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30 October 2020
In 2018, Transport for London charged passengers a total of £60 million after they failed to tap their card and ended up paying the maximum fare - on average, there were more than 30,000 such 'incomplete journeys' every day that year (the last for which complete figures are available). Yet there's a quick way to get up to a year's charges refunded, and some have got back £70+.
If you use an Oyster card or contactless payment on most Transport for London (TfL) services - including the tube, Docklands Light Railway, London Overground, Thames Clippers River Bus and National Rail services within London - you must touch in and out. If not, you'll be charged the maximum fare, usually up to £8.40 at peak times but even more for a some stations (see a full list of maximum fares).
TfL automatically takes this charge even if it wasn't your fault, eg, because of power cuts, broken machines or station evacuations.
Getting a refund takes just a few minutes, and the amounts aren't trivial:
I followed the steps and found 13 incomplete journey charges. Took me about 10 mins to claim refunds online. TfL got back to me within 3 days and refunded £72. Sweet as a nut!
- MSE Damon
I found two incomplete journeys from April and May on my contactless card, I couldn’t believe I missed them! I asked for a refund and TfL refunded me £10 the next day. Brilliant.
- MSE Constance
Here's how to quickly check and get a refund online:
First sign into your account (or create one for free) on the TfL website to check your journey history. Link your Oyster, contactless card or the card you use for contactless mobile payment, eg, via Apple Pay, to your TfL account if you haven't already.
You should be notified of possible incomplete journeys when you sign in. If you're not, under 'My contactless cards' or 'My Oyster cards' select the relevant card/account, then 'Journey & payment history', then the 'Journey history' tab. Look for journeys with a yellow warning triangle - they're usually incomplete.
With contactless cards and contactless mobile payments you can view journeys going back 12 months, but you can only claim refunds as far back as eight weeks. With Oyster, you can go back eight weeks.
Click a journey with a yellow triangle and it should say: "You may have been charged a maximum fare for this journey because we have no record of where you touched in/out." Just fill in the form below with your journey info and explain why you didn’t touch out, then submit your claim.
The official rule is you must've failed to tap out for reasons outside your control (power cuts, broken machines or station evacuations etc), though we've heard TfL can be lenient on this, so it may be worth a punt anyway.
The above system uses TfL's incomplete journey form, which you can only use three times every calendar month. To claim for further incomplete journeys without waiting, call TfL customer services on 0343 222 1234 (it costs the same as calling a regular 020 number).
Ask for a refund, explaining what went wrong and where you should have touched in or out.
Remember - NEVER lie. That's fraud. Currently, TfL doesn't appear to be verifying every claim (though it says it has systems to flag suspicious claims).
But never be tempted to lie or stretch the truth when making a claim, for example by saying your trip ended in zone 2 rather than zone 6. That's fraud and could potentially mean a prison sentence - for a similar example with train fares, see this Barrister sentenced for fare dodge BBC news story from 2015.
TfL will hopefully notify you within a few days (though it can be much sooner) to let you know if your claim has been successful. If you used an Oyster, you can get it refunded to that card - you'll have to pick a station, and then you actually get the refund when you next touch in at that station and make a journey. Alternatively, you can provide your bank details and get the refund paid into your account.
If you used a contactless card or contactless mobile payment, the refund will either be applied to outstanding travel charges or, if you haven't got any of those, it will be credited to your contactless card or the card you use to make contactless mobile payments.
You'll get the difference between the fare you should have paid for your journey and the maximum fare you were charged.
For example, imagine you travelled from Victoria to Angel at peak time, but couldn’t swipe out. TfL would charge the maximum fare of £8.40, but the correct fare was actually £2.40 - so you could claim back £6.
TfL often refunds for honest mistakes if you forget to touch out. But it sees forgetting to touch in as fare evasion. That doesn't mean you can't claim a refund if you're convinced it was TfL's fault (broken machine etc), and we haven't heard of TfL retrospectively charging penalty fares, but it's worth being aware before you claim.
TfL says it sometimes gives out automatic refunds, because it can predict where you should have flashed your card but couldn’t.
Its system can remember the symmetry of favourite journeys, for example between your home and work, and from that work out where it thinks you meant to tap out. Automatic refunds are marked in your online journey history. If you think it calculated the wrong amount, contact TfL.
If you've claimed a refund but TfL won't pay up, your only option is to file a complaint.
If your complaint still isn't resolved after that, you can escalate it to the independent watchdog London TravelWatch, which can ask TfL to resolve your case. (If you used Resolver, it'll prompt you to do this, and help.) London TravelWatch doesn't have the power to force TfL to do anything it doesn't want to though.
After that, unfortunately there's no travel ombudsman to go to. If all else fails, you could technically take your claim to court. Think carefully about whether you want the hassle of this though, and whether it's worth it – it's far better to use this as a last-resort threat.
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