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Three to hit pay-as-you-go customers with steep price hike from February

Three pay-as-you-go mobile users will see the cost of calls, texts and data rocket from 16 February, with the price of sending a text outside Europe increasing by an eye-watering 1,650%. But you can leave penalty-free and switch to a cheaper deal. 

Below we explain what's happening and how to beat the hikes. Also see our Best Pay-As-You-Go Sim Deals and Cheap Mobile and Data Roaming guides for full info on cutting your mobile costs at home and abroad.  

How are prices changing?

From 16 February 2021, Three's existing pay-as-you-go (PAYG) customers will see standard prices rise both in the UK and when using Three's 'Go Roam' service in European countries:
  • The cost of making a phone call will rise to 10p/minute, from 3p/minute ( a 7p/minute or 233% increase) 
  • It will cost 10p to send a text, up from 2p at the moment (an 8p/text or 400% increase)
  • Data costs will also shoot up to 5p/MB, from 1p/MB at the moment (a 4p/MB or 400% increase) 

If these customers use their phone elsewhere around the world, excluding the UK and Europe, costs will also rocket by the following:

  • It will cost 35p to send a text, up from 2p at the moment (a 33p/text or 1,650% increase) 
  • Data costs will also shoot up to 5p/MB, from 1p/MB at the moment (a 4p/MB or 400% increase)

Three believes its new rates "remain extremely competitive" and adds that the increases to international roaming rates are to keep prices in line with its new standard rates for using your phone at home, and aren't linked to Brexit. It was one of the major mobile providers that committed to continuing free EU roaming following the end of the Brexit transition period on 1 January 2021.

Which customers will see prices rise? 

February's increase affects Three's existing pay-as-you-go (PAYG) customers who joined the network before March 2020 and who pay standard rates, rather than paying for a package. The mobile provider refused to tell us how many people will be impacted but says everyone affected will be contacted. A 2019 financial report from Three reveals that it has a total of 10.2 million UK customers across its network.  

New PAYG customers who signed up from March 2020 are already being charged these higher prices. 

Three's PAYG add-ons and data packages, which the firm says provide better value than its standard rates, won't be changing, and neither will its pay-monthly prices. 

I mostly use my phone in the UK. What can I do to beat the hikes?

As the price increase only affects PAYG customers - who aren't tied into any contract or commitment - if your costs are going up and you're not happy about it, you can simply leave at any point without paying a penalty. But do your research first to make sure you're actually switching to a cheaper deal. Here are some top deals to consider that you can use in the UK: 

  • If you're an occasional phone user, a PAYG Sim can charge as little as 1p for each minute, text and MB of data you use. The absolute cheapest for low usage mobile users is 1pMobile, which piggybacks off EE's network - though you have to top up at least £10 every four months in order to keep it active, so if you only use your phone very rarely, it's probably not for you.

    Alternatively, Asda (which also piggybacks off EE) has the same data cost as Three at 5p/MB, but beats it on text and call costs - charging 8p/minute for calls and 4p for each text. Bear in mind though that call time is limited to two hours, at which point you'll need to hang up and re-dial. 

  • If you're a more regular phone user, you can get a PAYG bundle from £5/month. With a bundle, you'll have an allowance to use each month - but you're still not tied into a contract. 

    For example, the Lebara bundle, which uses Vodafone's network, gives you unlimited minutes and texts and 2GB of data a month for £5. Or if you need more data, you can get 30GB, plus unlimited calls and texts, for £10/month from Smarty, Three's no-frills provider. 

We've full info on what's available in our Pay-As-You-Go Sim Deals guide. 

I want to use my phone abroad. How can I escape the hikes?

Free mobile roaming in European Union countries is no longer guaranteed as the Brexit transition period has now ended. Under the 'Roam Like At Home' rules introduced by the EU, you could use your UK allowance of minutes, texts and data without paying any extra charges in the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, subject to 'fair usage' rules.

The major mobile providers we've spoken, including Three, have committed to continuing this for now, but it's worth checking this with providers before you switch - also compare costs outside Europe if you plan on travelling further afield. If you're a frequent traveller you may also want to consider a local PAYG or prepaid Sim or a global prepaid Sim. We've full options in our Cheap Mobile and Data Roaming guide. 

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