In the last post in the London travel series we discussed how to combine the pay as you go and travelcard options to make the most of your Oyster card when you travel in London. We also explained how to set up the auto top-up service to ensure your Oyster is recharged automatically whenever you run out of balance. That’s right: no more embarrassing queues at the Tube barriers when you get a red light. No more bad looks from the bus driver.
The secret to saving money is to understand what’s the best fare for your usual trips and avoid being too conservative with your travelcard. You can sit down and study the alternatives, but believe me it’s nothing like seeing the real data. Since you have already created an account on Transport for London’s website to manage your auto top-up, let’s sign in again to access your journey information. If you don’t have yet, here’s how you can set up automatic balance top ups on your Oyster. Simply log on, click on the ’My card’ tab and select ‘Journey history’. The preset option is to show the last seven days but you’ll be surprised to see all your journeys for the past two months have been recorded and are available here.
Pay as you go or Travelcard?
Depending on the payment mode you have chosen you will have to tackle this in different ways. For a pay as you go user, add up all the journey charges for a week and compare the cost to the equivalent travelcard. Basically open the fare chart, find your current fare and look for something that does exactly the same on the rows above. If you only use buses, the bus travelcard is definitely going to be more economical. For a travelcard user you need to look at the charges outside your allowance and understand why you are paying for those. Are you taking the tube to a zone not included?
They key here is to evaluate your needs based on your past usage and not on what you think you are doing. These are the questions to ask yourself: - How much would I pay for these journeys on ‘pay as you go’? - Do I travel to Zone 1 by tube or train every day? - Am I forgetting to touch out too often?
Transport for London does a great job informing you about your automatic top-ups and even sending you a copy of your journey history with a weekly or monthly statement via email. However…
TfL’s website has a lot of very useful information, but it’s not that convenient on a smartphone. Part of the site has been redesigned with a responsive web layout for mobile devices but the ‘personal area’ is the same as the desktop web version. You could bookmark the page and log on quickly with the 1Password extension, but that’s still a lot of taps.
The most convenient way I’ve found to access your Oyster records is with an app. Oyster Info by Bitmood allows you to keep an eye on your journey history as well as checking your balance and the expiry date of your travelcard. All at a glance without having to type your username and password. There are a lot of Oyster-related apps on the App Store and they all use the same information available on the website so there’s no magic special feature exclusive to this app. I mean, there are similar apps but they’re a bit clunky. For me it’s a matter of convenience and layout preference over functionality.
The reason why you should use an app like Oyster Info with you is that it makes all the analysis described above way less boring and accessible at any time. If you have followed the steps to set up auto top-up, changed the travelcard you use or ditch it altogether, you want to know what’s going on. The reason why you are overpaying if because you want to be conservative and be sure your travelcard will cover your zones. That’s not always the cheapest way to go about it.
In my case I’ve decided to change from a weekly travelcard covering zones 1 to 3 to just 2 to 3. I figured that my use in Zone 1 is minimal and that when I’m in central London I tend to walk and use the bus, which is covered already with any travelcard. Yes, there will be occasions when my journey ends in a Zone 1 Tube stop or train station, but the cost difference is not enough to justify a travelcard covering Zone 1.
I guess now it’s time to download the app, continue with your life and re-assess as needed. Are you using an old fashioned Oyster card or a contactless bank card?