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London: Oyster and Contactless Card FAQ

London: Oyster and Contactless Card FAQ

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Old Feb 25, 20, 12:06 am   -   Wikipost
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Welcome to the Oyster/Contactless FAQ!

Q: So, what is an Oyster card?

A: It's a smart card that allows you to travel within Greater London, on the Underground, buses, trams, the DLR and trains within the validity area. As well as being convenient, it can be a lot cheaper than cash fares.

You can also pay for some river services, and the Emirates Air Line.

It has two modes: pay-as-you-go and zonal season tickets for 1 week or more. You can also use it as a hybrid - to use pay-as-you-go funds to travel outside of your season ticket zones.

To travel, you simply touch the card on the card reader.

Q: What about contactless?

A: As of September 2014, you can use contactless credit cards to travel within Greater London. This is on a pay-as-you-go basis - the fare for each journey you take will be debited from your account.

Daily and weekly limits apply to contactless travel, broadly equivalent to daily and weekly 'travelcards' (unlimited travel tickets). Once you reach these limits, no more funds will be debited from the card. In some circumstances, for journeys outside the zonal area (such as to or from Gatwick), contactless can be cheaper than Oyster.

As with Oyster, to travel, you simply touch the card on the card reader.

Q: Why all this fuss about 'card clash'?

A: If you take your card out of your wallet, and place it on your card reader, it pretty clear that you're using that card, whether Oyster or contactless, to travel.

However, the card reader can generally pick up cards inside a wallet, and people have got used to travelling simply by touching a wallet (or travel wallet) on the card reader.

However, now that contactless cards are being accepted for travel, and travel smart cards are becoming more popular, it's increasingly likely that people will have multiple cards in their wallet that could be accepted for travel. In this case, the card reader may not consistently pick up the card that the passenger wishes to use.

So you are being encouraged to ensure you are only placing a single card on/near the reader at any given time.

As you can register Oyster and contactless cards to an online account, TfL have said they will do their best to reconcile 'card clash' if you enter and exit with different cards, or use different cards within the same time period by accident, but this cannot be guaranteed.

Q: Why would I use Oyster over contactless?

A: Both Oyster and contactless cards have the same fares at present.

Oyster cards can have additional discounts loaded on to them if you have certain types of National Railcards (see below). This is not currently possible with contactless.

Contactless cards have a weekly fare cap, equivalent to the same weekly travelcard. This is not currently possible on Oyster - you'd be expected to load the weekly travelcard on in advance. However, Oyster weekly travelcards can be for any 7 consecutive days, whereas contactless capping runs from Mondays to Sundays only (otherwise there would be a never-ending recalculation cycle until one stopped travelling for >7 days).

Oyster cards allow you to load on monthly or longer travelcards.

Oyster cards allow you to use a hybrid mode, to use pay-as-you-go funds for occasional travel outside a travelcard's zone.

You can top up an Oyster at National Rail stations for any multiple of 5p, up to a maximum of £90 on the card, allowing you to manufacture spending.

If your non-UK card has a per-transaction foreign spending fee, then obviously it makes sense to pay this only once by preloading an Oyster.

Q: What is a contactless card? Will mine be accepted?

A: 'Contactless' refers to a method of payment on credit cards - and increasingly on mobile/cellphone and other decides. It's also known as EMV, NFC or by brand names such as PayWave, PayPass and ExpressPay.

If your credit card has it, it will have a symbol like this on it:



You may even have an app on your smartphone that allows you to use it.

It doesn't matter if your card isn't issued in the UK, but there are still some cards which don't currently work with the system. An up-to-date list is kept here: TfL Contactless Website.

Q: Why would I use a paper ticket?

A: For one-way fares on the Underground or DLR, paper tickets are poor value. They're really only good for very occasional travel, where you are not able to use Oyster or contactless.

Cash fares are not available on buses at all.

However, with a paper travelcard (weekly or longer zoneal ticket) issued by a National Rail station, you can avail yourself of a number of very generous 2-for-1 offers for entry to some major London attractions.

For travel to/from Gatwick, there are a terrifyingly large number of fare options possible. In some circumstances (especially weekends) a paper ticket can be cheaper than oyster or contactless. Taking advantage of this requires careful research and detailed understanding of the fare options. For most passengers, oyster or contactless is the simple option and will always be a reasonable fare.

If you have a UK railcard, paper tickets on London heavy rail journeys in the afternoon peak period (1600-1900) can be cheaper than Oyster fares.

There is a maximum journey time on Oyster / contactless which means that if you want to roam around the rail network, or wait inside a station for a friend who is delayed, you run the risk of not having a validated ticket when you are checked.

Q: What is fare capping?

A: It's quite a user-friendly feature of Oyster and contactless payments. Rather than trying to figure out whether it's going to be cheaper to pay for individual journeys on the day, or buy a daily (or weekly, in the case of contactless) ticket in advance, the system will figure it out for you.

The actual fare structure is quite complex, and depends on peak and off-peak hours and different transport modes, but there is a handy calculator here: Single Fare Finder.

The capping rules and fares are here: Oyster Fare Capping and here: Contactless Fare Capping.

Note that contactless weekly fare capping runs Mon-Sun.

Q: How do I buy an Oyster card?

A: There's a whole number of places you can buy them, but the short answer is 'from rail and Underground stations'. Most Underground vending machines now sell them - and will accept credit cards (standard caveats for non-chip cards apply). Full details are here: Where to Buy Tickets.

Note that to obtain an Oyster card requires payment of a £5 non-refundable fee. (Older documents refer to a refundable deposit - that no longer applies to new cards. Holders of older cards can hand in the card and get the £5 deposit refunded if they no longer need the card). If the card is held for a calendar year, that £5 fee becomes available as useable credit against fares. If you want to use annual season tickets on them, you will have to register them online.

There's also a network of Oyster Ticket Stops around London, if a station isn't convenient for you, or an unmanned station machine won't accept your credit card.

You can also buy a Visitor Oyster Card prior to arrival. There's a minimum pre-load, and a £5 non-refundable fee, plus postage charges. As oyster cards as very easy to obtain on arrival, there is no benefit in buying the Visitor card in advance.

Q: Where can I use it?

A: Basically, anywhere in London. There are some exceptions. The best way to see if your destination is covered is to refer to the zonal map: TfL London Rail and Tube Map.

Note: Oyster is accepted on all trains/tubes/buses in London, except:
  • From 2019 onwards, it is accepted on Heathrow Express but at a premium rate other other modes
  • Accepted on tfl rail (formerly known as Connect) services.
  • Not accepted on sightseeing tour buses. These are not part of the public transport infrastructure within London.
  • Contactless is not accepted on the small number of “heritage routemaster” buses which operate on part of bus route 15 between Trafalgar Square and Tower Hill. Oyster is accepted. The restriction on Contactless is because the ticket equipment used by the conductors hasn’t been upgraded to handle contactless. Other buses on route 15 (modern ones, not heritage routemasters) are OK.

There are limited fares available outside of London, as noted on the map above. This is constantly being expanded.

Oyster cards may additionally be used to travel on the Thames Clippers river services and the Emirates Air Line. These are PAYG services with a different fare structure from the rest of the transport network. Thus they are not subject to daily capping, however if you have a travelcard loaded onto your Oyster, there is a discount on the fare.

Q: How do I use it?

A: Look for this symbol:



To use your Oyster or contactless card, just touch it on the card reader bearing that symbol at the start of your journey ('touch in') and, depending on the journey mode, at the end ('touch out'). It's quite sensitive and quick to register.

A yellow light in the corner indicates it's ready to use. Touch the card on. When it turns green and beeps, it's registered positively. If it turns red and beeps, there's a problem (lack of funds or transmission problems). Try again if this happens, but bear in mind that Londoners can be an impatient bunch!

Tube and Train: In most cases, you'll go through ticket barriers, in which case the reader will be on top of the barrier body on the right hand side:



You need to touch in and touch out, and it's important to do so, even if the barriers are locked open.

On some occasions, smaller stations (or wide barriers) may have a standalone card reader like this:



which you can use instead.

DLR: Most DLR stations do not have barriers, so you need to explicitly remember to touch in and touch out, bearing in mind that the readers may not be in line of sight (London City Airport being the worst for this). The readers are normally standalone, looking something like this:



Bus and Tram: As buses and trams have a flat fare, you only need to touch in, not out. On most buses, there is a reader next to the driver, like this:



However, on rear-boarding buses, you may see standalone ones like this:



For trams, you touch in on the platform – note that you should not touch out at the end of a tram journey (unless you are exiting Wimbledon Station):



When you touch in, a 'standard fare' is deducted from your card. The value of this varies according to the form of transport. The balance is refunded when you touch out. The result of this is that, if you touch out, you will not receive this balance, and be charged a more expensive fare for your journey.

Q: How much will it cost?

I'd love to be able to give a simple answer to this... However, it's not quite so simple. The easiest way is to use the Single Fare Finder and refer to the Daily Capping page (see FAQ section on what that means). Within the London zonal area, oyster (or contactless) will always be the cheapest option for a working age adult. (For children or holders of senior railcard, the cheapest may be different).

There are third-party sites and apps out there which can give a more user-friendly presentation of the same information (put them here if you find some good ones!)

Q: How do I top up the funds or renew a season ticket?

A: For contactless cards, you don't top up funds - they are simply debited from your account once per day, usually two days after you travel. You also can't load a travelcard. For Oyster, however, you have a number of options.
  • Ticket Machines - at Tube, Rail, DLR and Tram stations, ticket machines will let you top up your Oyster card by card or cash. Just look for the Oyster symbol on the machine, touch your card on, and follow instructions.
  • Ticket Offices - you can also top up at ticket offices. Note, however, that 75% of Tube ticket offices have closed down - all will be closed soon, and they mandate a £5 minimum for cash top-ups.
  • Oyster Ticket Stops - just like buying the cards, you can top them up here.
  • Online - this is slightly more awkward than it sounds. You can register and top up funds or buy a season ticket online at the Oyster website. However, the process is quite convoluted. You specify what you want to load, but also have to specify a 'launch' station - a station you know you will be travelling through. You then have eight days – starting with the day after you purchase – to start or finish a journey at this station, and only at that point will the funds/travelcard be loaded.
  • Auto Top-Up - this is rather more convenient, especially for people with frequent but irregular travel in London. You leave credit card details, and when your card dips below a balance of £10, it will be automatically topped up with the amount you specify - and this doesn't have to be at a station. This can also be set up on the Oyster website.
Note that the Oyster website does not support non-UK billed cards. This is not to say they will be rejected outright, but if your foreign card isn't accepted, you'll have to put up with it.

Q: Can I get a refund when I'm finished with an Oyster card?

A: Yes you can. The easiest way is to take it to a Tube Ticket office (but only a tiny number of stations have a ticket office....). You will get the balance back, plus any refundable deposit. Or to go to any Tube station and get a refund from the larger Ticket Machines (Max £15 refund given, £5 Deposit + unto £10 PAYG Credit). You cannot get the deposit refunded if you still have an active travelcard loaded on the oyster (so if you buy a weekly travelcard but leave London on day 6, you cannot get the deposit refunded).

You can also apple for a refund online through the TfL website.

TfL also have a number of deposit boxes around, where you can post the card, with the funds being donated to charity.

Q: Can I use an Oyster card to/from airports?

A:
Heathrow: Yes - all modes

Yes on Heathrow Express, but at Premium fare

Yes on Underground (Piccadilly Line).

Yes on TfL buses (i.e. red buses, which includes route 81 to Slough, but not National Express coaches or other local buses going outside of Greater London to Windsor, Oxford, etc, but there ). All buses, not just TfL, in the immediate vicinity of the airport are free, excepting the "Hotel Hoppa" services which are quite expensive.

Valid on tfl rail (formerly Heathrow Connect) to/from the airport.

London City: Yes.

Yes, valid on DLR. There are no gates to the platform, so remember to 'touch in' on the validators tucked away (not in your sight line) opposite the escalators to the platform or you are liable for a penalty fare.

Yes, valid on TfL buses. (There are limited local bus routes from LCY, and bus is rarely a wise choice for visitors).

Gatwick: Yes, but higher fares are charged for trains branded "express" (which are not discernibly quicker than ordinary services).

Oyster was extended to Gatwick in early 2016. Southern Railway have their own smartcard, but take up is poor - not useful for visitors.

Luton: No, not yet valid. This will change in 2019. However - only contactless is valid to Luton - not Oyster.

Stansted: No, not valid.

Southend: No, not valid.

Q: What if I'm travelling outside Greater London? How do I know where this is?

A: The following map shows the Oyster zones: Oyster Rail Map.

Broadly, this is inside Greater London, but there are some locations outside, and these are being added to. You can also use Oyster on any TfL (Transport for London) sponsored bus, regardless of location.

If you want to travel outside of London, you will need a paper ticket (or an alternative smartcard valid for your journey where applicable).

However, if you have a travelcard (zonal season ticket) loaded on to your Oyster card, you can purchase a single ticket from the last station inside your Zones to your destination. If you do this, the train you take must pass the station, but does not have to stop at it.

There may be a choice of routes, for example, trains from London to Stevenage may go via Hadley Wood or Crews Hill (the last stations within Zone 6). You could also buy a "Boundary Zone" ticket from BZ6 to Stevenage. In conjunction with your travelcard

These tickets can only be bought from a manned counter, though some tickets are available from the Ticket Machines.

Q: What are 'pink readers'?

This is TfL recognising that there are multiple routes that you could take because of the complexity of the network.

London fare zones are concentric, due to the primary nature of travel in the city. However, there are often multiple routes from A-B - often including cheaper, but less convenient journeys avoiding Zone 1 (which has a fare premium compared to other zones). In order to obtain this cheaper fare, you must prove that you have taken the more circuitous route by touching your card on a pink-coloured Oyster reader at an intermediate station. These are just like other Oyster readers, but typically located along a platform at an exchange station.

Say you're travelling from Highbury & Islington to Canary Wharf. The quickest routes involve travel via Zone 1 (Overground to Shadwell then change to DLR, or Victoria Line to Green Park and change to Jubilee Line). Including Zone 1 in your journey would result in a higher Zone 1-2 fare.

To save money, you could take the Overground to Stratford, and change to the DLR there directly to Canary Wharf. That would not travel via Zone 1, and so the cost would be the lower Zone 2-3 fare (Zone 3 is included because Stratford is in Zone 3). So how do you prove you went this way? When changing at Stratford, touch your Oyster or Contactless card on a pink Oyster Validator - doing this will clarify your route to the system and charge you the lower non-Zone 1 fare.

You can use the Single Fare Finder to be clear as to which stations you must touch a pink reader at to obtain a particular fare–you may encounter more than one station with pink readers on your journey but you need only touch the ones indicated by the Single Fare Finder. It is necessary to touch the pink readers if you have a travelcard that is not valid for the zones you are avoiding.

Q: Are any discounts available?

Railcards are available for people aged 16-25, over 60, disabled, people travelling with children, and any two people travelling together. This includes tourists if you can provide a passport photo and proof of age. If you have a sole person railcard, you can load this onto your registered Oyster at most TfL stations. This will give you 34% off off-peak fares.

In the afternoon peak on National Rail services within London, it may still be cheaper to buy a paper ticket than use Oyster as you get a railcard discount on the paper ticket but not the Oyster PAYG fare.

London students (e.g. university, exchange) can get 30% off travelcards by applying for an 18+ Oyster through their university.

Q: Can I get a receipt?

A: Yes, but if you are using a machine, you need to press a button if you want a receipt as the default is to not issue one.

You can also visit the Oyster Website or Contactless Website, which allow you to print off a journey and charging history.

Q: What is the difference between a Travelcard and an Oyster Card (or a Contactless Card)?

A: The travelcard has been around for years. It is a ticket that allows unlimited travel for a period of a day, week, month or longer, within the travelcard zones here: TfL Zone Map. Different combinations of zones are available, as well as tickets that include journeys from destinations outsize the zones (the unlimited travel then being within the zones, and between the zone bounday and the ticket origin).

For daily travelcards, there is a distinction between peak and off-peak hours.

Traditionally, it is a paper ticket. However, weekly or longer inboundary travelcards (i.e. those which are wholly within the travelcard zones) can also be loaded on to Oyster Cards. This means that the Oyster card will simply validate that you have a valid travelcard season ticket, and not deduct any balance. Rather usefully, if you need to go to a travelcard zone not covered by your season ticket, the Oyster Card will automatically deduct the excess fare.

But why isn't a daily travelcard included? Well, that's because of price capping. If you use an Oyster card several times in a day, it will cap the amount you are charged in a day to a value that is slightly less than the equivalent paper travelcards, calculated based on the zones you've travelled in and the time of day (to determine peak/off-peak).

And contactless? That will do the same capping, but for weekly as well as daily.

If you have an outboundary travelcard (i.e. from outside the zones in the map, e.g. Gatwick Airport or Biggleswade) then it will have to be a paper ticket or other Rail Company Smart Card (e.g. Southern's 'The Key'). And if you have an annual one, you may need a second mortgage...
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Old Mar 4, 15, 11:16 am
  #61  
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Originally Posted by stut View Post
Wow, that's quite a change. Makes the £39 one-day peak travelcard from my stop look even more of a rip-off!
Indeed – unless you have a need to go outside zones 1-4 on your travels within London, you're going to be better served with a London Terminals ticket and your Oyster card.
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Old Mar 4, 15, 11:25 am
  #62  
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Originally Posted by stifle View Post
That's right. The lower daily cap of £4.25 from 09:30 applies only to the holders of certain discount cards which are unlikely to apply to you.
Fantastic. Thanks.
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Old Mar 10, 15, 4:26 pm
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Oyster vs TravelCard under new fare structure

If you don't mind, a question, please.

We will be arriving in London on a Wednesday after 9:30 and departing via the tube to London on the following Tuesday. Previously I had purchased the Oyster card and loaded it with a 7 day TravelCard (and round trip LHR-Central London), which at the time made sense.

Given the new fare structure, I wonder. We only use the tube (or bus) a couple of times each day, and always within Zone 1. Rarely if ever before 9:30.

Under those circumstances, it seems as if I should just go with the Oyster card's daily cap and not load the TravelCard? Or am I missing some nuance? Simply confused here.

Many thanks.
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Old Mar 11, 15, 1:07 am
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The weekly zone 1-2 cap is £32.10 but applies on contactless Monday to Sunday. Where as on an Oyster Card the same cap on Oyster but you can start it any day you like but you need to pay for it up front.

The daily cap is £6.40 so you need to hit that cap at least 6 days out of the 7 to reach the £32.10 required spend, you won't do this before the Monday when it resets. Due to the lower daily capping you will hit the daily cap after 3 single journeys in zone 1 at £2.30 each either peak or off peak.

You need to consider exchange rates / commission charges if you are using a foreign card, you will get one charge per day appear on your statement rather than one charge per journey against the price of the Oyster card (assuming you don't have one already) and the convenience option.

The advantage of contactless is that you don't have to worry about paying the 7 day travel card unless you hit cap, however, if you do hit the cap then you will probably be paying more as it will reset on the Monday morning.

I'd do the sums and weigh it up against the inconvenience of buying and topping up an Oyster card. I think contactless may work out more expensive if you hit the cap every day, but personally I would probably just use contactless as the difference is unlikely to be huge and I don't have to worry about buying and topping up an Oyster card.
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Old Mar 11, 15, 1:40 am
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Jacknyoc - If you really will be a light user (two or less journeys per day in the central area) then "pay as you go" will be cheaper than loading a weekly travelcard. If you are likely to make three or more journeys for five days or more, the week travelcard will save you money. Because of the lower daily cap for journeys in central zone, you won't be out of pocket by more than a few pounds, even if you pick the "wrong" option.
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Old Mar 11, 15, 6:10 pm
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Thank you, visualAd and rcspeirs, I very much appreciate your input. It helps a lot.

I have an oyster card from a previous trip, and if I understand what you have said and what I have read, I can simply load a certain amount onto the card (20 GBP for instance) and use it for each trip until that amount is depleted, then load an additional amount as needed. Is that correct? If so, I presume I can load my oyster card at either a ticket booth or at the machines.

In terms of contactless cards, I'm presuming this refers to credit cards with pin technology. I have US cards, some with pin technology, but they are all pin and signature cards. I'm presuming that won't work at the contactless entrance points. Is that correct?

Again, thank you very much for your assistance.
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Old Mar 12, 15, 1:53 am
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Yes, just load £20 onto your existing Oystercard and away you go.
Contactless? NotHing to do with chip and pin (although in practise, virtually all contactless cards issued in the UK are chip and pin. The starting entry in this article explains the symbol to look for on your card(s). If you don't know what it is then it's probable that your card(s) aren't enabled with it.
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Old Mar 12, 15, 10:15 am
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Many thanks. this is very helpful and I appreciate being able to ask the questions to be clear in my own mind. My apologies for overlooking the large descriptive picture related to the contactless card and description in the initial wiki...I must have simply scrolled through them too quickly. thank you for your assistance.

Originally Posted by rcspeirs View Post
Yes, just load £20 onto your existing Oystercard and away you go.
Contactless? NotHing to do with chip and pin (although in practise, virtually all contactless cards issued in the UK are chip and pin. The starting entry in this article explains the symbol to look for on your card(s). If you don't know what it is then it's probable that your card(s) aren't enabled with it.
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Old Mar 15, 15, 12:01 pm
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It will no longer be possible to load an Oyster card at a London Underground ticket booth after this year.
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Old Mar 16, 15, 1:17 am
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@stifle. Can we clarify your post. What I think you mean is that there will no longer be the option of using a manned ticket window. It will still be possible to top up at tube stations, but you must use the ticket machines (which won't work for those who's bank card is not chip / pin).
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Old Mar 16, 15, 6:29 am
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Originally Posted by rcspeirs View Post
@stifle. Can we clarify your post. What I think you mean is that there will no longer be the option of using a manned ticket window. It will still be possible to top up at tube stations, but you must use the ticket machines (which won't work for those who's bank card is not chip / pin).
I used my USA chipped Platinum Amex card to add funds to my Oyster card in July 2014. It's chip and signature.

Have things changed since then and now chip and pin is required? If that's the case, what option is left to add funds to an Oyster card with a chip and signature card?
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Old Mar 16, 15, 1:14 pm
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Originally Posted by rcspeirs View Post
@stifle. Can we clarify your post. What I think you mean is that there will no longer be the option of using a manned ticket window. It will still be possible to top up at tube stations, but you must use the ticket machines (which won't work for those who's bank card is not chip / pin).
I mean exactly what I wrote. All ticket windows on London Underground stations will permanently close this year. Ticket machines will still be available and their settings have not changed, so if your card worked there before it will still work in the future.

Chip and PIN becomes mandatory in the USA from October 2015 so using the machines should not be an issue, but for those customers not in a position to use machines there is still the option of topping up with cash at Ticket Vending Machines or using a card at London Travel Centres which will be available at major stations frequented by tourists including Heathrow Terminals 123, Euston, Victoria, Liverpool Street, St. Pancras, and Gatwick Airport, as well as at the Heathrow Express ticket office at Heathrow Terminal 5 and the DLR ticket office at London City Airport. Additionally, some local Oyster Ticket Stops accept card payments.
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Old Mar 16, 15, 2:16 pm
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Originally Posted by stifle View Post
I mean exactly what I wrote. All ticket windows on London Underground stations will permanently close this year. Ticket machines will still be available and their settings have not changed, so if your card worked there before it will still work in the future.

Chip and PIN becomes mandatory in the USA from October 2015 so using the machines should not be an issue, but for those customers not in a position to use machines there is still the option of topping up with cash at Ticket Vending Machines or using a card at London Travel Centres which will be available at major stations frequented by tourists including Heathrow Terminals 123, Euston, Victoria, Liverpool Street, St. Pancras, and Gatwick Airport, as well as at the Heathrow Express ticket office at Heathrow Terminal 5 and the DLR ticket office at London City Airport. Additionally, some local Oyster Ticket Stops accept card payments.
One correction: it will be chip and signature, not chip and pin, for most cards here in the USA.
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Old Mar 16, 15, 4:13 pm
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Originally Posted by fliesdelta View Post
One correction: it will be chip and signature, not chip and pin, for most cards here in the USA.
That isn't what I've heard.
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Old Mar 17, 15, 4:30 am
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Originally Posted by stifle View Post
That isn't what I've heard.
OK, well, all of the cards that I've been sent (Amex, Citibank, B of A, Chase) are chip and signature. Same with everyone else I know here in the USA. There are very few cards issued here with chip and pin. Please refers to threads on the credit card forums.
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