Wow, after trying to figure out how transport options work in London, I feel really stupid. I spent time on the "Transport for London" sites and other sites. Very confusing. Inconsistent information--for example on tfl.gov.uk, the "single fare finder" and the "play a journey" calculators give wildly different prices for the same trip. (I've travelled all over continental Europe and always found public transport to be very easy to understand--but this time I am finding myself flustered and confused...)
But my main question: Has anyone here has figured out the optimal way to pay for local transport in London for kids?
Based on what I read in the Rick Steves book, I thought that this would be a no-brainer--just sign up a contactless credit card for everyone so that it could be used as an Oyster Card. Nice and simple! You don't have to carry anything extra, and you only get billed for what you use.
HOWEVER, I see that using a credit card as an Oyster card ONLY get the full fare adult rate! And they DO have various reduced rates for kids.
We have a 15-year old and 17-year old. What is our best strategy in paying for their transport? Should we buy actual physical Oyster Cards for them when we are there? Seems there is paperwork, they need photos, etc. Not sure how easy this is--should be be just using regular adult Oyster Cards for them? Or paying cash?
Also, am I correct in understanding that when we leave London (we're taking the Eurostar to Paris), we can turn in the Oyster Cards and get a full refund for the deposit price and also for any unused balance? And is this a quick and easy process? Or do we have to wait in line to do that? (We will have a tight connection leaving.)
If it matters, we will be in London for only five days, staying almost entirely in Zone 1. However, when we arrive we will be traveling from Heathrow in Zone 6 to our hotel in Zone 1. And also, we will be taking a day trip to Zone 6.