Are you on the best phone tariff?

Published by Andy Webb on 29 July 2014.
Last updated on 25 July 2017

A group of people holding their phones

Don't pay over the odds for your mobile phone contract when there are so many deals out there that could suit you better. Also check our guide on 11 tips to get a better deal on your mobile phone.

It feels like an age ago that not everyone had a mobile phone. If a friend was running late to meet up, you had no option to stay put and wait exactly where you'd agreed to. But with the explosion in mobile technology over the past decade, usage has gone through the roof.

Today's smartphones act more like mini-computers than the glorified walkie-talkies of the early Noughties. We've become so dependent on them that some 93% of UK consumers have one, according to regulator Ofcom.

But while smartphone addiction has become recognised as an official addiction in some medical circles, it seems smartphone users aren't as hot on prices and getting a good deal as they could be.

For example, last year, about 63% of mobile phone users were on contracts rather than the usually cheaper Sim-only tariffs.

The way we’re using phones is also changing. Comparison website, uSwitch, reported that more than one in four UK adults are overspending by £39.72 each year, with extra data charges the chief culprit.

The good news is that the average monthly bill is dropping. It stands at £21.27, down from £29.05 six years ago.

Yet, with such a bewildering array of handsets and tariffs, how do you know what's the best deal for you?

Know how much you use

When considering which mobile package to go for, there's no point in paying for anything you won't use, so don't plump for a package that includes a generous data allowance and unlimited text messages if you don't use your phone for browsing the web and mainly use it for calls.

If you are unsure about your normal usage, your bill should outline this for you in terms of how many minutes you use a month, how many texts you send and how much data you use. If you can't find this information on your bill, your operator will be able to tell you.

If you are happy with your phone, you could consider going for a SIM-only deal. These deals are a great way to cut your bill. You'll get a SIM card you can pop into your current phone - as long as your phone is unlocked - and carry on using it at a fraction of the cost and your contract will be as little as a month at a time – much shorter than the normal phone contract, the majority of which are now 24 months.

They're much cheaper than standard tariffs that come with a phone contract where your monthly payments include a charge for the handset. And if you do want a new handset, it’s often cheaper to buy it outright using a 0% purchase credit card than getting it bundled in a contract.

Online tools, such as BillMonitor.com and MobilePhoneChecker.co.uk, can help you to find the best deal for your needs - BillMonitor even analyses your bills to work out which tariffs are best for your typical usage.

To give you an idea of what deals are out there, Moneywise has identified three types of phone customer and looked to find the most appropriate deal for them.

The 20-something graduate

Having grown-up with a mobile stuck in their hand, this 20-something is utterly comfortable navigating his way round the latest smartphone. Most important to him is the data allowance so he can browse the web on the commute to work, and keep a cheeky eye on the cricket score in the office. While Whatsapp has removed his need for loads of text messages, he still needs a decent cross-network minutes' allowance to keep in touch with everyone else. A high-end smartphone is also a priority.

As an Apple fan, his cheapest option is to buy the latest iPhone 7 phone upfront for between £599 and £799 depending on the capacity, and despite low savings it’s not out of reach. He can buy it in 20 interest-free installments from Apple shops and pair it with a SIM-only deal.

4GB of data should be enough, and a Three deal with this data allowance plus unlimited minutes and texts costs £12 a month. Plus, It also means he can use his inclusive minutes, data and texts in 60 countries worldwide.

Family of four

Mum and dad are increasingly pestered by their children to buy them their first smartphone so they can join their friends on Snapchat. Both kids already spend vast amounts of time on the internet on the home PC and their parents, who themselves need a generous data allowance for their own smartphones and iPads, are worried their combined bills will go through the roof.

For this well-connected family, they need a generous bundle deal. Through their broadband company BT they can take advantage of the family SIM deal. For £32 per month they can get four SIMs with a healthy 4GB of data on each, plus unlimited calls and texts. You can also ‘Roam Like Home’, using your UK calls, texts and data abroad in 47 destinations at no extra cost.

They will need to get new handsets for the kids though. They could give them their old iPhone, but the well-reviewed Moto G5 is a decent option at £150.

The retired couple

While grans and granddads are becoming increasingly web-savvy, many still prefer to use their mobiles for calling and texting to stay in touch with family rather than Skyping and Face-timing them - unless it’s to catch up with the grandkids.

Our fictional couple still make the majority of their calls from their landlines so mainly use their mobiles when they're out and about. They don't require a high data allowance as they mostly use the web browser on their smartphone when they’re at home connected to wi-fi.

For this type of customer, a SIM-only deal is again more likely to be their best bet.

Avoiding the main networks brings the biggest savings. ID Mobile has an incredibly cheap offer of 500 minutes, 5,000 texts and 1.5GB of data for £5 a month. This runs on the Three network.

If they wanted slightly more texts and data, Giffgaff (using O2’s network) offers 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 2GB data for £10 a month.

The deal for you

The explosion in the mobile market over the past few years has given consumers a huge variety of deals to get their heads around.

But whatever your needs, there is a deal out there for you. Don't get sucked into paying for benefits you don't use and you'll be able to find a phone contract that is most suitable – and doesn't cost a fortune.

As Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at uSwitch, says: "Price isn't everything when it comes to choosing a mobile deal. Other factors to consider are value for money, reception in your area and customer service – especially as most mobile deals now last two years, which is quite a commitment.

"Getting a below-par experience is not good enough, and consumers are right to feel hard done by. Anyone unhappy with the service they are receiving can make their feelings known by voting with their feet and switching to a new provider the moment their contract is up for renewal."

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