Anyone with a mobile contract that's about to end (or has ended) is wielding a serious MoneySaving weapon: loyalty. Unleash it with a phone call which could save you £100s...
It's all about an easy haggling technique that could get you more minutes, texts or data, cut your monthly line rental charge or even score a handset upgrade. Plus if your network's hiked prices mid-contract you may be entitled to leave penalty-free – use that as ammunition when haggling.
In this guide...
In our most recent poll, in November 2016, 68% of mobile customers who tried to haggle told us they were successful in negotiating a better deal, showing what's possible – see full poll results.
Success rates with the big firms were 82% of Vodafone customers, 70% of those with EE, 63% with Three, 55% with O2.
Haggling's more of an art than a science though, so to really inspire you, here are some success stories we've had (you can read others in the forum).
I'm paying £35/mth with EE – they called me two months before the end of my contract with an upgrade deal of £22/mth. I asked for less, and they said I'd get my allowance cut for £15/mth. So I said I'll look elsewhere. I found a deal at Carphone Warehouse for my exact allowance for £15.99/mth from.... guess who... EE. I rang them again and they offered it to me for £12.99/mth since I've been a customer for a while. – forumite Kkaebsong
I had a very productive call with O2 where after asking for a PAC code I was offered a discount to £10/mth PLUS £150 credit towards my bill. – forumite Phillw
@MoneySavingExp Three Mobile are still sending out price hike letters, but 10 minutes haggling slashed £30/mth down to £16. #makeitright. – Julian, via Twitter
I was repeatedly overcharged by Vodafone, which took six months of calls and further issues to sort. I used this as leverage to get myself a 64GB iPhone 6s for £26/mth with no upfront cost, including 12 months Spotify – 50% off the list price. Thank you to you and your team!! – Rhys, via email
A story from Martin
I was an Orange customer and preferred to remain one, as the connection at home and work is good, and the month-long switching hassle at the time was worth avoiding. Yet Orange's packages weren't the market's cheapest.
This is an edited version of my call or better still watch the video, showing how I once put Mrs MSE through her haggling paces. (This happened a while ago now, but the haggling technique works just as well today.)
Martin: “Hi, you have a price match promise. Three offers 500 inclusive cross-network minutes,” (ie, calling other mobile networks) ”for £30/month, yet I'm paying that for just 200 minutes with you.”
Orange: (as expected) “Sorry Mr. Lewis, our price promise doesn't cover Three, so we can't offer you that tariff.”
Martin: "That's simply not good enough. While I want to stick with you, unless you can offer me something better, I'm going to have to leave."
Orange: “Let me put you through to our specialist disconnections department and see if we can find any way to improve it.”
Then I repeated my request to disconnections.
Orange ‘disconnections': “I think we can help, we can match that Three tariff for the same price.” (Note: Orange's own 400 min package cost £50/month.)
Martin: “That's not part of your normal price match plan?”
Orange disconnections: “Nope, it's a special offer for valued customers.” (Sub-text: we'll pull out all the stops if we're going to lose you.)
After that I asked for more text messages and got a bundle on top, then a new phone and was told “what do you want? Pick any?” So I opted for a snazzy, tiny camera phone, with radio and 3G – all, of course, at no extra charge.
While my story is about Orange, it works on other networks too. There are no hard and fast negotiating rules, but a bit of chutzpah and a smile (try it, it's noticeable in your voice even on the phone) works wonders. It's a game, with huge gains on the upside and no loss on the downside.
Step 1. Ask for a better tariff
The first step is the easiest; call up and tell the operator you're unhappy with your existing tariff. There are two choices of argument:
Comparison sites are perfect for quickly benchmarking prices – put in your usage details to speedily reveal the cheapest tariffs and packages available. It's also worth working out your prior monthly usage.
Alternatively, to just 'have a go', call up and say "it's too expensive". Ask what the best tariff available is, then if its offer isn't good enough, tell it so. This can work well, as packages better than the best new customer versions, or special extra discounts are sometimes available if you push.
And always remember to request a better package and a phone upgrade too. If you're not given what you want – ask to leave.
Step 2. Speak to 'disconnections' – actually their priority's customer retention
The crucial part is getting through to what you think is the ‘disconnections department'. Actually, internally most companies refer to disconnections as a synonym for ‘customer retentions'. In other words, its real job is to keep your business and because of that it has much more power and discretion to do it.
Once connected, repeat your request – if you seem genuine about disconnecting (and why shouldn't you be? There are better packages out there), you should get a much improved offer matching the market's best openly available tariffs.
Are there any negatives?
The mobile world is fast moving, and tariffs are greatly improving, so being locked in isn't good, though it's unavoidable. It is possible to get 12-month contracts but 24-months are more common. Request to minimise the contract period.
You only have this negotiating power at renewal. Try to change tariff six months into a contract and you won't get the special option. For example, if you negotiate the ‘Three' network 500 minutes a month for £15 deal but then decide 1,000 minutes for £20 is better, usually you won't be allowed to swap, even though you could've got the deal at negotiation.
Why customer retentions has such power
The mobile phone market is nearing maturity - in other words, the vast majority of people have mobiles. Therefore winning business no longer involves persuading someone to ‘get a mobile', but persuading them to ‘get and keep a mobile with us'. This market maturity means retaining existing customers is vital – hence the power of customer retention departments.
It's not just mobiles you can haggle down though, there's a whole host of other things including car insurance, broadband and credit card interest rates. For more tips and tricks read How to Haggle Successfully.
Step 3. What if they say no?
DON'T feel forced into disconnecting. If you're pushing and your bluff is called with a “sorry, we can't do that, I'll arrange cancellation”, just back off. A quick “I need to think about it and I'll call you back” is an easy way out.
At this point if there are better packages elsewhere, consider taking on the hassle and changing package but do it on your terms not theirs. See the Mobile Contracts, Sim-only or Pay-as-you-go guide for full info on how to find the right tariff. Though, of course, it's always possible that you call again, speak to someone else and get a quite different response!
12 more mobile haggling tips
Haggling may sound straightforward, but perfecting it's an art. Here are a dozen more top tips for haggling with your mobile provider - for more, see Haggling with Service Providers.
Timing is everything
Aim to do this around a month before your current contract ends, as it's then you're most realistically likely to ditch and leave. Try it earlier and you're simply met with “you've a contract and can't cancel it”.
Check your current usage
Knowing how much you use your phone and what you use it for is crucial to getting the right deal – many plans come with unlimited minutes and texts, but only the heaviest users would need this much. If you're going way over your allowance each month, you can try and haggle down the monthly cost by reducing what you get.
Tools such as MobilePhoneChecker* and Billmonitor* work out your average usage for you if you give them your online login details. Alternatively, you can check yourself - look through old paper statements (you can request these from your network) or you can often find them in your online account.
New smartphones aren't MoneySaving
The biggest single factor affecting the cost of a contract is whether or not it comes with a new handset.
If you already have a decent handset in good nick, you'll get a far cheaper deal if you tell them you want to move to a Sim-only plan. Here you simply get the Sim card with the tariff, but no handset (see our Sim-only guide for full info and our top pick deals).
Mid-contract price hikes can strengthen your position
In January 2014 Ofcom changed the rules around mid-contract price rises. It confirmed users with a mobile contract taken out after 23 Jan 2014 should be allowed to leave penalty-free if their provider introduces unilateral (ie, unannounced at the time of sign-up) mid-contract price rises.
If this happens to you, use your right to leave early as a bargaining chip to try and cut down costs.
Bear in mind though that if there's a warning in your T&Cs about mid-contract price hikes in line with inflation, your network can side-step this ruling entirely. All four of the big networks do this – more info in Mid-contract price hikes.
Benchmark the best deal
It's important to have the factual arsenal at your fingertips before you pick up the phone, so do your homework.
Research the deals, discounts and codes that your provider and its competitors are offering to act as a basis for negotiation. If you're after a snazzy smartphone, you should be researching on specialist mobile comparison sites.
Use the phrases that pay
You may find that your customer service rep will only offer a small discount at first, but if you don't agree with the price, use phrases like:
- I've worked out my budget, and my absolute max is £[insert price here]/mth
- [Plusnet/Sky/TalkTalk/Virgin/BT] can do it for less...
- I need to think about it...
- I think my husband / wife will go bonkers if I pay that...
- It's still a lot of money...
- What's the very best you can do?
Problems mean discounts
If you've had issues with your network in the past in the past – for example, poor coverage or long customer call waiting times – then politely tell them when you haggle. They should want to try and make it up to you.
Don't say yes to the first offer they give
Never go with the first offer. Chances are, it's not the best deal they can do. Remember, be firm.
Don't fill the silence
They may push you to agree because it's a 'limited-time offer' - don't feel pressured into agreeing to the new price or deal unless you're certain.
As negotiations come to a close, a classic salesman technique is to stay silent. They want you to feel awkward and fill the silence. Make them fill it with a cheaper offer.
Ask if they can throw in extras
If they won't slash the price, see if they can include any extras, like a bigger allowance or promos they run with partner companies.
If you fail – try, try and try again
While unconfirmed, we hear rumours that staff at some companies have different quotas of how many deals they can do.
Even if that's not the case at your provider, you may have called the wrong person at the wrong time. Calling back a few days later and speaking to someone else may pay dividends.
Finally, if your network really won't play ball, vote with your feet
If you don't get what you want then you should seriously consider leaving. Use our Cheap Mobiles guide to help find the best new deal for you.
How did it go? Let us know about your haggling successes and failures in the Mobile haggling forum thread.