Best mobile phone deals

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Mobile phones with no upfront cost

By Phil Wilkinson-Jones | Wednesday, April 10th 2019

In this guide

For many people, one of the major benefits of having a pay monthly phone deal is that you can get a new phone without having to pay for it outright. You also get inclusive minutes, texts and data so you can use your phone without having to worry about things like topping up and running out of credit.

This is our breakdown of what to look for when choosing a mobile deal with no upfront cost and the options that are available to you.

How to get the best phone deal with no upfront cost

If you’ve decided, or circumstances dictate, that you’re going to get a mobile phone deal without an upfront cost, then what next? Here’s what to be looking out for in order to get yourself the best possible deal.

  • Monthly cost – It may sound obvious but work out what your monthly budget for a phone contract is – and stick to it. Prices may be slightly higher than if you were paying an upfront fee, as you’re spreading the cost of that lump sum over the rest of your contract.
  • Contract length – It’s usually the case that the longer the contract, the smaller the monthly fee. But long contracts also mean less flexibility – some providers offer cheaper deals on three-year plans, but you need to be fairly sure your new phone is going to last that long.
  • Data allowance – Choosing a data plan is a bit of a balancing act. You want enough to get you through the month but not so much that you’re paying for data you don’t need. Some providers let you switch between data plans each month and some offer rollover features so unused data doesn’t go to waste.
  • Inclusive minutes and texts – The majority of pay monthly mobile plans now come with unlimited calls and texts included, but it’s worth checking when you sign up – especially if you make a lot of phone calls from your mobile.
  • Handset – A big decision this one, as you’re going to be living with this device for the next two or three years. Premium handsets tend to age better but cost more – you get what you pay for, is what we’re trying to say.
  • Network coverage – If you’re looking to switch providers, it’s worth taking a moment to check out the network coverage in your area – you can do this on the provider’s website or you can take a look at our guide to 4G coverage.
  • Extra benefits – Some providers offer unique features designed to entice you into joining. Maybe a rewards programme would tempt you towards a certain provider, or does free data for social media float your boat? It’s worth looking around.

Use a price comparison website

Comparison sites such as Cable.co.uk often feature deals that you can’t get by going directly to the provider. It might be that we’ll offer you a cheaper monthly price or get an extra freebie thrown in with your deal.

If you click on one of our deals you’ll probably find yourself on the website of a reseller such as Fonehouse or Metrofone, rather than that of the provider itself. Don’t be alarmed, the contract being offered is with the stated provider, it’s just that you’ll get it cheaper by going through a third party.

What providers offer phones with no upfront cost?

All of the following mobile providers offer phone deals with no upfront cost, but there are pros and cons to each one. Let’s take a look at what each provider has to offer.

  • EE – All of EE’s pay monthly plans come with wifi calling, which allows you to call and text wherever there’s wifi even if you have no signal and six months of free Apple Music. Some plans give you two years of the BT Sport app, too.
  • Vodafone – Vodafone plans come with a three-month trial of Secure Net and some include a two-year subscription to your choice of Spotify, Amazon Prime Video, NOW TV Entertainment or Sky Sports Mobile.
  • O2 – O2’s big selling point is O2 Priority, the rewards programme that lets you buy concert tickets before they go on general sale. O2 also splits its phone contracts so once you’ve paid off the handset, you’ll only be paying for your data, texts and calls.
  • Three – Three’s Go Binge feature gives you unlimited data to use on streaming apps including Netflix and Apple Music, as well as Snapchat. You can also get weekly treats and rewards via the Wuntu app.
  • BT Mobile – BT often gives away cashback in the form of reward cards with its mobile deals. There’s also the odd tech giveaway and double or even triple data offer. Some plans come with BT Sport.
  • Virgin Mobile – You can change your data allowance every month on Virgin Mobile, unused data gets rolled over to the following month and you can use WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter as much as you like without eating into your data allowance. Never charges an upfront fee.
  • Sky Mobile – Sky Mobile stores your unused data in a virtual ‘piggybank’ for up to three years and lets you dip in at any time to use it however you like. You can also change your plan each month if you so wish.
  • giffgaff – All of giffgaff’s phones come unlocked and the only contract you’re tied into is the one to pay off your phone. ‘Goodybags’ of data, minutes and texts are separate and after the first month you’re free to get a SIM deal from another provider.
  • Tesco Mobile – Tesco lets you change your tariff up or down each month as you see fit. Bills are split into usage contracts and phone contracts, so once you’ve paid off your handset, you’ll only be paying for your data, texts and minutes.
  • iD Mobile – All iD Mobile plans come with data rollover, giving you a second month in which to use your allowance, as well as the option to cap your out-of-limit charges so you won’t get a nasty shock when your bill arrives.

What phones can you get with no upfront cost?

You can get pretty much any brand of phone that you like with no upfront cost, but if you’re looking at one of the newer models then you’ll be facing a pretty hefty monthly fee. Here are some of the most popular phone brands that feature in deals with no upfront cost, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.

  • Apple – You can get a surprisingly good range of iPhone deals without paying anything up front, with all providers stocking a range of Apple phones. You’ll find your choices a bit more limited when it comes to the very latest models because they are expensive handsets.
  • Samsung – There are some good deals out there on Samsung Galaxy phones, ranging from the more budget A and J ranges to the latest in Samsung’s premium S series. As with Apple, all providers stock a good range of Samsung phones.
  • Huawei – An increasingly popular choice, Huawei has started to rival Apple and Samsung in the premium phone market. Huawei’s handsets are widely available across providers, as are its Honor brand phones.
  • Sony – Sony offers an alternative to Samsung and Huawei at the premium end of the Android market, but also has a range of budget phones available without an upfront fee for a pretty low monthly cost.
  • OnePlus – For a while they were only available on O2, but OnePlus phones are also stocked by EE now and, if you go via Cable.co.uk at least, are available with no upfront fee.
  • LG – LG is a manufacturer of budget to mid-level phones and you can get pay monthly deals with no upfront cost from a number of providers – and for a reasonable monthly price.
  • Motorola – Motorola’s range of phones are available right across the providers we’ve mentioned here but often the best deals for its phones can be found with MVNOs rather than the major providers.

What is a mobile deal with no upfront cost?

It’s a mobile phone deal that doesn’t require you to pay anything on the day you take out the contract – the first time you pay anything is when you get your first bill. These deals are sometimes described as offering "free phones" but of course they’re not actually free – you’ll pay off the full cost of the phone over the course of the contract.

Often, the total amount you’d pay for a handset stays the same whether there’s anything to pay upfront or not. So in order to get a phone with no upfront cost, you’re probably going to be either paying more each month or taking on a longer contract.

Frequently asked questions

Can you pay off a contract phone early?

Yes, you can usually pay off the outstanding balance on your handset in order to leave your phone contract early, although this is unlikely to be the most economical way of switching providers.

What’s the cheapest mobile phone deal?

This varies all the time and the very cheapest may not necessarily be the one for you. You can use our comparison tool to find the right mobile deal for you – and simply filter by price if you consider that most important.

Can you get a phone with no upfront cost if you have a bad credit history?

It’s possible, but you’re unlikely to be accepted for a top-of-the-range handset. If you don’t pass a credit check, some providers will ask you to pay an upfront deposit on the phone rather than flat-out decline you.

If your current phone is still usable, you may be accepted for a SIM-only contract, which is a good way of improving your credit rating – as long as you make your payments on time. There’s more information in our guide to getting a mobile deal without a credit check.

What proof of identity do you need to get a phone contract?

You’ll need a valid credit or debit card in order to take out a phone contract. Some providers will also ask for extra proof of identity, especially if you’re signing up in store. Usually this will be a full UK driver’s licence or passport, as well as either a recent utility bill or bank statement.