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Published October 26, 2023

Opal Card Vs. Credit Card

What’s the more convenient and cost-effective way to navigate Sydney and its surrounds – Opal or credit card?

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Sydney is one of the places where you can use your credit card on buses, trains, ferries and light rail. Not every state accepts credit or debit card tap-on payments on public transport, but New South Wales (NSW) does. While this makes for convenient boarding, is it the best way to pay for public transport in Sydney? When comparing the Opal card vs. a credit card, the benefits depend on where you’re travelling to and from, how often you use it, and if you’re a local or a visitor. 

» MORE: Where can you tap on with a credit card to board a train?

Payment options on Sydney’s public transport system 

Transport for NSW is the public transport provider in Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, the Hunter and the Illawarra. The network card is the Opal, which is the most popular payment method for public transport tickets. 

The other accepted payment methods include credit and debit cards, including virtual cards, as well as mobile wallets, tablets, and wearable devices. Contactless payments accrue the same benefits and savings as the Opal card. But what about comparing the costs of the Opal card vs. a credit card? Is the Opal Card cheaper than a credit card? It might not be the same for everyone. 

How does an Opal card work? 

An Opal card is a reloadable travel card that gives you access to the public transport network in Sydney and regional hubs. Instead of buying single tickets for each trip, tap your Opal card on the device as you step on the bus, train or ferry. You can top up your card via the Opal Travel App, on the Transport for NSW website, at a pay station or at an Opal retailer. Keep in mind some third-party retailers charge a merchant fee for credit or debit card payments. 

The most popular Opal card is the adult (+16) card, but there are also options for students, children, seniors, people on Centrelink, and passengers with disabilities. Each card has its own fee structure. For example, children aged four to 15 are entitled to concession fares. 

When you tap on, the cost of your ticket is determined by your Opal card type and how far you’ve travelled. Fare discounts and caps are automatically applied to the card. The Opal card is cheaper than a standard single ticket. 

Check your balance regularly to avoid dropping under the minimum amount needed for your next trip. 

» MORE: How old do you have to be to get a credit card in Australia?

Opal card vs. credit card 

When getting around Sydney and its surroundings, there are a few details to consider. 

Opal card benefits: caps, discounts & rewards 

The Opal card has daily, weekly and weekend travel caps, which means you’ll never pay more than $17.80 per day (for adults) or $8.90 for children, youth or students. This cap doesn’t apply if you’re tapping your credit or debit card with every trip. The card also offers off-peak discounts and a discount on transfers.

Having a designated app for your public transport — with a quick view of your travel, benefits and past fares — is more convenient than checking a credit card statement. Credit card transactions can also stay pending on a statement for a couple of days, so it might not reflect in your balance on the day you travel.   

Credit card benefits: skip the minimum load amount  

Contactless payments using a credit or debit card receive the same fare and benefits as the Opal card. These benefits also apply to digital wallets. However, concession fares aren’t available using contactless payments. 

With the adult Opal card, there’s a minimum load value of $10 on the app and $20 at a retailer. If you don’t take public transport frequently, paying with a credit card could be more affordable. If you travel short distances a couple of times a month, you could save that loading fee and just pay as you go with a credit card. 

Paying with a credit card or mobile wallet is convenient because you don’t need anything extra than you’d normally carry to get on public transport. You always have your wallet and phone, and you don’t have to remember to top up your Opal. Using a credit card instead of an Opal is another way to build reward points. 

However, multiple passengers cannot share the same credit or debit card. For example, you can’t pass the same card back to a partner or friend for them to tap on, too. You’ll have to use a separate bank card. 

If you use Sydney public transport daily or weekly, you’re probably better off with an Opal card. If you’re visiting or don’t use your Opal card frequently, contactless credit card payments could be the better option. 

» MORE: Pros and cons of using credit cards

How to use a credit card to recharge the Opal card 

You can choose to use the Opal card and the credit card. Tap on with an Opal card, but load it with your credit card. That way, you can still earn credit card points, if that’s a goal for your personal finances. 

Whether you’re reloading on the website, app, at a pay station, retailer or service centre, you can use a credit or debit card. As with any credit card usage, pay it off by the end of the month to avoid incurring interest

Just make sure if you use a credit card for everyday expenses (like public transport), it’s backed with a strategy — such as earning points or building your credit score. Add reviewing your transport costs into your regular financial budgeting sessions and look for ways to cut costs and maximise benefits. 

Transport costs are one of the biggest expenses, so anywhere you can save will have a huge impact on your finances. Travel out of peak hours when possible, use the Trip Planner function, and earn points when you pay on a credit card.

Frequently asked questions

Is an Opal card cheaper than a debit card? 

Like a credit card, a debit card is considered a contactless payment and comes with the same benefits as using the Opal. 

About the Author

Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith is a freelance reporter, journalist, and cultural commentator. She covers culture + society, travel, LGBTQ+, human interest, and business. Amanda has written stories about planning for retirement for…

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