Most prepaid plans offer some form of "free calls to other people on the same network" arrangement, but the details differ markedly. This week, Planhacker looks into how each carrier makes life cheaper when you stay on its network.
If you can persuade your relatives or friends to all use the same mobile network and it offers the ability to make calls for free to other people on the same network, you can substantially cut down on your costs. But while most major mobile providers offer this feature, the arrangements are rarely equivalent. Below, we've summarised how each major carrier's "free" offer works; hit the "more info" link to access their own site for the really fine-grained terms and conditions.
We've focused here on prepaid plans. While similar options often exist on postpaid plans, unless you're regularly exceeding your cap credit you're unlikely to see any financial benefits. Unless you only use your phone to contact a handful of people, free calling options shouldn't be the only detail you consider: you also need to examine general call and texting costs, other bonus offers and reception in the areas you're going to use the phone.
The approaches here differ so widely that there's no obvious standout recommendation -- you really need to match the plan to your own calling habits. That said, the only providers listed here which actually offer an unlimited option are Crazy John's and Virgin Mobile; everyone else has some form of restriction in place.
One important issue to bear in mind: all of these plans will rely on you having some credit in order to be able to make outbound calls at all. You may be able to minimise your spending by ensuring your most frequent contacts are all on the same network, but you won't be able to spend nothing at all (and if you choose a minimum recharge, you'll also get a minimum number of days those recharges remain active).
Telstra offers a set number of free minutes to call any Telstra mobile, based on the amount of your recharge ($20 gets 30 minutes, $30 gets 60 minutes, $40 and $50 get 150 minutes, $60 or above gets 250 minutes). That means you don't need a pre-specified list of people to call, but unless you're incredibly careful about timing your calls, you're likely to end up spending some credit without realising it. (More info)
Optus currently has five different prepaid plans, but two don't include on-network call deals. The Dollar Days $1-for-each-day-you-use-it plan doesn't charge extra for calls to Optus mobiles, but costs twice as much if you want to call non-Optus mobiles. Given that you'll pay $1 as soon as you make a single call on any given day, this isn't a particularly good match if your aim is so spend as little as possible.
Bigger & Better allocates you both FreeTime minutes, which can be used to call other Optus mobiles, and MyTime minutes, which can be used to call a specified list of Optus-using family and friends ($30 gets 300 FreeTime and 100 MyTime minutes, $40 gets 400/120, $50 gets 500/150, $70 gets 700/170, $100 gets 1000/200 minutes). Those allocations are, on the whole, more generous than the Telstra equivalents, and seem like the pick of the Optus plan if you make more than a handful of calls. The Every Now & Then Plan only includes the more restrictive MyTime option, with the same recharge values as the Bigger & Better plan (albeit with a much longer expiry period). (More info)
Vodafone has four different prepaid options. Vodafone's Flexi Cap and TXT & Data plans are the most difficult to decipher, since they offer a stated amount of credit for Vodafone/3 mobile-to-mobile calls, rather than a number of minutes. The $29 Flexi Cap offers $350 of credit, $49 gives $650, $79 gives $850 and $149 gives $1250. On the TXT & Data plans, $30 gets $100, $50 gets $200, and $70 gets $300. It's essentially impossible to translate these meaningfully into minutes, since lots of frequent short calls will cost more because of the 39 cent flag fall.
On Simplify plans, the values are expressed in minutes. For Simplify, a $30 recharge gets 50 minutes, the $50 recharge gets 100 minutes. TXT & Talk offers a similar per-minute deal, but that only kicks in when you've used up your existing free minutes (which can cover any network). On those plans, $20 gets 50 minutes, $30 gets 150 minutes, $50 gets 300 minutes, $70 gets 400 minutes, $100 gets 650 minutes, and $150 gets 850 minutes.
Crazy John's uses Vodafone's network, but has a much more straightforward offer on its Crazy Cap plans: unlimited free calls and texts to any other customers also using Crazy John's. Its cheapest recharge option is $19, which makes that a possibly attractive offer if you're looking for a low-value plan and can persuade everyone else you know to also sign up with Crazy John's. Of course, that does mean using Vodafone's network, and until promised improvements kick in, that still seems risky. (More info)
Virgin Mobile uses Optus, but also offers a more straightforward deal on its Your Caps and International plans: unlimited calls and texts to other Virgin Mobile customers. Like Crazy John's, the cheapest entry point for that plan is $19. (More info)
Know a good deal for free on-network calls that we've missed? Share it in the comments.
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