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How to choose the best mobile phone deal

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

By Hamse Yusuf

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.

We explain the advantages and disadvantages of a pay-as-you-go deal to help you work out if it's the best option, along with the various networks you can choose from, and who offers the best deals. 

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.

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 mobile phone network should I choose?

There are four major mobile networks to choose from - O2, EE, Three and Vodafone - and several pay-as-you-go providers that 'piggy back' off them, such as Giffgaff, Virgin Mobile, Tesco Mobile or SMARTY. 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 Vodafone. 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. Our table below highlights the standard PAYG costs for major providers which still offer basic pay as you go services.

Some providers, such as ASDA Mobile, also offer PAYG bundles where if you top up a certain amount, you can redeem a bundled allowance of data, minutes and texts to use for a certain period, typically 30 days. The difference here between these bundles and SIM-only deals is that the bundle is redeemed against any top up credit rather than from a direct debit so if you do not have the right amount of credit, you won't default or be otherwise affected.

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 which can go upwards of £850 for the latest Samsung Galaxy S series phone or £1000 for the latest iPhone.

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.

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