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For the first time and/or occasional visitor to London it can be very confusing to understand not only the differences between the Travelcard, Oyster Card and Contactless payment but which is best under given circumstances. To understand the basics please read our two relevant pages, for Travelcards, Contactless cards and for Oyster Cards.
On this page we will go through some of the main differences and explain when you might want to use one over the other.
First and foremost the main difference is a Travelcard requires a one off fee and is valid for the exact days you specify. An Oyster Card holds your credits and is only debited when it is used. So if your dates of travel within London are flexible or on non-consecutive days an Oyster card is likely to be your best. Even more so when you remember the main cost saving benefits for the Oyster Card are for single journeys or travel on one particular day. All single cash fares (that's where you pay for an individual journey on a one-off basis) are cheaper if you pay with an Oyster or Contactless Card. For example an adult single fare on the tube using zones 1-6 is £6, but pay with Oyster or Contactless and you are debited either £5.10 peak or £3.10 off-peak (09.30 till 04.29, weekends and public holidays) , that's the single journey benefit.The next designed advantage for the Oyster is its daily caps. This means that you keep making journeys using London's transport system and paying each individual time but once the amount you have paid in total for the whole day hits the cap rate you will not be charged any more for any journey that day. This daily fare cap is set at BELOW the 1 day travelcard.

So why would you ever you ever buy a 1 day Travelcard instead of an Oyster Card?
Firstly because their are inconveniences involved with an Oyster card. You have to pay a £5 deposit balance and to claim this back will need to take the time to claim it back at ticket office if the total left on the card is less than £5 and fill out a form and wait for a cheque if its more. You can also get your money back by sending the card to the Oyster helpline.
Secondly you can only use the Oyster Card where the station has the reading machines fitted. Currently this excludes a large number of National Rail Stations that are within London, these are known as London connections. Mostly these are to the south of London.
To see all national rail stations within London that are covered and not covered see map >>>here.
So if you will be using parts of the national rail network without Oyster PAYG then you need a travelcard. Please note this is not something that affects the tube or London overground, it is only an issue with the national rail stations.
Thirdly currently there are a number of special offers, especially 2for1 offers, for holders of Travelcards and other types of paper tickets. These are specifically for attractions and places of interest in London. If any of these offers are something you could benefit from then the Travelcard becomes the best option. Please note however only paper Travelcards issued by a rail station (thats the national railway overground train system) and have the rail logo on it (it looks like Crows feet ) are valid for 2for1 promotions (i.e London underground issued travelcards wont be valid). Cards bought from rail stations are valid for the same areas and stations as those bought from a tube station. Also you can only visit the attractions on days your Travelcard is valid for. If you are purchasing a 7 day or longer travelcard make sure you purchase it from a rail station and are issued with a paper ticket. 7 day+ from tube stations come on an Oyster card.
Its also worth noting that paper rail network tickets from Gatwick, Stansted and Luton Airport Parkway stations will also be valid for this promotion for the day of travel.
>>>See list of 2 for 1 offers in London
Fourthly there's the security angle. If you Travelcard is lost or stolen you've lost your money. If you have an Oyster Card and register it, then you can claim the money back that was left on the card if its lost or stolen.
Fifthly there's a benefit to having a Travelcard ON your Oyster card. When you store a travelcard on your Oyster card and do away with the need for a paper ticket you are covered for lost or stolen cards but also gain the advantage of being able to juggle both payment types. If you have a Travelcard for a limited number of zones, if you find you have need to travel into a different zone you will be automatically charged at the Oyster cheaper rate for that journey which would not be covered by the Travelcard. Using your Oyster this way means you can still use it at National rail stations without PAYG as an normal Travelcard. Don't forget you can actually load a Travelcard onto an Oyster card. However Travelcards loaded onto an oyster card are not valid for 2for1 promotions.

7 Day Travelcard
7 days and more are called season tickets and they are only issued on an Oyster Card if you purchase one from a tube station (rail stations issue paper travelcards). So once you go for the 7 day+ option you'll have an Oyster card anyway if you purchase from a tube/underground station. However you will still need to add credit to the Oyster separate from the Travelcard if you you want to use it outside the travel limits of the Travelcard. These cards offer good value when compared to Oyster 1 day caps x7. See the table below for a comparison.

Tube, DLR and London Overground
  Oyster/Contactless Daily Price Cap Day Travelcard
Zones: Peak Off-Peak Monday to Sunday
(contactless only
weekly cap)
*Anytime Off-Peak
Zone 1 £6.60 £6.60 £33 £12.30 £12.30
Zones 1-2 £6.60 £6.60 £33 £12.30 £12.30
Zones 1-3 £7.70 £7.70 £38.70 £12.30 £12.30
Zones 1-4 £9.50 £9.50 £47.30 £12.30 £12.30
Zones 1-5 £11.20 £11.20 £56.20 £17.50 £12.30
Zone 1-6 £12 £12 £60.20 £17.50 £12.30
Zone 2 £6.60 £6.60 £24.70 £12.30 £12.30
Zone 2-3 £7.70 £7.70 £24.70 £12.30 £12.30
Zone 2-6 £12 £12 £41.20 £17.50 £12.30

Child (11-15 years)
Tube, DLR and London Overground
  Oyster/Contactless Daily Price Cap Day Travelcard
Journeys in: Peak Off-Peak *Anytime Off-Peak
Zone 1 £3.30 £1.50 £6.10 £6.10
Zones 1-2 £3.30 £1.50 £6.10 £6.10
Zones 1-3 £3.85 £1.50 £6.10 £6.10
Zones 1-4 £4.75 £1.50 £6.10 £6.10
Zones 1-5 £5.60 £1.50 £8.70 £6.10
Zone 1-6 £6 £1.50 £8.70 £6.10
Zone 2 £3.30 £1.50 £6.10 £6.10
Zone 2-3 £3.85 £1.50 £6.10 £6.10
Zone 2-6 £6 £1.50 £8.70 £6.10
16-18 Years
You must have a 16+ Oyster photocard to get:
7 Day, Monthly and longer period Travelcards at child rate
Half the adult rate when you pay as you go on Tube, DLR and London Overground
You can also get 34 per cent off the off-peak daily price caps if you also have a 16-25 National Railcard
You do not need an Oyster card to pay cash single fares or to buy Day Travelcards

*PEAK: (Monday to Friday from 04:30 till 09:29)
**OFF-PEAK: (Weekends, Public Holidays, Monday to Friday from 09:30 till 04:29 the next day) 

Day Travelcard 2018
  Anytime   Off-Peak
  Adult Child Adult Child
Zone 1 or 1+2 £12.30 £6.10    
Zones 1-3 £12.30 £6.10    
Zones 1-4 £12.30 £6.10 - -
Zones 1-5 £17.50 £8.70 £12.30 £6.10
Zones 1-6 £17.50 £8.70 £12.30 £6.10
Zone 2 only £12.30 £6.10    
Zones 2-3 £12.30 £6.10    
Child is ages 11-15
Under 11s travel free, 11+ need their own travel ticket
Off-peak Not valid weekdays before 9.30am
Day Anytime can be used at any time on the day of validity and for any journey that starts before 04:30 the following day.
Travelcard Season Ticket 2018
Adult 7 Day Monthly Annual
  Adult Child Adult Child Adult Child
Zone 1 £33 £16.50 £126.80 £63.40 £1320 £660
Zones 1-2 £33 £16.50 £126.80 £63.40 £1320 £660
Zones 1-3 £38.70 £19.40 £148.70 £74.50 £1548 £776
Zones 1-4 £47.30 £23.70 £181.70 £91.10 £1892 £948
Zones 1-5 £56.20 £28.10 £215.90 £108 £2248 £1124
Zones 1-6 £60.20 £30.10 £231.20 £115.60 £2408 £1204
Zones 1-7 £65.40 £32.70 £251.20 £125.60 £2616 £1308
Zones 1-8 £77.30 £38.70 £296.90 £148.70 £3092 £1548
Zones 1-9 £85.70 £42.90 £329.10 £164.80 £3428 £1716
Child fares are11-15 zip fares
Tube, DLR and London Overground - Child fares
under 16's charged at child rate when presenting a Oyster Photocard
Under-5s free. Must be accompanied by someone using a valid ticket, Oyster PAYG or has a freedom pass.
5 to 10yrs free, must have a 5-10 Oyster Photocard if unaccompanied
5 to 10yrs free, but maximum of 4 per adult with a valid ticket if the children have no 5-10 Oyster photocard.
11 to 15yrs pay child rate when using an Oyster Photocard

Buses and Trams - Child Fares
under 16's free.
Under-5s Must be accompanied by someone using a valid ticket, Oyster PAYG or has a freedom pass.
5 to 10yrs free, do not need to be accompanied, do not need a ticket or Oyster Photocard
11 to 15yrs free when using an Zip Oyster Photocard
Those 16 to 18-year-olds in full-time education or on a work-based learning scheme and live in a London borough can travel free on buses and trams with a 16+ Oyster photocard (also gives 50% discount on adult rate on Tube, DLR and London Overground services and  Travelcard season tickets)
18+ students in full-time education and attending colleges or schools registered with TfL are eligible for 18+ Student Oyster photocards to buy Bus & Tram Pass and Travelcard season tickets at 30% off the adult-rate.
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