Not only does signing up to a contract for a phone leave you stuck with the same network and handset for a full two years, it can often result in less data and call allowances than if you take a no-contract prepaid or month-by-month deal. We've eliminated the also-rans and come up with one clear recommendation for the best value no-contract deal on each of Australia's main mobile networks.
Phone picture from Shutterstock
We ran a basic version of this list back in September, which made it clear that it's a topic that interests people but that we needed to offer more detail. So this is an expanded and up-to-date version of that guide.
These are the criteria we applied when selecting plans:
- The plan had to be a no-contract deal, which means either a classic prepaid arrangement which you recharge every month or a month-to-month deal you can cancel at any time. It also couldn't be tied into buying another service.
- It had to offer a decent allowance for Australian calling, SMS and data.
- It had to be priced at under $50 a month.
- Ideally, the plan would offer 4G access, but we didn't make that a compulsory requirement (since 4G phones will also end up on 3G some of the time).
- We made one selection for each of Australia's active networks: Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. Coverage varies, so which network suits you depends on where you live (and travel). We're not aiming to list every prepaid plan from every MVNO provider here.
If you need a really large amount of data, or are focused on being able to call overseas numbers, or only want to spend $20 a month, you'll need to do more research and choose a different plan. However, if you're paying $70 a month for a contract deal, you should crunch the numbers carefully. An outright buy and a no-contract plan is could well be cheaper when you factor in data allowances, which are typically very low on cheaper contract plans.
Telstra's broad 4G coverage means it's a very popular choice, but it also charges a serious premium for data, which makes it difficult to find a plan that offers any reasonable amount of data. As we've noted before, this can be done via the Encore Cap deal -- but it's a confusing plan that requires careful explanation.
Here's how you can use the Encore Cap deal to get a decent calling and data allowance:
- Buy the $50 recharge. This includes $950 worth of calling and texting credits for Australian numbers, and the ability to make free calls and texts between 6pm and 6am. While not as good as an unlimited deal, for calling and texting purposes, this should be more than adequate for most people. (And if you do use all the credit, you won't be stung with excess charges; you'll just have to recharge again.)
- The problem with this plan on the face of it is that it only includes 800MB of data, which isn't a lot. However, there is an option to add extra data without spending any extra money. Here's how.
- As well as $950 for call credits, the $50 recharge also includes $50 of "recharge credit", which you can spend on other services (such as dialling international or premium numbers). The important point here is that you can spend that credit to buy a $49 Browse Plus Pack, which adds 3GB of data to the 800MB you already have.
When we've written about this plan before, many people have misunderstood and assumed you have to spend $99 a month ($50 for the cap and $49 for the Browse Plus Pack). That's not how it works. That extra data can be paid for with the "recharge credit" which you are assigned when you spend the first $50.
Yes, that's a slightly fiddly arrangement. In particular, you have to 'buy' a new browse pack (via your mobile or computer) each month and can't automate the process. Nonetheless, it's easily the best-value deal on the Telstra network.
Our favourite plan here is Amaysim Unlimited . For $39.90 a month, you score unlimited calls and texts to Australian numbers and 4GB of data from a reliable, well-established provider. (It's also a lot less fiddly than the Telstra arrangement described above while offering more value.)
The one minor caveat is that Amaysim doesn't currently offer 4G (and isn't in a rush to do so. If 4G is essential, then the best choice is probably Optus' $2 Day plan. That costs $60 a month if you use it every day (which puts it out of full contention given our criteria here), but you get unlimited calls and texts in Australia and as much as 15GB of data. Check out our detailed writeup if that's of interest.
Vodafone's best option uses a similar approach to that described for Telstra above, though it's a little less generous. If you purchase the $49 Flexi Cap, you receive 3GB of data and $350 of "flexible credit". (You also have $650 of credit for calling Vodafone numbers, but that's not particularly useful for most purposes).
One of the thing you can spend that "flexible credit" on is additional data packs. $8 scores you 350MB of data, and there's no apparent limit on how many you can add, so this is a useful way of expanding your data allowance. However, there are no free calls or texts on this plan, so you need to balance what you spend on data with what you'll need to spend on basic communications each month.
Those are our picks. What would you go with for prepaid? Tell us in the comments.
Lifehacker's Planhacker column rounds up the best communication deals.