London Travel Tips Part 1

We recently returned from a nice visit to London. While temperatures were only in the mid 50s F, we’ll take that any day over the deep freeze that New Jersey has recently experienced.

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I want to share two things that will make a visit to London more enjoyable. In this first of two posts, we’ll take a look at the Visitor Oyster Card. I don’t know why it is called an Oyster — it is a proximity card — but if you plan to use the various services provided by Transport for London (TfL) to get around, you’ll find it to be most convenient. It can pay your fare from Heathrow, in and around London on the Underground, and on buses and more. It features daily and weekly fare caps, so once you spend a certain amount, you don’t incur further charges during that time period. And, pay as you go fares are cheaper on the card than if you purchase individual tickets.

You can order your Visitor Oyster Card online or you can buy it at the Visit London shop at Heathrow. We put £40 on each card and at the end of a busy trip, we still had £10.10 left. And that proved to be fatal. The automated ticket machines will refund any balance up to £10 to your credit card and you can keep the card for future use. That extra 10 pence caused me to have to get personal assistance with the refund.

There is a £5- deposit (or activation fee) on the card which used to be refundable. It is no longer refundable. When I went to the window to cash out the 2 cards, I was given £20.20. But, to my surprise, the cards were cancelled and not returned. I had expected to either get the £5 deposit or the cards returned. Instead, I lost £10 on the deal. There used to be references on the TfL website which stated that the card can be emptied and retained for future use. I showed a PDF document from their website to the representative which clearly stated that the card would be returned.

Based upon my inquiry, it looks like those references were removed from the TfL website. Apparently, the policy was changed last year. The supervisor at the Heathrow Visit London office near Terminal 3 informed me that the change had something to do with GDPR. I am skeptical that TfL’s retention of the card I used for holiday travel somehow protects my privacy.

Lesson learned #1 — If you have a balance on your Oyster Visitor Card, keep it for a future trip. It never expires.

In Part 2, we’ll discuss VAT refunds and how not all refunds are created equal.

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