Using Oyster with a Travelcard

In the last week I had to make an unusually high number of evening peak journeys between Crayford and Sidcup, so for the first time I decided to buy a weekly travelcard for zones 5 and 6.  I now have first hand experience of some of the differences that occur when you have a travelcard season loaded on your card.  I’ll be adding stuff to the main site pages in due course, but for now, here is a summary of the best and worst bits:

  • Once you have a travelcard you no longer have to touch in or out when travelling within the zones covered by your travelcard.  If you do touch in it simply says “Enter” without confirming your PAYG balance.  This is a little disconcerting, especially if you intend to go beyond the zones covered.
  • When you touch out at a gateline within your zones it will either just say “Exit”, or if you have been outside the zones it will add the usual PAYG balance and fare deducted figures.  That much is fine, but …
  • When you touch out at a validator it will just say “Exit” regardless of whether you have used any PAYG credit.  This is very bad.
  • When you touch in or out on gates or validators with less than 3 days left before expiry it warns you that the ticket is about to expire.  This is useful, but no substitute for the missing balance and fare deducted figures.
  • When you board a bus it simply confirms what the travelcard is and when it expires.  Obviously no deduction is made on buses, but you do still have to touch in so the driver knows you have authority to travel.
  • And finally the best bit.  If the journey you made is not fully covered by the travelcard and there is more than one option (ie avoiding zone 1 or not) for the fare, you are charged the cheapest option whichever way you actually went.  I found this by accident on Saturday when I went from Crayford to East Croydon via London Bridge (the PAYG default) but was only charged a zone 2-4 single (the interchange between New Cross and New Cross Gate option).  It did remind me of the experiences of some other users which leads me to believe that this is the rule.

There may be more bits added when I get the statement I’ve ordered to cover my weeks travel.

34 thoughts on “Using Oyster with a Travelcard”

  1. “When you touch out at a validator it will just say “Exit” regardless of whether you have used any PAYG credit. This is very bad.”

    My experience of this is different. There are validators at New Eltham and if I have used some PAYG balance (I have a 2-4 travelcard) it does display my remaining balance and how much I was charged.

    • Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for that. I wonder whether the fact that mine was due to expire caused the balance and fare to be obliterated. Unfortunately I didn’t go out of my zones until the expiry warning had started.

  2. Can you link to your source for “Once you have a travelcard you no longer have to touch in or out when travelling within the zones covered by your travelcard”. I believe this to be true, and I’m sure it used to say this on the Oystercard help pages if you dug deep enough, but it seems to have gone! The conditions of travel seem to say that you must now. Had an argument with a RPI this morning, but can’t now prove I was right!

  3. The RPI stopped me as they said I had gone though zone 2 on a 3-6 travelcard. I had actually gone via another route and not via zone 2, but couldn’t prove it. They said I should have used a route validator, but the Ts and Cs say thay are for PAYG only…

    • Hi Burgess,

      Sorry to hear you’ve hit problems. Can you expand on what you were doing?

      Basically, the Ts and Cs say that you must touch in and out, but when within your zones there is no penalty for not doing so. The only time that you must touch in and out is when making a journey that goes outside your zones, even if you subsequently come back in. Your journey sounds like a bit of a grey area though. If you can let me know exactly where you went then I’ll try and advise accordingly.


  4. Hi, I was travelling my regular route between Fulwell and Willesden Junction via Richmond (zones 3-6 on a 3-6 travelcard). They said I had gone via Clapham Junction (zone 1). I said I hadn’t. They said I should have touched in to prove it, but that wouldn’t have proved the route at all. If they meant I should have used the pink validator, then that’s wrong as these have a sticker on them saying they are only if you’ve used PAYG for part of your journey…

    • Ah, ok. Have they issued you with any penalty and/or have you paid it? I wonder of CCTV would show you getting off the train from Richmond?

      Anyway, if you can touch in and out on this journey then it is my understanding that you won’t be charged even if you do go via Clapham Junction. When you have a travelcard loaded on your Oyster the system seems to assume that you’ve gone the cheapest way whatever. Perhaps that is why they say the pink validators are only for PAYG.

  5. No, luckily no penalty was issued. But given their advice that ‘you have to touch in and out whatever’ I was convinced that I had previously proved otherwise by seaching the help on the tfl web site. But I can’t find that answer any more – maybe they removed it ?

    • I think they have. It’s probably linked in with the abolition of OEPs and keeping the message simple. As long as you clearly are not going outside of your zones then there is no penalty, but if you might go outside your zones then the card needs to be validated.

  6. @ Burgess, I believe Clapham Junction is Z2 and no Z1, I have a Z2 to Z5 TC and have no problem going through the gates at Clapham.

    • Hi Dave,

      Yes, Clapham Junction is zone 2, although in the context of a zone 3-6 travelcard it makes little difference.

  7. I usually use PAYG as have auto top up set for 20 pounds.

    However, this week I am without my usual lift to work so I’m having to travel on the train and the bus instead as a result I have bought a zone 4 to 6 Travelcard which is on the same oyster card as the auto top up.

    My balance before getting the Travelcard was 7 pounds, it didn’t auto top up as the previous journey was a bus taking it from 8.30 to 7.00.

    I then travelled from Slade Green (National Rail – zone 6) to Sidcup (National Rail – zone 5) which is covered in the travelcard and then onwards using two buses.

    I then find that at some point during my journey my Autotop has been activated and I now have a balance of 27 pounds!!!

    Any idea why this would happen? As I didn’t make any PAYG journeys to trigger the Autotop up!!!

    btw, The travelcard is showing as live on my card.


    • Hi Chris,

      I would imagine that it was triggered on entry to Slade Green. I would hope that as buses are all free with a travelcard that it wouldn’t have applied auto topup there. It won’t have been added on exit at Sidcup as auto topup is only ever triggered at the start of a journey segment.

      I’d be interested to know how and where you discovered the balance had been topped up. You should get an email tomorrow or the day after confirming where the topup was activated. Also, the online journey history should show it being applied either tomorrow or the next day. Failing that, request an email statement. I’d be very grateful if you could report back with what you find so that I can add the information here. My card auto topped up while I had a season, although I was out of the zones covered at the time.

      Hope this helps


  8. I have auto topup enabled on my oyster card, along with a Z2-4 travelcard. In the 6 auto topups or so that have been applied, 4 of them have been on a bus (which is free with my travelcard). 1 was when I entered New Eltham station (which is within my travelcard zone, so no charge should be applied) and only 1 was when I was out of zone an beginning a PAYG journey.

    Looking at my online statement, the last time was in May, I went under £8 as I left New Eltham station (after beginning my journey in Z1) however the auto-topup wasn’t applied until I next used my oyster card, which was on a bus.

    As far as I can tell, the auto topup is only applied at the beginning of a journey, and if there is a balance under £8 the auto topup is applied regardless of the journey about to make.

    There is some relation between travelcards and PAYG balance – I know that if you are in negative balance (no auto topup) the barriers won’t open even if you try to begin a journey within your travelcard zone.

    Hope that helps.


    • Thank you very much for that report. I must say I’m disappointed to see that auto top-up is still actioned when making a completely free journey. You’re right that it will never be actioned when finishing a journey. And you are also correct that the travelcard is temporarily invalidated if the PAYG balance is below zero and no top-up is ready at the start of a journey.

  9. I got my email regarding my auto topup and you are right!

    I got auto-topped up at Slade Green so if you are under the £8 limit then you will get auto-topped up on your next journey regardless as to whether its a within zones journey or not.
    They should put that piece of information on the TfL web site!


    • Hi Chris,

      It’s not ideal, but at the time of touch in the system does not know whether your journey will be in-zone or need PAYG as well. However, it appears as though it may also auto top-up on buses even though these are free with a travelcard. That I believe is wrong and I will be including it in a future revision of the page on topping up.

      Anyway, thanks for coming back to us.

  10. Im not sure that this is the place to ask this but here goes..

    Is there a way to add an annual season ticket from grays station covering zones 3-6 to a registered oyster card?

    I Live in Grays and commute to Southgate.

    I have just renewed my annual Season Ticket (Gold Card) for travel from Grays to London Zones 3-6. as I can travel via Barking and the Gospel oak line so avoiding zones 1 and 2.

    I had previously been advised by a member of staff at southgate station that if I obtained and registered an oyster card I would be able to transfer my annual season ticket to it.

    By additionally adding credit to the card, If I then travelled through zones 1 and 2,(eg. occasional evenings out, or if the gospel oak line was down) I would only get debited the amount for the journey not covered by my loaded season ticket.

    I presented my registered oyster to the chap at grays station when renewing to be told that they are nothing to do with oyster, pointing to a sign on the window to that effect.

    So is there anyway to achieve this or have i wasted my £20 on an oyster card?

    I realise that i can still use my oyster card if I go out in the evening after work but if I travel home via fenchurch street station I will have to buy a ticket to cover me to barking,and use my paper season ticket at grays, as obviously I cant touch in at fenchurch street and touch out at grays as I will be charged the full fare and not the portion covered by my season ticket.

    I hope the above makes some sense and someone can help me with this.

    • Hi Tel,

      Unfortunately there is a problem with travelcards from the Grays group of stations. If you look at you will see that the travelcard columns are all blank whenever Grays is in the zones covered. I don’t know what the problem is, but it appears that the man at Grays was telling the truth. Perhaps C2C can shed some more light on the issue.

  11. I had this same discussion regarding Grays and season ticket/topup. Near as I can understand, these stations are in the PAYG area, but NOT in actual ZONES (i.e. 1-9). They are in zone “G” which is not valid for addition to Oyster cards. Therefore you need to buy a season ticket Railcard from c2c/National Rail rather than adding it to an Oyster. And yes, this would mean two different payment methods depending on how you made your journey. Quite annoying.

  12. I have brought a travel card to added onto my oyster card. I have chooses Ladbroke Grove as the station to validate my ticket from; however my journey plans have changed. Is there any way I can change the station I pick up tickets from? Many thanks


    • Hi Ben,

      I don’t think you can change the pick-up location. The ticket will be available to pick up until two days after the start date. If you don’t pick it up it will be cancelled and you will get refunded. Remember that the ticket can be picked up on any touch (either in or out) at your nominated station. You can purchase another travelcard at different station if you are certain that you won’t touch at the original location before the ticket is cancelled. I’m not sure that you can do this online though because the system still thinks you have a ticket to pick up. If in doubt, call the helpdesk and ask them how to resolve the problem.

  13. Hi Mike

    Not sure if this is covered elsewhere on the website. Re: Auto-top up. The key things for ATU to kick in are that PAYG balance is below £8 and that customer is starting a journey. The ATU feature doesn’t look at whether the customer has a travelcard for the journey he is about to make, it just looks at their PAYG balance, if that is below £8 when they start their journey then the card is topped up by £20 or £40

    • Hi Tom,

      Thanks for this. I understand that auto top-up happens when starting a journey only and that it doesn’t matter whether you have a travelcard or not. For rail this is correct because you may end up going outside the zones on your travelcard. What I disagree with is it activating a top up on a bus when you have a travelcard. In that scenario the journey will always be free, so it shouldn’t top up.

  14. I’m not sure where to post this. Generally I, too, have found the Oyster very good. I have a zone 3-5 Travelcard Season. I notice that, even when in zone 1, I didn’t appear to be charged when going on buses. Very useful! What concerns me more is that, having parted with £93.00 on Saturday for a new Season it is now Wednesday and, still, my Oyster card account is saying ‘there are no season tickets on this card’. How long should one reasonably expect to wait?

    • Hi Mike,

      Buses are free with any travelcard on Oyster. As to your account, was the travelcard bought in advance? If not then I would expect it to show. Try checking at a machine at a station. If it isn’t there then you’ll have to go back to the place you bought the travelcard from, or talk to your bank if it was paid on a card.

  15. Hi Mike
    I live in Zone 4 (EG)
    I work in Z5 (West Croydon) which I have to travel 2 days a week
    I study in Z1/2 (Elephant and Castle) which I have to go 3 days a week
    I purchased a z1-5 travelcard, as you know it is very expensive, but rarely unless of interchange do I exit at z1….what is the best route? to avoid being charged z1 prices and is it practical for the next month to just get z2-5 travelcard….. will E&C station accept a z2 travelcard when entering and exiting? How does the system know whether I interchanged at Kings Cross or Stockwell for the Northern Line? Help Me!!

    • The charge at Elephant and Castle (or indeed any dual zoned station) will deoend on the likeliest route from your touch in station. In the case of Elephant, if the station is south on a line served by direct (or one/two changes) trains then it will be charged as in zone 2. If the touch in is north or the route suggests crossing zone 1 then it will be charged as in zone 1. So a zone 2-5 travelcard will be fine.

      Having said that, I don’t think any travelcard is likely to be cheaper than using PAYG for your pattern of useage.

  16. So my route to Uni would be from Edmonton (where I touch in) to Seven Sis (where I usually go straight from the rail station to the underground without tapping in), then from there to Elephant, would my oyster know whether I have interchanged at Kings Cross or from Stockwell?
    So is it ok then to buy z2-5 travelcard?

    I find it cheaper for me to get a monthly travelcard, as when I leave to go to work in Z5 West Croydon it is before peak times and costs £10.60for the day. however paying for z1-5 when I don’t go in z1 (but have to change via London Bridge and Kings Cross, I dont need z1, my dilemma is I don’t want to buy a z2-5 pass and when I want to exit and enter into Elephant and Castle station I am denied.

    • Ah, my apologies, I didn’t realise that EG stood for Edmonton Green and naively I thought you were between Croydon and Elephant. Basically there is no sensible route avoiding zone 1 for your journeys. I think the best answer might be to get a zone 1-4 travelcard and use PAYG for the trips into zone 5. That will only be around £1.50 per journey depending on the time of day.

  17. Does anyone know if there is a Helpdesk number I can call to speak to someone about changing the pick-up location for an online order?

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