How To Save Money Using The Opal Card

Sydney's Opal public transport smart card is about to become the default option for a lot more people, with 14 current paper tickets no longer available as of September 1. Here's how to make the most of it so you can minimise your spend and maximise your value.

In Australian terms, Sydney is stupidly late to the smartcard party: it's already the established approach in Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Canberra (and in Melbourne there are no paper non-Myki tickets at all). There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the previous T-Card project was aborted partway through implementation, which was bound to slow things up.

Secondly, Sydney has always had a mildly insane fares system in which individual forms of transport require separate tickets. In most other capitals, you can switch from a train to a bus on a standard 2-hour ticket; that's not been a possibility in Sydney during my lifetime. Most smartcard fare implementations have tended to assume this kind of transfer is possible.

The big change which has been discussed a lot (including here at Lifehacker) is that the shift to Opal means that monthly, quarterly and yearly tickets — which attracted a discount — have disappeared. That's bad news if you used one, but transport statistics suggest that this does not apply to most people. As commenter Beau Giles points out, just 5.6 per cent of train journeys involve a periodical ticket.

How It Works

The basics of Opal are like most other smart cards: you acquire a card (either a registered one ordered online mailed to you or an unregistered one from a retailer) and put some money on it. Every time you travel, you need to tap on and tap off, and a fee for your journey will be deducted.

There's no direct equivalent of a weekly ticket on Opal. Instead, there's what's known as the "Travel Reward". After you have made eight paid journeys, all subsequent trips are free. So if you travel to and from work on the train five days a week, you'll only pay for the Monday to Thursday.

Of course, that's not very helpful if you need both a bus and a train, as you'll have to pay for each separately. Opal handles that with daily and weekly limits. No matter what you do, you can't spend more than $15 a day or $60 a week on Opal-enabled services. (A current MyMulti3 ticket — which also lets you travel on anything within the greater Sydney area — costs $63, so this is cheaper for public transport addicts.)

Opal now works on all Sydney trains and ferries, but not on all buses — that's promised by the end of the year. If your regular bus isn't covered, then sticking with a TravelTen or MyMulti is going to be better value until the change happens.

Money-Saving tricks

Those rules are complex enough to have many customers confused. So how you can you ensure you spend as little as possible?

Remember to tap off every time

If you don't tap off at the end of every journey, you'll be charged the maximum possible fare for the method of transport you last used ($7.00 on a ferry or $8.10 on a train — the assumption is a bus driver would notice, it seems). That's likely to be a lot higher than you would have been charged otherwise. An added incentive: if you fail to tap off, your journey doesn't count towards your weekly "travel reward" (though it does count towards your daily $15 maximum cap).

The situation where this is most likely to happen is on trains, since many stations don't have gates that force you to use Opal. If you're having trouble remembering, set an alarm on your phone when you board your train that will go off when you leave.

On trains, travel outside of peak hours

On trains, fares are higher if you travel during peak hours Monday to Friday. Within the Sydney Trains network, peak hours are between 0700 and 0900 and between 1600 and 1830. If you're travelling from the broader NSW TrainLink network (from Wollongong, Gosford/Newcastle or the Blue Mountains and surrounds), the morning peak is slightly earlier — 0600 to 0800.

Your fare is calculated based on when you tap on, not when you tap off. So if you're currently catching a train that leaves just after 0700, switching to one that leaves just before will save you some money. Similarly, if you can start your journey before 1600, you'll spend less.

Enjoy free breaks in your journey

One big change with Opal: you can leave a train or bus service and then rejoin the line without having to pay a second fare. Provided you rejoin within 60 minutes, it doesn't count as a separate trip. This is useful if you want to make a quick shopping stop on the way home, or if you want to use the toilets at Central while waiting to transfer. You could also combine this with the previous off-peak idea: start your journey before 1600, stop for a quick meeting on the way, and your fare will be cheaper overall.

Take bonus trips to cut your fare

The weekly reward applies when you make any eight journeys using the same method — they don't have to be the same distance. So if you (for instance) work in the CBD and use the train to go to lunch, you'll add an extra journey — one that might be cheaper than your usual trip to or from home. This won't work for everyone, but it does give you an extra incentive to use public transport when you might avoid it otherwise.

Cheaper airport trips

You'll still have to pay a $12.60 station access fee to visit the Domestic and International airports — but the total you'll pay in a week is capped at $21. That means if you're making a day or overnight trip, using the airport stations will be somewhat cheaper. (This matches the price of a weekly GatePass, but doesn't require you to have a weekly ticket to buy it.)

Travel on Sundays

On Sundays, the maximum fare is $2.50 all day (and if you've hit the $60 maximum, you won't even pay that), no matter where you go. This is a welcome improvement: previously that fare was only available to people with children. But we're guessing that the Manly ferry is going to be even more crowded than it is now on most Sundays.

Have any other useful Opal tactics? Share them in the comments.


Comments

    I currently get the monthly MyMulti1 ticket. that equates to $43.75/week for unlimited travel within zone 1.

    after the change, I'm gonna be paying $49.60/week (8 trips to/from work).
    that's about $300 more a year.

    the service has not improved at all, so this price increase is hard to justify.

    Edit: & i'll be moving offices in a few weeks, so it'll be hitting the cap of $60/week.
    as opposed to when i was using the MyMulti1, I still would've been paying $43.75. its a con.

    Last edited 29/08/14 1:27 pm

      On the other hand, I travel on two different train lines during the week. Before Opal, I had to buy a myMulti2 ($54) each week as it was cheaper than buying two separate weekly tickets for each line and cheaper than buying individual peak hour tickets.

      With the Opal card I end up paying around $35ish a week (sometimes more, sometimes less depending on peak hour travel). So it's saving me quite a substantial amount each week.

      My only gripe with it is that it sometimes takes too long for the card to scan. :/

        it wouldn't be so bad if they said point A to point B was one trip & charged you based on distance travelled regardless of mode of transport used.
        but they're not. A to B becomes A to B via C & that almost doubles your costs.

        which is rubbish.

        Edit : just did a comparison via opalornot.com

        I need to get to work & that's a 20 min walk north of St Leonards Station.

        Home Station to St Leonards = $32.80
        Home Station to St Leonards + bus to work = $49.60

        & yet, Home Station to Chatswood (two stations further than I need to go) = $37.60/week

        yeah, this pricing model isn't justified.

        Last edited 29/08/14 1:59 pm

      I'm on a multi1 too, hotline informed me it would cost at least $54 a week because I transfer to a bus which goes over 5km meaning compared to my quarterly I'd be spending an extra $870+ year - more than 50% more, so I got a yearly just before they got rid of them

    For some route patterns - you may be better off with 2 (Yes 2 Opal cards).

    WHY?

    Say your regular trip TO/FROM work is a relatively decent journey involving Bus-Train-Bus.
    Let's assume its in the 20-35km train category and 0-3km bus category and all in Peak hours, AND (and this is the most important bit - you can make the time between first Bus Tap Off, and second Bus Tag On above 1hr (which is why we need a relatively lengthy rail trip)

    With Single Opal Card.
    Mon.
    Journey 1 - 2.10 + 4.70 + 2.10 = 8.90
    Journey 2 - 2.10 + 4.70 + 2.10 = 6.10 ( due to $15 daily cap)
    Repeat Tue-Thu.
    Total Weekly Cost = $60

    With Dual Opal Cards.
    Mon
    Card 1, Journey 1 - $2.10
    Card 2, Journey 1 - $4.70
    Card 1, Journey 2 - $2.10
    Card 1, Journey 3 - $2.10
    Card 2, Journey 2 - $4.70
    Card 1, Journey 4 - $2.10
    Total cost = $17.80 (neither card is capped)
    Repeat Tue
    Use Card 1 for rest of week (it has reached its 8 journey cap)
    Total Weekly Cost = $35.60 and a lot more flexibility

    Granted this behaviour won't work for many people, but it does show how you can really save by maximising the number of the cheaper journeys (and obviously the short bus journey is the cheapest)

      If you were to string them all together in less than 60 minutes between each trip...

      $2.10+$4,70+$2.10 = $8.90 (trip to work in the morning - using one card)
      Catch a bus one stop at lunch (or return within an hour to your original stop) + $2.10 (current balance - $11 and two journeys)
      Catch Bus+Train+Bus back home - would cost $8.90, capped at $4 for the $15 daily cap - and you've reached 3 journeys that day.

      Day two, repeat - you're at 6 journeys at $30.

      Day three, $2.10+$4,70+$2.10 = $8.90 to work (up to 7 journeys, and $38.90)
      Catch a bus one stop at lunch, ($2.10, or $41) and you've reached your 8 journeys and hence weekly reward.

      In other news, with one card you'd pay $41 in the above scenario, with a trip at lunch - or $5.40 more than using the two cards example (without a sneaky lunchtime trip, which would lead you to your weekly reward quicker).

      Time/Effort and all that.... and you don't have to remember what card you've used! ;-)

    In your last paragraph
    and if you’ve hit the $61 maximum

    The maximum per week is $60, not $61 - it's correct up the top of the article though :-)

    (and there's also another $21 weekly cap ontop for the Domestic/International Airport access fees, FWIW)

    Last edited 29/08/14 1:51 pm

      Fixed. And added airport -- I'd intended to include that and then my brain melted.

        Another one
        After you have made eight journeys on the same mode of transport, all subsequent trips are free
        After 8 journeys on any mode, all subsequent trips are free.
        (eg, after 8 journeys of buses, then ferries, trains (and eventually light rail) are all 'free').

        No need to stick to one mode to get your journeys up (though it's probably cheaper that way)

      While we're pointing out errors:
      "After you have made eight journeys on the same mode of transport"

      You can make your 8 journeys on any mode, or combination of modes, of transport.

      EDIT; beaten.

      Last edited 29/08/14 2:36 pm

        This is also central to the #1 most effective saving strategy - 1-stop bus or train journeys, spaced more than an hour apart. Take one trip on your lunch break, and another one or even two in the evening (provided your daily total is under $15), and along with your daily commute you can hit your 8-journey cap on Tuesday, after which all remaining travel for the week is free.

        If your first 8 journeys of the week are all bus trips under 3km, that's $16.80 for unlimited travel. More for trains, or if you're forced to take longer journeys for your commute. It won't help people whose commute bumps up against the daily cap already, but it should save most of you a couple of dollars a week at least.

        Of course you're still screwed if you're commuting by train to the airport stations, but you can't win 'em all...

          They've capped the airport access fee too...
          http://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/media-releases/nsw-government-signs-10-million-agreement-ensuring-regular-airport-customers-can-save

            Awesome! I have some friends who will be VERY happy about this.

        Fixed (Opal card site does a terrible job of explaining this, I'm blaming it!)

    Sadly travelling before 7am will still be considered as On Peak.....

    Straight from the horses mouth (www.sydneytrains.info/tickets/which/mytrain):

    Off-peak return
    You can save up to 30% on your return fare when you travel after 9.00am Monday to Friday or at any time on weekends and public holidays. Peak fares commence from 12.01am each weekday.

      Ah, but you asked the wrong horse -- those are the old rules that apply to MyTrain, not to Opal.

      From https://www.opal.com.au/en/fares-and-benefits/fare_information_train/:

      "Peak hour travel only starting between the hours of 7.00am-9.00am and 4.00pm-6.30pm weekdays on the Sydney Trains network and between the hours of 6.00am-8.00am and 4.00pm-6.30pm weekdays on the NSW TrainLink network"

        Oh wow. This is pretty good! Might have to start leaving earlier.

    Lunch time mini-journeys. Thanks to these, I'll now be saving $1k a year, woot woot!

    Sydney public transport fares are stupidly complicated.
    People complain about there being four types of fare in Melbourne but Sydney takes the cake.

    Although the trains to the airport are awesome.

    Use an ING Orange Everyday card to topup via PayWave at 7/11 or Woolies and get another 2% off via ING giving you a rebate (or 5% if you're lucky enough to be on the old offer)

    Lunchtime train journeys: if you're finding these a hassle or a boring chore, consider teaming up with a colleague who is also an Opal user. On Monday, use your Opal card from A to B and use your colleague's card for the return B to A journey. Next day, you give your card to them and he/she does the same. Keep taking turns (only need to do this Mon-Wed) and you only have to perform half of these lunchtime journeys in person.

    Not a money saving tip but one to help those who complain about the slowness of the train barrier readers. Look at the lights on the reader itself and not at the screen to tell you whether your tap on/off has been successful. The reader's lights show the result about a second quicker than the screen and you can just about walk through without stopping once you get the hang of it

    I've just had my first full fortnight with the Opal card and something interesting's happened- I did what they actually think we'll do with our free trips and explored a completely new area of Sydney, which is great. Also, the base fare is mildly cheaper for those of us with just buses.

    Since I get a Friday off each fortnight, it's pretty much now Adventure Day after working Monday to Thursday.

    So yesterday I got to mark Bondi off the list - next fortnight I might make a daytrip of the inner west and then when I'm a bit braver (and wake up earlier) I might head out to the opposite corner of Sydney- maybe Campbelltown or Bankstown or Liverpool - all for free.

    Anyone else have any suggestions of places to go? I feel like an Amish teenager during Rumspringa. Insular peninsula and all that.

      A serious question and intended in the best possible way. How long have you lived in Sydney and not been to Bondi?

      As to suggestions to where you can go, Opal covers the Intercity trains as well so you could go as far west as Bathurst, as far north to Newcastle or as far south to Port Kembla or Goulburn.

      You might also consider visiting some of the bigger inner suburbs such as Parramatta, Strathfield, Chatswood or Cronulla. Olympic Park has some interesting stuff on most weekends. A ferry to Manly if you never been there either.

        Jellyman possibly lives on the Northern Beaches. If you do...why would you go to Bondi? Its like living in London but never visiting Reading...no point.

      @grimlock
      22 years! But as Clive said, yes, I live on the Northern Beaches, so it's not somewhere I'd gotten round to going before.
      I've never even heard of Port Kembla before, so that's definitely on the list! Thanks for all the suggestions!

      @Clive
      Right on the money! The beach wasn't all that great, but the Junction bit had some interesting shops and there were a couple of Russian places that made it worth visiting.

      Jelly man,

      Last weekend, we went to Nelson bay, Anna bay and back to Sydney, all free

      Same with blue mountains

      I'm sure it applies to Wollongong as well, haven't tried it yet.

    How does the "week " gets measured?
    It says after 8 paid journey you don't have to pay for the rest of your trips on a week.
    so does week means any MONDAY TO SUNDAY? or SUNDAY to MONDAY?
    or does it has any thing to do when opal card gets recharged or auto topped up?

    My wife goes to Town Hall Monday to Saturday.
    Does that mean by she makes 8 paid trips by Thursday and Friday, Saturday trips will be free for her?

      Opal week is Monday-Sunday -- so yes, after 8 trips the rest will be free.

    There was a time that I had to go from the city to Macquarie Park for a short meeting at a customer site. The return trip ended up costing me $2.31 (minimum train fare for 1 journey) and best of all, it brought me closer to my weekly travel cap saving me another few dollars.

    Then again, I'm also one of these extreme commuters that sees a benefit to Opal anyway as my weekly used to be more than $60.

    Is there a concession option with the opal card yet?

      No.
      Seniors Concession (Gold) is expected this year (most likely once the Bus Opal rollout is fully complete in Sydney, and light rail activated - otherwise you will have Seniors bitterly complaining that they had to use an Opal PET and buy a paper one)
      Student/Other Concession (Silver) is expected in 2015 - most likely with Uni enrolment so they can ensure you have the right to get it. Will be interesting to see how linked it is to enrolment dates (eg. if you are only a student for six months or drop out)

        I travel from Central Cost to Sydney 3 days a week? Is it economical to buy Opal card?
        Sanda

    Hi people.
    I travel from the spot in Randwick to Liverpool. Currently use the mymulti2 paying $54.
    Bus to central then train to Liverpool station.
    any lifehacks if I were to use the opal system or do I end up paying $60 for the week using opal?

      As above - short lunchtime journeys, getting your train journey into the off-peak, or breaking the train-bus trip by more than an hour (eg. dinner in the CBD) can reduce your spend a lot.

      Also note that the 3-8km bus zone from The Spot covers all of the CBD, East as far as Vaucluse, South to La Perouse and East to Tempe.

    Good discussions.

    I believe the best way to save money is to borrow another Opal card from your office mate and run trips between Townhall and Wynyard during the day or lunch time.

    Consider a sortie as a trip from Townhall to Wynyard (or vice versa) using your Opal card to go one way then your office mate's card to return to your office. This can be as quickly as 20 mins. Do the next sortie after an hour.

    Do as many sorties on Mon/Tue and by Wed, you and your friend will be traveling free. If you do 3 sorties on Mon and 2 on Tue, your free travel begins on Tue night; and you may even reach your $15 cap on Mon and get more discounts.

    It is also good exercise! Especially if you want knee joint exercise - walk briskly on the stairs, stretch the calf muscles while waiting for the train, and massage the knee joints while sitting in the train. Watch how quickly you reach your pedometer goals.

    As an alternative, take your office mate and have a walk-about meeting so you are being productive and won't be missed - borrow 2 other Opals cards. By Wed, 4 people are traveling FREE! Consider borrowing the Opal cards of those who wear high heels and you will be a hero ;)

    Another incentive to doing this is that when you travel free, you do not have to tap off!

    Last edited 06/09/14 8:05 pm

    Other than the take extra tips, for multi-modal travel, there is a complicated way to save money by increasing your journey count. While trips within an hour are counted as one journey, if you fail to tap off, a new journey starts when you tap on. Problem is that if you fail to tap off, you don't get a journey count and you get a default fare. There is a trick though. You do get the journey count if you tap off and then tap on again - leaving you paying the default fare.

    So why would you want to do this? Consider the following trip pattern:

    Catch a bus to the station. Bus terminates at the station. Then catch the train.

    Doing things normally, this is one journey consisting of two trips.
    Now try this. Tap on when you get on the bus. At the end of the trip, rather than just tapping off at the end of the bus trip, tap off and then tap on and walk away. Then tap on and off as normal on the train.. You get a trip for the bus and an incomplete default trip for the bus. The default trip won't cost anything because the bus terminates. This last trip terminates the journey, giving you one journey so far. The train trip will start a new journey due to the default trip. Your single journey has now become 2 journeys and you get to your free trips quicker.

      Note that this method only works when the bus actually terminates at the station. My bus travels to a shopping Centre after the station and so I was charged $2.40 for the default trip.

    I travel by train from Granville to Chatswood and then by bus from Chatswood to Willoughby. I return to Granville before midday by bus from Willoughby to Wynyard and then the train to Granville. I the repeat the process again each day.

    That works out to be four train rides per day plus four bus rides per day.

    On a per fare basis, it works out to be $27.77 per day. How does the $15 cap per day work out here?

    Hi folk, I still confused with 8 journey fact? My doubt is if we completed 8 journeys in train on Thursday. From Friday all the buses journeys are also free or only applicable to same mode journey which is train here. ?

      No, it's eight journeys, regardless of mode. (I've had weeks with trips on trains, buses and ferries all counted to the total.)

    Rules around students using Opal concession is stupid. A NZ citizen aged 18 who is a full time student in a University is declined an opal Concession card as he/she is not a resident inspite of having stayed in NSW for 5 years and is a full time student.

    I don't understand.. lol I get a bus to central from coogee and a train from central to auburn for work and do the same home. After Monday and Tuesday I have a total of 8 trips.. does it need to be all in 1 day or all as one mode of public transport I don't understand it's costing me a fortune

    I don't understand.. lol I get a bus to central from coogee and a train from central to auburn for work and do the same home. After Monday and Tuesday I have a total of 8 trips.. does it need to be all in 1 day or all as one mode of public transport I don't understand it's costing me a fortune hard to figure

      Take into consideration your transfers are counted as one trip

    '8 journeys in one mode': so if In the beginning of the week I only use bus n take 8 bus journeys ( which will cost less then $20) the remaining week's journey is free?

    A quick few comments
    1: the airport fee is $13.40 For an adult
    2: I have found an amazing money saving loophole that's not mentioned here or anywhere that I have found! The fact that the opal card let's you go into a negative balance is amazing! don't set up an "auto top up" rum your card into a negative balance, esp a big o e if you time it right with the airport, the throw away that negative balance card, and go get a new one for free! With zero balance! I do it all the time and save heaps of money, I even wrote about it on my blog and made a video to show that it works and just how easy it is!

    There's a few other names for that trick Big al, STEALING is one. DISHONESTY is another. What you are doing is wrong & it will end up having really annoying consequences for everyone

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