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Jun 20

Pay-as-you-go mobiles: get the best deal

Reading Time: 8 mins

Getting a free SIM card couldn’t be easier and these days no that pay-as-you-go deals don’t cost the earth. In fact, some offer great rates and free minutes/texts when you top up by a certain amount each month. We show you how to find the right package for you and how to cut costs with some simple steps.

How to choose a pay-as-you-go package

Group all with different phones

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re spending £25 or more every month on pay-as-you-go, you can probably get a better deal on contract. However, if you decide that you don’t want to commit yourself to a contract, then finding the best pay-as-you-go deal is a little time-consuming, but reasonably simple – and will inevitably save you a lot of money. Here’s how to do it:

Here are the main mobile phone networks:

  • 3 Mobile
  • Orange
  • O2
  • Vodafone
  • T-Mobile
  • Virgin Mobile

Each of these will provide a range of different pay-as-you-go deals, with different call rates, text rates and special offers. You’ll get dizzy looking at all the different deals – it’s impossible to compare them until you know what you want and need.

Step 1: Decide what you need.

Woman checking her mobile phone bill

Take a look at some recent bills to see how many minutes and texts you use on average per month. This is probably the easiest way to do it.

If you don’t have the bills, you can use the call duration log on your current mobile phone to work out which deal to go for. This tool records how long you’ve spent on the phone since the log has last been reset, and usually shows outbound and inbound calls. Reset the log and in a week, see how many minutes you’ve used up – times this number by four and you’ll be able to see roughly how many minutes you’d require a month in your contract.

If you’ve got a message counter you can do the same. If not, you can save all your sent messages in a file and in a week count them up and do the same. If for some reason you make far fewer calls or texts than usual then try again on a week that’s about average for you.

Step 2: Decide how much you want to spend every month.

Woman looking at money thoughtfully

If you’ve decided on pay-as-you-go then it’s not really worth paying out more than £25 a month on topping up unless you’re dead set against getting a contract.

The whole idea of a pay-as-you-go phone is that you’re not tied down to a contract. It tends to work out more expensive this way but you don’t have to pay every month if you don’t want to.

However, it’s worth noting that with some pay-as-you-go deals, if you don’t top up every month then you risk losing out on some deals like free texts or bonus top-ups for that particular month.

Be sure to set yourself a reasonable spending limit for what you need and, perhaps more importantly, what you can afford.

Step 3: Pick a network – Ask your friends and family what they are on.

get a job

Think about the people you’re calling or texting the most – make a list of them, and ask which network they’re on.

A lot of mobile phone networks will offer you cheaper calls or texts to numbers on the same network. Some networks offer specific deals between you and your friends.

If you’re a close family or have a small friendship group that’s always at it on the phone, why not discuss the possibility of all changing to the same network?

Step 4: Shop around.

Couple using a laptop computer

This is the lengthy part. For pay-as-you-go, it’s a good idea to buy your SIM card separately from your phone, to make sure you get all the deals you can possibly get. To make sure you get the best deal you have no choice but to shop around.

Carphone Warehouse has lots of pay-as-you-go phones to choose from. Check out the ‘Summer Savings’ selection of cut price pay-as-you-go phones – you can save up to £150! There are also phones for under £20 if you’re just looking for the cheapest model you can find, or, if you have a budget in mind you can search by price.

OneStopPhoneShop offers free next day delivery. It also has a deal of the day promotion which is worth keeping an eye on. pay-as-you-go phones range from under a tenner to just shy of £400 so you should find something to suit your budget.

If you already know what phone you want you can head to eBay where some top phones go for far less than their retail price.

ThePhoneSpot has some good deals and is worth a look. Prices range from around £10 to £400 and delivery is free.

To be sure you’re getting the best deal you’ll also need to visit each network’s website and break down their deals. This isn’t really as hard as it sounds. As you work through all the networks, some might be more difficult than others to break down because of all the deals. Try to firstly work out how many minutes and texts you get for your money if you divide the cost equally between the two. Then consider any additional offers afterwards. Try to think about it logically, and think about your needs and what will suit them.

Step 5: Cut the costs.

Woman using laptop to shop

If you use credit cards – find yourself a handy cashback one like the Capital One World MasterCard. This card offers 5% cashback for the first three months for spending up to £1,000 and then rates vary after that –  if you spend under £6,000 you can receive 0.5% cashback and the percentage goes up if you spend more and ends up at 1.25% if you spend over £10,00.

Use it to buy your credit and you’ll effectively be getting 5% off the monthly cost of your phone. 5% may not sound like much but every penny counts! See our full cashback cards article for more on how it works.


Compare PAY-as-you-Go extras


T-Mobile LogoCustomers can get a free SIM and there are a range of freebies up for grabs when you top up from just £10:

  • Top up £10 Monday to Friday for free unlimited calls to other T-Mobile customers for a whole weekend – Text WEEKEND TALK to 441 before you top up.
  • Top up £10 Monday to Friday for free unlimited texts for a whole weekend – Text WEEKEND TEXT to 441 before you top up.
  • Top up £10 Monday to Friday for £10 FREE weekend credit – Text WEEKEND CREDIT to 441 before you top up.
  • Top up £20 in the month for free unlimited calls & texts to T-Mobile phones for a whole month – Text MONTHLY TALK to 441 before you top up.
  • Top up £20 in the month for free unlimited texts to any network for a whole month -Text MONTHLY TEXT to 441 before you top up.


Vodaphone LogoGet a free Vodafone SIM from their website. With Vodafone pay-as-you-go there are several extras to enjoy:

  1. Get Vodafone Family to call relatives (three numbers) as often as like for just £5 a month.
  2. Get Vodafone International for calls to any country from 5p-30p per minute.
  3. Vodafone IOU gives you an extra £2 when you run out of credit – use on calls and texts then pay it back next time round (plus a 30p charge so try not to use this unless you’re desperate)
  4. Vodafone Passport is a new summer promotion – running until 31 August – giving customers the chance to call, text or send picture messages when abroad in over 35 European countries plus Australia and New Zealand for the same rate they would pay here in the UK (so you get to use any inclusive minutes or texts).

Get all the info on how to get these pay-as-you-go perks on their website.

VirginVirgin Mobile Logo

Get a free Virgin SIM on their website.

  • Top up by £10 and you still get 300 free texts, or 600 if you top up by £15, plus unlimited web access for 30p a day.
  • Customers get unlimited free texts when you top up by £20 a month and free unlimited web access.
  • You can also send five free call back texts a month to get your mates or family to call you when you’ve run out of credit – perfect for an emergency.

3 Mobile3 Mobile Logo

Get a free 3 SIM card on their website. Every time you top-up you get free texts and 150Mb internet mobile access. And, the freebies last for 45 days.

  • Top up £5 for 25 free texts
  • Top up £10 for 300 free texts – or 600 if you top-up online
  • Top up £15 for 500 free texts – or 1000 if you top up online
  • Top up £20 for 1000 free texts – or 2000 if you top up online
  • Top up £25 for unlimited texts


Orange Logo

Get a free Orange SIM on their website. There is a real variety of offers up for grabs if you’re an Orange pay-as-you-go customer. Firstly, join Orange now and get £5 free credit with your first £10 top-up. Then, depending on which pay-as-you-go animal you choose, you’ll get other freebies. Before choosing your animal you’ll be on Orange Starter, with calls 20p per minute and texts 10p. Call 342 from your Orange phone to select your animal.

  • Dolphin – unlimited free texts if you top up by £30 and free mobile access to Facebook, MySpace and Bebo. Subject to a 50MB cap.
  • Canary – 120 mins of free evening and weekend minutes every month when you top up by £10. Or 180 mins if you top up by £20 and 240 mins if you top up by £30.
  • Racoon – 15p flat call rate and 10p texts to any network, any time.
  • Camel – calls to over 50 countries from just 5p per minute

Also, whenever you top up, you have a 1 in 3 chance of winning a prize. Orange send a text to let you know if you’ve won and how to claim your prize.

Even better, there is a Phone Fund promotion which rewards you every time you top up. Orange will automatically put an additional 10% of that amount in your Phone Fund – so if you top up £10 you get £10 credit and an additional £1 in your Phone Fund. Each month they let you know how much is in the fund and you can spend it whenever you like on an Orange phone – although the fund can’t go over £200. Get a full run down of Orange pay-as-you-go charges from their website.

Other options

Sim card

Get the best contract deal you can get. Find out out to get the right contract with our article on mobile phone contracts.

Consider getting a SIM only contract – they’re ultra flexible so you won’t be tied to an 18 month contract. In fact, you only need to give 30 days cancellation notice, which means that you can always keep on top of the very best and latest phone deals. Find out more in our guide to switching to a SIM only contracts here.

Insure 2 Go


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Guy Stone
7 years ago

GiffGaff will have what you’re looking for, no matter what..
£5 unlimited texts!
£10 unlimited texts & Internet plus 250 mins
And its cheaper than the market anyway!

mark h
mark h
8 years ago

The 3 mobile deal for PAYG has been reduced from 90 days to 45 days.

8 years ago
Reply to  mark h

thanks for that!

8 years ago

TESCO £5.00 5000 texts

Huey Henney
Huey Henney
9 years ago

Nice post, thanks!

colin fewster
colin fewster
11 years ago

virgin £10 top up 300 free texts,have to be used by following weekend

11 years ago

Tesco sim only offers £10 free for £10 top up,£30 free with £15 top up and £40 free with £20 top up.All free bundles can be used for internet,picture messaging,texting and phone calls and must be used within one month.Included is 5 favourite numbers at 10p a minute and 5p text and non favourite no’s are 20p a minute and 10p text.

m williamson
m williamson
11 years ago

Nobody has said anything about asda mobile.
It charges only 8 pence per minute for calls and 4 per text.


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