If you use your credit card AS A CREDIT CARD for the Oyster card (or any other purchase), then this isn't a cash advance thus no fee. FYI, never use a credit card to get cash whether in the US or overseas.

Posted by
421 posts

thanks again, everyone! And I agree wholeheartedly with continental: never, ever, ever use your credit card for cash advance. for my US based cards this would include gas stations in France where you insert your card and then must enter a pin number as well. Other than that, do not use your credit card to get cash. An ATM/debit card should work fine.

Posted by
8889 posts

this would include gas stations in France where you insert your card and then must enter a pin number as well.

No, entering a PIN does not make it a cash advance. It is a normal credit card transaction. The PIN is the normal way of verifying in Europe - I can't remember the last time I signed a piece of paper for a credit card transaction.

Posted by
12355 posts

If one buys a ticket in Germany from a DB machine using a US credit card, you do have to enter your PIN in order to complete the transaction. (Ihr Vorgang wird bearbeitet.)

Posted by
421 posts

To Chris: my US-based credit cards (Chase) are not pin and chip. They are signature and chip. I know it is different for European credit cards which are true pin and chip cards. With my US based credit cards I was told that if I must enter a pin number the transaction I would be charged as a cash advance. The 1st Chase agent I talked to said no, there would be no cash advance fee. But I persisted, having dealt with this before. I asked to speak to a manager who confirmed that the agent was correct and that no, this would not incur a cash advance fee. I asked her (nicely, of course) to see if she could verify this. A few minutes later she came back on the phone and said "oops!" She had double checked with her supervisors and they had told her that yes, indeed my chip and signature card would in fact be charged a cash advance fee if I were to put in the pin number at the gas station. Ergo, we could not use our credit card at an automated gas pump without incurring the horrendous cash advance fee. I have found that often in France in grocery stores for instance I would insert my card into the chip reader and there would be no problem. A pin number was not required. To Fred: I did, one time need to enter my pin number for my credit card at a rail station in order to pick up a ticket but, as the ticket had been previously paid I was not charged an additional fee. I thank both of you for your input. It can be very confusing about credit cards when it comes to US versus European cards. Hopefully, the US banks will start issuing real pin and chip cards soon.

Posted by
12355 posts

Hi,

I don't believe that in using an American chip and signature credit card at a Deutsche Bahn machine I was charged a extra fee since I had to enter the credit card's PIN so that the transaction would be completed. Buying a point to point ticket from a DB machine, I pay cash or with a credit card.

The one noted difference when using a credit card you'll see on the screen "2 Beleg" meaning two pieces of paper will be dropping into the light flashing ticket slot, ie, the ticket itself and the receipt on which credit card type (MC or VIsa) used is indicated along with the amount.