Studying in London is a unique experience compared to other universities. Whilst the capital offers an unrivalled amount of things to see and do, it can at first be challenge. Although there are a few discount options available to help reduce costs, understanding which one is best and most suitable can in itself be a confusing process.

Most students are aware of the 18+ Student Oyster Photocard, but there are also other, lesser known discount railcards. So, which one is the best? The simple answer is that it depends entirely on you - how frequently you use the transport network, and during which times.

In this article:


What is the 18+ Student Oyster card and can I get one?
The 18+ Oyster entitles you to 30% off travelcards and Bus and Tram season tickets. It is available to full-time King’s students living in the Greater London area, and you apply online using the TFL website at a cost of £20. You’ll simply need your course dates, the student number on your ID card, as well as a photo and your email.

Applying a discounted travelcard to an Oyster gives peace of mind that you won’t spend any more than the amount you’ve already paid. However, bear in mind there is no discount to pay-as-you-go fares with an 18+ Oyster. You could be overpaying for a travelcard if you aren’t using the tube or buses frequently, so it is worth considering the other option before handing over £20 to TFL.

We recommend reading the detail of what the benefits are, as well as the eligibility criteria for this travel card at TFL 18+ Student Oyster photocard.

If you are eligible and wish to apply, please refer to our specific guidance when applying as a King’s student in our article How do I apply for an 18+ Student Oyster photocard?

Important to know: If you take a break from your studies, you won’t be eligible for the 18+ Oyster card for the duration of your interruption.

What is the 16+ Student Oyster card and can I get one?
The 16+ Student Oyster card is intended for students still studying full-time at school or college on a course which counts as level 3 or below. Examples of level 3 courses include A Levels (AS/A2), vocational awards such as BTEC and NVQ qualifications at Level 3, and the International Baccalaureate. Degree courses at King’s start at level 4, making the majority of students ineligible for the 16+.

Exceptions:
  • If you are still 17 on the 31 August ahead of starting your degree course (usually September), you should be able apply for this discount without university approval, and it will remain valid until your 18th birthday.

  • Foundation courses can count as level 3; this means that if you are 18 and studying on the King’s International Foundation course, you can apply for this discount but because of your age, you’ll need to get approval from King’s for this.

    • To apply: Submit a Form Request and upload your application form.

    • We will check your record and ensure you meet the relevant criteria, and then sign and stamp the form for you, returning it to you via email.


Important to know: When seeking to apply for this discount travelcard, please make sure you read all the information at 16+ Zip Oyster photocard and please refer to the TFL Eligibility criteria before applying. If your application is rejected because you are ineligible, you run the risk of losing your application fee. If you are at all unsure if you are eligible, please seek advice from TFL.

What is the National Rail 16-25 Railcard and can I get one?
The 16-25 Railcard gets you ⅓ off pay-as-you-go off peak tube fares Zone 1-6 as an alternative to travelcards. Despite the name suggesting it is only available to those 16-25 years old, it is also available for full-time students older than 25.

You can apply online at an annual cost of £30, or £70 for 3 years. The railcard also offers ⅓ off advanced and off-peak fares across the UK rail network and so for those wanting to explore the UK or take the train home, it is an expense that can very quickly pay for itself and save money.

To get the discount in London, you will simply need to ask a member of staff at an underground station to apply the Railcard discount to your Oyster.

Important to know: When it comes to the railcard, there is no discount to peak fares Monday-Friday 06:30-09:30 and 16:00-19:00 or to bus fares.

How can I apply?

  • If you’re aged between 16-25 years, you can do it all online yourself, opting for a digital or plastic railcard at 16-25 Railcard.

  • If you’re over 25, you are best to apply for the 26-30 Railcard.

  • If you’re over 30 and a full-time student, you’ll need to start off your application online and then you’ll be directed to a Mature student railcard application form, which we’ll need to sign and stamp for you. For this please submit a Form Request.

Important to know: 
  • Students studying on a distance learning course don’t qualify for a railcard. Please visit the 16-25 railcard eligibility for more information.
I’m a part-time student; am I eligible for this railcard?
The 16-25 Railcard eligibility criteria defines full-time as “attending a recognised college or university, for over 15 hours a week, at least 20 weeks a year”. Most part-time courses don’t meet this requirement, and so if yours doesn’t, you won’t be eligible. But if your department confirms that you are studying 15 hours or more, for at least 20 weeks a year, we can approve this application for you.

To request this please submit a Form Request and upload your form, and we will liaise directly with your department for confirmation.

Important to know:
  • This railcard is not tied to your student status but rather your age; if you’re under 25, you can apply whether you’re a student or not.

  • Always carry your 16-25 Railcard when buying tickets and travelling.

  • If you’re unsure if you’re eligible for this railcard, visit 16-25: Are you eligible?


What is the National Rail 26-30 Railcard and can I get one?
If you're aged between 26 and 30 then you can apply for a 26-30 Railcard, which provides a 30% discount off most off-peak rail fares and pay-as-you-go train journeys made on the London Underground. This card is great for saving money on your travel if you don’t meet the criteria for the 16-25 railcard.

You can apply for the railcard by creating an account on the 26-30 Railcard website and filling in all the required fields.


To make an application you will need:
  1. A valid passport or UK Driving Licence to verify your identity.

  2. A digital passport-style photo saved to your computer, tablet or mobile phone.

  3. A debit or credit card.

  4. The Railcard app.

Important to know:
  • Check when and with which ticket(s) you are permitted to use your 26-30 railcard by visiting Where and when can I use my Railcard?

  • Always carry your 26-30 Railcard when buying tickets and travelling.

I’m a mature or part-time student; am I eligible for this railcard?
Both the 26-30 and the 16-25 railcards are dependent on your age, so you don’t have to be a student to apply. Anyone under 31 is covered by either one of the railcards without needing any further approval – you can apply directly through the website.

The main difference comes if you are studying and over 30; for this you’re best to refer to details for the 16-25 railcard.

 
Comparing the 18+ Student Oyster card and 16-25 Railcard: which student travel card is right for me?
If you are not using public transport frequently but instead walking or cycling to university and only using the tube occasionally, the 18+ Oyster may not be worthwhile. To check fares for travel across the different zones using the various payment methods, refer to TFL 18+ Student fares.

Unless you travel very regularly on pay-as-you-go fares, a 16-25 Railcard may be more appropriate to save money on off-peak fares, when using the tube or city trains to see friends or explore London for leisure.

Even if you use the tube frequently on one day, fares automatically cap at the zone rate, ensuring you can’t spend any more than this in one day. Caps can increase year on year, so if you think you might stick to standard pay-as-you-go, we recommend checking TFL’s Pay as you go caps.

The 16-25 railcard offers an additional ⅓ off daily caps when using the tube off-peak bringing the cap down further. On the other hand, if you are regularly using transport to travel into university and at peak times, the discounted travelcard allows for unlimited journeys on a weekly or monthly basis, and so may make the 18+ Oyster better value.

If you do opt for the 18+ Oyster, you can still apply a 16-25 railcard discount allowing for the best of both worlds. You can opt for a discounted travelcard in the weeks you use public transport frequently whilst allowing for a pay-as-you-go discount when not using transport frequently outside of term time.

If you are living in Zone 2, you may opt for a Zone 1-2 weekly travelcard to get to university, but use the 16-25 Railcard when you make journeys to Zone 3 and beyond to explore areas outside of Central London. A combination of the two allows for maximum flexibility.

In the end, it depends entirely on your personal use. It’s a good idea to check how much you are using public transport to see if the total regularly exceeds or is below the cost of a travelcard for your zone.

To work out what you’re spending your money on to help you budget better, refer to our guide on managing your money.


Working out what you need step-by-step
 
 

Step 1: Make sure you're using either an Oyster or Contactless Card

  • Paper ticket fares are incredibly expensive in London, and nowadays often unnecessary when so many credit and debit cards have the contactless feature.

  • You will know if your debit card is contactless depending on whether it has the contactless symbol. Though contactless removes the need to top-up, discounts cannot be applied and it can be more difficult to keep track of spending.

  • Adult Oyster cards are available at ticket machines at any Tube station for a £5. Even if you opt to apply for an 18+ Oyster, it is worth paying this while you wait for your 18+ Oyster, because it can sometimes take a couple of weeks for the university to approve this for you.

 

 

Step 2: How much are you using transport and when?

  • To keep track of usage, make sure to register your Oyster Card online following the instructions on the TFL website. Once you have done this, you can view journey history and see daily expenditure.

  • You may wish to set up a Contactless and Oyster account which also has a matching app, which allows you to check your journey history, easily top-up credit and you’ll get notifications when your credit runs low.

  • Keeping track of your journeys and your spending means you can total the weekly and estimate the monthly and annual costs, and compare this with the cost of discounted travelcards for each zone. For details on fares across a range of transport types in the capital visit TFL Find fares.

 

 

Step 3: Apply for the discount cards

  • If you find you are exceeding the cost of a travelcard via pay-as-you-go fares it is likely that an 18+ Oyster is a sound investment and can be applied for online. Please refer to our guidance in How do I apply for an 18+ Student Oyster photocard?

  • If you are only occasionally using public transport and therefore coming in below the cost of a travelcard, or simply want both discounts and the option of discounts on trains throughout the UK, you can apply for the 16-25 Railcard online.

 

 

Important to know

  • Buses are almost always cheaper than the tube and the Hopper Fare gives you unlimited journeys for £1.50, made within 1 hour of touching in.

  • Remember to tap in and tap out at all stations even if there are no barriers. Forgetting to tap both in and out on the tube will lead to a penalty fare.

  • King’s Student Funding Office confirm student attendance to TFL for applications to be approved. September and October are very busy periods as many students apply for the 18+ Oyster card, so bear in mind you may need to wait; please allow at least 3 weeks for processing.