How to get your hands on the best mobile phone deals around
Want a flashy handset and a low-cost contract? There is a way, says James Daley
Saturday 08 March 2008
Not so many years ago, mobile phones were almost exclusively the preserve of the wealthy or the spivvy. Most people swore that they would never need one, and even as prices came down and their popularity exploded, many were slow converts to the revolution.
Today, even the hardest cynics seem to own one, and many families now shell out hundreds of pounds a month on their bills – a cost that they simply regard as a necessity, not a luxury. Children as young as three and pensioners as old as 90 are all in on the game, and most people would now tell you they simply can't be without their phone.
The good news is that, amidst this huge increase in popularity, the mobile phone market has become more competitive than ever. Free handsets, free gifts and even cashback are all on offer for the canny phone shopper. Unfortunately, however, for the average consumer, hunting for the best deal can prove rather a daunting task.
Although there are only five primary phone networks – Vodafone, O2, Orange, T-Mobile and 3 – there are dozens more that piggyback on top of these, from easyMobile to Virgin, Tesco and British Gas.
It's well worth the time and effort to shop around, though. Switching provider or playing hard ball with your existing network could save you hundreds of pounds a year. Here are a few simple steps to help you find the best deal.
What do you really need?
Rob Barnes of Moneysupermarket.com, the comparison site, says that before you start looking for a new deal, it's crucial to work out exactly how many minutes and texts you actually use each month. "Look back at your last three bills and find out how much you've been using," he says. "A lot of people get roped in by a flashy new handset on offer, and end up paying for far more than they need."
Barnes also points out that it's also worth considering if you need a new handset, and if you do, whether you need an expensive one with dozens of functions that you'll probably never use.
However, he adds that if you decide to hang on to your existing handset, it's worth remembering that you may not be given another chance to upgrade for free for 12 or 18 months – and new phones are more costly than you might think. "The average handset that you're given with a contract will cost you between £100 or £200 to buy separately, so you should think carefully before giving up the chance to get a new phone," he says.
Most phone providers will offer packages with a set number of free minutes and free texts for a fixed monthly fee. If you don't need a new handset, you should be able to negotiate extra minutes or texts, or a discount on your bills.
Give your existing provider a hard time
Although most mobile providers will try and tie you into 12- or 18-month contracts, you can usually start negotiating a new contract around two months before your current one comes to an end.
Steve Weller of price comparison site Uswitch.com, says that while you're likely to get the best deals by switching to another provider, it is always worth putting some pressure on your existing network to see what you can squeeze out of them.
Barnes agrees, suggesting that customers ask their phone provider for their PAC code – the number you need to switch networks and keep your existing number. One mention of this should see you put through to the customer retentions department, whose job it is to try and keep your custom by offering you a better deal. "If you're happy with the handset you've got, you may be able to get them to offer you double the amount of minutes for the same price, or give you a credit of, say, £100 on your bill," he says.
Weller says that the more valuable a customer you are – ie the more you spend each month – the more your network will fight to keep you, by offering you big discounts.
If you've got the time and the inclination, you should shop around – even after you've got an idea what your own network will offer you to stay with them.
Comparison sites such as uswitch.com, moneysupermarket.com and onecompare.com are a good way of getting an idea of the best offers out there – especially if you are after a specific new phone. These sites will find you the best contracts for your specific needs, and can also help you find the best free gifts and cashback deals.
However, Weller warns that customers should be careful about chasing cashback offers, as many of the brokers that purport to offer such deals have a very bad record at paying out.
Three months ago, Ofgem, the telecoms regulator, revealed that they had been receiving hundreds of complaints a month from consumers who had not received the money they were promised. Which?, the consumers' association, has even called for such schemes to be banned. In many cases, consumers have to jump through a number of hoops to get their money.
"If you go through the brokers, it's worth checking who owns them," advises Weller. "If they're a small unknown, you're better off steering clear. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
Barnes agrees: "It's difficult to get your money, even with names such as Carphone Warehouse. You're better off looking for the free gift deals, as the brokers tend to be better at dispatching these promptly. If you get a free Nintendo Wii, and don't want it, you can always sell it on eBay for around £150."
Both Weller and Barnes believe it's better to buy direct from one of the networks. While you may not get a flashy free gift or cashback, you could get a valuable credit on your bill, which could save you having to pay anything to your provider for several months.
If you do decide to go ahead and switch, the good news is that it shouldn't be as hard as you might think. Mobile providers are obliged to switch your old number over to your new network within five days and many do it much quicker. In the meantime, you'll get a temporary number so that you're not left without a phone.
Other useful tips
If you're going to be using your phone outside of the EU regularly, or are likely to use the web on your phone, Barnes says it's worth buying an additional bundle or two, to tack on to your regular tariff.
While there are now maximum tariffs for using your phone in the EU, which make it slightly more reasonable, it can still be very costly to make calls outside of Europe. However, all providers offer international call bundles for a few pounds a month, which greatly reduce these prices. Similarly, all providers offer data bundles for users who want to surf the internet from their phones.
Weller says that it's also a good idea to look at what other services you can get from your mobile provider, as these may be discounted for mobile customers. For example, O2 offers cheaper broadband rates for its mobile customers, while Virgin Mobile offers cheaper rates for those who sign up to Virgin Media's TV, broadband or home phone services.
You should also think twice before signing up to expensive insurance policies, adds Webber. Many mobile providers will offer you free cover for a few months, hoping that you forget to cancel the policy once you start getting charged for it. However, many of these policies have strenuous terms and conditions and may not pay out for loss or accidental damage. Furthermore, you may find that you are already covered on your home insurance policy.
Before you decide on an iPhone...
Unfortunately, if you're hellbent on having one of the new Apple iPhones, you're not left with much choice other than to pay the full price. Apple has an exclusive contract with O2 – and while the monthly tariffs are competitive, starting at as little as £35 a month, the handset itself will cost you £269 for the 8Gb version, and £329 for the 16Gb model.
Although you can buy the iPhone from Carphone Warehouse, as well as direct from O2, you won't get any discounts, no matter how valuable a customer you think you might be.
The cheapest O2 iPhone tariff is £35 a month and includes 600 free minutes to any network, and 500 free texts. This includes unlimited internet usage too. Moving up the scale, there are packages at £45 (1,200 minutes and 500 texts) and £75 (3,000 minutes and 500 texts).
Although you can pick up an iPhone for much less in the US – around £200 (8Gb) or £250 (16Gb) – these are locked so that they won't work in the UK. You may be able to find a phone specialist who can unlock it, but it's unlikely you'll have the full functionality that you would if you'd bought it from O2 or Carphone Warehouse.
- 1 Cyclist who knocked down three-year-old girl says his life has been 'destroyed'
- 2 A politically correct lefty goes to see Top Gear live – you'll probably believe what happened next
- 3 Young Preston fan has play-off hero Jermaine Beckford's shirt stolen from him at Wembley - which then appears for sale on Gumtree
- 4 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 5 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
EU referendum: David Cameron to deny EU migrants and under-18s the chance to vote
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
iJobs Money & Business
£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...
£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...
£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...
£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...
Day In a Page
On the market for the first time in more than 50 years, this six-bedroom home is a project with vast potential - spread over three floors of living space.
This five-bedroom home comes with a range of outbuildings including a large barn which could be converted into a self-contained granny-flat or rental.
Surrounded by rolling countryside, this four-bedroom barn conversion comes with a self-contained, one-bedroom annexe that could serve as an office or a holiday let.
Located near Harrogate town centre, this five-bedroom Victorian terrace is arranged over three storeys while a current study serves as an optional sixth bedroom.
A ground-floor flat in a country house, located a mile from Sway; this two-bedroom home would make an ideal weekend retreat on the edge of the New Forest.
On a popular residential lane in Caterham on the Hill, this four-bedroom family home offers a secluded garden and a convenient location for local schools and public transport.
Just a short walk from Westerham green, this three-bedroom cottage has a light kitchen with exposed brickwork and double doors that lead to a south-facing garden.
In a prime spot opposite the River Thames, this one-bedroom flat has an 18sq ft reception room with glass doors that open out to a private terrace.
Set in the hills above Llanwrda Village, west Wales, this 18th-century three-bedroom farmhouse has holiday-let potential from a separate barn conversion and annexe.
This charming end-of-terrace townhouse is arranged over three floors, with two double bedrooms and a private courtyard garden located at the rear of the property.
This four-bedroom Edwardian home offers a combination of original features and contemporary design after a renovation by the current owners.
Located in the University area, this semi-detached five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors - there's even a rear garden and off-road parking too.
Only a few minutes' drive from the charming town of Marlow, this two-bedroom home sits on the private riverside estate of Harleyford.
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.
If you love cooking for friends this two-bedroom flat - complete with views of the iconic Battersea Power Station and an open-plan kitchen/dining area - will go down a treat.
Located above Grasmere village, this five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors and offers countryside views across Grasmere Lake towards Silver Howe.
Surrounded by the Western fells, this five-bedroom Georgian home retains many original features including panel-plastered ceilings, sash windows and fireplaces.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B, subject to change of use permissions.
A former period coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
This four-bedroom home has exposed brick chimneys and a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining - the doors open to the patio and garden.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof