Oyster card or contactless? London’s travel payment options


ubiquitous when it comes to getting about the capital. That said, it’s dominance is now being threatened by the opportunities for contactless payments as an alternative. That is, the ability to use one’s bank-issued credit or debit card to do exactly the same thing. And this is because the majority of such cards come with a chip in them that can be read wirelessly when touched down on a contactless enabled reader (i.e. the round, yellow-coloured surface of an Oyster card reader).


Where can you make a contactless payment?

At the present time, you can make contactless payments on London buses, the London Underground (the Tube), tram, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), London Overground trains, the Emirates Air Line, river buses and most National Rail services in London; moreover, all black taxis you might hail and catch in the city accept contactless payments, so long as the fare works out as less than £30 (note, though, that black taxis are entirely separate from Transport for London (TfL) services and are in no way connected to them)

Advantages of contactless payments

  • You can use a card you already own – if you own a credit card wherever it was supplied in the world (and it supports TfL contactless and there’s a good chance it automatically will), using it for contactless payments will ensure your London travel’s very convenient; so, no need to top up an Oyster card (nor pay the £5 deposit when you pick one up)


  • Weekly fare cap – unlike on an Oyster, contactless payments supports TfL’s weekly capping initiative; now while both payment types support daily capping (i.e. you won’t have to pay more for travel than should you have alternatively bought a day travelcard), contactless alone supports the seven-day Monday-Sunday cap

  • No topping up – again, unlike for an Oyster card, as contactless payments obviously don’t operate as a preload system, you don’t need to top up your credit or debit card with ‘travel credit’; all either requires for tapping in and out is ordinary bank/ card account credit.

Where can you use an Oyster card?

Operational on every kind of public transport option that contactless payments are, Oyster is pretty universal throughout capital; although, unlike the latter, you can’t use Oyster cards to pay for the city’s non-TfL black taxis (wherever you hail and pick one up; outside one of the hotels near Westbourne Terrace or anywhere else).

Advantages of Oyster cards

  • Ability to keep a check on your spending – Oyster’s a great option if you’re concerned about how much you’re spending during a visit to the capital (and perhaps your stay at an affordable but well-appointed accommodation like a Grand central hotel London), precisely because it requires you to load it up with credit every so often; thus, ensuring you can set a limit for yourself

  • Combines with travelcards – the Oyster card is, however, pretty versatile; don’t go away with the idea it’s not because it supports these time-sensitive weekly, daily or annual payment pre-paid options (travelcards enable you to pay a certain amount for unlimited travel inside specific London travel zones).