Cheap mobile tips

Best way to buy a mobile phone, your rights & more

Millions of people overpay on their mobiles, yet it's simple to ditch pricey plans. So if you're out of contract, check now if you can cut the cost – many can save £100s a year. 

Looking for our top pick mobile deals? Our Cheap Mobile Finder tool searches 1,000s of deals from more than 60 retailers. 

First, check out Martin's two-minute video to slash your costs...

We've a full list of mobile cost cutting tips below, but if you prefer to watch rather than read, Martin Lewis explains in his video below (it was filmed in March this year, just before the April price hikes kicked in).

Martin Lewis: A simple text that could slash your mobile bill.
Embedded YouTube Video

Find out if you're out of contract in seconds for free

There's a simple text you can send that could help you slash you bill: 

  • Text INFO to 85075. It's free, and it will tell you whether you're one of 14 million people in the UK who are currently out of contract and free to switch. If that's you, you can likely save a shed load. If you're still in contract, it'll instead tell you how much it'll cost to leave that contract.

    If you're a Three, iD Mobile or Smarty customer, it may also ask for your date of birth to confirm your identity – you'll get a follow-up text asking for your details, which you'll need to reply to. 

If you are out of contract, you can use our Cheap Mobile Finder to find the top deals, or see more info whether you want a new handset, Sim-only deal or want to stick with the same network

No text back from your network?

There are a few times this doesn't work, such as if you've got a contract where there are multiple phones in a household. In that case, if you've been with the same provider for more than two years, you're likely out of contract, but it's best to contact your provider to check.

Keep your number when you switch

switching to a cheaper deal

Switching to a cheaper deal with another network is easier than ever, as you no longer have to call your current provider to ditch it, so you avoid the hard sell of them trying to make you stay.

Here's what to do:

  • Text 'PAC' to 65075 for your 'switching code'. You'll be sent your 'porting authorisation code' (PAC) immediately via text. You give this to your new provider so you can keep your number.

    If you're with Three, iD Mobile or Smarty, it'll also ask for your date of birth to confirm your identity – you'll get a follow-up text asking for your details, which you'll need to reply to. 

  • Give the switching code to your new provider within 30 days. You'll then be switched within one working day. You won't need to contact your old provider again.

What's more, if you're out of your minimum contract period, mobile providers are banned from charging you for the remainder of your notice period after you've switched (which is typically 30 days), putting an end to paying for your old and new contract at the same time.

Don't want to keep your number? 

You can still easily switch providers if you don't want to keep you number. It's the same process as the above, but need to instead text 'STAC' to 75075

You’ll be sent your service termination authorisation code (STAC), which you give to your new provider. It'll then cancel your contract with your old provider to ensure a smooth transfer.

Happy with your handset? Switch to a cheap Sim-only deal to cut your monthly costs

There are two types of Sim only deals – 30-day rolling contracts which you're free to leave with a month's notice, or fixed-term contracts, usually locking you in for 12 months (often, though not always, better value). Though, with longer contracts, you're often credit checked.

These are great value if you already have a handset or can afford to buy a new handset upfront, and work out better for heavy data users. Use our Cheap Mobile Finder to find the right Sim for you.

Key quick tips for switching Sim...

What about pay-as-you-go?

Pay-as-you-go still exists, so if you want a phone that'll you'll only use in an emergency or for light use, then it might work out cheaper. With this, you simply pay in advance for what you use via top-ups, online or on the phone. Pay-as-you-go packs, however, auto-renew.

Pay-as-you-go doesn't require any credit check, but use it often, it can be expensive – see our Cheap Sim Finder for the best deals.

Want a new handset? Use our Cheap Mobile Finder tool

Illustration of contract with heading reading "Your mobile contract".

For many, the only way they've ever got a new phone is via a two-year contract with a network that bundles the cost of the handset in with a monthly fee for airtime – usually at a hefty markup. This can often be the most expensive way to buy a phone, though there are ways to cut the cost.

Reseller sites such as Carphone Warehouse and MobilePhonesDirect are almost always cheaper than going direct to the network – and can sometimes undercut buying upfront and pairing with a cheap Sim.

You can use our Cheap Mobile Finder tool to compare against multiple resellers, including: 

  • Mobile contract need-to-knows

    • The cost of the handset is spread out over the length of the contract.
    • You'll be locked in for 24 months in the majority of cases, though some providers are now trying to tie people in for even longer.
    • Your monthly price is likely to increase each year with inflation.
    • You'll be credit-checked.
  • Once your contract is over, switch to avoid overpaying

    The majority of phone contracts which include a handset are paid for monthly over a two-year period, meaning the handset is paid for at the end. Though the handset has been paid for, most providers continue to charge the same monthly price after the initial contract period is over, meaning you're essentially paying for the phone again.

    To avoid overpaying, make a note of your contract end date and diarise to contact your provider one month before it ends to give it notice, which means you're free to leave or change deal. If you're happy with your phone, consider switching to a cheap Sim-only deal or see our top tips for haggling a new deal.

  • Is it cheaper to buy the handset outright and pair with a cheap Sim?

    That used to be the cheapest way to get a new phone, but over the last few years we've seen some contract deals with a lot of data massively undercutting that method. Our cheapest new handset tool includes both options across most phone models to make it easier for you to compare.

Happy where you are? Try haggling for a better deal

Haggling on monthly mobile phone contracts can slash the price you pay. If you have a contract deal and you're nearing the end of your fixed term, your network will be frantically trying to keep you, so it's the best time to haggle. Long-term customers have a better chance of success here.

Our latest poll showed the best mobile providers to haggle with are EE, O2 and Sky Mobile. See our Mobile phone haggling guide for help with getting a better deal. Bear in mind though it's usually harder to haggle on a contract for a new phone, particularly if you're after the latest model.

Before you call your provider, arm yourself with 'new customer' deals

All of the deals in our Cheap Mobile Finder are for new customers of that provider, but you could use the deals listed to try and haggle yourself a better one with your current provider.

More mobile cost cutting tips...

Whether your phone's rarely out of your hand 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 – especially if you haven't switched in a while. Here are our top tips for cutting sizeable chunks from your mobile bill. 

  • If you use up your data allowance before the end of each month, it could end up costing you. You can now add a spending cap which means you won't be able to exceed this limit, so you can avoid any unexpected bills. You can do this via your network's online account or app, though if in doubt, just call it and ask.

    If you'd prefer not to add a limit, make sure you're on top of your usage as some networks won't warn you about extra charges – which are often at eye-watering rates. Here are some other ways to avoid this:

    • Use Wi-Fi whenever possible – but not for emails, online banking or anything that could make your personal information vulnerable to hackers when using public Wi-Fi.
    • If you really need more, then consider switching to a different deal or speak to your network about upping your allowance if you'd prefer to stay put – this may cost, but it'll likely be cheaper than exceeding your limit.
  • Mobile networks are permitted to increase your monthly tariff price each year, but only if their T&Cs state so before you sign up. And all the major networks have such terms, including EE, O2, Three and Vodafone.

    Changes are usually made in line with the Retail Prices Index (RPI) or Consumer Prices Index (CPI), which are both measures of inflation, between February and April each year, plus a percentage amount on top. 

    We've campaigned to change this, but for now, we've already seen most providers hike prices this year.

    If a provider hikes your monthly bill and its T&Cs don't allow this – then you can leave your contract penalty-free.

  • You can get an idea of signal strength in a particular area with our coverage checker which uses the same data as Ofcom's coverage checker.

    This'll show you results for one of the four main networks – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – but 'piggyback' networks use their signal and generally offer far better value, so don't think your options are limited to one of the biggies. See a full list of which provider is on which network in our Mobile piggybacking guide.

    For a more accurate indication than Ofcom's checker can give you, it may be worth picking up a free pay-as-you-go Sim from the network you're considering and putting it to the test before committing.

    • Ofcom's tool uses the networks' data on coverage, but it says it builds on this with information gathered from its own field tests. The regulator's also used its own research to determine what threshold of signal it believes is required for a clear call connection – and it's higher than that set by the networks, so in theory you should get a more robust picture of the service you're likely to get.

      The tool's by no means perfect and you may find you don't agree with the results it shows. If so, Ofcom says it wants to know, so it can improve it in the future (on the tool, click the 'your feedback' link below the map).

    • It very much depends. Under the Consumer Contracts Regulations, if you ordered online or over the phone, you can cancel your mobile contract up to 14 days after you sign up for any reason. But if you buy in store or a problem arises after that, it can be tricky.

      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, go through its official complaints procedure.

      The free complaints-handling company Resolver can help you with your claim. If it doesn't get anywhere with the provider, it'll escalate your complaint on your behalf to the relevant alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme.

  • Unlocking your phone means you can use any network's Sim, which gives you the freedom to switch providers.

    Mobile providers are now banned from locking devices to their network. But if you purchased your phone through a network within the last few years, chances are it'll be unlocked. See our Mobile unlocking guide for full details of how to unlock it for free.

  • Most major networks have reintroduced roaming fees in the EU, ultimately leaving mobile users with weaker rights and many with higher costs. Yet you can cut the cost substantially 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 our Cheap mobile and data roaming guide.

  • When 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 willing to recycle your phone for cash, yet be warned – the differences in what they'll offer are huge. For help, see our Sell old mobiles guide.

    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 eBay selling tricks guide for more info.

  • If you lose your phone and realise you've it set to silent, you often despair and think it's pointless trying to ring it to locate it. Luckily, this isn't the case. There's a way to help you find it that could save you having to shell out on a new one or having to pay any insurance excess.

    If you're an iPhone user, you can use the Find My iPhone service on iCloud to make it ring.

    • Go to Find My iPhone.
    • Log in to your iCloud account (you must have one), select the device you want to emit a sound and click 'play sound'.
    • Your device will ring whether it is on silent or not.

    If you've an Android phone, you can make it emit a noise with Google's Find My Device service, provided you've set up a Google account with the phone.

    • Go to Find My Device.
    • Log in to your Google account (you must have one) and click 'play sound' on the device you want to ring.
    • Your device will ring whether it is on silent or not.

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