There are more mobile-phone options on the market than you can shake a stick at, and trying to compare like with like can prove to be a thankless task.
But you will improve your chances of getting the right deal by looking at the pros and cons of the packages on offer – and also by knowing a few tricks of the trade.
Contract or pay-as-you-go?
As long as you stick to the minutes, texts and data you’ve signed up for, a phone contract helps you budget because you’ll get the same bill each month. Plus (crucially, for many people) a contract normally means you get to take your pick of a brand new phone.
You’ll also find that your calls, texts and data are cheaper than on pay-as-you-go plans.
The drawbacks to this sort of deal, though, include being tied into a minimum commitment than can last for up to two years, and being stung by high bills if you inadvertently exceed your allowances.
If you don’t use your phone very much and you haven’t joined the mobile online revolution, a pay-as-you-go deal could be better for you.
The cost of a phone call or a text is higher than on a contract, but you pay only for what you use. So if you make just two calls a month when you’re out and about, your credit will last a long time.
PAYG customers miss out on getting top-of-the-range phones as part of the deal, although there are some good-value, basic handsets on the market. But there is no commitment because no contract is signed, and you never get “bill shock” – because you pay in advance, you will never be in arrears with your network provider.
If you want to sign up for a contract but you already have a phone that you’re happy with, you might want to consider a Sim-only deal.
This is identical to a normal contract, with two exceptions – because you aren’t getting a “free” phone with your new contract, your monthly payments will be lower. And most Sim-only deals have much shorter contract periods (sometimes only a month), making it easier to switch provider.
Making the switch
Unless you are still in the locked-in period at the start of a contract, aim to have a look every now and again to see if you can get a better deal. Often, you’ll find that you don’t even need to move network to get a more attractive offer.
You can play hardball with your network. Remember that they want your business – if you can find evidence that rival operators are offering cheaper plans, ask your network to match it.
It can also be worth asking if there are any handset offers available. It’s not unusual for a phone company to offer you a handset upgrade, although this can mean you have to sign up for another minimum period.
The phone networks will be keen to keep you – as well as providing income for them on a monthly basis, they have to spend a lot of money via marketing and new handsets to attract new customers to replace those who choose to leave.
If you are on pay-as-you-go, moving is easy. You are free to switch provider at any time, so if you think you could get a better deal elsewhere, go for it.