Which network is best for Pay As You Go?

Submitted by Abi on 16 December 2014 - 2:45pm

Buying a phone or tablet on a Pay As You Go (PAYG) deal can be a good option if you’re buying it as a gift for a loved one, or even just for yourself. Not only are you free from long restrictive contracts, some networks even sell phones unlocked so you’re free to move to a new provider and upgrade to a SIM-only contract when you want to. 

Read on as we take look at which mobile networks are best for Pay As You Go.

Which mobile network has the cheapest Pay as you Go deals?

If price is your biggest worry then as far as PAYG contracts are concerned Three should be at the top of your list. They offer a comprehensive price plan where you pay 1p per MB data, 2p per text and 3p per minute for calls. This is a sizeable difference compared to the other networks who charge between 10p and 35p per minute for calls. 

  Three are the cheapest when it comes to Pay as you go giffgaff pay as you go EE pay as you go O2 pay as you go The People's Operator pay as you go rates
Minutes 3p 10p 30p 35p 30p 25p 35p 12.5p
Texts 2p 6p 12p 12p 14p 10p 12p 7.5p
Data 1p per MB 20p per 20MB n/a £3/MB up to max £1/day £2 a day for 50MB, then 10p per MB 10p per MB £1 per day, up to 100MB  6p per MB

Best network if you don’t use your phone much

If you know you won’t use your phone very much, for example if you just want to have a mobile for emergencies, then again Three is the best choice for you. They offer the lowest prices so you'll get the most calls, texts and internet for your Top Up. You will still need to use your phone at least once every six months to keep your account active.

If you want a small amount of allowances then there are some great value deals around with many PAYG networks now offering bundles, just like Pay Monthly contracts. These last for a fixed period of time, usually 30 days, and can be set to auto-renew on most networks using your Top Up credit. 

EE has launched a new range of 7-day PAYG bundles starting from just £1 per week for 25 minutes and 50 texts messages, or 100MB of 4G data, that's enough to do a spot of browsing, send some emails and update your social networks. Don't be swayed by cheap offers though, make sure you choose a deal that suits your budget and your usage - out of bundles charges can be very expensive. 

Which networks sell unlocked phones?

Unlocked PAYG phones are especially useful if you’re buying as a gift because the person receiving the mobile can choose their own Pay As You Go or SIM-only contract. This means they get something useful for them and you’re not left footing the bill for an on-going contract.

Three and giffgaff are the only networks to sell unlocked phones. Unlocked means you have the ability to move to a different network when you want to. It can also help increase the resale value of your mobile when you're ready to upgrade to a new phone. If you are locked to a network you can still upgrade to a SIM-only contract with the same network, but if you want to join another provider you may have to wait up to a year after purchase or pay a fee to unlock your handset. The table below shows the minimum periods the different networks lock you in for and the fees if you want to unlock your phone early. For more detailed advice, visit our guide How to unlock your mobile phone.

  Minimum connection period Administration fee
giffgaff pay as you go None - phones sold unlocked Not applicable
EE pay as you go rates 6 months for Pay Monthly customers, none for PAYG £20.46 all customers
O2 pay as you go rates 12 months for PAYG cutomers, none for Pay Monthly £15 PAYG only
Vodafone pay as you go rates None

£19.99 for PAYG and Pay Monthly customers, or free after 12 months for Pay Monthly 

Tesco Mobile pay as you go rates None

£20 or free at the end of your contract for Pay Monthly or after 12 month for PAYG

Virgin Media pay as you go rates None £15.32
Three are the cheapest when it comes to Pay as you go None - phones sold unlocked Not applicable

Have you spotted any Pay as you Go bargains? Tell us in the comments section below.