Contract phone plans are a bad deal: not only are you stuck with the same phone and network for two years, you often end up with 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.
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We last updated this list in August 2014, so a refresh is definitely in order. We're covering options available across each of the three carriers because the reality is that reception varies. There's no point someone telling you to sign up for a given network if it doesn't work reliably where you live or where you work. With a no-contract plan, it's easy to switch if that happens.
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 30 days 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. Ideally, we're looking for 4GB or more a month.
- 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, or want a plan that runs for 365 days without expiring, 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.
For each category, we've highlighted a single plan, but we do also discuss potential alternatives.
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..
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.)
Alternatives: Telstra's Freedom pack offers 2.5GB of data for $50 a month. If you're not worried about 4G and are happy on Telstra's older 3G network, Boost's $40 UNLTD plan includes unlimited Australian calls and texts and 3GB of data, plus an additional 1GB of data which you can only use on Sundays. ALDI Mobile's XXL plan offers 4GB of data and unlimited Australian calls and texts for $45. That's better than any other sub-$50 deal on Telstra, but it is 3G only and ALDI Mobile's reputation for customer service and plan consistency is, let us say, mixed.
Having upgraded to 4G earlier this year and then restored its original data allowance, we're still fans of 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.
Alternatives: Optus' own My Prepaid Monthly offers unlimited Australian calls and texts plus 3GB of data — reasonable, but 2GB less than Amaysim for the same price. Its My Prepaid Daily plans might make sense if there are days when you never use your phone at all, but become costly with regular use. Jeenee Mobile has some appealing cheaper plans but isn't competitive on data, and Vaya also has a lack of data-heavy plans and a mixed reputation for customer service.
Vodafone recently doubled allowances on many of its Red plans, but none of those meet our under $50 a month criteria. Its $50 a month Red plan offers unlimited Australian calls and texts, with 3GB of data.
Alternatives: Vodafone MVNO Lebara offers a meagre 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.
Those are our picks. What would you go with for no-contract plans? Tell us in the comments.
Lifehacker's Planhacker column rounds up the best communication deals.