Contract phone plans are a poor deal: you're stuck with the same handset and network for two years and you often have smaller data and call allowances than with a no-contract prepaid or month-by-month deal. We've eliminated the also-rans and come up with one firm recommendation for the best value no-contract prepaid deal on each of Australia's mobile networks.
Phone picture from Shutterstock
We haven't updated this list since last December, and there have been several changes on the market since that time, including plan updates from Optus and Amaysim this week and tweaks from Telstra and Vodafone. So we've revised and updated our recommendations.
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, which eliminates deals that involve having a landline phone or internet service with someone.
- It had to offer a decent allowance for Australian calling, SMS and data. We're particularly concerned with data, since that's the area where most contract plans are stingy.
- 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 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 allowance. Tweaking Telstra's Beyond Talk Cap plan does make that possible, but it's a confusing plan that requires careful explanation. (The relevant plan used to be called the Encore Cap. We had earlier assumed you could do this with the new Freedom Cap plan, but that turns out not to be possible.)
Here's how you can use the Beyond Talk deal to get a decent data allowance without a contract, albeit without much actual call credit:
- Buy the $50 recharge. This includes unlimited texts, 400MB of data and 500 minutes of "bonus talk" call credit for calls.
- The problem with this plan on the face of it is that it only includes 400MB of data, which isn't a lot. However, there is an option to add extra data without spending any extra money. Here's how.
- You can spend your $50 of credit to buy a $49 Browse Plus Pack, which adds 3GB of data to the 400MB 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. That will chew into your call credit but is a good deal if you don't make a lot of outbound calls.
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 still easily the best-value deal on the Telstra network. (The recharge credit rolls over, so if you don't need as much data, you can save it up and use it when you'll need to tether or if you want credit to use overseas.)
Our favourite plan here is still Amaysim Unlimited. For $44.90 over 30 days, you score unlimited calls and texts to Australian numbers and 5GB 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 price of the plan recently went up (for the first time in three years), but the data allowance also increased at the same time. 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 prepaid choice is probably Optus' My Prepaid Daily Plus plan (formerly $2 Days). 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. The problem though is that you can't use more than 500MB in a single day without incurring extra costs. Check out our detailed writeup if that's of interest.
We couldn't find a spectacularly appealing Vodafone deal. Vodafone MVNO Lebara offers 2GB of data with unlimited calls and texts to Australian numbers for $29.90 over 30 days. Note that it uses Vodafone's older 3G network, not the newer 4G network. The data allocation is fairly meagre, but it was the best we could come up with at that price).
If you want 4G, the $50 a month Red SIM Plan does technically break our conditions (it's not under $50), but offers 3GB a month of data and unllimited calls and texts.
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.