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Whether your phone's super-glued to your ear or just used for the odd call, the chances are you're massively over-paying for the minutes and texts you use.

With 1,000s up for grabs, picking the best mobile phone deal may seem like a lottery. This guide shows you how to speedily get the cheapest contract tariff, then check for added discounts.

Looking for the latest smartphone? Use our Cheap iPhone Tool and Cheap Samsung Galaxy Tool to find the best deal for your usage.

Quick tips before you start

Haggle down contract costs without changing network

Do I need mobile phone insurance?

iPhones aren't MoneySaving - do you really need one?

Beware - voicemail can cost big

Recycle your old handset for £100s

How to escape your contract early

Text the UK and overseas for nowt

Beware being seduced by 'free' handsets

Free directory enquiries from mobiles

Use free wi-fi hotspots to save on data costs

Call abroad for free or cheap to cut costs

Cheapest way to call from abroad

Would pay-as-you-go be cheaper?

The days where PAYG tariffs were only cheaper for lower users are long gone. PAYG phones are now far more competitive with contract-style bundles available when you top up by a minimum amount.

The main reason for choosing a contract is wanting a new handset, as they're heavily subsidised on contracts. But be careful you're not paying for it with a higher monthly premium.

Contract

Pay a monthly fee and get an inclusive bundle varying in minutes, texts and data.

  • Smartphones cheaper with a contract
  • Often better for heavy texters/callers
  • More likely to get free mobile data
  • No risk of running out of credit

Decided contract is better? Read on

Pay as-you-go

No fixed contract, pay for what you use via top-ups, online or on the phone.

  • No credit check
  • Can be cheaper for light users
  • No contract commitment
  • Easier to budget

Prefer pay-as-you-go? Jump to deals

How to get the cheapest contract

First work out what you need, then get the cheapest tariff. Only after that should you find the deals. It's a simple three-step plan:

How to get the cheapest contract

Step 1. Pinpoint your exact usage

Knowing how much you use your phone and what you do with it the most is crucial to getting the best plan.

Match free mins/texts closely to your usage. If you don't, go over and you'll overpay for calls. Go under and you'll overpay on the package.

The easiest way to check usage is to simply dust off your last 3-6 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. Once you've got the info, check the following:

How many minutes or texts do you use?

How much do you use the web?

Do you make peak or off-peak calls?

Do you mainly call one person?

Step 2. Find the perfect tariff

Once you know your usage, you need to find the cheapest and best mobile phone tariff to match it.

Give yourself some leeway, as a slightly higher monthly fee will be cheaper than paying extra call costs.

Are you happy with your existing handset?

If you already have a decent handset in good nick, you'll get a far cheaper deal if you opt for Sim-only. Here you simply get the Sim card with the tariff, no handset.

If you 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 full specifications for each model so you can see at-a-glance if it has what you need.

last Audited:
04 feb 2014

The top comparisons

Click the button which best suits your needs:

Best for finding Sim-only deals

Billmonitor* Offers most accurate results

For accurate results, Billmonitor* finds the best tariff by accessing your online bills (it doesn't include Virgin Mobile).

Provide it with login details for your online account and it calculates your average usage over the past three months to find the best contract.

It assumes your habits won't change, but to make sure you don't go over your tariff minutes (which is costly), it'll pick a tariff very slightly above your needs.

Is it safe to give 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.

CompareMobileDeals.com For extra coverage

CompareMobileDeals.com includes some smaller retailers and networks, so sometimes trumps Billmonitor on price. However, the site is slightly clunky and we have no user feedback on it.

It's also worth noting that MobilePhoneChecker*, MoneySupermarket* and Omio* also let you compare Sim-only deals, so they're well worth a try too.

Best for any decent handset

Billmonitor* Offers most accurate results

For accurate results, Billmonitor* finds the best tariff by accessing your online bills (it doesn't include Virgin Mobile).

Give it the login details for your online account and it calculates your average usage over the past three months to find the best contract.

It assumes your habits won't change, but to ensure you don't go over your tariff minutes (which is costly), it'll pick a tariff very slightly above your needs.

Once you get its analysis you can narrow your search to a particular handset.

Is it safe to give your login details?

Billmonitor says it follows a robust data security policy which it's outlined to Ofcom, and encrypts all users' passwords.

MobilePhoneChecker* For extra coverage

MobilePhoneChecker* covers some smaller networks and retailers that the others don't, so it's worth checking too.

It also has an excellent filtering system so you can clearly pick and choose what you want.

It was built by a site user who has since become part of the MSE team. It's still operated independently by him in his spare time.

MoneySupermarket* For belt and braces

For ease of use and if you want a quick hit, MoneySupermarket* and Omio* come top. Simply pick monthly cost, minutes and texts for the cheapest tariffs.

Crucially, you can tell both sites which handset you want and they'll find cheap deals for it.

MoneySupermarket just pips Omio to the post as it lets you filter deals including data. Also, Omio doesn't automatically sort by cheapest price, so make sure you change the dropdown.

But Omio lets you sort tariffs further, by phone features and operating system (eg, Android, iPhone or Symbian). You can also sort by network (useful if your coverage is hit and miss), brands and style of phone.

Best if you know exactly what you want

MoneySupermarket* For ease and speed

For ease of use and if you want a quick hit, MoneySupermarket* comes top. Simply pick monthly cost, minutes and texts for the cheapest tariffs.

Crucially, you can tell it which handset you want and it'll find cheap deals for it.

MoneySupermarket just pips Omio* to the post as it lets you filter deals including data. Also, Omio doesn't automatically sort by cheapest price so make sure you change the dropdown.

But Omio lets you sort tariffs further, by phone features and operating system (eg, Android, iPhone or Symbian). You can also sort by network (useful if your coverage is hit and miss), brands and style of phone.

MobilePhoneChecker* For extra coverage

MobilePhoneChecker* covers some smaller networks and retailers that the others don't, so it's worth checking too.

It also has an excellent filtering system so you can clearly pick and choose what you want.

It was built by a site user who has since become part of the MSE team. It's still operated independently by him, in his spare time.

CompareMobileDeals.com is also worth checking as it includes some smaller retailers and networks, so sometimes trumps Billmonitor on price.

However the site's slightly clunky and we have no user feedback on it.

Before you sign up - check coverage

Before committing, check signal strength in the place you use your phone most. Having no coverage isn't sufficient grounds to return your phone (outside normal consumer rights), so it's your responsibility to check.

Providers all have maps to indicate what 2G coverage is (for basic calls and texts) and some have 3G coverage too (for web use), although providers tend to be generous and over-estimate signals. Ofcom also has a PDF map detailing 3G coverage.

The providers make it clear these maps do not guarantee coverage. There are two ways to check before you buy. One is to borrow a friend's phone, if they're on the right network. Alternatively, most providers offer free PAYG Sims. Nab one and test it in all the places you use your mobile most:

  • Orange
  • Vodafone
  • O2
  • T-Mobile
  • Tmobile

T-Mobile and Orange now give free access to each other's networks, so if you're on either, cross-check the maps. If you're with EE, it also has its own coverage checker.

Can you return a phone if you can't get coverage?

Step 3: Get the right discount

Now you know the best mobile phone tariff for you; the aim is to re-use the comparison services, this time finding out which will give you the biggest discount on your chosen tariff. Don't be tempted to switch to a different tariff to get a freebie - let the tariff rule.

Always pick the right tariff first. Then even if your promo falls through, as many have, you're still on the cheapest package.

Omio & MobilePhoneChecker win

Omio* and MobilePhoneChecker* both allow you to find the right tariff and then search for specific deals for that tariff.

On Omio, to find deals, click on the tariff for more details and then "see all deals for this tariff".

On MobilePhoneChecker, simply click on the "view offers" dropdown. It'll show you which retailer offers cashback or gifts with that specific tariff.

The mobile market is rife with a variety of discount packages, meaning the same tariff on the same network can cost vastly different amounts. Discounts include free gifts, but it's most important to understand the difference between these:

  • 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 can be and are problems. Read the full Top Cashback Sites guide for info.

Beat the cashback trap

Cheap Sim-only deals

If you're happy with your mobile handset, it's well worth looking at Sim-only deals as a cheaper alternative. Here are our top picks:

Virgin Mobile - good for heavy usersSim-only deal gets unlimited minutes, texts and data for £15/mth

Three mobileIf you're practically glued to your phone, Virgin Mobile's £15/mth Unlimited VIP Sim-only tariff gives you unlimited minutes, texts and data (fair usage of 3.5GB/mth - after this it'll slow down, but you can still use more). Plus it's on a 30-day rolling contract, handy if you'd rather not be locked in for a year.

Very few use this much though, so really consider if it's worth paying for. Again, it's available on standard, micro and nano Sims. There's a 99p delivery charge for the Sim, though this is free if you've got Virgin Media cable. If you want monthly bills by post, it's an extra £1.50/mth.

You can use your existing handset, but only if it's already on Virgin's network, or unlocked. Read the Mobile Unlocking guide for full help if your phone needs unlocking.

Tesco Mobile - good all-rounder*Sim-only deal gets hearty 1,000 mins, 5,000 texts and 1GB data for £10/mth

Tesco mobileIf you want a cheaper deal than the Virgin Mobile tariff above, this is a good all-rounder. On a 12-month contract, Tesco Mobile* is offering 1,000 minutes, 5,000 texts and 1GB of data for £10/month. Plus, if your phone is 4G ready, it's free with this offer.

Handily if you've a flashy (or ancient) phone, it's available for standard, micro or nano Sim sizes. If you manage to eat your way through its inclusive allowance, it's 10p/MB for data, 25p/min for calls to UK mobiles or landlines, and 10p per text.

You can use your existing handset, but only if it's on Tesco Mobile's network or unlocked. Read the Mobile Unlocking guide for full help if your phone needs unlocking.

If you'd rather not get locked in to a contract, pay-as-you-go Sim-only provider Giffgaff* is also popular for buying bespoke bundles - see full info below.

Cheap PAYG tariffs

Looking for a super-cheap PAYG deal? Here are some of the cheapest deals:

Three 321 - good for low users / emergency phone*Call for 3p/min, text for 2p/text, and browse the web for 1p/MB

Three 321The 321 tariff from Three* does just what it says on the tin - a simple and cheap tariff, charging on a pure pay-as-you-go basis.

It's a Sim-only deal, so you'll need an unlocked or Three handset to put the Sim in. It'll only work in 3G-compatible handsets.

How much is it? Top up with £10 and you it costs 3p/min for calls, 2p/text and 1p/MB for mobile data (though the first 150MB after each top-up is free).

The credit will stay on your phone for six months if unused, so use your phone occasionally and it'll stay on permanently.

Who is it right for? This is a cracking deal for occasional mobile users, as it's by far the cheapest PAYG rate on the market. Three's Sims will only work in 3G handsets.

Typical £10 PAYG rates compared
Three 321 Vodafone Freedom Orange Racoon T-Mobile Smart Packs O2 Giffgaff
Calls 3p/min 150 mins 14p/min 100 mins 75 mins 500 mins
Texts 2p/text Unlimited 14p/text 400 texts 500 texts Unlimited
Data 1p/MB 250MB 65p (min charge. Rate charged per KB) 1GB 250MB 1GB

For someone using their phone a decent amount, a Giffgaff* Goodybag bundle is cheaper. These are monthly add-ons, so for £7.50/mth you get unlimited texts, 200 minutes and 250MB.

Can I add extras on? If you want extras, such as "all you can eat" data, you can add these whenever you need (see the Three website for info).

Giffgaff - good for average/heavy users*Giffgaff Goodybags start from £7.50/mth for 200 mins, unltd texts and 250MB

Three 321While it's officially a pay-as-you-go Sim-only provider, Giffgaff* offers top-up bundles which are as good, if not better, value than some contracts.

The bundles, called Goodybags, start from £5/mth and go all the way up to £20/mth. Here's a breakdown of what each bundle will get you:

  • £5/mth Goodybag. 60 mins (plus a free extra min for every min you get called by a non-Giffgaff number), 300 texts, 20MB data, unlimited Giffgaff-to-Giffgaff calls/texts.
  • £7.50/mth Goodybag. 200 mins, unlimited texts, 250MB data, unlimited Giffgaff-to-Giffgaff calls and texts.
  • £10/mth Goodybag. 500 mins, unlimited texts, 1GB data, unlimited Giffgaff-to-Giffgaff calls and texts.
  • £12/mth Goodybag. 250 mins, unlimited texts, unlimited data, unlimited Giffgaff-to-Giffgaff calls and texts.
  • £15/mth Goodybag. 500 mins, unlimited texts, unlimited data, unlimited Giffgaff-to-Giffgaff calls and texts.
  • £20/mth Goodybag. 2,000 mins, unlimited texts, unlimited data, unlimited Giffgaff-to-Giffgaff calls and texts.

Is it any good? The standard rates for Giffgaff aren't quite as cheap as the Three deal above. But if you're an average or heavy user, getting a Goodybag is good value for money.

You can use your existing handset, but only if it's on the O2 network or unlocked. Read the Mobile Unlocking guide if your phone needs unlocking.

Quick Q&As

What are my rights if my phone breaks?

How do I keep my number?

Can I cancel my contract if my provider changes the terms?

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Duplicate links of the * links above for the sake of transparency, but this version doesn't help MoneySavingExpert.com: BillMonitor, Giff Gaff, Mobilephonechecker, Moneysupermarket, Omio, T-Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Three

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