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 May 2015, so it's about time to have a look at the available no-contract plans on the market for this year. This time we've split each viable MVNO provider into their own section for ease of reading, although they will still be organised by network.
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 multiple selections 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). However we're not aiming to list every prepaid plan from every single MVNO provider.
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.
With Optus's Double Data promotion running until May 1, both its prepaid and month-to-month plans are giving some of the cheaper MVNOs a run for their money. A $40 Prepaid Ultimate recharge will include 8GB data (4GB regular + 4GB bonus) plus unlimited calls and SMS, and unlimited international calls to select countries until May 1. The downside to this option is that any recharges after May 1 will return to $40 for 4GB, however Optus will allow you to rollover unused data up to 15GB. Optus also offers a month-to-month SIM only plan that will net you 10GB data for $50 for the life of the plan, with unlimited calls and text and 300 minutes of international calls.
Amaysim's unlimited month-to-month plans on the Optus 4G network provide a good chunk of data at a decent price, just scraping in at better value than Optus's plans without the temporary data bonus. For $39.90 you can pick up 5GB of data with unlimited calls and text. If you are likely to need more data or require more allowance for international calls, the upper end $49.90 plan includes 8GB of data with unlimited calls, text and 300 minutes of international calls.
Jeenee's prepaid plans on the Optus 4G network let you choose a base plan for talk and text and then increase or decrease data for your usage needs. With a bonus data offer currently available, you can get 5GB of data, plus unlimited calls and text for only $35. Without the bonus data 5GB will set you back $40 per month on an unlimited plan, or you can sacrifice talk and text (300 minutes and 3000 messages respectively) to pick up a 5GB data plan for $37.
Arguably Testra's best deal is its $40 Freedom Plus prepaid plan -- depending on how you use your data. The $40 plan comes with unlimited calls and text, $350 international credit and 3GB data -- plus another 3GB bonus data to use between 8pm and 8am. Similarly, the $50 recharge includes 4GB data and another 4GB of night data.
Timed data offers seem to be popular on the Telstra network, with Boost Mobile's plans also including this concept. The $40 UNLTD plan includes unlimited talk and text, 3GB regular data and 2GB bonus data every weekend -- up to 8GB bonus data all up, provided you use each 2GB on its respective weekend, as bonus data doesn't roll over. Boost Mobile uses the Telstra 4G network.
ALDImobile plans also have weekend data, though in this case it is 1GB per month that can only be used on weekends. The XL $35 Value Pack provides 43,200 minutes (essentially unlimited) of calls, 50,000 SMS and 20,000 MMS, 90 minutes of international calls and 4GB data plus 1GB weekend data. The XXL $45 Value Pack includes the same, but with 6GB of regular data and 1GB weekend data. Aldi only uses parts of Telstra's 3G network, however, so make sure to check the coverage map before you sign up.
Vodafone's 4GB, $50 plan usually wouldn't be worth a mention, but until April 5 Voda is offering a bonus 6GB, bringing the total amount of data up to 10GB. This is along with unlimited calls, texts and international calls to select countries. Until the end of the year you can also take advantage of Vodafone's $5 international roaming in over 50 countries (or free roaming in New Zealand) on this plan.
Lebara's prepaid $39.90 mega plan comes with 5GB data and unlimited calls and text, and you can get your first month half price ($19.95). Lebara uses the Vodafone 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.