Londoners – could you save £100s on TfL fares with this hidden discount?

If you have (or get) a railcard, you can add it to an Oyster card and get a 34% discount on off-peak, pay-as-you-go fares on the Tube, Elizabeth line, DLR, London Overground and National Rail in London.

I've been doing this for years, and I estimate I've saved £100s in that time. But when I mention it to people, very few know about the discount or bother to claim it. So I'm writing this to spread the word and hopefully save you some cash. Click on the links below to go to the relevant info:

What does 'off-peak' mean?

In a nutshell, any time outside the weekday morning and evening rush hours. Crucially, this means Saturdays and Sundays are ALWAYS off-peak. Here's the full breakdown:

Off-peak TfL fares explained

Monday to Friday (except public holidays) Saturday and Sunday Public holidays
Off-peak fares apply:

When travelling OUTSIDE the morning peak (6.30am to 9.30am) and OUTSIDE the evening peak (4pm to 7pm), regardless of the journey.

AND:

When travelling INSIDE the evening peak (4pm to 7pm) if you're going from a station outside Zone 1 to a station in Zone 1.
Off-peak fares apply ALL DAY. Off-peak fares apply ALL DAY.

There's one big exception – if you take the Tube or Elizabeth line to or from Heathrow Airport and your journey starts, ends or goes through Zone 1, you'll be charged a peak fare regardless of the day or time. 

How much could I save?

It depends on the number of off-peak journeys you make and which zones you travel to and from. Here are some example savings for a single journey based on my own recent travel around the capital:

🚇 Journey

💷 Regular off-peak fare

🤑 Off-peak fare with railcard discount

Zone 5 to Zone 3 (through Zone 1)

£3.50

£2.30 (£1.20 saving)

Zone 4 to Zone 1

£3.20

£2.10 (£1.10 saving)

Zone 3 to Zone 1

£3

£1.95 (£1.05 saving)

Zone 3 to Zone 2

£1.90 

£1.25 (65p saving)

Zone 2 to Zone 2

£1.80

£1.15 (65p saving)

Zone 1 to Zone 1

£2.70

£1.75 (95p saving)

Nerdy note: You might be wondering why, if the discount is 34%, the discounted fares aren't exactly 66% of the regular fares (for example, £2.31 rather than £2.30). It's because TfL rounds them down to the nearest five pence.

The savings quickly add up – looking at my journey data, in just the eight-week period between 29 November 2023 to 23 January 2024, I saved a total of £36.65. Transport for London (TfL) doesn't let you access journey history older than eight weeks, so I couldn't calculate an exact annual saving – but it's likely in the £100 to £200 range, as that eight-week period was fairly representative of my travel patterns throughout the year.

To put these numbers into context, a one-year railcard usually costs £30 – but can often be had for less. For example, you can currently get a railcard for £15 using Clubcard vouchers, or for £19.80 using a discount code on Trip.com. I got mine for £20 using a similar discount code I saw in the MSE weekly email.

That means my railcard has already more than paid for itself – and that's before factoring in a single National Rail journey.

Which railcards does this work with?

Any of these:

  • 16-25 Railcard
  • 26-30 Railcard
  • Disabled Person's Railcard (this one gives you a 34% discount on PEAK fares, too!)
  • HM Forces Railcard
  • Senior Railcard
  • Veterans' Railcard

It DOESN'T work with the Network Railcard, Family & Friends Railcard or Two Together Railcard – though if you have one of those, you can still get a 1/3 discount on off-peak day travelcards.

Got an Annual Gold Card or Gold Record Card after buying a yearly travelcard? You can get a similar 34% discount on off-peak fares without a separate railcard – just follow the steps below to add your Gold Card to your Oyster.

How do I claim the discount?

You need to get the railcard discount applied to your Oyster card to get the cheaper fares.

The first step is to register your Oyster by creating an account on the TfL website (if you haven't already).

You'll then need to visit a Tube or London Overground station (or certain Elizabeth line stations) with your railcard in hand and ask a member of staff to apply your railcard discount. You can only do this in person. In my experience, it's easiest to do at Zone 1 stations, where there are more staff about.

Once the discount is applied, it'll stay on your Oyster until your railcard expires. If you then get a new railcard, you'll need to get the discount added again.

Do I have to use an Oyster card?

Yes.

Does this work with contactless cards / Apple Pay / Google Pay?

No.

How many Londoners could be missing out on this discount?

OK, I'll be honest here. What I really wanted was irrefutable data showing how many people were missing out. Sadly, that proved impossible to get in this case – even when I submitted a Freedom of Information request.

Still, I reckon as many as half a million people could be missing out. Here's why:

MSE Petar's 100% scientific and totally bulletproof* estimate of the number of Londoners missing out on the railcard Oyster discount

UK population

Source: Office for National Statistics.

67 million

London population

Source: Greater London Authority.

8.8 million

Percentage of UK population that lives in London

Source: Er, maths? 8.8m of 67m is 13.13%.

13.13%

Number of current railcards in the UK
Source: Figure provided to me by the Rail Delivery Group, which manages railcards.

6.3 million

Estimated number of current railcards in London
Source: Maths again – 13.13% of 6.3m is 827,190. The Rail Delivery Group was unable to provide a figure.

827,190

Oyster cards with an active railcard discount

Source: Mayor of London. Also confirmed to me by TfL.

311,413

Potential number of Londoners missing out

Source: You guessed it – maths. Here, I just subtracted 311,413 from 827,190.

515,777

*OK, not quite – but I tried.