Skip to main content

Why you should use Apple Pay on the London Underground

London has been accepting contactless payment on its transport network for some time now, with Apple Pay just the latest progression. Oyster, the pre-paid contactless card and contactless credit cards are alternative payment methods.

But if you can use Apple Pay, I think you really should.

First up there's the convenience factor. Tube users have been warned of card clash for a long time. You can only touch one card to the reader, of course, but if you have a debit card, credit card or two, or any other contactless payment cards, you can't just touch your wallet. You have to take out the card you want, touch it, put it back in your wallet, pull it out again at the other end, then finally return it before leaving the station.

OK, I hear you, it's not exactly inconvenient, but how about this. How many people with an iPhone are using it at the same time as travelling on the underground? Just tap, pay, carry on.

Apple Watch becomes an additional convenience should you own one of those, because you don't need to get anything out of a pocket or a bag.

Apple Pay

Perhaps the biggest benefit I would recommend to people is the way Apple Pay tracks your transactions. Oyster Card users can see how much balance they have left on their cards and how much a journey cost every time they pass the barriers. Contactless card users do not see this. So to find out how much you spent you need to go to a bank, either online or in person. It takes a little while for the transactions to process, but you've got a very easy to understand, convenient record of your journeys right on your iPhone.

There's also, I believe, an added piece of mind with using your iPhone. I've lost debit and credit cards in the past, just through them falling out of a wallet, pocket, bag or something when I've been in a hurry and not noticed. With an iPhone (or I'd like to think at least) that's not going to happen so often. And if it does, your Apple Pay is still linked to your Touch ID. Your contactless card is not.

The experience as a whole is very good. After the initial gimmick phase of "ooh, I can use my phone now to get on a train," it soon becomes very useful. There are some areas though where it's not all super happy fun times. For example, if you wear an Apple Watch.

Apple Pay

How to use Apple Pay on Apple Watch (Image credit: iMore)

Disclaimer: I don't own an Apple Watch, but this point doesn't require that. The readers for the Underground are all on the right hand side of the gate. So if you wear your Apple Watch on your left wrist you're going to be reaching across and twisting your arm. Lots of people wear their watches on their left wrist. Not a deal breaker but something to consider heading into rush hour in Central London. Maybe put it on your right.

The other is the (albeit slight) delay where Touch ID is verifying Apple Pay so you can use it. It's easy to forget that you need to allow a second or two, plus opening Passbook. The best trick is to have Passbook open and use Touch ID as you approach the barrier. Then it's as quick as touching an Oyster or contactless credit card.

But a couple of minor annoyances aside, Apple Pay is a great way to get around London. Keep your wallet safely tucked away in your bag or pocket and better keep track of your transactions. I managed to visit London for two full days without using the debit card connected to my Apple Pay once. In a big city like this, you should definitely try to use it. You won't regret it.

Editor at iMore, part time racing driver, full time British guy. Follow him on Twitter and Google+

14 Comments
  • Interesting. And BTW, in iOS 9, Apple has added an option to double-click on the lock screen to access Apple Pay/Passbook. So soon you won't have to unlock your iPhone at all.
  • Hallelujah!
  • Guys, you do realise that you don't need to open Passbook to use apple pay and you also don't need to double tap the home button in ios 9 etc. You simply touch the top of your iPhone 6/6+ onto the contactless reader and even with your iPhone locked and the screen not awake as soon you place it over the reader your iPhone wakes up and automatically displays passbook and your default card! I honestly can't believe one of the imore team didn't even know this! (I'm in the UK also).
  • The intent behind opening up Apple Pay via the Passbook (soon to be "Wallet" in iOS 9) app is so that you can "preauthorize" your card so that once you approach the card reader, you don't need to wait for Touch ID to verify. You will have already had your fingerprint verified, and the screen will just read "Hold iPhone new payment terminal" until you lock the device again. In iOS 9, you can double click the home button while the screen is off and you can similarly "preauthorize" your card without having to unlock. I can say that it's very handy to preauthorize the device beforehand for a couple of reasons 1) it saves a bit of awkwardness holding your device waiting for it to read your fingerprint (and if you're like me, it'll slip sideways in your hand and misread...) and 2) most cashiers will be even happier to have your cool wireless payment processed instantly rather than having to wait. (In turn, it makes Apple Pay look even more kickass from their perspective). Hope this helps!
  • Maybe I'm just lucky but on the dozen or so times I've used it I just place my thumb on the touch id and then tap the top of the iPhone against the reader and in literally less than a second it's done. In my view there's no benefit to opening passbook in advance and pre-authorising. Scanning your touch ID print as we all know when unlocking the iPhone takes milliseconds so that's not actually the delay here, the delay is processing the transaction which takes the same time regardless..
  • Apple Pay is amazing. i am travelling on London underground without my wallet most of the days. its very convenient and i am very happy. i just took a video of me using the apple pay on apple watch series 2. watch it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eZIwv77O94
  • Apple Watch is fine on the buses. Perfectly positioned on the left.
  • Sadly I didn't have a chance to use or try it when I was visiting London for the first time 2 weeks ago... and I'm from Montreal (Canada) with no ApplePay yet. But I think ApplePay is great and nice way to get a quick ride with no hassle to wait in line or buy a Oyster card. For me this is the real reason why we or someone should use ApplePay for the Tube (if they don't own an Oyster Card). Was wondering if it come with all the benefit like the Oyster Card like a Max amount per day spend on ride (if u reach a certain amount, you're block at the 1 day fare....) If u do use ApplePay for the bus, train or tube, I would suggest to all to read the official info from the Transport for London site about how to use it correctly and also to link the card with their current TfL account. https://tfl.gov.uk/fares-and-payments/contactless/other-methods-of-conta...
  • Where I live, most people just have a case with a card pocket at the back. They walk along, texting or browsing on their phone like usual, tap the thing on the sensor, and continue walking (how they even manage that while not taking their eyes off the phone screen is beyond me though). I wonder if Apple Pay can be any faster than that? Same case for Japan, though their train cards are supposedly susceptible to some sort of interference from phones, so they sell spacial cases over there that have some sort of magnetic shielding layer on the back, in between the phone and card.
  • All well and good but please be aware of the flaw with using Apple Pay on the Underground: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2015-07/17/apple-pay-tfl-london-tube...
  • "There's also, I believe, an added piece of mind with using your iPhone." Especially with the Stagefright exploit out there, and umpteen malware writers leaping at the chance to take control of 950 million Android devices. Good luck trying to get more than 25% of those users at risk to download the patch.
  • Guys, you do realise that you don't need to open Passbook to use apple pay and you also don't need to double tap the home button in ios 9 etc. You simply touch the top of your iPhone 6/6+ onto the contactless reader and even with your iPhone locked and the screen not awake as soon you place it over the reader your iPhone wakes up and automatically displays passbook and your default card! I honestly can't believe one of the imore team didn't even know this! (I'm in the UK also). NOTE: You need to have passbook set to on for your lockscreen settings within Settings>Touch ID & Passcode
  • I love using my apple watch on the London buses and on the trains / tubes. Luckily, for once, I am left handed and so wear the watch on my right wrist. Richard is right about this being convenient (but not so good for righties). I have gone whole commutes without getting my wallet out of my bag. It is strangely liberating. Sent from the iMore App
  • So, does Apple Pay works with Apple Watch on an iPhone 5S?