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How to choose the best mobile phone deal

Getting the best pay-as-you-go phone deal

By Tom Morgan

Article 2 of 4

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Getting the best pay-as-you-go phone deal

Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) mobile phone contracts allow you to 'top up' with credit, so you can avoid paying a monthly fee to use your mobile phone.

If you find that you're not using your phone to make many calls, then switching to a cheap pay-as-you-go deal could save you a great deal of money.

Read on to find out about the advantages and disadvantages of a pay-as-you-go deal. 

Looking for a new, top-rated mobile? We reveal our Best Buy mobile phones.

What are the advantages of pay-as-you-go?

  • Great value - there are no minimum monthly charges.
  • No nasty bills – because you can only use pre-paid credit, you won’t get any unwelcome surprises.
  • No contract – you can walk away whenever you want.
  • No credit check – appealing if your credit history isn't the best.
  • Available to under 18s – unlike pay-monthly contracts.

Is a pay-as-you-go deal right for me?

If you spend less than £10 a month on mobile phone top-ups, a pay-as-you-go deal could be the right choice for you. There's no point signing up for a pay-monthly contract if you're not going to take full advantage of the call, text and data allowances.

If you're already on pay-as-you-go, don't assume there are no savings to be made. There might be other PAYG mobile deals that are cheaper than the one you're on, especially if you've been on the same deal for years.

How does pay-as-you-go work?

Once you’ve added credit to your pay-as-you-go phone, you’re free to make calls, send texts and surf the web. Once you’ve run out of money on your phone, you simply top it up with more credit.

There are several ways to top up your PAYG account. You can top up with your provider online, over the phone or by text message. You can also buy vouchers, commonly available in supermarkets, or top up via certain cash machines.

If you need help picking a new pay-as-you-go phone, take a look at our mobile phone reviews

Which phone network should I choose?

There are four major mobile networks to choose from - O2, EE, 3 and Vodafone - and several pay-as-you-go providers that 'piggy back' off them, such as Giffgaff, Virgin Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Asda Mobile or Talkmobile. These virtual operators often offer very cheap mobile contracts.

Not sure which network to choose? We asked thousands of mobile phone owners what they thought of their network, and have results for providers including Asda Mobile, Virgin Mobile and Three. Make sure you pick the best network, and avoid the worst - read our review of the best mobile networks.

How do I get the best pay-as-you-go deal?

The first step to grabbing a top pay-as-you-go deal is to decide which type of package you want. With traditional PAYG tariffs, you simply buy credit and use it to pay for calls, texts and data. Finding the best deal just means comparing each provider’s charges.

A pay-as-you-go deal is best for light users, but heavier users will be better off buying a bundle of minutes, texts and data. Buying in bulk gives more for your money, although typically you’ll have to use your credit within a month or it will expire.

Are there any drawbacks with pay-as-you-go deals?

Yes. You'll probably have to pay full price for a handset upfront, which can be very expensive if you want the latest smartphone. Apple's 64GB iPhone 6s, for example, will set you back £700 on pay-as-you-go.

Want a smartphone but don't want to pay through the nose? Check out our round-up of the best cheap mobile phones.

Heavy users will get better value with a contract that includes an allowance of minutes, texts and data. It may sound obvious, but getting cut off during a call because you’ve run out of credit can be very frustrating.

Meanwhile, light users need to be aware that if you don't use your pay-as-you-go mobile for a long period, your provider may assume it's no longer in use and deactivate the number. If this happens, you might lose any credit you have on the phone.