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London passengers overpay £184m for pricey travelcards – here's how to avoid paying extra

Over 37 million peak daily London travelcards were bought over the last five years, can reveal – even though they're ALWAYS more expensive than paying by Oyster card or contactless. Passengers have paid a whopping £184 million extra unnecessarily as a result – here's how to save on your London travel.

With an array of paper tickets, travelcards, Oyster cards, peak and off-peak fares, figuring out the most MoneySaving way to venture across the capital can be daunting – especially if you rarely travel there or are visiting for the first time.

The golden rule is that paying by Oyster, contactless card or Apple Pay is ALWAYS cheaper than buying a daily travelcard or single paper ticket for the Transport for London network (if you're buying a ticket to include travel outside the TfL zones, your options will be different).

That's because with Oyster, contactless card or Apple Pay there's a cap limiting how much you're charged for a day's travel, at a rate that's lower than the cost of an equivalent travelcard. You'll be charged the same whether using an Oyster card, contactless or Apple Pay.

But data obtained by MoneySavingExpert under the Freedom of Information Act shows that millions of peak daily travelcards are still being sold each year, meaning many are falling foul of unnecessarily pricey fares.

See our London MoneySaving guide for more tips on cutting costs in the capital, and Oyster card refunds for info on getting money back on London travel.  

How much more will you pay for a travelcard? 

Our data covers the three different types of peak travelcard available, which cover zones 1-4, 1-6 and 1-9.

At current fare rates, someone travelling around zones 1-6 (from Heathrow Airport, for example) using their Oyster or contactless card would be charged a daily maximum of £12.80, no matter how many journeys they make. Yet if they'd bought a peak daily travelcard for the same zones, they'd pay £18.60 – an extra £5.80 for exactly the same journeys.

You'll pay £3 more for a zones 1-4 peak daily travelcard compared with hitting your maximum daily fare cap for the same zones, and for zones 1-9, £5.30 extra.

But of course, that assumes you make enough journeys to reach the maximum cap, and that you actually travel in these zones. If not, you'll be overpaying even more with a travelcard. 

You can check which stations are in which zones using TfL's tube map, while its fare finder tool can tell you how much you'll pay for specific journeys. 

How much has been overspent on travelcards over five years? 

The number of travelcards being bought has been dropping year on year, but millions are still being spent unnecessarily on them:

  • A total of 29,192,567 zones 1-6 peak daily travelcards were bought between 2015 and 20 July 2019, when our data goes up to. This represents an overspend of £160,162,442.90 compared with the daily fare cap on Oyster, contactless card or Apple Pay.

  • A total of 8,254,732 zones 1-4 peak daily travelcards were bought over the same period, an overspend of £23,426,767.70.

  • A total of 114,145 zones 1-9 peak daily travelcards were bought over the same period, an overpayment of £466,364.50.

In total, that's 37,561,444 peak daily travelcards and a whopping £184,055,575.10 spent unnecessarily on them since 2015.

'It's a travesty passengers have been overpaying to the tune of £184m'

Johanna Noble, consumer expert at, said: "With so many peak daily travelcards still being sold, it's clear that many London travellers still aren't aware that there are cheaper options available.

"It's a travesty that passengers – many of whom are likely just to be visiting the capital rather than commuting in – have been overpaying to the tune of £184 million since 2015, with transport in London already so expensive. It begs the question why these peak daily travelcards are still being sold at such an inflated price."

What's the cheapest way to pay for London travel? 

Generally, if you don't travel in London every day and want to make sure you're getting the cheapest fare, your best bet is to use your Oyster or bank card – on contactless or via Apple Pay. 

Single fares will be much cheaper than buying an equivalent single ticket, and there are daily and weekly fare caps if you're travelling lots. 

You'll need to pay a £5 deposit when you get your Oyster card, but you can get this refunded if you no longer need it.

It's worth noting though that while you can get the deposit refunded on a regular Oyster card, you can't on a Visitor Oyster card, which are sold outside London – so bear this in mind if you're making a trip to the capital, as you could save if you can wait until you arrive to buy your Oyster card.

And if you do a lot of travel in London, check if it's cheaper to buy a weekly or monthly travelcard instead: these can be loaded on to your Oyster card using your TfL online account

What does Transport for London say? 

Shashi Verma, chief technology officer at Transport for London, said: "Using Oyster or contactless to pay as you go is now the most popular way to travel by public transport in London, with around 63% of all tube journeys now made this way. These methods of payments are quick, easy and secure and are better value than buying a one-day paper travelcard.

"We run a promotional campaign, which includes station posters and announcements and information on our website, to encourage customers to use these methods. Over the last five years the number of people buying paper tickets has reduced by two-thirds, however some customers still prefer purchasing paper tickets, and this is often out of habit."

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