So you’ve bought your Oyster card and used up your initial credit. What now? TfL provide a wide range of methods to top up the balance on your card. Which you use depends largely on your circumstances.
For regular travellers this is probably the best option. Once set up you will never need to worry about running out of credit again. You can choose to add either £20 or £40 every time the balance on your card falls below £20. Whenever you start a journey and the balance is below £20 you will hear an extra few beeps as you touch in and your balance will be increased by your selected amount. This even happens on buses and trams. When the oyster reader transfers its transactions to the central system your credit or debit card is debited with the amount. This is what you need to do to set it up:
- If you haven’t already done so, you need to create an account on the Oyster website. Then you need to associate the card with that account.
- Select “Top up or buy season ticket” under Payment actions.
- Choose “Pay as you go with auto top-up” and select an amount to top-up immediately (between £20 and £50 in £5 multiples) and the amount to auto top-up later (either £20 or £40).
- Click on “Next Page” twice, then enter your payment details.
- Your order will be available 30 minutes later and remain available for 4 days. After that time it will be cancelled and your money refunded. See the section on Faster Universal Load below.
- You will receive an email confirming your order.
- Simply touch in at the start of a normal journey. The immediate top-up will be added to your card and auto top-up will be activated. Unless the station was a tram stop you must remember to touch out again at the end of the journey.
- You will receive another email confirming that your order has been picked up.
If you don’t want to use auto top-up for whatever reason, especially if you use your card infrequently, then there are a number of places to manually add credit.
- Oyster ticket stop shops.
- Ticket machines at Tube, DLR, Overground, TfL Rail and National Rail stations.
- Online at the Oyster website. Follow the same steps 1-8 above, but choose “Pay as you go” and select an amount to top-up (you can also add £5/£10/£15 if not adding auto top-up).
- Online using the TfL Oyster app. Select Top up, choose an amount to add (£10 – £50 in £5 multiples) and press Pay now. The same conditions as step 5 above apply for picking up.
If you top-up at a ticket machine then you need to remember that it is a two stage process. First place your card on the reader which will confirm the balance and any tickets held. Then select add top-up and either insert the money or pay on a credit/debit card. Finally place the card on the reader again so that the top-up can be added to the card. After the second touch you will get any change returned or a receipt if paid by card.
If you pay by card then the transaction will be authorised after you enter your PIN. If you forget to touch again to get the top-up added then this authorisation will remain and may appear as if the money has been taken. It hasn’t, and the authorisation will drop off 2-3 business days later when TfL will have failed to charge the debit to your bank.
Faster Universal Load (FUL)
FUL is the name of the system used to transfer topups, refunds and products to Oyster cards when the request is generated remotely from the card. The system uses two lists to manage requests so that the main list doesn’t get too long but requests can remain active for up to six months. Unlike the original system where the request was sent to a named station or tramstop, each Oyster card can have multiple items listed to be sent to it.
The main list is sent to every station, tramstop and bus. The amount of topup/refund, or travelcard/bus pass will be added as soon as the Oyster card is touched on a reader as part of a journey (can be entry, exit or interchange). Items remain on the main list for three whole days, plus the hours between request and midnight when the customer orders the topup or product. At the end of that time the item is deleted from the main list. If it was generated by the customer ordering topup or a product then that order is cancelled and refunded back to the customer. If it was an automatically generated adjustment or refund then the item moves to the reserve list. This is because TfL can’t be certain how the item could be refunded.
The reserve list is held on the central database and is checked every time a card touch is received by the central system. Once a match has been made the item is transferred back to the main list as a new request with a new 3-and-a-bit day duration. In most cases this means that the amount will be added on the second touch (either touch out from a train or touch on a second bus journey). Items remain on the reserve list for six months from the initial creation date. After that time they will no longer be automatically re-queued to the main list, but details can be accessed by customer services should the customer decide to request the refund at a later date.
The two main uses of the reserve list are: (a) adjustments generated by running the daily Oyster touches through the back office capping system used by contactless cards and devices; and (b) refunds of the £5 card fee after one year. In the case of the card fee the request is actually placed on the reserve list first because there is no guarantee that the card is still in regular use. Items sent to the main list are expected to be picked up quickly in the majority of cases and it’s important not to overload that list.