Whether your phone's superglued to your ear or you only use it for the odd call, the chances are you're massively overpaying for the minutes, texts and data that you use.
Getting a new phone can be a big financial decision, particularly if you're committing to a contract. This guide crunches the numbers and talks you through the different options – plus offers handy tips to drive down the cost of your existing mobile deal.
If you're paying more than £15/mth, you're probably paying too much
How much is your mobile bill each month? If you're paying more than £15/mth, then you need to ask yourself why.
£15/mth is the key benchmark because that's how much it costs to get Virgin Mobile's* 12-month Sim-only deal with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and a decent 3GB data. (Full details of that and other top tariff picks below, including a stonking deal we've blagged with EE until 31 Mar.)
In our recent poll almost 25,000 of you told us how much you pay for your mobile. The results were eye-opening – a whopping 72% of those on contracts which factor in the cost of a handset (and 46% overall) shell out more than £15 a month, with an average cost of £27/mth, or £330 a year.
Of course, there are valid reasons why you may be paying more than £15/mth. These include:
- You're paying off the cost of a handset.
- You're paying extra for 4G.
- You're paying more for a really hefty data allowance.
- You have a low credit score and so can't get a contract.
If one of the above applies, then at least there's a reason for your bill being higher – though you still may be able to save.
But if you just settle for the same deal, provider and price each year, then STOP. Mobile tariffs are deflating in price, so if anything you should be paying less each year, not more.
The biggest single factor affecting the cost of your new mobile deal is whether or not you'll be paying for a new handset as well. It's important to understand that even if you get a contract tariff where the phone itself is 'free' or relatively cheap, in practice you'll end up paying for it – and generally end up paying MORE for it – through the monthly tariff.
If you already have a decent handset in good nick, you'll get a far cheaper deal if you opt for a Sim-only deal. Here you simply get the Sim card with the tariff, but no handset. (See our top picks below).
How to find a new handset
If you DO want a new handset, first think about what features you want and will use. A useful site that allows you to compare handsets is GSM Arena. It lists the full specifications for each model so you can see at a glance if it has what you need.
Read reviews online and ask friends and family for advice on which handset might be best for you before you set your heart on any gadget. You might also consider buying a second-hand phone – check websites such as eBay and Gumtree.
Knowing how much you use your phone and what you use it for is crucial to getting the best plan.
Match free mins, texts and data closely to your usage. If you don't, you'll go over and overpay for calls. Go under and you'll overpay on the package.
Some tariffs offer unlimited options for calls and texts, meaning unlimited calls to UK landlines and mobiles and unlimited texts to UK mobiles- other calls/texts and roaming outside the UK will cost extra. But only the heaviest users would need this amount of allowance.
The easiest way to check your usage is to simply dust off your last three to six months' bills, jot down what you use every month and then work out the average. Or if you ring your provider, it'll usually tell you – you may also be able to check online.
- Free matchmaking tool: Billmonitor* compares your previous three months of bills to find the best contract or Sim-only deal based on your usage. Currently it works with EE, O2, Orange, T-Mobile, Tesco, Three and Vodafone.
Is it safe to give Billmonitor your login details?
Billmonitor says it follows a robust data security policy which it's outlined to the telecoms regulator Ofcom, and encrypts all users' passwords.
- Finds the best deals in the market: MobilePhoneChecker* is one of only two Ofcom-accredited mobile comparison tools (along with Billmonitor). It's easy to use and the most comprehensive we've come accross, searching tariffs from a number of resellers and covering a huge range of models. It has also introduced a bill monitoring feature for EE, Giffgaff, O2, Talk Mobile, Tesco, Three and Vodafone.
- If you know what you want: Head to MoneySupermarket* where you can specify an allowance of minutes, texts and data and it'll show you the cheapest tariff for that package. Crucially, you can also search by handset and filter by cashback.
- For a quick search: Use Omio* to narrow down your search by cost, allowance or type of handset. You can also sort by phone features and operating systems (eg, Android, iPhone or Symbian) and by network (useful if your coverage is hit and miss). Omio doesn't automatically sort by cheapest price though, so make sure you change the dropdown tab.
Don't forget about cashback. The mobile market is rife with a variety of discount packages, so it's important to understand the difference.
There are lots of different ways to claim cashback – see the variations below:
- Redemption cashback. The big discounts come in the form of a "cashback redemption" that has to be claimed from the retailer, yet they're notoriously unreliable.
- Automatic cashback. These are cashback deals where you're sent a cheque automatically without claiming. They usually don't offer as big a discount as manual cashback. Some deals can also be part manual, part automatic cashback – if that's the case, only count on receiving the automatic amount.
- Cashback via cashback sites. It's possible to sometimes beat the deals above with some powerhouse cashback offers, most commonly for Sim-only deals. However, don't think of this type of cashback as guaranteed – there are often problems. Read the Top Cashback Sites guide for full info.
Reclaiming usually involves filling in a form and sending it off up to five times during the contract period. Fail to do exactly this and you'll miss out on the whole discount. The main things to watch for are:
- Always read the small print. It's important to discover every hoop they'll force you through. Does each time you send a form trigger some payment? Or, as usual, is it a "send all or get nothing" scenario, so if you miss sending one form, the whole thing's invalidated?
- Call and check the timings needed. Never assume a cashback deal is simple. If it says "send your bill after three months", this may mean three months from application, three months from activating the phone or after you've received your third monthly bill. Call the cashback company and check.
- Be careful with addresses. The address you send claims from needs to be the address used to order with, otherwise the claim may be invalidated. So if you move house, let them know immediately.
- Are you keeping your old mobile number? If you port your existing number to the new contract then you might be asked to send, in addition, the very first bill you received showing the original mobile number you were allocated.
- Use the Tart Alert as a reminder. The Tart Alert is this site's free text message/email reminder service; it's mainly to remind people before their credit card 0% period ends, but you can use it as a reminder to fill in your rebate form. Enter the rebate date and you'll be sent a free text message or email (it's your choice) six weeks beforehand.
- Consider another form of cashback. Regardless of whether cashback is officially offered, there's a possible additional amount. Simply sign up for the phone via a cashback website.
These are special sites carrying paid links from retailers and if you click through them and get a product, they're paid. Importantly, they then give you some of this cash. It's nowhere near as big a deal as cashback redemption but could mean an extra £20 or £30. Find out more in the Top Cashback Sites guide.
- The cashback deal's with the retailer, the tariff with the network. Even if it goes wrong, you still keep the tariff with the network. Sadly, cashback retailers can and do go bust; if yours does, it'll be tough to recoup. Yet don't forget the networks encourage these deals, and if you believe you've been unfairly treated, a strong letter to the network asking it to step in may be worthwhile.
If you do have cashback problems, always make sure you report the company to Trading Standards. If you've been treated unfairly, consider a small claims court action.
The number of different mobile tariffs on the market can be baffling – there are thousands of different combinations and it can be tricky to compare them on a like-for-like basis.
There are three different types of tariffs to choose from. Here's how they stack up:
Contract with handset – best for heavy users and spreading the cost
With a traditional mobile phone contract you pay a monthly fee and get a handset plus an inclusive bundle with a certain allowance of minutes, texts and data.
Handset price is spread out – but it costs you more in the long term
Often better for heavy users, especially on calls and texts
You'll be locked in for 12, 18 or 24 months
No risk of running out of credit
There are two types of Sim-only deals – 30-day rolling contracts which you are free to leave each month, or fixed term contracts, usually lasting 12 months.
- Good if you have a handset or can afford to buy one upfront
- Rolling 30-day contracts offer maximum flexibility
- Often good for heavy data users
PAYG – no ties and never go over your allowance
If you pay for your mobile via pay-as-you-go, you won't be tied into any contract – simply pay in advance for what you use via top-ups, online or on the phone.
PAYG doesn't require any credit check
Easier to budget
- Generally more expensive for medium or heavy users
Happy with your handset? Haggle down the contract costs
If you don't want to switch, and are near or past your contract's end, you're wielding a powerful weapon... your loyalty. When approaching the end of your contract, make sure you demand the very best deal possible – not just of your network, but of any out there.
The mobile world's a mature market. Everyone has a handset, so networks fight hard to win custom from elsewhere AND keep their own. If your provider won't give you a good enough deal, let it know. The aim's to get through to 'customer disconnections', which internally is often called 'retentions' as its job is to keep you. Watch Martin show Mrs MSE how to do it, with real chutzpah!
We know this method works, as you regularly tell us it does. Forumite elfy1807 says: "My contract with Orange was up and I asked them what they could do for me. I turned down two offers until I got £16/mth, 1.5GB data, unltd texts and 2,000 mins – a saving of £36/mth, that's £432/yr."
Full help on how to do this in our Haggle Down Your Mobile Bill guide.
Networks claim that 4G is up to 5x faster than 3G, though Ofcom estimates suggest that in practice downloads are only twice as fast, compared to uploads which are up to seven times quicker. The regulator also says 4G and 3G performance differs between networks, with some outperforming others.
Many operators charge more for 4G tariffs, and even if they don't, you're likely to use more data if you're on one.
So think about where you use your phone. If you're out and about a lot and will benefit from a faster connection, it may be worth it. If you mainly use it at home and work and you're able to connect to wi-fi there, then that often beats 4G anyway.
To get 4G you'll need a handset that's capable of getting it (many launched in the last two years can).
If you're happy with your mobile handset or are buying one upfront, then it's well worth looking at Sim-only deals as they generally offer a cheaper alternative.
Unless you're already with a Sim-only tariff provider, you'll probably need to get your phone unlocked (though Giffgaff will work if your phone is locked to O2). Our Mobile Unlocking guide has full help. Also see our PAYG top picks, including GiffGaff bundles and options for low users or those concerned about being credit-scored.
EE* – Ends Tue 31 Mar at 11.59pm
We’ve blagged that new EE customers can get this one-year contract Sim-only deal with unlimited minutes (to UK landlines & mobiles), unlimited texts and 2GB of 4G data for £15.99/mth, plus a £95 Amazon voucher.
- How do I get it? Go via these specific EE links - standard/micro Sim* or nano Sim* - and use the code MSE95SIMO until 11.59pm on Tue 31 Mar. Not sure of your Sim size? Use this Sim size info for help.
- How do I get the £95 Amazon voucher? Use the link and code above and the voucher will be automatically emailed to you within 3mths of activation (if you cancel during the 14-day grace period you won't get the voucher).
How to ensure you get the voucher
EE says there won't be any issues tracking this deal, but to be doubly certain we suggest you turn off ad and cookie blockers when you order.
As the voucher is sent by email, sometimes it can get caught in spam filters. Please check your spam folder regularly in case it's diverted there.
If after three months you still haven't received your voucher, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with as much information as possible - ie your full name, address, mobile number, sign up date - to ensure you get a quick response.
- Who can get it? New customers to EE mobile (defined as anyone who hasn’t had an EE mobile contract in the past 12 months). Existing EE mobile customers can also get this deal but only by taking it as a second line.
- How good is it? The Sim itself's £1/mth more than the cheapest equivalent (on Tesco, though it actually has fewer minutes and texts). But if you were going to spend the voucher at Amazon anyway, factor it in and it's equiv £96.88/yr or £8.07/mth - a stonkingly unbeatable deal.
- Can I move my number? Yes, you can move your current number to this Sim. The only exception is existing EE customers, as they can only set up a second line anyway.
- What happens after the year’s contract? The deal is ongoing (except of course you don’t get another voucher each year). After a year you're free to leave the contract but have to give 30 days' notice.
- Is the price fixed? EE's T&Cs entitle it to raise its prices each year by up to the rate of inflation. However it's said the cost of this deal WON'T go up when other prices rise later this month (though it could next year). Of course, EE could always decide to raise its prices anyway, by more than inflation - but if so Ofcom's rules mean you can leave the contract penalty-free.
- 12-month contract.
- Use up your data and you have to buy an add-on* for more (from £3 for 100MB).
- Calls to UK landlines and mobiles included. Calls to 0800 numbers cost 20p/min, calls to other 08 numbers cost 40p/min.
- You'll be credit checked – see our Credit Scores guide.
BT Mobile* - strong deal for existing BT customers
Telecoms giant BT* has returned to the mobile market with a bang, offering three 12mth Sim-only plans. If you're a BT broadband customer, you'll pay £5/mth less for each of the tariffs than everyone else, which makes them among the most competitive on the market (though BT's broadband prices can often be beaten so it's not worth swapping providers just to bag this deal).
All the plans come with 4G data, a free BT Sport app, free access to more than five million BT Wi-fi hotspots and free calls to 0800 numbers.
Here are the options:
£5/mth for BT b'band custs (£10/mth otherwise). 200 mins, unltd texts, 500MB.
£12/mth for BT b'band custs (£17/mth otherwise). 500 mins, unltd texts, 2GB.
£20/mth for BT b'band custs (£25/mth otherwise). Unltd mins and texts, 20GB.
BT allows you to switch tariffs mid-contract with no penalties or extensions, but you can only downgrade once. If you stop being a BT broadband customer at any point your monthly mobile tariff will jump by £5.
- 12mth contract.
- Runs off the EE network.
- Calls and texts to UK mobiles and landlines, as well as 0800 numbers, included. Calls to other 08 numbers may cost extra.
- Monthly spending can be capped.
- Use up your allowance and you'll have to pay 35p/min and 10p/MB. Full costs here.
- You'll be credit-checked – see our Credit Scores guide.
Tesco mobile* – top all-round 4G contract
With a decent allowance across minutes, texts and data, this is a good all-rounder if you want 4G data. On a 12-month contract, Tesco Mobile* is offering 3,000 minutes, 5,000 texts and 2GB of 4G data for £15/mth.
Although it gives 1GB less allowance than the Virgin deal below, it's data runs at 4G speeds whereas Virgin only offers 3G.
- 12-month contract.
- Runs of the O2 network.
- Monthly spending can be capped.
- If you eat up your allowance, it's 10p/MB for data, 25p/min for calls to UK mobiles or landlines and 10p per text.
- You'll be credit checked – see our Credit Scores guide.
Virgin Mobile* – Top all-round 3G contract
If you don't want to worry about exceeding your allowance, Virgin Mobile's* £15/mth Sim-only tariff gives you unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and a decent 3GB of 3G data each month, which should be enough for all but the heaviest users.
To get the deal, click "No I don't" below where it asks if you're already a Virgin Media customer (existing customers can get the same deal on a 30-day rolling basis).
It's a 12-month contract – if you want the flexibility of a 30-day rolling contract, you can get the same deal for £20/mth, but you may want to check if other providers can beat it.
- 12-month contract.
- Runs off the EE network.
- Monthly bills by post cost an extra £1.50/mth, but free if paperless.
- If you're already a VM customer you get the same tariff on 30-day rolling, instead of 12-month, contract for £15/mth.
- Data is charged at £1/day if you exceed your allowance.
- You'll be credit checked – see our Credit Scores guide.
Three* – good for heavy data users
If you're looking for a cheap deal with lots of 4G data, Three's* £22/mth Sim-only tariff gives you 600 minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited 4G data on a 12-month contract. If you'd rather have the freedom of a rolling contract, then it's £25/mth.
Alternatively if you want to go all out, you can get unlimited minutes, texts and 4G data on a 12-month contract for £27/mth, or £30/mth on a 30-day contract.
- Calls to 0800 numbers included.
- If your minute allowance runs out you'll be charged 35p/min.
- Three's 'Feel at Home' feature lets you use your allowance in 16 (soon to be 18) countries at no extra cost.
- Turn your phone into a wi-fi hotspot with tethering (limit of 4GB/mth).
- You'll be credit checked – see our Credit Scores guide for how you can boost yours.
Sadly, there's no way round this one – a shiny high-spec smartphone just isn't MoneySaving. But if you absolutely must get your mitts on one, it's possible to pay less and avoid being locked into a long contract if you do it right.
The cheapest way to get a new iPhone 6 or Samsung S5 is usually to buy the handset upfront, then get a separate Sim-only deal – but not everyone can afford to do this. If you can't pay upfront, then perhaps think about switching down to a cheaper model, waiting and saving up for it.
If you don't have the readies to pay upfront for a handset, think long and hard before tying yourself into a lengthy contract instead – even if it offers you the phone 'free' or at a much-reduced upfront cost. Not only will the cost of the handset be wrapped up in the monthly tariff, you'll nearly always be paying a significant amount extra over the course of the contract.
We've crunched the numbers and calculated that in some cases it'd actually be cheaper to buy a handset direct with a 44% APR two-year loan (typical contract length) than take a contract. (Of course, we're not suggesting you do that.)
We worked out how much extra users would pay with six of the UK's biggest mobile providers if they were to get a 16GB iPhone 6 or a Samsung Galaxy S5 on a two-year contract, as opposed to buying the handset directly and taking out the same network's equivalent Sim-only deal.
The table below displays the 'effective APR', which is the interest rate you could afford to pay on a loan to buy the handset upfront plus get the equivalent Sim-only plan on the same network and it STILL be cheaper than taking out a similar contract deal from each network.
'Effective APR' of popular phones
|Network||iPhone 6 (16GB)||Samsung Galaxy S5|
|Virgin Mobile (1)||44%||42%|
|EE (incl T-Mobile & Orange)||35%||14%|
|Three||11%||Same on contract|
|O2||8%||Cheaper on contract|
|(1) Non existing Virgin Media customers. Figures rounded to the nearest percent. Table correct as of 3 Mar 2015.|
Mobile providers say that a contract isn't a loan (so they don't usually display an APR) but effectively it is one as you're credit checked. Even if a network offers you a deal where you can pay the cost of the handset and your tariff off separately you're likely to be paying a premium.
Could I get the handset on a 0% credit card instead?
If you want a snazzy phone but can't afford to buy the handset upfront, you're best off saving up. But if you really can't wait, then instead of paying mobile providers' inflated prices, you might want to consider taking out a credit card with a lengthy 0% Credit Card spending offer, buying the phone upfront, then stashing the card in a bowl of water in the freezer (so you won't be tempted to use it again) and getting a cheap Sim-only deal.
The longest 0% card currently is Halifax’s 20mth 0%* or Clydesdale's 20mth 0%* but remember you must always ensure you meet the minimum repayments and clear it before the 0% term ends or it jumps to 18.9% rep APR. Use our eligibility calc to see which cards will most likely accept you. See a full range of alternatives in our 0% Credit Card spending guide.
Top PAYG deals – for low users or to avoid being credit checked
If you're a very low user, can't pass a credit score or just want to be totally in control of how much you spend, then opting for a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) deal might be good option.
Why does my credit score matter? When you apply for a mobile contract (including Sim-only contracts) you're usually credit scored (because the company is spreading the cost of the handset over the contract, so for the firm, it's effectively a loan). If your credit history's poor then there's a chance you will be rejected and won't get a contract.
If this happens, don't despair – you still have options. You can choose between Giffgaff (which doesn't credit score you because you're technically prepaying rather than signing up for a contract) or another PAYG provider. Or alternatively, you could always try boosting your credit score.
Giffgaff* - no contract commitment for max flexibility
Sim-only provider Giffgaff* offers PAYG bundles called Goodybags, which start from £5/mth and go all the way up to £18/mth. Here's a summary of selected bundles (view the full list). All bundles include unlimited Giffgaff-to-Giffgaff calls and texts. The cheapest bundles have very low allowances, so check what's included before you buy.
£7.50/mth Goodybag. 200 mins, unlimited texts, 250MB data.
£10/mth Goodybag. 500 mins, unlimited texts, 1GB data.
£12/mth Goodybag. 500 mins, unlimited texts, 3GB data.
£18/mth Goodybag (rising to £20/mth on Wed 1 Apr). 2,000 mins, unlimited texts, unlimited data.
The Goodybags listed above come with 3G data. Giffgaff now also offers the following 4G Goodybags*. All 4G bundles also include unlimited Giffgaff-to-Giffgaff calls and texts.
£12/mth 4G Goodybag. 500 mins, unlimited texts, 1GB data.
£15/mth 4G Goodybag. 500 mins, unlimited texts, 3GB data.
- £18/mth 4G Goodybag. 1,000 mins, unlimited texts, 5GB data.
- Buy bundles on a 30-day rolling basis.
- Runs off the O2 network.
- No credit check.
- You won't be able to go over your allowance without buying another goodybag (unless you have credit).
Call for 3p/min, text for 2p/text and browse the web for 1p/MB
Three 321* – Best for low users or emergency phones
The 321 tariff from Three* does just what it says on the tin – it's a simple and cheap tariff, charging on a pure pay-as-you-go basis. It's a cracking deal for occasional mobile users, as it's by far the cheapest PAYG rate on the market.
It's a Sim-only deal, so you'll need an unlocked or Three handset to put the Sim into. It'll only work in 3G-compatible handsets.
How much is it? Top up with £10 minimum and it costs 3p/min for calls, 2p/text and 1p/MB for data (though the first 150MB after each top-up is free).
The credit will stay on your phone for six months if unused – use your phone occasionally and it'll stay on permanently.
Can I add extras on? If you want extras, such as "all you can eat" data, you can add these whenever you need to (see the Three website* for info).
There are a range of other PAYG providers to choose from. Here are their pay-as-you-go rates:
PAYG rates compared
|1. For the first 20MB, 20p/MB thereafter. 2. Cannot pay for data as you go, must buy a data add-on / pack. 3. Up to 50MB/day. 4. For the first 50MB, 10p/MB therefater.|
This is out what you'll get from each on a £10 bundle, which gives better value than paying as you go. They're more like Sim-only plans in that you get a fixed allowance each month, the difference being you'll still have to top up if you want to use more or buy another bundle.
A ‘granny in a glovebox’ phone is great to stash in your car as an emergency second mobile, to give to your kids or if you only need to use a phone very occasionally.
One of the cheapest we've found, which doesn't need to be topped up often, is the unlocked Samsung E1200* from Tesco Direct for £15.
Since it's unlocked, you can pick up a PAYG Sim from any of the networks. Bear in mind though that Three Sim cards won't work in 2G (older, non-smartphone) handsets, so we recommend taking one with another network such as Giffgaff if you're planning on using it in this way.
If you're after a phone with web access, one example of a cheap smartphone on a pay-as-you-go contract is the ex-display Samsung Galaxy Y*, at £36.08 (plus £3.59 p&p) from eBuyer. Again, it's unlocked so you'll need to buy your own Sim card too – a Three Sim will work in this handset.
Before you commit to a contract, check network coverage – and know your rights if you end up having problems
Before committing to a contract, check signal strength in the places you use your phone most, eg, at home and at work. Having no coverage isn't sufficient grounds to return your phone (though normal consumer rights do apply), so it's your responsibility to check.
The major providers all have maps indicating what 3G and 4G coverage they offer, although providers can be generous and overestimate signals.
What are my rights if I'm unhappy with my mobile coverage? It very much depends. Under consumer law you can cancel your mobile contract up to 14 days after you sign up but if the problem arises after that, it's tricky.
The telecoms regulator Ofcom says it expects providers to deal "fairly and sympathetically" with customers who have signal issues because of mobile network problems – for example if a provider switches off a mast or there are faults with the network. In these circumstances the customer should be offered compensation or be allowed to leave the contract early without penalty.
However, if the reason for the loss of coverage is unclear or in dispute – say if there's bad weather – it's less clear cut. In these cases Ofcom says you have "clear rights to seek redress or a resolution" to a complaint. In the first instance complain directly to your network, and if it's not able to help then go through its official complaints procedure.
If after eight weeks the response you've got isn't up to scratch (or you haven't got one) you can go through an alternative dispute resolution scheme. These are independent schemes which can investigate the complaint – if they find in your favour, they can order the mobile phone provider to pay out up to £5,000 in compensation for any loss you may have suffered.
There are three Sim sizes around - standard, micro and nano - and which one you'll need depends on your handset. All iPhone models from the iPhone 5 onwards use a nano Sim, as do some of the latest Android phones such as the Nexus 6.
Most other Android phones, including the Samsung S5, Note 4 and Windows phones, take micro Sims, which are slightly larger than nano Sims. The iPhone 4 and 4S also take micro Sims.
Standard-size Sims haven't been used in smartphones for the past few years and not many take them anymore. If you're upgrading to a newer handset, most networks can very easily swap your Sim card for the right one if you ask.
If you sign up for a contract you're essentially commiting to a phone company (and often a handset too) for the length of the contract. This means you must think carefully about your budget and if you can afford the ongoing, monthly payments. The amount of time varies between deals – a few last 12 months, but most high-end smartphone contracts now span 24 months.
Before you sign up to a contract make sure you're happy to be locked in for the minimum term. If you want to leave early then it's likely that you'll have to pay termination fees which cover the cost of the contract.
Some providers have started to offer tariffs which make it easier for customers to upgrade early. (See below for full details.)
Always calculate the total cost of the contract
Whether you're taking out a 12-month or 24-month contract you should always look at how the total cost compares. You can do this by multiplying the monthly cost by the length of the contract, then adding in the upfront cost.
For example, let's say there's an upfront cost of £39, plus a monthly charge of £15 multiplied by 18 months. The total cost of the contract would equal £309.
Transferring, or 'porting', your old mobile number is easy when you switch phone provider. All you need to do is get your PAC (porting authorisation code) from your existing provider, then give it to your new one.
Most networks will ask you to request a switch of number before you start using your new phone, but some will still do it after the new contract is set up. It usually only takes a couple of days.
You can't port your number within the same network, so if you take out a deal on your existing network that's intended for new customers (ie, that isn't specifically an upgrade) you won't be able to keep your old number. When you terminate the old contract you'll lose it.
The only way to get the new deal and keep your number would be to get yourself a free pay-as-you-go Sim from a different network, port your existing number across to it, then port it again to the new contract once it's been set up.
Recycle your old handset and earn £100s
If you're getting a new handset, recycle the old one and you could earn £100s, depending on the make, model and condition of the phone.
There are a raft of companies out there willing to recycle your phone for cash, yet be warned – the differences in what they'll offer are huge. At the time of writing, for example, a 16GB iPhone 5 could fetch anything from £49 to £108.
To help, use our unique MobileValuer tool – it instantly tells you what each of the main mobile recycling sites will pay. You can get up to £400 for some handsets. Of course others are virtually worthless, but it's worth a quick try.
Once you agree to sell, most companies send you a Freepost bag for your phone. You post it, and they'll give you the cash.
These sites are all about instant prices though. If you're prepared to put in a little more effort and flog your handset on eBay, you can often beat their prices. See our full 30+ eBay Selling Tricks guide for more info.
'Piggybacking' means you do have a choice of mobile provider – even if you can only get signal with one network
If you live somewhere with rubbish phone signal and you can only get coverage on one or two networks, fear not. You may assume your choice of provider is limited – but switching to a 'piggyback' deal can allow you to cut bills without your signal dropping.
There are only four UK networks – EE, Vodafone, Three and O2. All the others piggyback on and buy space from one of these four. For example, Tesco and Giffgaff are on O2, Asda is on EE and TalkMobile is on Vodafone.
You're still using the same network as the larger company so the reliability's the same, but it's normally cheaper or you get more. For example, £12/mth gets you an O2 Sim with 300 mins, unlimited calls and 300MB data, but alternatively you can get a Giffgaff Sim (on the O2 network) with 500 mins, unlimited texts and 1GB of data.
There are lots of piggybackers to choose from – see our full mobile piggybacking guide & list to see which you can move to, paying less with the same signal.
Don't sign on the dotted line until you've used our 'before you buy' checklist
Signing up to a new mobile deal, especially if it's a contract that locks you in, is a big commitment. Most contracts will lock you in for 24 months, which means that you won't be able to get out of paying for it during this time. That's why we've come up with six MUST-CHECK points to consider before you sign on the dotted line.
- Check coverage. Most operators will allow you to check your coverage by tapping your postcode into a tool on their website. It's well worth researching before you sign up.
- Don't forget about credit checks. If you have a poor credit history then there's a chance that you could get rejected for a contract. When you apply for a mobile contract the provider will check your score to see how reliable you are at paying bills on time. Before applying, check your credit score, and if necessary see our tips for boosting your credit score.
- Consider the contract length and total cost of the contract. Do the maths to make sure you're getting a good deal.
- Do you need mobile phone insurance? Depending on the cost of replacing your handset it might be worth getting mobile phone insurance. See our Cheap Mobile Insurance guide for full info.
- Keep your number when you switch. It's easy to keep your number but you'll need to get your PAC code.
Many providers allow early upgrades
If you're happy to stick with your current provider, then it's often possible to upgrade your handset before your current contract comes to an end.
Don't forget that the cheapest deals usually some from switching provider, but if you're willing to haggle then this info might be useful. The following table sets out the major providers' early upgrade policies.
How early can you upgrade?
|Provider||Energy upgrade policy|
|EE (incl T-Mobile and Orange)||Switch to a new phone and plan up to 45 days before your contract ends.|
|O2||O2 Refresh splits your monthly statement into a cost for the handset and cost for your allowance. You can pay off the handset part of your contract whenever you want and upgrade without also having to pay off the ‘allowance’ segment – you’ll just continue paying it alongside the ‘new device’ segment of the bill.
|Vodafone||Upgrade up to 30 days before your contract ends.|
|Three||Upgrade up to 30 days before your contract ends.|
|Tesco Mobile||The same system as O2 Refresh, above.|
|Virgin Mobile||No official policy on early upgrades – but it sometimes sends out 'early upgrade offers' to customers.|
Know how to unlock your phone to ensure you have maximum choice of provider
Unlocking your phone means you can use any network's Sim, which gives you the freedom to switch providers and hopefully cut your mobile phone bill.
Some handsets are unlocked when you buy them – usually if you purchase them directly from the company that makes them or if you buy from a middleman store such as Carphone Warehouse. But if you got your handset from a network it will usually be 'locked' to that specific provider.
You may be able to unlock your phone for free, depending on your network and the type of handset you have. If you can't then providers will charge you for an unlocking code – prices vary but it usually costs between £15-£20. See our Mobile Phone Unlocking guide for full details.
Decide whether you need mobile phone insurance – and if you do, get a cheap deal from as little as £5/mth
The best mobile phones no longer just make calls. They're our diaries, contact books, cameras, games consoles and more – so lose it, break it or have it nicked and there can be tears.
Insurers play on this fear with hefty prices and unnecessary cover. Yet you can get cheap smartphone and iPhone insurance from £5/month.
But do you really need insurance? Deciding whether to get a policy comes down to the fact that you know yourself better than insurers will.
How likely are you to lose or damage your phone? If your mobile's been permanently attached to your hand and you haven't broken it or lost in the last 10 years, the chances you'll lose or break it in the future are slim. But if you've broken or lost a phone in the past then it might be worth considering. It's important to know yourself, then you can play the odds.
Are you worried about mobile phone theft? Theft of mobile phones is falling, according to a report by the Home Office earlier this year – but these numbers are often questioned because it's believed a high proportion of mobile theft is never reported. If you live in a crime hotspot then insuring your phone for theft might be a good idea.
Beware of exceeding your data allowance, it could add £60/yr to your bill
If you use up your data allowance before the end of each month it could end up costing you. The majority of networks will ask you to pay an extra chunk of cash if you want to extend your allowance, usually around £5/mth. This could add £60 (or more) to your annual mobile bill.
There are a number of ways to avoid this:
Be sure you understand what ‘unlimited’ includes
Many mobile contract and Sim-only deals offer ‘unlimited’ minutes, texts or data, but it’s important to understand what that actually covers.
Unlimited minutes means to UK landlines and mobiles, and unlimited texts to UK mobiles – other calls/texts and roaming outside the UK may cost more. Always make sure you know exactly what’s covered and what you’ll have to pay extra for.
Similarly some networks place 'fair usage' caps on their 'unlimited' tariffs, (confusingly) limiting the allowance you actually get. Where a provider does this on a plan we write about we'll say so, but it's worth checking yourself before signing up.
If you've a smartphone, you may find you can keep costs down by taking a smaller data plan and using free wi-fi while you're out and about.
There are wi-fi hotspots dotted all over the UK (and abroad), many of which are free. McDonald's, Starbucks, Wetherspoons and Walkabout pubs all offer free wireless internet. It's also worth checking:
- My Hotspots (UK-only, quite limited)
- Free Hotspot (UK and Europe, more detailed, but not very many hotspots)
Find out more about free wi-fi hotspots and how to save on mobile data costs in the Mobile Broadband & Wi-Fi guide.
Head abroad and your mobile provider may hike prices massively, and even charge for receiving calls as well. Yet you can substantially cut the cost by using networks' hidden deals or by getting a specialist Sim card to use overseas.Get more info on the cost of using your phone abroad and the various specialist Sims available in the Mobile Roaming guide.
Calling someone overseas from your mobile often costs big bucks, yet it doesn't have to be that way. Making free internet phone calls (VoIP) sounds complicated, but it's very easy, especially if you have a smartphone.
Our guide to Free Web Calls has details on apps that let you call for nowt, how to make free calls from your computer and the best way to call friends who don't use VoIP. Don't forget to also consult our International Callchecker which tells you the cheapest way to call any country from the UK.
If your phone is faulty, then it's the responsibility of the retailer to fix it
All the usual consumer rights apply when you buy a mobile phone. The phone must be of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. (See the Consumer Rights guide for more.)
Remember here, the responsibility lies with the retailer, not the manufacturer. So if you discover a problem after buying a new phone, it's the retailer who must sort the problem for you.
If the fault is minor, it's reasonable to accept a repair. If not, you're entitled to a refund, although the retailer can deduct an amount for the use you've already had.
If you think that you've been mis-sold, either by the mobile phone company or by a company selling on its behalf, then you need to know your rights. Your first action should be to inform the provider and follow its complaints procedure.
After that, if you are still unhappy and feel the issue has not been resolved, you can appeal to one of two Alternative Dispute Resolution schemes – Ombudsman Services: Communications and CISAS – which act as middlemen between mobile phone providers and users.
For more info see Ofcom's guidance on making a telecoms complaint.
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If you're locked into a phone contract and your provider decides to hike prices, then you may be able to get out of the deal without paying a penalty.
Over the past few years mobile phone firms have started introducing annual price hikes, usually in line with inflation, which affect customers who are mid-contract. This used to mean that the price of your contract would rise and there was nothing you could do about it.
However, in January 2014 Ofcom changed the rules around mid-contract price rises. It confirmed that users with a landline, broadband or mobile contract should be allowed to leave if their provider introduces unilateral mid-contract price rises.
Ofcom said price increases to a recurring monthly subscription are "materially detrimental" to users. Providers now need to give at least 30 days' notice of any such rises and allow users to leave the contract without penalty (see the O2 to hike its prices MSE news story).
These rules apply to any NEW contract taken out after 23 January 2014. Unfortunately they don't apply retrospectively though, so companies can still hike prices for contracts taken out before this date.
What's more, if there's a warning in your T&Cs about mid-contract price hikes in line with inflation then they can side-step this ruling entirely. EE and O2 are the only networks that do this currently.
Adjustments are made in line with figures published in February each year based on the Retail Prices Index (a measure of inflation). This year the RPI grew by 1.1% and both EE and O2 will put up customers' monthly payments by the full 1.1% - EE on 26 Mar and O2 on 1 Apr. Any bill you receive after those dates will reflect the increase.
If you've switched providers recently, check whether you're owed cash
If you've switched mobile provider within the last six years and still had money remaining in your account when you left then it's possible to claim it back.
Many providers don't automatically refund credit when you leave, so it's worth checking. See our Reclaim Phone Credit guide for full details.
If you call an 0800, 0808 or 0500 number from a landline then it’s free – but call from a mobile and you could pay up to 20p/min.
But there are services that allow you to connect to ‘free’ numbers via a standard landline number. To find out how to do this read our guide on Free Calls to 0800 Numbers.
Some providers charge for voicemail services – deactivate this to avoid charges
Many assume voicemail is always free. Yet exceed your inclusive minutes or call from abroad and voicemail costs up to 40p/min on contracts out of allowances. On PAYG it can cost up to 26p/min. Keep track of how many minutes you have left or turn it off entirely, especially on holidays. Simply call your network and get it to deactivate voicemail.
You could try an app such as HulloMail. Download it to your smartphone and it replaces the voicemail system on your phone, using wi-fi or 3G to retrieve messages. It can be patchy if you're in an area with limited signal, but it's worth considering if voicemail is costing you big.