The advice to visitors to London always used to be to procure an Oyster card. Given that Transport for London now accept (in fact, have accepted for a while) Contactless credit/debit cards (and Apple Pay) on buses, tubes, the DLR, etc, is there any advantage to a regular/commuter user - or a visitor - of still using/owning an Oyster card? The only advantages I can identify are:

  • You need to buy monthly or longer travel cards, which aren't supported using contactless payment.
  • You come from a country or use a bank that doesn't support contactless payment.
  • An Oyster card can be topped up with cash, if you prefer to/need to pay that way.
  • Only Oyster cards support emailing PDF statements of travel to the user on a monthly basis.

Are there any other reasons to keep using Oyster?

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    For me: if you have teenage relatives coming in from abroad all the time, you can 'loan' them your Oyster in the line of being a generous uncle or what-have-you. You only need to top it up before they arrive and only for a week or so.
    – Gayot Fow
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 18:33
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    The second point is a huge one. If you are not based in the UK, it means not having to worry about compatibility, exchange rates, fees, etc.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 20:11
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    Lots of relevant stuff on this already at Is an OysterCard worth it for occasional 1-day visits from outside London? Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 22:48
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    Advantage for me: You don't automatically sell where you are and where you travel to/from to some big financial or technical company...
    – dirkk
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 10:32
  • @Relaxed My Swiss Mastercard Prepaid works wonders for contactless, just as a data point
    – Crazydre
    Commented Aug 26, 2017 at 20:31

7 Answers 7


Weekly travelcard: Contactless weekly travelcard is only from Monday to Sunday, so if you arrive and leave mid-week, you might get better rates if you still get an Oyster card, and buy a weekly travelcard on that.

On the other hand it might still be cheaper if you don't intend to travel every day for 7 days to just use your Contactless and use the daily capping rates. Also, if you start your journey after 9:30 every day inside zones 4-6, and do this at least twice in a week then you're eligible for the (not really advertised) reduced off-peak day rate, which you get as a refund. Getting this refund to an Oyster card as a visitor is usually not possible, as you have to get back to the UK and touch in, but for contactless they can simply just refund to your card, even when you're long gone.

Boat services: There used to be a difference between Oyster and Card fares on the Boat services as only Oyster was accepted for discounted fares, but as of 2017 both Oyster and Contactless users can get the discounted fare.

Buses and trams: There used to be some slight differences on some heritage bus services where Contactless was not available and there were some bus/tram connections in South London where the Oyster price was slightly cheaper than the Contactless one. As of 2017 these differences have been abolished by the new Bus Hopper fare.

Banking costs: See @JoErNanO's answer about potential foreign banking costs associated with Contactless cards

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    Important and non-obvious subtlety on the mid-week thing, good point! Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 22:33
  • Marking this answer as accepted as it broadly summarises most of the key issues. Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 12:43

Transaction Fees for Foreign Cards

If your bank charges you a fee, as well as a percentage, for every transaction you make in a foreign currency, you could save quite a bit by topping up an oyster card once every so often as opposed to using a contactless payment card every day. For example my bank charges me 3€ + 2% for each non Euro transaction. This would mean paying an extra 3€ for every day that I use TfL services (you are charged at the end of the day when using contactless cards). In my case I'd rather have an oyster card and pay those fees just sporadically.

Visa's Might not Work

Last time I went to London I tried using my two French bank cards. As it turns out neither of then work because they're Visa, and TfL's contactless payment system doesn't quite support them. MasterCard's on the other hand should work seamlessly. Therefore here's another advantage to using Oyster cards: no need to worry about incompatible contactless cards. Quoting from the linked TfL webpage on foreign cards:


Some Visa and V PAY contactless payment cards from countries issued outside the UK are not accepted for contactless travel. Visa expects all its contactless payment cards to be accepted soon.

If you travel in London regularly, we suggest you contact your issuer and ask for a new contactless payment card (newer cards have the latest technology and should be accepted).

You Can't Lend your Contactless Card

Also, as noted by Gayot whose comment I shamelessly stole, you can always lend your anonymous oyster card to someone else (this is allowed as per tfl terms and conditions). You can't really do that with your payment card.

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    Also note that even without fees banks rarely give out the best exchange rates (unless you have a GBP account). My own bank is ~1.5% more expensive than the best cash exchange in the city, which means I could save 1.5% by topping up an Oyster card with cash.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 20:06
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    @JonathanReez that's not been my experience. Most credit card providers (I don't know about debit cards), at least in the UK, will give far better rates than cash, since they are using the standard interbank rate. The standard answer (travel.stackexchange.com/a/151/2555) seems to agree. That all assumes there aren't fees on top, though, as JoErNanO highlights. Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 22:32
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    @AndrewFerrier at least in Czech Republic every single bank is slightly worse than exchanging cash. Not sure how the situation is in other countries.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 22:52
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    Note: You cannot lend Oyster cards that have attached bonuses/discounts on them, such as railcards, travelcard+s, etc.
    – insidesin
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 11:58

One of the issues that could be encountered when using Apple Pay or Google Wallet for your contactless travel is when your device runs out of battery after you've started a journey - you will not be able to "tap out" and then will be charged the full penalty fare.

Most devices with contactless payment are still relatively new, but we all know that with time, our trusty phone batteries last shorter and shorter. If you forget to charge your device at work and get an important call on the overland on the way home that you just have to take, you might have some trouble at the end of your journey.

  • This is a very good point that I doubt many users have thought of!
    – shearn89
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 12:40
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    Travel tip: bring a portable charger
    – Jonathan
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 19:08

There are a number of discounts that are only available on Oyster - you can get these discounts loaded up on an Oyster card and they are then automatically applied at the ticket gate, but this can't be done for contactless cards.

For a regular commuter, most importantly there's also the Annual Gold Card discount. You get this for having any annual season ticket within the Annual Gold Card area. So for example if you live outside the Oyster zones you might buy a season ticket to London Terminals and then pay for your onward TfL travel with Oyster.

You won't get any discount in the morning peak, but if you work outside Zone 1 then you'll get one in the evening peak because you'll be travelling from outside Zone 1 to your Zone 1 terminal station and so it'll count as an off-peak journey, and you'll definitely get an discount at off-peak times e.g. if travelling at weekends.

You still need to work out whether it's better for your particular journey to buy a separate rail-only season ticket or to include a travelcard in your season ticket - this will vary depending on your exact circumstances.


You can buy and use Oyster cards without registering them, so they allow you to travel anonymously, i.e., without giving a corporation the (immediate) ability to link your motion profile with your identity. (Of course, other factors might make it possible to predict your identity with some accuracy anyway.)


You can link up your railcard(cetain type only) and oyster card to get extra 1/3 off for off-peak trip. Contactless payment cannot do so


I don't understand the point of using your credit card instead of an Oyster card. You're just introducing more weight on the card and more reasons to lose it. I top my Oyster up with £20 and that lasts me a week+, no worries getting my debit card in and out all the time. The argument that it's faster to use your debit card is naught. If you walk up the elevators once a fortnight, you will essentially be cutting the amount of time it takes to top up for that period.

This might be because I don't care about having an extra card in my wallet (hey, they can hold tens of them).

Not to mention, railcards make HUGE discounts on off-peak travel (which I still do a lot, even though I work full time). This doesn't just apply to a select amount of consumers either, pretty much anyone can.

I firmly disagree that paying with 'contactless' cards is any better than an oyster card.

  • You can also top up on-line to avoid queues.
    – algiogia
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 13:01
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    For people who are only in London occasionally and don't want to have to remember to take a Oyster card or have an unused balance on a Oyster card, then a contactless card would work better. I currently can't get an Oyster discount, by the time I will get one next, TfL will probably have introduced the discounts on the contactless system. Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 13:52
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    Some people do care about those extra cards. Railcards apply to a lot of people, but not everyone (for example, those commute by tube/DLR/bus/etc., or live in London but aren't regular commuters). It may not be better for you, but there are plenty of people who do benefit from it :) Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 13:54
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    When you say 'railcard', do you mean railcard (National Rail) or travelcard (TfL)? Note that plenty of Londoners (although probably not the majority) don't have either (myself included). Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 18:42
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    I mean national railcard. I know that many don't have either, many of Londoners are also lazy, wealthy and a lot are silly. "Omg this train's delayed 30s!??!?", then they proceed to lazily stand on the escalators instead of getting free exercise and walking up. I don't understand London mentality... maybe because I only moved here recently.
    – insidesin
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 8:17

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