Maximum Journey Times

The oyster system is designed for single journeys, although a journey by rail can include any combination of National Rail (inc Overground), Underground and DLR.  Providing you always touch in and touch out at the ends of your journey you should always be charged the correct fare.  Each journey must be completed within a maximum time.  The amount of time you are allowed varies depending on the time of day and the number of zone boundaries crossed.

Journeys in or near Central London
Zones coveredMonday-Friday
Mon-Fri 1900-0430
and all day Saturday
Sunday and
Bank Holidays
Zone 1, zone 2, zones 2-390 mins100 mins110 mins
Zones 1-2100 mins110 mins120 mins
Zones 1-3110 mins125 mins135 mins
Zones 1-4*110 mins125 mins135 mins

* Use these values for upto 5 zones within zones 1-4, see below for 6 or 7 zones.

In the table below the stations outside of zones 1-9 have been given pseudo-zone numbers purely for the calculation of maximum journey times.  Watford Junction, Ockenden, Chafford Hundred, Purfleet and Grays are all considered to be zone 10 while Broxbourne is zone 11 and Shenfield in zone 12.  All zones technically exist, even with no stations, so Watford Junction to Bushey is a 3 zone journey (10-9-8) and Upminster to Grays is 5 zones (6-7-8-9-10).  The TfL site describes the longest journey as Amersham to Shenfield (9 through to 1 then 2 through to 12), but I think Watford Junction to Shenfield should possibly be longer at 21 zones.  Does anyone want to guess how long will be allowed on a through train between Reading and Shenfield when Crossrail opens?

Any other zone combination
Number of zonesMonday-Friday
Mon-Fri 1900-0430
and all day Saturday
Sunday and
Bank Holidays
Within 1 zone*70 mins80 mins85 mins
Across 2 zones*80 mins90 mins100 mins
Across 3 zones*90 mins100 mins110 mins
Across 4 zones*100 mins110 mins120 mins
Across 5 zones110 mins125 mins135 mins
Across 6 zones120 mins135 mins145 mins
Across 7 zones130 mins145 mins160 mins
Across 8 zones140 mins155 mins170 mins
Across 9 zones150 mins165 mins180 mins
Across 10 zones160 mins180 mins195 mins
Across 11 zones170 mins190 mins205 mins
Across 12 zones180 mins200 mins220 mins
Across 13 zones190 mins210 mins230 mins
Across 14 zones200 mins220 mins240 mins
Across 15 zones210 mins235 mins255 mins
Across 16 zones220 mins245 mins265 mins
Across 17 zones230 mins255 mins280 mins
Across 18 zones240 mins265 mins290 mins
Across 19 zones250 mins275 mins300 mins
Across 20 zones260 mins290 mins315 mins

* See section above where the journey is close to Central London.

Splitting a journey

Unlike National Rail paper tickets, pay as you go journeys using an Oyster card cannot usually be broken.  The only exception to this rule is where you need to leave one station and walk to another nearby one to continue your journey.  This is called an out-of-station interchange (OSI).  Providing that you do not exceed the time allowed for walking between the stations you can do anything else that you want on the way.  Be aware that the walking time ends when you touch in through the gateline, so if you need to wait on a concourse until your train is advertised then this needs to be taken into consideration.  There is a full list of OSIs on this page.  Note also that the time taken between touch out and touch in is included in the overall journey time.

122 Responses

  1. Hi Mike,

    I’m sure I’ve read this somewhere but can’t find it so apologies if this has been answered before. Are there any restrictions on validly ending an Oyster journey by touching out, then immediately starting a new journey by touching in at the same station? I guess this is similar to your tip on breaking an OSI though for a different reason.

    Why might I want to do this? Maximum journey times. I like to keep fares down by avoiding zone 1 where possible but as my “home” station (for Oyster purposes) is Feltham then a journey from, say, north-east London can often be a contest between the cheap fare and the journey time.

    For example, Leytonstone High Road to Feltham is a 6-zone journey so 2 hours. I calculate that a likely time for this journey is 1h46m via Gospel Oak and Richmond costing £4.00/£1.70 (fares peak/off-peak with senior railcard). So it’s possible but as the Overground is only every 15 minutes and SWT every ten on average then it would be easy to exceed the time. The Hainault Loop, as I’ve discussed before, is potentially even more of a problem.

    My plan B, therefore, is if I think that I’m likely to exceed the maximum time then I’ll break the journey at some suitable point. Yes, this would cost more than the single journey but much less than a maximum fare. For example, Leytonstone High Road to Richmond is £2.40/£1.00 and Richmond to Feltham £2.70/£1.40. The total would therefore probably be £3.70 as the second part would be peak. Similar fares would apply for journeys broken at Gunnersbury.

    Another reason why I might want to “break” the journey is to explore the stations. I touch in at a station, have a look round the station, take a train to the next station, have a look round that station, take a train to the next station etc. When I approach the maximum journey time then I touch out and immediately touch in at the same station.

    Any problems you can think of?

  2. Hi Alan,

    Only a small one. If you touch out at validators then you need to leave a minute before touching in again. Gates can be done instantly. Also, if engineering works are affecting services at a station then you might find an EOSI is set which will continue a journey within 30 minutes. However, the helpdesk will refund you if an EOSI has an undesired result.

  3. Thanks, Mike. Much appreciated.

  4. Hi Mike just found this forum of some sorts and wanted to ask. Would 6.95 pounds be enough for an oyster tube journey from Victoria station to Liverpool station and then from there by train to Harold wood. the travelling times will be after 9.40, thank you! x (omw to London atm)

  5. Hi Alexandra,

    Yes, that will be enough off-peak according to the single fare finder. You have 40 minutes to get from touching out at the Underground at Liverpool Street to touching in at the National Rail platform.

  6. Hi,

    I travel to work from Crayford to London (pre 9am) in the morning and back in the evening around 6pm – I currently buy a return which costs 13.60 – I’ve never had a straight answer on whether it would be cheaper to just use Oyster/Contactless (are these the same fare) – touch in and touch out? Thanks in advance.

  7. Hi Matt,

    Straight answers: Yes, Oyster and contactless do charge the same fares. Yes, they will be cheaper than getting a paper return. Since January the maximum daily charge for zones 1-6 has been reduced to just £11.70.

  8. Hi Mike,

    First, thanks for your website which is a goldmine of useful information!

    I took the tube on Saturday night. I touched in and touched out. Unfortunately, I had a bit too much to drink and it took me a few hours to get home (I think I must have got to my stop and eventually the train turned round and went the other direction). So I ended up with two incomplete journeys – one of which I applied successfully for an online refund so that it reflects the actual journey taken.

    I was just wondering whether the helpline would be sympathetic to a request for a complete refund for the other incomplete journey ? Or is it the case that I can only get a refund for circumstances beyond my control ?

    Thanks in advance for any advice.

  9. Hi John,

    They should be sympathetic. In general I would only resolve an incomplete journey in isolation online; if it was two incompletes it’s probably easier to get both sorted by the helpdesk. However, that shouldn’t stop them processing another refund.

  10. Hi Mike,

    Thank you very much for the advice. As you thought, I rang the helpline and they gave me a refund. Thanks again!

  11. Dear Mike

    You seem to be very kind in helping with all our queries and I wondered if you could help with mine please?

    I have a young persons railcard and tomorrow I am travelling:

    From Weybridge to Wimbledon anytime day return (peak times) which will cost £6.65.

    Then getting an anytime day return from Weybridge to Chiswick in afternoon which will cost £9.45

    Please could you tell me if there is a way to do this cheaper?

    Help greatly appreciated!


  12. Hi Shireen,

    Yes! You only need an off-peak day return for Chiswick. This costs (with railcard) £7.75 if you travel via Wimbledon and/or Clapham Junction, or £7.40 if you travel via Virginia Water.

  13. Hi Mike,

    I have got a job in Heathrow Radison Blu. I live in welling and would be going to work in afternoons and will be finishing by 11pm. What would be the best route in terms of time and money?
    what would be better PAYG or monthly pass working 5 days a week?

    Thank you so much

  14. Hi Shatz,

    The first thing to note is that the last Underground train with a connection to Welling leaves Heathrow terminals 1/2/3 at 2307. You may be able to get a slightly later one and still make the last train from Victoria, but it will be tight. The last train from Victoria is at 0009. After that you would need to get to Trafalgar Square for the N89 night bus.

    The cheapest route will be Welling to Victoria or Cannon Street then District and Piccadilly lines to Heathrow. If you use Charing Cross then walk down Villiers Street to Embankment for the District line. You will be charged off-peak fares both ways but you will be eligible for the part-time workers refund making your effective cap £8.90 each day.

  15. Hi Mike,

    My son is a 16+ Zip-Oystercard holder, but seems to regularly fall foul of the maximum journey time limits due to circular journeys. He lives in Palmers Green (Z4-NR), attends college near Selhurst (Z4-NR) and has a girlfriend who lives near Gordon Hill (Z5-NR) who attends college near Woolwich Arsenal (Z4-NR).

    Using the card as PAYG, the journey, Selhurst – London Bridge – Woolwich Arsenal – London Bridge – Moorgate – Gordon Hill sees him timed out with two incomplete journeys i.e. Selhurst to No touch-out and Gordon Hill to No touch-out (his touch-out at Gordon Hill being treated as a touch-in by the Oyster system).

    I’ve suggested he should break the journey by touching-in on a bus Oyster reader when he exits (say) Woolwich Arsenal, but could he also insert a journey break by touching in-out-in at London Bridge (LU)? An explanation of the different ways of breaking one’s journey might be helpful in the maximum journey times section!

    Would maximum journey times still apply if he were to get a Zones 1-4 travelcard, travelling to Gordon Hill (Z5) maybe twice a week, or would he be better off with a Zones 1-5 travelcard, or should he just be mindful of the maximum journey times (inserting journey breaks where necessary) and rely on the Oyster daily capping system to limit his expenditure?

    The travelcard decision is further complicated by him only needing to travel to Selhurst in the morning peak twice a week, usually starting his homeward journey before the afternoon peak and direct to Palmers Green.

    Your advice would be much appreciated…

  16. Hi Gryphon,

    Does he actually touch out at Woolwich Arsenal? That should end one journey and start a new one when he touches back in. If it doesn’t then either a bus touch or an in-out-in while interchanging should split the journey in two. Maximum journey times aren’t enforced when travelling wholly within the zones covered by a travelcard, but are if the journey extends outside.

    I think getting zone 5 for just two days a week is probably overkill. In fact a travelcard itself is probably overkill unless he uses it at weekends as well. The daily cap is now 1/5 of the weekly travelcard cost. However, if he only travels before 0930 on two days a week he will probably be eligible for the part-time workers refund if he caps regularly after that time. He does need to avoid incomplete journeys of course, because they don’t count towards capping.

    You might find the caps and travelcards page helpful when trying to work out how much he’ll spend.

  17. Thanks for the quick and helpful reply Mike.
    He did actually touch out at Woolwich Arsenal a couple of days ago (Mon 5th Oct @ 17:30), then touched back in at 17:33 resulting in a continued journey, so maybe 3 minutes is not enough to generate a journey break.

    I did wonder if getting a zone 1-4 weekly travelcard would still leave him subject to maximum journey times if he ventured into zone 5….thanks for confirming this.

    Again, I think we are in agreement about the lack of need for a weekly travelcard, especially since he may well benefit from the part-time scholars(!) refund – I hadn’t even considered that point. Just lately, he seems to have spent more time travelling on the transport network than attending college!

    He’s just completed his first week with the 16+ Oyster card and has tested the Oyster system more thoroughly than his older brother did in the previous two years whilst studying at the same college. Now that he’s aware that he’s got to occasionally break his journey to avoid the incomplete journeys, he shouldn’t have too much trouble in the future.

    As a final point, when I’ve rung the Oyster Helpline about being overcharged, the person I’m speaking with hasn’t been able to help me, saying that they will pass my details onto a colleague who will ring me back within 72hrs – however, they never do…

    Whilst I appreciate that relatively few of TfL’s staff may understand the complexity of the Oyster system fares structure, and that the first week of October is probably the busiest of the year…Is it possible to contact one of these ‘fares gurus’ directly as I now have multiple refund requests dating back to 3rd September?

  18. Hi Gryphon,

    3 minutes should be plenty enough for a journey break. I wonder if there was any disruption that day, particularly on the DLR. If there was they may have set an emergency OSI which would have meant a touch back in within 30 minutes would continue the journey. I’d be interested to know if that happens every time.

    As to the refunds. I’m aware that zip photocard refunds have to be processed/approved by a separate team, but they should happen. If he hasn’t received the refunds then I’d call again and ask to speak to a supervisor.

  19. Hi Mike,

    I don’t recall seeing this asked before but it’s a question that’s puzzled me for a while. Are MJTs calculated on the default route, the shortest route, the quickest route, or the journey actually made?

    This is important for journeys avoiding zone 1, which tend to take longer but pass through fewer zones. For example, Feltham to Wembley Park could be nine zones through zone 1 or only seven zones via Richmond & West Hampstead, thus allowing twenty minutes less to make the journey.

  20. Hi Alan,

    I’m 99.9% certain that the MJT is based on the zones covered for the route you end up paying for. It’s the only way that really makes sense. Many journeys within zones 1-4 get a longer allowance than the standard. Once you go further out the allowance tends to be enough anyway. Seven zones is 2 hours 10 minutes which should be fine for Feltham to Wembley Park. The TfL journey planner suggests between 1 hour and 1 hour 10 minutes for that right now.

  21. Hi Mike, your site is really impressive!! Could you help me with one query please?
    How much does a Watford J to Euston Oyster fare cost? Can this also be done on contact less payment card?

    How much would I be charged on Oyster if I have an incomplete journey from Watford Junction to London Euston in case I cannot touch in at WJ? I understand there might be a penalty how does it work? Thanks.

  22. Hi Anne,

    Watford Junction to Euston NR is £8.10 in the morning peak (0630-0930) and £5.00 at other times. The other way round peak fares are charged when touch in is between 1600-1900. You can also use contactless payment cards.

    If you fail to touch in at Watford Junction then you may be liable to a penalty fare or even prosecution. The default penalty will be a maximum journey charge which will not count towards the daily cap. Fortunately Watford Junction is gated so the chances of not being able to touch in are slim. If the gates open then just make sure you touch on the reader and watch the orange light change to green along with a beep to signal that you’ve touched in.

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