Last updated on 28.06.2020
Buy your phone outright… usually
This is obvious, yet it’s so easy to sign on the dotted line when in a phone shop without considering your other options. In general, we would avoid all those deals that bundle extras you may or may not want: one way or another, you’ll pay for them. One good reason to go for a bundled offer is to buy the phone on credit, which may make sense with some phones costing nearly £1″,000. However, of all the mobile networks, only Giffgaff is upfront about this fact. Head to its website and it clearly separates the cost of repayments for the phone, based on an 18.9% APR, and the cost of the contract.
To illustrate how much you’re paying on each network, we chose the “best value” deal from each supplier using our Labs-winning Samsung Galaxy S9 as our example. You can see the results in the table below. As you can see, paying outright and then choosing a monthly 2GB Giffgaff is the cheapest way to do things. But, take note of the 15GB Car phone Warehouse offer (available online only). For heavy data users, that’s actually better value than buying the phone outright and choosing the £20-per-month deal from Giffgaff. One final note: all these deals were correct as of 1 November 2018. You may find prices have changed when you come to look online.
Beware the low-cost BT “deal”
This is one of those “beware the small print” stories. BT offers it’s broadband customers £5 a month off all its SIM-only plans, including the “Great Value Starter Plan”. Normally this costs £13 a month on a 12-month contract, so BT customers pay £8 a month. While BT makes it clear that only 500MB of data is included, it fails to mention that it will automatically include a monthly spend cap. Go over the 500MB and you’re charged until you hit it – and, by default, it’s a scandalous £40 a month. We would recommend you choose Giffgaff instead. It grabs our attention and appreciation, with superior satisfaction for speed, value for money and coverage to BT. Plus, it doesn’t tie you into a contract and you can buy a £7.50 “goody-bag” that includes 2GB of data
Know your rights
Mobile phone contracts mean precisely that: you are indeed tied to a contract and breaking it can be expensive. So what rights do you actually have? If you bought your phone online or over the phone then you’re covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations (these replaced the more familiar Distance Selling Regulations back in 2014). This gives you the right to cancel a service for 14 days from the moment you place your order. However, you might be charged for any services you use during those 14 days, and you’ll need to return your phone unused and in mint condition. If the supplier feels the value of the goods has gone down, you will be charged. If you buy in-store, you aren’t covered by these regulations. But the shop or network you have bought from may have a returns policy so check the small print or contact them to find out. Sadly, you don’t have rights to poor service.
If you discover that your mobile operator has terrible reception in your area, you don’t have a legal leg to stand on. However, it’s worth complaining early and keeping a note of those complaints. Back up any complaints with data, using speed tests such as those from Ookla so you can record mobile data speeds (the more evidence you have, the better, and screenshots are better than a note on a piece of paper). Once you have enough information, you can argue that the network isn’t providing an adequate service. Hopefully, that will lead to a response, which could be the network operator offering a home network booster. If you’re still unhappy, threaten to call in the ombudsman…
Know your ombudsman
Service providers are covered by two ombudsmen: Communications & Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS) and Ombudsman Services: Communications (OS:C). For example, CISAS covers TalkTalk and Virgin Media, while OS:C covers Three and Vodafone. It makes sense to ask your supplier which ombudsman to contact, as it shows your seriousness. Two things to be clear on, though:
don’t rush and don’t be rash. You’ll need to show that you’ve reached a deadlock with your supplier before you can submit a claim to the ombudsman, and normally you’ll need at least eight weeks to have passed since you made your first complaint. The rash element is being abusive to your supplier and stopping payments, both of which could land you in trouble. Complaints to the ombudsman do work when justified, but we can’t guarantee success.
Don’t rush to buy insurance
Frequently drop your phone? About to buy one costing close to a grand? It’s probably worth considering damage insurance. But do take a look at the cost of the insurance over the period of your contract and check the small print: you may find that water damage, for instance, isn’t covered. As ever, it’s worth looking outside Of the shop or online store you happen to be inhabiting at the time. There’s a thriving separate industry for mobile insurance, and you may find that third-party offers are much better value. We can’t recommend a particular provider because we haven’t got data to rate them, but as an example Trusted Insurances (trustedinsurances.com) provides “Ultimate Cover” – which includes accidental damage, theft and loss – for £9.75 per month with an excess of £25 (based on a high value phone such as the Samsung Galaxy S9). Vodafone, to take a random example, costs £13.50 per month for a similar level of cover and has an excess charge of£79.
Avoid roaming penalties
For the foreseeable future, we’re still covered by the EU’s ruling that all EU-based networks should provide free roaming within the European Economic Area. Things become more interesting outside the EU. Three offers its Go Roam service that covers 71 countries, including the US and Australia, and won’t charge you a penny more. But most providers only provide roaming to a handful of countries, so check carefully. In particular, make sure you switch off data roaming if you aren’t sure whether or not you’ll be charged. With so much data being downloaded in the background, you could face a horrible surprise when you get home. Roaming is one of the weaker areas for Giffgaff, where you’ll need to add credit to your phone before you travel – and it can start to get expensive. For instance, while data costs 20p per MB if you’re visiting the US, you’ll pay £1 per minute to make and receive calls.
Know how much international calls cost
Data roaming is free within the EU, but it can cost a fortune to make a call to another country. Take Italy. If you’re on Vodafone, that will cost you £1.50; Three charges £1.25; and Giffgaff costs 3p. If you know you’ll be making such calls, take a look at your network operator’s choice of add-ons. Going back to Vodafone, for instance, its International Saver 100 add-on includes 100 minutes across 100 destinations for £3 a month.
Haggle when it’s time to renew
Your mobile operators doesn’t want you to leave, so you have power. Indeed, Which? found that “mobile phone customers that haggled with their provider saved an average of£72 on their annual bill”. The majority of those savings came from a discount on regular payments, but other people got their data limit increased, free minutes and even free handsets. Which?’s advice to get the best deal is to track your usage so you know how much data and how many calls you make, and then look around at other deals that might suit you better. If they don’t offer a better deal, explain that you would like to cancel. A more helpful person from the retention team is likely to hop on pronto.
Keep track of your data
Both Android phones and iPhones include features that track your usage, but third-party apps are arguably even better. Glass Wire Data Usage Monitor, for instance, keeps close track of your data usage and also allows you to block apps from consuming data on the move.