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Best value prepaid plans

Comparing the numerous prepaid options is a minefield of maths and bonus offers. We show you how to compare Australia's prepaid offerings to get the most for your money.

Despite several of the telcos adopting simpler plan structures recently, buying a mobile phone and connecting to a network in Australia is still a test of wits and patience. If you're hoping to avoid a contract with a prepaid phone plan, there are some bargains to be found, but you'll have to do your digging.

(Credit: CBSi)

Comparing the numerous prepaid options is a minefield of maths and bonus offers — most telcos have half a dozen plans each with a tiered pricing structure to consider, plus a variety of freebies and discounts along the way. The only fair way to find the best plans is to agree on a few fixed elements, like SMS and data usage, and to figure out how many average calls you can make every time you recharge your account. We'll work with 150 SMS messages per month and a data allowance of 100MB.

To find this magic number for all the plans we compare, we're going to:

  1. Take the total recharge credit
  2. Deduct the expense of 150 SMS messages and 100MB of data
  3. Assume the rest of the remaining credit will be spent on calling minutes.

This credit will be broken into two-minute calls (the national average) so that each average call will cost flag fall plus whatever a telco bills for two minutes on the phone.

Simply put: (total credit - 150 SMSes - 500MB data) / cost of two-minute call = number of calls each recharge.

On the next page, we'll compare plans from each of the Aussie telcos up to a value of AU$30 per month. If you think you're likely to spend more than this, we recommend that you apply a similar equation to the higher-value plans that you are looking at.

Best value for AU$30 per month

AU$30 per month is a very common monthly spend in the Australian mobile landscape, thanks, in part, to it having been the minimum spend for many years in the early days of "capped" plans.

Remember: the tables shown below are designed to offer information pertinent to our comparison formula:

(total credit - 150 SMSes - 500MB data) / cost of two-minute call = number of calls each recharge.

The real feather in Vodafone's prepaid hat is its AU$30 prepaid cap. This plan includes both our SMS and data requirements, leaving AU$450 credit to spend on calls. The Flexi Cap also includes 500MB of data, but the hook here seems to be Vodafone-to-Vodafone calls, which has limited appeal.

It's also worth noting that Vodafone offers Vodafone Anytime for AU$35. This deal comes with unlimited SMSes, 500MB of data and unlimited calls between 7pm and 7am, plus AU$35 of credit to spend on calls during daylight hours.

Plan Included credit 150 SMSes 100MB data Cost of 2-min call Calls
Vodafone $30 cap AU$450 Unlimited 500MB Included AU$2.20 204
Vodafone Flexi Cap $29 AU$150 AU$43.50 500MB Included AU$2.17 49

Offering the most complex collection of plans, Optus' best value option in this price range is its AU$30 Turbo Cap. Again, this cap includes our texting and internet requirements as standard inclusions, leaving us to spend the AU$300 of credit (AU$30 Credit + AU$270 MyBonus) on calls.

The confusing part is how Optus separates MyCredit and MyBonus credit in the pricing breakdown. Apparently, the difference between the two is that MyCredit can be used for premium SMSes and video calls, while MyBonus credit can't.

Plan Included credit 150 SMSes 100MB data Cost of 2-min call Calls
Turbo Cap Plus $30 AU$300 Unlimited 500MB Included AU$2.17 138
Crew Cap $30 AU$100 AU$43.5 100MB included AU$2.17 26

Long known as being Australia's most expensive telco, Telstra has a few nice surprises for anyone looking for a no-contract plan. Its Cap+ plan works like caps on Vodafone and Optus, but its older options, like Talk and Text, offer generous bonuses, leaving you to spend your credit on browsing packs and calls.

Plan Included credit 150 SMSes 100MB data Cost of 2-min call Calls
Cap+ $30 AU$250 AU$43.50 500MB Included AU$2.17 95
Simplicity $30 PAYG AU$12.50 AU$10 AU$0.30 50
Text & Data $30 AU$30 Included Included AU$1.95 15

Of the "big" telcos, Virgin stands out as being the first to have a low call-rate option in its Bean Counter plan, and, when you add an AU$5 data pack to the AU$25 Bean Counter plan, you get a prepaid option that fits nicely into what we're looking for in this section.

Plan Included credit 150 SMSes 100MB data Cost of 2-min call Calls
Your Cap $29 AU$300 AU$37.50 1GB Included AU$2.20 120
Bean Counter $25 + $5 data AU$25 AU$15 250MB included AU$0.45 22

Vodafone-owned Crazy John's keeps it pretty simple with two prepaid contenders: a low call rate Flat Chat plan, and its Crazy Caps. When customers choose a cap, they have the option to receive a bunch of free SMS messages or a data allocation each month. For the sake of this comparison, we'll choose the data.

Plan Included credit 150 SMSes 100MB data Cost of 2-min call Calls
$29 Crazy Cap AU$450 AU$37.50 750MB Included AU$1.91 215

Marketed as the "one pure SIM", Amaysim has one option for those looking to spend AU$30 per month: its As You Go plan. Unfortunately, after you subtract our median SMS and data usage costs, you don't have much left of the AU$30 to spend on calls.

We've also used the pay-as-you-go data option for this table to meet our minimum requirements, but, in the real world, we'd suggest that you consider Amaysim's pack option of AU$10 for 1GB of data.

Plan Included credit 150 SMSes 100MB data Cost of 2-min call Calls
As You Go PAYG AU$18 AU$5 for 100MB AU$0.30 23

An Optus reseller, TPG has several cheap plan options, which are even cheaper if you also subscribe to the company's ADSL services. Be warned, though; TPG charges a once-off AU$20 SIM fee, and asks for an AU$20 deposit upfront to cover excess usage.

Plan Included credit 150 SMSes 100MB data Cost of 2-min call Calls
Super Value $17.99 AU$550 AU$37.95 1.5GB included AU$2.15 238
Pay As You Go PAYG AU$14.85 50MB included AU$0.29 52
Cap Saver AU$300 AU$37.95 1GB included AU$2.15 121

One of the newer mobile operators, Woolworths is playing aggressively with some high-value prepaid caps, all of which include an enormous 5GB data limit.

Plan Included credit 150 SMSes 100MB data Cost of 2-min call Calls
Prepaid cap $29 AU$250 AU$43.5 5GB included AU$2.17 95

Unlimited prepaid plans

An unlimited prepaid plan may seem like an oxymoron, but there are an increasing number of mobile operators offering this sort of deal, selling a length of time on the network, rather than a credit value per recharge.

Optus $2 Days

Cost: AU$2 for each day that you use your phone service.
What you get: unlimited calls, messages and data.

It may seem like Optus has raised its prices since the launch of its Dollar Days prepaid option, but it is actually one dollar cheaper now. For AU$2, you get unlimited calling, messaging and data in Australia until midnight, Sydney time. The beauty of this plan structure is that if you don't use your phone in a day, you don't pay anything to receive calls and messages that day. But as soon as you make a call, send a message or access any data — even an email — AU$2 will be deducted from your balance.

Vodafone All-time

Cost: AU$50 per month
What you get: unlimited calls and messages, plus 1GB of data each month.

Vodafone will charge you AU$5 per month to take on a prepaid unlimited plan compared with its post-paid Infinite offerings. Vodafone has a slightly cheaper All-time offer, which includes unlimited calls and messages between 7pm and 7am every day for AU$35, but you will have to pay for your calls in the daytime on top of this.

Amaysim Unlimited

Cost: AU$39.90 per month.
What you get: unlimited calls and messages, plus 4GB of data.

Amaysim manages to be a little bit cheaper than Vodafone's All-time plan, and a whole lot more generous when it comes to data.

Red Bull Mobile

Cost: from AU$10 per month.
What you get: unlimited calls and messages, and a data allowance.

The new kid on the block, Red Bull Mobile, offers a time-based unlimited calls and SMS service costing little more than AU$1 per day, plus a data allowance with each recharge.

Bonuses, freebies and assorted goodies

In creating an even playing field on which to compare the prepaid pricing across the Aussie telcos, it's necessary to ignore the various bonus offers and freebies included in each of the plans. Some of these are largely dependent on each customer, like the level of use that you will get out of free calls to people on the same network, while others are extremely difficult to calculate and to include in a meaningful way, like free browsing of selected social networking sites.

Below are some of the bonuses that you can expect as a customer of each telco.

  • Both of Vodafone's prepaid caps offer unmetered access to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn and Foursquare
  • Flexi-Cap $29 plan comes with AU$350 credit to spend on calls to other Vodafone customers
  • Talk and Text plan has a 60-day expiry
  • All prepaid plans accrue Bonus Bank credits, which can be saved and then deducted from the price of a new prepaid handset.
  • All Optus plans come with unmetered access to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn and Foursquare
  • Turbo Cap customers get 500MB of free Optus Smart Safe online storage
  • All customers get one hour of TV recording using OptusNow
  • All customers can apply to receive AU$10 movie tickets.
  • Cap+ customers receive free calls and message within Australia between 6pm and midnight
  • The prepaid Simplicity plan includes reasonably cheap international calls and texts
  • Customers on the Text and Data plans can send texts to other Telstra customers for 1c after free texts are used up
  • Telstra sends all customers random THX messages with bonus credit, SMS or talk time.
Virgin Mobile
  • All Virgin plans comes with free Virgin-to-Virgin calling and texting
  • Virgin offers a cheeky SOS Call service — a call-back service to help you make an excuse in an awkward situation
  • Customers who fly Virgin Australia get 10 per cent of the cost of their aeroplane ticket back as mobile credit.
Crazy John's
  • All Crazy John's customers can add a BlackBerry Internet Service pack for AU$10 per month.