When Not to use Oyster

Oyster PAYG is a very flexible, intelligent payment system that tries to ensure that you always only pay what you need to for the journeys you make in one day.  Most of the time it works very well, but there are certain circumstances where a paper ticket (usually a day travelcard) is either cheaper or more appropriate.  These are some of the times to consider leaving the Oyster at home:

  1. Most journeys to/from Merstham-Gatwick Airport (inclusive). Yes, really!  The train company admits that Oyster PAYG is accepted on this line primarily for convenience.  Single journeys are mostly cost-effective but returns, travelcards and season tickets are all usually cheaper on paper or “The Key”, the GTR smartcard. The only real winners are holders of 16+ zip Oyster cards who enjoy their usual 50% discount over adult fares.
  2. Zip 16+ holders with a railcard on Heathrow Express.  You can’t add a railcard discount to zip 16+ photocards because the usual discount is 50% off all fares.  On HEx there is no discount over adult fares, so if you have a railcard and are travelling off-peak you’ll be better off with paper.  Adult Oyster cards with a railcard discount set do get the usual 34% discount on off-peak fares with HEx.
  3. Travelling at the weekend when Super Off-peak tickets are available.  Some stations beyond zone 6 have super off-peak tickets available at the weekend.  The super off-peak return price is less than 2x the Oyster off-peak single.
  4. When exploring or roving around London. Oyster PAYG is designed for reasonably straightforward journeys, usually with a gap between each one.  If you want to make lots of rail journeys one after the other, without doing something else between each one, especially if arriving at one station and leaving from another nearby, then a travelcard may be less hassle even though it is slightly more expensive.  The reason is that many nearby stations are linked by out of station interchanges which will join your journeys together and cause you to exceed the maximum time allowed for a journey between two points because you went via somewhere a long way away.  If you must use Oyster PAYG then consider touching into a bus between stations (and getting off straight away);  that will break any OSI.
  5. When travelling as a family. An Oyster card is for individuals only, it cannot be linked with others to form a group.  Therefore it is not possible to offer the discounts available with a Family and Friends Railcard when using Oyster.  Most off peak and especially afternoon peak travel will be cheaper using the railcard and paper tickets.  See also point 8 if travel includes zone 6.
  6. When travelling in a group. Off-peak day travelcards are available with large discounts if 10 or more people are travelling together.
  7. Afternoon Peak with Railcard. If you have a railcard attached to your Oyster card you will get discounted off-peak single fares and also a discounted off-peak cap.  However, if you only plan to use trains in the afternoon peak and not enough to trigger the price cap, it may be cheaper to use your railcard and paper tickets instead.  But remember that the cheaper zones 1-2, 1-3, 1-4 and 1-5 caps are fully discounted on Oyster with a railcard attached, while only the 1-6 and 1-9 paper travelcards can be bought and discounted.  Also remember that single fares from outside zone 1 to zone 1 are now all off-peak in the afternoon.
  8. Afternoon Peak to/from zone 6. If you make a return journey where touch in for both legs is in the afternoon peak and you travel between zone 6 and another zone up to zone 2 then it may be cheaper to buy off-peak return tickets from the first station outside zone 6.  For example, Dartford to Sidcup off-peak day return is £4.60 compared to £2.70 oyster single each way from Crayford or Bexley to Sidcup.  This doesn’t work for child tickets because the off-peak cap for children is only £1.50, but it does work with a family railcard.  If travelling to zone 1 then the oyster fare becomes off-peak.
  9. Using 2-for-1 Offers. Days Out Guide offer two for one entry to many attractions in London in combination with National Rail tickets.  The discount will often far outweigh the saving made when using Oyster PAYG over paper tickets.  Only National Rail issued tickets count, so using Oyster rules out these offers (unless the Oyster card holds an annual travelcard and you have the Gold Record Card).  However, if you have used a return ticket to get to London from elsewhere in the country then this can be used between the start and end dates for Central London attractions.  More details are on the Days Out website.

There may be other instances where paper tickets are cheaper, but we haven’t found them yet!  Remember that the ability to cap at the right rate for the zones used, or not to cap if you haven’t travelled enough, is the big advantage that Oyster has over day travelcards (except from Gatwick etc).

Link to old site with comments up to 2020

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