At first glance, cheap London travel almost seems impossible. With a single tube journey paper ticket costing £4.90- the cost seems out of reach. BUT there are lots of ways that you can reduce the cost of travelling in London, whether you are a regular commuter or you are visiting the city.
First thing’s first- never buy the aforementioned paper ticket! That £4.90 tube journey will cost just £2.40 for a zone 1 single journey using an Oyster card or contactless payment.
Not only will using an Oyster card or contactless payment card mean that your journey is cheaper, but it will also make your journey quicker as you’ll avoid the lengthy queues at the ticket machines.
Cheap London Travel
Not even born and raised Londoners will know the best kept secrets about cheap London travel. The pricing system is pretty complex, so you have to do some digging to find out how to save money on travel in London, but the rewards are worth it! Luckily, this post lays out most of them for you…
Is it cheaper to use an Oyster card or contactless?
So we’ve established that you’ll want to use an Oyster card or contactless payment rather than a paper ticket. But is there a cost difference between Oyster and contactless?
Oyster Card Benefits
All told, an Oyster card can be cheaper than contactless payment as you are able to add a railcard to your Oyster card which saves you a third on off-peak travel. But if you don’t have a railcard? The prices are the same.
To add your railcard to your Oyster card, all you need to do is go to an underground station and ask the clerk to add it onto your Oyster for you- it only takes a minute or two.
If you’re a student living in London, you are likely to be eligible for the 18+ Student Oyster which offers some great discounts. With this card you can get 30% off the price of adult-rate Travelcards and Bus & Tram Pass season tickets. Check if you are eligible for the card on the TFL Website.
If you use contactless payment for your journey (whether that’s a payment card or Apple Pay), you do benefit from Monday-Sunday capping, which you don’t get with an Oyster card.
The cap for journeys made Mon-Sun in zones 1-2 is £34.10 with a contactless card – whereas seven daily caps on an Oyster card come to £47.60.
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Where can I get an Oyster card?
If you’re visiting London, you can get an Oyster card at any tube station with a ticket office. An Oyster card will cost you £5, which acts as a deposit. You can get the £5 refunded to you when you return the Oyster card after your visit.
Do kids travel for free on the tube?
Kids under the age of 11 can travel for free on the bus, tram, DLR, overground and tube when accompanied by an adult. How’s that for some cheap London travel?
For kids aged 11-15, apply for a Zip Oyster card which will allow free travel on buses and trams, and a children’s rate on other services.
If you are visiting London with children who don’t have an 11-15 Zip Oyster photocard, they can get discounted travel for up to 14 days with the Young Visitor discount. This can be applied to any standard Oyster card and offers a 50% discount on adult fares.
For children aged 16-17, there is another Zip Oyster available which again offers free travel on buses and trams, and a 50% discount on adult fares.
How much does commuting in London cost?
The average London commuter spends around £122 a month on travelling to work. And if you commute into London for work? The average cost is around £305 a month.
This accounts for a huge portion for many Londoners’ monthly wage, so if there is a way to reduce the cost of travel in London, it’s well worth doing.
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Cheapest way to commute in London
The cheapest way to commute in London is of course on foot, but that isn’t always possible. If you’re working in central London it’s unlikely that you are going to find an affordable flat nearby.
However, it’s worth considering moving closer to work if it means that your commuting costs might go down. Check out my guide on how to find an affordable apartment in London, which goes into more detail about how moving closer to work can sometimes pay off.
Take the bus
The next cheapest way to commute is probably going to be by bike, followed closely by the bus. Bus fares in London are generally cheaper than the tube, and also benefit from the Hopper Fare. The Hopper Fare means that any second bus or tram journey made within one hour of the start of your first journey will be free, if you’re using an Oyster card or contactless payment.
Buy a season ticket
If there’s no way round it, and you have to commute by train or tube, you will make large savings if you buy an annual season ticket.
The problem with a season ticket, is that the upfront cost is large- often thousands of pounds. However, there are a couple of ways around this cost.
Check if your employer offers an interest-free season ticket loan. This works on the basis that your employer will pay for the upfront cost of your season ticket, and then deduct the repayments from your monthly salary in 10 or 12 instalments.
This means that you get the cost saving benefit of a season ticket, but you pay for it monthly instead.
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How can I make my commute cheaper?
If you’re able to work flexible hours, you could save money on your commute by avoiding travel during peak times. Off-peak travel could cost up to 50% less than peak travel.
Peak time is between 6.30am and 9.30am or between 4pm and 7pm. However it is important to note that these peak times can vary slightly depending on the mode of travel and route you take. Compare prices using the TFL Fare Finder.
Remember, if you travel off-peak and use a railcard, you could save a further 30% off your journey. This would considerably reduce the cost of your commute.
Avoid zone 1
If you are able to avoid zone 1 when commuting, this could make your journey cheaper. There are a number of pink Oyster card readers, and when you tap this with your card, it will recognise that you have not gone through zone 1 to get to your destination.
For a list of stations with pink Oyster card readers, head to the TFL website.
If you want to buy a season ticket, make sure that you buy it before the prices go up for the year ahead. Usually rail prices increase yearly in early January, so make sure that you get organised and buy your season ticket BEFORE the prices increase.
Reassess your route
Use apps like Citymapper to check if there is a different way to commute to the office. Perhaps you could take a couple of buses instead of the tube? Or maybe you could spend more time walking and combine this with a train journey?
For lots of people there will be several different modes of transport that you’ll be able to take to get into work- work out which one is the cheapest, and go from there.
Travelling in London is only going to get more expensive as the prices go up each year, but these alternative ideas are likely to help reduce your commuting costs and save you some money.
Here are some key things to remember, whether you’re a visitor or a commuter looking for cheap London travel:
- Never buy a paper ticket
- Add your rail card to your Oyster card (if you have one)
- Avoid travelling to zone 1 by tube
- Switch the tube for the bus to make a saving