Contactless payment cards – How to use one

Contactless payment cards: What are they?  How do you use them?

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What are contactless cards?

A ‘contactless payment card’ is your debit card or credit card – the exact same card that you use to do your everyday shopping.

It works in exactly the same way as an Oyster smartcard, but it has one big advantage over an Oyster card: because you don’t have to keep topping it up (it just drains the money straight out of your bank account until you have none left!).

Contactless card fares

Check out the following links for the latest contactless fares on London’s buses and trains:

> Contactless bus fares 2017

> Contactless train fares 2017

You will notice that the contactless fares are practically identical to the pay-as-you-go Oyster fares. Contactless and Oyster are usually the cheapest way to travel in London, unless you are staying for a week or more, in which case a travelcard may be cheaper (but it all depends on how many journeys you’re going to make).

Important note: the computer doesn’t actually charge your account until the very end of the day, because it needs to know whether you exceed the ‘daily cap’. This means that the fare payment won’t come out of your bank account until the following day.

Contactless daily price cap

The big advantage in using a contactless card over a 1-day travelcard, is its daily price capping feature. Daily capping freezes your maximum daily spend at a level below the cost of a 1-day travelcard. So even if you jump on ten million buses in one day it will still end up being cheaper than a 1-day travelcard – handy! You usually need to make at least three journeys in one day for it to take effect, though.

The cost of the daily cap varies depending on whether you stick with the buses or trains, and which train zones you travel through. Our London bus fares and London train fares pages show the maximum daily cap for each. If you need to check which zones each train station is in, then here’s a list of London underground stations.

Important note: this might sound obvious, but you need to use the same card for every single journey in order for the daily price cap to work (and the same goes with the weekly cap).

Contactless weekly price cap

Oyster cards work in exactly the same way as contactless payment cards, but when you use a contactless card you also get the benefit of a weekly cap as well (Oyster cards do not have this). This will freeze your maximum weekly spend at the same level as a weekly travelcard.

Unfortunately the weekly cap only activates if you’re travelling between Monday and Sunday. If you’re travelling between Friday and Thursday, for example, then London Underground’s computers aren’t clever enough to realise that you’re travelling over a week, and will still charge you the rate for seven individual days.

The cost of the weekly cap varies depending on whether you just use the buses, or the buses plus trains (or just trains on their own). If you use the trains then it will also be affected by which zones you travel through (buses don’t have zones, so the bus price is always the same). Check out our London bus fares and London underground fares pages to see what the maximum weekly cap is for contactless cards.

How can I get a contactless card?

A contactless card is just a normal debit card, or credit card, so you either have to apply for a credit card (Barclaycard, Visa, Mastercard, etc.) or open a bank account. It’s not possible to get them at a train station. (It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people actually ask that question!)

Can two people share one contactless card?

No. We get asked this question every day (literally every day!) but it’s not possible to share a contactless card. Each person in your group will require their own contactless debit card or contactless credit card.

Tourists are forever tapping their bank cards down on the reader twice, making the perfectly reasonable assumption that it will subtract two fares, but the system doesn’t work like that. The first time you tap down the computer will think that you are entering the station, and the second time you tap down it will think that you are leaving the station. If tap twice on the same gate inside of two minutes, then the computer will charge you a maximum pay-as-you-go fare of up to £8.80. This will be refunded only if you start a new journey within 45 minutes. If you tap twice outside of two minutes, then you will be charged a minimum pay-as-you-go-fare instead (which changes depending in which zone the station is in).

But the important point is this: if you tap twice, then only one fare will be deducted – not two! If you want to use your contactless card to pay for two tickets then you’ll have to get them from a self-service machine instead, or a manned ticket window – but then you’ll just end up paying the normal cash fare, and not the contactless fare.

Can I use a foreign bank card?

UK-issued bank cards should work as long as they carry the contactless payment logo: , but only a few foreign credit cards and contactless debit cards are currently accepted, chiefly American Express, plus some MasterCards and Visa cards. You can check whether your contactless card will work at the TFL website.

But be careful! If you are using a foreign contactless bank card then you should be extremely careful about the charges, because your bank might add on a hefty transaction fee for anything purchased overseas – which will include individual bus and train tickets.

If I change trains, do I pay twice?

If your journey involves a change of trains then you only pay once – provided that you don’t exit any of the stations in-between. For example, if you are travelling between Waterloo and South Kensington, then you will need to change trains at Westminster. But there is no need to exit the station at Westminster – you should be able to walk between the platforms without passing through any barriers. As long as you remember to tap your bank card down at Waterloo and South Kensington then the computer will recognise that you only made one journey, and will charge you accordingly.

Things work differently on the bus. You always have to pay a separate fare for each bus journey.

Why doesn’t my bank card work?

There are loads of different reasons why your card might won’t work – the most obvious of which is that you don’t have enough money in your account. But have you checked that it’s actually a contactless card? It should carry the following symbol on it: .

If it happens to be brand new, then you probably won’t be able to make a contactless payment until you’ve made at least one with chip-and-pin (for security reasons). If it’s been issued by an overseas bank then check that it’s valid on the TFL website.

Contactless payment cards also suffer from something called ‘card clash’. If you keep your Oyster card and bank card in the same wallet then the computer might get confused about which one to charge, and end up rejecting both. If this happens to you then don’t fret… just separate the cards and try again.

Using contactless on buses

Using contactless bank cards on the bus

How does a contactless card work on the bus? Well, it’s extremely easy… all you have to do is touch your bank card against the big round Oyster reader by the door (it’s bright yellow – you can’t miss it!). If it registers okay then you will hear a beep and see a little green light by the Oyster machine. If you hear two beeps and see a red light instead, then it didn’t work, and you should try again. Try holding your card it flush with the reader. (You may have to take your bank card out of your wallet first.)

Some designs of bus also have a reader by the middle doors, and one at the back as well, but if you are an inexperienced traveller then I recommend sticking with the front door. That’s because the front door will always have a reader, and if you try and board a bus through a door where there isn’t one then people will think that you are trying to dodge your fare.

Note: There is no need to touch your bank card down again when you leave the bus – you only have to do that when travelling on the train.

Using contactless on trains

How to use contactless payment cards on the train

To get through the station barrier all you have to do is place your contactless card near the big round yellow reader at the front of the gate, and the gate should open automatically.

If the gate refuses to budge then try getting your bank card out of your wallet and touching it flush against the reader. If that doesn’t work then you are probably out of credit (there will be a little LCD screen nearby which will tell you the reason).

When you reach the end of your journey you will have to repeat this whole process again. The reason that you need to touch it down at the beginning and the end of your journey, is because the computer needs to work out what your journey was. If you forget to touch down as you exit then it won’t know where you went, and it will just charge you whatever the maximum journey was on that line (ouch!). If you don’t touch in at the start then you might face a penalty fare (eighty quid, at the time of writing)… or even be prosecuted for fare evasion.

Important note: Sometimes the train station staff open the barriers to speed the flow of people through the station, but you must STILL tap down – even if the gate is already open.

Can I get a receipt for my contactless fare?

No, you can’t. All you do is tap the bank card down on the reader, and the gate opens. There is nothing there to print out a ticket or a receipt.

If you are really desperate for a travel record then you will have to register your contactless card on the TFL website beforehand, and they will log 12 months-worth of journeys. You can then print the whole lot off as a CSV file or PDF file.

Note: If you’ve already registered for an Oyster account then there’s no need to register for a separate account. You can just log in and add your bank card to that one.

If you don’t want to register then it’s still possible to get a record of your journeys – but only for the last 7 days. Follow the link on this page for details (you will need your bank card handy).

Questions about contactless?

> Ask questions about contactless cards

  • Admin – “It can't. It's your everyday bank card, which doesn't include your age on the chip. If you look on our child fares page, then you'll see that there are no child fares for contactless cards. There's something called a gohenry card for kids, which they can use like a contactless card, but it still charges adult fares .. Transport/”
  •  Guest – “Can ii pay for bus fare with apple pay from my iphone?”
  • Admin – “You can, yes”
  •  Guest – “Sorry to bother you but not been able to find the answer to this online - I have a TFL account with one Oyster card on it. Can I add a contactless card in my wife's name so that she can use that for travel (together with me or Separately) and we will get billed for two sets of journeys? Or do we have to set up another account for her? Thanks in anticipation.”
  • Admin – “You can definitely add a contactless card to an exisiting Oyster account, but it doesn't say whether it has to be in the same name. We've had a look and can't find anything about it either. I would assume that it does, but it doesn't actually say so. You might be better off contacting TFL directly and getting the okay from them before you go ahead and do it --”
  •  Guest – “Many thanks for your reply - I did actually send a message to TFL a few days ago but am now in the '10 days to response' period and as we are going to London next Tuesday I hoped to find the answer before then. But thanks again for your rapid response on a weekend! Kind regards.”

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