Lifehacker's Planhacker tables can help you pick out the best contract plans for all sorts of circumstances. Everyone's needs differ, but some plans represent bad value no matter where you're coming from. Here are some of the worst-value options from every major carrier, plus the choices that make more sense.
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Some Stand-Out Stinkers
Let's start by looking at plans that definitely don't make sense, and some better alternatives. (We've quoted the basic monthly price in each case.) We'll talk through these examples further below.
|Plan type||Don't buy||Consider||Why?|
|Entry level BYO||Telstra $20 Member||TPG $9.99; Vaya $7||Better value and much cheaper|
|Mid-range BYO||Dodo $19.90; Amaysim $19.90; Live Connected $19||TPG $17.99||Cheaper on the same network|
|4G Capable||Telstra $50; Optus $50||Virgin $49||Better value, still 4G|
|Contract plans||iPhone 5 16GB on Virgin $89||iPhone 5 32GB on Virgin $89||Same price for both plans|
|Contract plans||Galaxy S3 Vodafone $50+$10 handset||Galaxy S3 Vodafone $60+$0 handset||More inclusions for same monthly price|
|Unlimited||Optus Timeless $99/$129||Red Bull Mobile $365; Amaysim $39.90; Virgin Mobile $89||Cheaper, more data, more international calls|
Always Buy A Handset First
You can get a handset subsidised by your carrier on a contract but that will cost you more in the long run. You won't have to fork out an upfront, lump-sum fee but you'll end up paying more and you'll be locked into a contract for at least a year, and more often for 24 months.
If you do decide to get a phone in-contract, look at prices between handset models and plans carefully; often you'll find that some plans are completely redundant. For example, Vodafone offers the Samsung Galaxy S3 32GB for $60 a month on the $50 plan. The same handset is available for $60 a month on the $60 plan; the same total cost, but you get additional call value and data and both Infinite options packaged in for the same money.
You'll also find that some plans effectively cancel their own handset options out. The iPhone 5 16GB will cost you $89 with no extra handset costs on Virgin's Topless plan, but so will the 32GB model. If you're going to go with either of these plans, why get the lower value or the cheaper handset for the same monthly price?
Entry-Level Plan Problems
Keep your distance from carriers like Telstra whose entry-level plans are pricey - the cheapest Telstra plan starts at $50/month. Telstra offers casual plans and its Member Plans which start at $20/month, but you can get much better value from one of the smaller carrier plans at the same price point. (Having said that, we realise Telstra might be your only option if you live in some parts of rural Australia. )
If you can, go with one of the Optus network resellers (often called MVNOs, or mobile virtual network operators). They provide good coverage, but at severely discounted rates to give you great value plans.
If you're new to the mobile plan space and only need an ultra-basic service, TPG has a month-to-month BYO $9.99 plan that won't lock you into a contract. Vaya has an even cheaper plan at $7 a month, but it has less call and text value and data. They're not very generous allowances, but they're more than adequate for light users.
The Average User
A lot of people will tell you that the most common mobile phone bill falls into the $50-$69 per month price range. While that is true, it shouldn't be. If you're paying that much per month for your run-of-the-mill phone usage, you're paying too much.
There are plenty of plans that will offer you more than enough to meet your needs for half this price. Again, TPG shines here with its $17.99 BYO Plan, which drops to $14.99 per month for existing TOG broadband customers. Dodo offers something similar with its $19.90 plan (and also brins the price down to $14.90 for current customers). Their rates are very similar, though TPG's SMS charges are lower (28 cents versus 25.3 cents) and its excess data charges (25 cents per excess MB) are half of what Dodo imposes. Both plans use Optus' network and offer unlimited access to key social network web sites. Amaysim also uses Optus, but its $19.90 plan is less impressive. The same goes for Live Connected's $19 plan.
The 4G Hunter
Currently, very few network resellers offer 4G access. Right now, Virgin Mobile is the only provider in this space, offering access to Optus' network. Virgin's plans are cheaper than the competing Optus options, despite working off the same network. If you're looking at Telstra plans (the only option for its 4G network), the same principle holds true as with its other plans: you'll pay a premium for broader coverage.
This is clear when we examine 4G BYO plans at the $50 price point: Telstra and Optus both offer 1GB of data and a similar call allowance ($500 and $600) at this level. Virgin offers 3GB and $700 of calls.
It's easy to assume that all unlimited plans should just be judged by price and data, since those are the main variables when calls and texts are effectively uncounted. However, there are other elements to consider.
On a pure pricing basis, Red Bull Mobile's 365 plan — a year of access for $365 — seems appealing. However, you are stuck on the less-than-optimal Vodafone network.
I can't see great value in the Optus $129 Timeless plan. If you're looking at an unlimited plan from Optus, stick with the $99 Timeless. For $30 extra a month ($720 over 24 months), the additional features just don't seem worth it unless you consistently make over $20 worth of international calls every month.
Even if you do, that's not the plan you want to be going on unless you specifically need the 4G coverage (and live in an area where it is available). Amaysim offer a $39.90 unlimited plan with ridiculously cheap international call rates, starting from just 6 cents /minute and with no flagfall. You'll be hard-pressed to rack up over $89.90 worth of international call charges with those rates. If you need 4G, Virgin's $89 Topless plan is your best bet, with comparable inclusions to Optus' Timeless plans and on the same network. Some smaller carriers that also run on the Vodafone and Optus networks also offer good value deals, including Pennytel's Endless Lite and Exetel's Unlimited plans.
Whether you're just going to be using your phone for calls or if you're a streaming, texting, web surfing master, there is a plan out there for for you. You just have to know where to look. Hopefully, crossing these plans off your list will narrow your search down a little bit.
Have you come across any mind-bogglingly useless plans that made you ask "Why does this exist? Tell us in the comments below.
Guest contributor Kelly Vieira writes for MobilePhoneFinder.com.au, helping Australians compare mobile handsets and plans. Lifehacker's weekly Planhacker column rounds up the best communication deals.