Planhacker: Contract Cap Plans For Mobile Phones 2011

Unlimited plans have their own traps, so many people prefer to stick to traditional postpaid cap plans, which promise large amounts of call value for a fixed monthly payment and will usually throw in a handset as well. But just how do they compare with each other?

Recently, we rounded up the main “unlimited” contract deals. While unlimited plans can potentially represent a good deal if you’re a heavy phone user, you need to be careful of the fine print, which changes often. This isn’t always in a negative way (just this week we saw Vodafone dump its tethering charges for Infinite plan users, for instance), but it means you need to be on your toes.

The more telling point with unlimited plans, however, is that they are generally expensive than their contract counterparts, and you simply may not want to spend that much on a phone plan, especially if you’re not constantly making calls and sending texts. In that context, a cap plan can look more appealing, especially if you’re confident that you won’t exceed the monthly total allocation of credit.

They’re not the outright cheapest options, but they have better rates and more certainty than the cheapest mobile-centric plans, which often have lousy data rates and can still becoming expensive. With Telstra having recently updated its cap plans, it seems a good time to look at what’s currently available.

Below, we’ve summarised the cap plans for individual consumers available from each of the major carriers. We haven’t included the unlimited plans from any carriers, as we’ve already covered those previously; plans which offer minimal, non-cap-style call credit; business plans; or plans aimed at multiple users (shared caps).

In the table below, we’ve listed the monthly cost for standard plans; how much call credit is offered; the cost for calls (including flagfalls, paid when you connect, and the charge per 60 seconds); charges for text and MMS messages; how much you’ll pay to retrieve voicemail (free on some plans but charged at normal call rates on many); how much data is included, and what you’ll pay if you exceed that level.

The full details are below; you can also access the table in PDF form.

Each plan has its own oddities: here’s the key ones to note for each carrier. Your choice of carrier will also need to reflect network availability in your area; checking coverage maps is a start here, but check with friends, family, co-workers and neighbours to get a more realistic insight into how well a given carrier works in places where you reside or regularly visit.

3: While 3’s data allowance is relatively stingy, it also includes a separate mobile broadband allowance, which might appeal to some travellers. Its available plans are equivalent to Vodafone’s (both are part of the same company), but it doesn’t have as wide a range of price points or 12-month options.

Crazy John’s: We’ve included Crazy John’s data allowance, but this is actually an option you choose (other alternatives include text messages or free cross-network calls). It utilises Vodafone’s network, and its plans largely follow the Vodafone structure.

Optus: Optus doesn’t charge a flagfall on voicemail retrieval.

Telstra: Telstra has a relatively small range of cap plans with nothing under $49 a month, and fairly expensive voicemail charges on its cheaper plans. That said, it’s normally reckoned to have the broadest national coverage.

Virgin Mobile: Virgin Mobile (which uses Optus’ network) is the only provider which doesn’t charge for voicemail, which could appeal if you receive a lot of messages. The data allowances on its Easy Cap plans aren’t large, and its excess data charges and text message rates are the highest in this list.

Vodafone: Vodafone’s cheapest plan ($19) isn’t available on a 12-month contract.

For full details of plans and conditions, hit the links below:

Lifehacker’s weekly Planhacker column rounds up the best communication deals.

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