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Updated: 19 May 2022

How Sim-only deals could save you hundreds on your next phone contract

Breaking the 'new phone contract cycle' could net savings upwards of £500 a year on your bills

Mobile phone users are accustomed to a strict contract cycle on phones, typically signing up for two years and counting the days before the next contract and a shiny new mobile phone. 

It's easy to see why – many customers look forward to getting their hands on the latest and greatest phones, and mobile providers certainly like having their customers secured for years at a time. 

However, even if you're not paying a lot more each month to upgrade,  you'll still be paying considerably more than if you go Sim-free. Upwards of a thousand pounds across the course of a contract in fact, as we'll illustrate below. 

Discover the best and worst mobile networks, or compare mobile contract and SIM-only deals on Which? Mobile Switch.

Stick with your handset, switch your provider

Our survey found that nearly 40% of mobile phone users haven't changed their provider in five or more years. Mobile providers make it very easy for customers to just roll straight into the next contract, resulting in long-term, perhaps unintentionally loyal, customers. 

Unfortunately, this loyalty is often not rewarded. You may get sent deals by your provider, but there could well be cheaper alternatives elsewhere. 

If you're stuck in a contract cycle year after year with one provider, you could also face multiple years of price increases. This is a particular problem during times of high inflation, such as now. 

This year, the price of O2 contracts are increasing by 11.7% (Retail Price Index inflation rate 7.8% plus 3.9% extra), while Vodafone is increasing them by 9.3% (Consumer Price Index inflation rate 5.4% plus 3.9% extra). 

Getting out of a contract is key, and that often means sticking with the same phone. But with mobile phone technology plateauing and less significant upgrades appearing with each new device, it's more difficult to justify the cost of a new model. You've got more flexibility if you're on a Sim-only deal, it's better for the environment, and your pocket.

Even if your phone isn’t in the best condition, with issues such as a broken screen or low battery, you could still make a big saving after repairing it. Read our advice on how to repair your smartphone to find out how much it might cost you to fix your phone, how to find a reputable service and whether or not phone insurance is worthwhile.

For more information on how to reduce your spending, read our 10 ways to save money on your mobile phone bill.

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How much could you save by switching to Sim-only?

According to Ofcom, the average data use is around 4.5GB of data a month. We've used that as a guide in our comparisons below, choosing contracts with around 5GB of data.

Upgrading from an iPhone 12 to an iPhone 13 

If you were at the end of a 24-month contract with the iPhone 12, and were considering getting a new contract with an iPhone 13, you could be paying over £1,000 more over the course of the contract.

  • O2 charges a total of £1,290 for an iPhone 13 over a two-year, 5GB contract. Keep the iPhone 12 and switch to a Sim-only deal with Lebara at £5.99 a month (£71.88 per year) and you could save more than £1,145.
  • Tesco Mobile charges £1,188 for an iPhone 13 on a 6GB two-year contract. Plusnet charges £6 a month (£72 a year) for the same data amount. You could save £1,044.

Upgrading from a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, to an S22 Ultra

The same goes for Android phones. If you were to consider upgrading your Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra to an S22 Ultra, you could save even more.

  • O2 wants an eye-watering £1,698 over a two-year contract on the S22 Ultra, with 5GB of data. Or you could keep the S21 Ultra, and get that Lebara contract instead, saving you more than £1,554.
  • Or consider a two-year contract for the S22 Ultra with Tesco Mobile - totalling £1,656, for 6GB a month. Adding the Plusnet Sim deal to the S21 Ultra saves you £1,512.

Plusnet and Lebara are far from the only low-cost Sim providers. Browse the best Sim-only deals on Which? Switch to find more.

How to get the best value from your phone contract

It’s easy to just pay your mobile bill every month without thinking about whether you are getting the best value for your money. Here are some things to consider:

  • Shop around to see what price you can get – you can use these competitor deals to haggle with your provider. 
  • Consider perks and extras, find out more about seven mobile provider perks that can save you money.
  • Check roaming charges before you go on holiday - these can easily add up, and prices vary wildly between providers. 
  • Always consider buying a handset outright if you can afford it - you'll often end up paying less overall, and can steer clear of inflation on monthly Sim-only plans.

Haggle while you're out of contract

Mobile networks operate in a very competitive market, so will try to entice you into staying with them by offering better deals. This offers plenty of opportunities for haggling. 

If you don’t like handling these types of situations over the phone, plenty of providers now offer a live chat function where you can haggle through typed or texted messages. 

Prepare yourself for haggling with these three steps:

  1. Use Which? Switch Mobile to find examples of deals you would be happy with.
  2. Shop outside the 'big four' - EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three. Deals from virtual networks – smaller providers that use the signal from the 'big four' – are often more competitive.
  3. Don't be afraid to threaten to switch provider if you are not offered an acceptable new deal.

Which? puts haggling to the test

Which? senior writer Ian Aikman put our haggling tips into action, despite never having switched before, and being apprehensive about the prospect. Ian used Which? Switch Mobile to find 10 deals he’d happily accept and readied himself to threaten to switch provider if he wasn’t offered a good-enough discount.

Ian haggled via online live chat. After an hour, he was offered a new deal: £48 off his annual bill and an increased data allowance from 20GB to 150GB. 

This shows how effective haggling can be at both reducing bills and giving you far more for your money. Ian said: ‘Most importantly, I’m now ready to haggle again next time I need to.’

Switch mobile provider for a better deal

Text to switch has made switching mobile provider easier than ever. You need a porting authorisation code (PAC), which you get with a simple text message from your current network provider. Previously, to get a PAC you had to call your provider, who would often try to deter you from switching and make the process frustrating. 

To switch and keep the same mobile number, text PAC to 65075. Your current mobile provider should send you a text within one minute, and the PAC lasts for 30 days. The text will also have important information such as any charges for early termination (although this won’t apply if you’re out of contract). Give the PAC to your new provider, which has to complete the switch within one working day. 

To switch and change your number, text STAC to 75075 to receive your service termination authorisation code, then follow the same procedure as if you’d received a PAC. 

For more information on switching, such as how to switch if you're in a contract, and how to choose a provider with the best signal, read our full guide on how to switch mobile provider.