I will be staying in London for 10 days in March 2014 and I'm wondering which card makes the most sense ... Oyster Card or Travel Card ... or a combination of both. I have read things online but would like some personal opinions. There will be two of us travelling and we will be going to all of the tourist sites and making some day trips outside of London. If it makes a difference, we are both seniors.
Maybe both. A lot depends on how much you think you'll use the TfL services (Underground, DLR, buses). You could get an Oyster card, load a 7 day zone 1&2 travel card on it. Then add some cash balance to cover any trips that are out of Zone 1-2. Of course, this leaves 3 days with no travel card. You could buy individual ones for those days, but I am not sure if you can load 1 day cards onto the Oyster card. You could just do PAYG for those 3. Again, depends on how much you are really gonna use it. You may find that you don't take enough trips every single day to hit the cap.
The Oyster card is really a method of payment. It is a plastic card and works like a pre-paid Visa, but it is just for London transportation. You can get them at Tube stations, including Heathrow. You can 'load' it with Pay-As-You-Go cash (Paygo) or daily, or multi-day travel cards or a mixture. When you use paygo cash, it will automatically calculate the least expensive amount for that day's travel. In other words, you'll never pay more than a single day travel card. Accepted on all London Transport- buses and tube. Easy to use- just be sure to tap in AND out on the tube and only in on buses. And you can get your deposit and any unused paygo cash back when you turn it in at the end of your stay.
The plus to PAPER travel cards, issued ONLY BY BRITISH NATIONAL RAIL stations (not Tube stations), it that it can get you 2-for-1 (241) discounts at some tourist sites, some restaurants, etc. You can purchase daily or 7 day paper travel cards. For the 7 day cards, you also need a special (free) ID card that they will make for you- but YOU must provide a passport sized photo (head shot). It does not have to be passport quality. You can even print them out on regular paper at home ahead of you trip (or get free ones made if you are AAA members), or there are photo booths in some National Rail locations where you can have them made rather cheaply. You must pass these cards through a 'reader' on the tube turnstiles (be sure to get it back each time) as you enter and exit the tube. I've not used the buses, but I think you just show them to the driver.
It will help you to decide whether or not it'll be a savings for you, if you look at this website www.daysoutguide.co.uk/ You decide which offers you might want to take advantage of. You can print out the 'vouchers' at home so that you have them with you. Some stations will have booklets of them, but they do run out occasionally. You can save a good bit on admission prices and meals with this- IF you were going to 'do' these activities anyway.
As for day trips by train, be sure to check out advance purchase rail tickets. You can get some real savings that way. Bath, York, and other destinations have very expensive 'day of' tickets, but about 12 weeks prior to the day of travel, you can get extremely cheap tickets. The drawback to that is you are committing to a specific train, specific time and specific day of travel. We used to use BritRail Passes because we liked the flexibility to change our plans according to weather, etc. But if you know where and when you are doing your day trips, you could really save money with the advance purchases. BritRail passes are NOT the bargain they used to be. You might find this site helpful in your planning http://www.rail.co.uk/
In case you are still decided on which day trips to do, here is a link to an article I wrote for Trip Advisor about my favorite London activities and train day trips
Thank you so much for all the information. I will definitely check out the websites you recommended, Toni, and your article.