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Today I travelled from Orpington to London Charing Cross. Both are National Railway stations and I bought an Anytime Day Return from a ticket machine at Orpington for £14.60.

It was only after I returned that I noticed I could have swiped in and out with an Oyster Card or contactless credit/debit card.

If I had paid using the latter method, would it have cost me the same amount?

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  • The lack of an Off-Peak Day Return fare for this relation must be because a zone 1-6 off-peak day travelcard -- which would cover the entire journey -- is only £13.10, which is more of an anomaly. The ticket machines really ought to offer those as alternatives while buying a return. (But the PAYG off-peak cap for Z1-6 is only £12.80, so card wins even there). Jun 25, 2019 at 20:39

2 Answers 2

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The Pay-As-You-Go fares you pay with Oyster or contactless are consistently cheapter than paper tickets.

According to the TfL single fare finder, the PAYG fare between Orpington and Charing Cross is £6.60 in the peak period, and £4.10 off-peak.

So you would most likely have saved around £4. If your return journey was was between 1600 and 1900, it would be less, but still a savings.

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  • What a ridiculous lack of joined up thinking. I know that is rife across the National Railway network so it shouldn’t surprise me. Thanks.
    – Darren
    Jun 25, 2019 at 20:15
  • And actually it was all off-peak so I’d have saved £6.
    – Darren
    Jun 25, 2019 at 20:16
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    @Darren: The cheaper PAYG fares are not due to "lack of joined-up thinking" but a deliberate attempt to get people away from paper tickets. Jun 25, 2019 at 20:19
  • Oh I know they do that for TFL fares. PAYG being cheaper than a travel pass for example. But this seems different by virtue of being two different systems, two different networks (National and TFL), two different pricing structures and yet the same journey.
    – Darren
    Jun 25, 2019 at 20:26
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    @Darren: Actually PAYG fares also are on different scales according to whether you use National Rail or tube/overground, with a positively byzantine set of rules for pricing journeys that combine them. (See this and weep). But the £6.60/£4.10 here is purely a NR1 fare. Jun 25, 2019 at 20:31
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No, they are not the same price, as to which is cheaper that is a complicated question.

When oyster was introduced, there was an explicit policy of making it consistently "same price or cheaper", compared to traditional rail tickets. This still applies on many journeys, for example the only traditional rail tickets for your particular journey are anytime singles and returns which are a bit more expensive than the peak oyster fares and daily travelcards which are a bit more expensive than the oyster caps.

However this policy has not applied to more recent extensions to the system. Prices have often been set at half the corresponding paper return fare, but with different peak/off-peak rules leading to some journeys being cheaper on PAYG and others being cheaper on traditional rail tickets.

And there seem to be some anomalies were oyster/contactless is significantly more expensive, Gatwick to Farringdon for example.

Further complicating matters there is the issue of railcards. Railcards cannot current be used with contactless pay as you go. Some but not all railcards can be used with oyster, however getting railcards activated on oyster has become increasingly difficult with the closure of London underground ticket offices and the discontinuation of oyster retailing at national rail ticket offices.

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