Compare Mobile Plans
Prepay? Pay monthly? Data? Roaming? This guide will help you make sense of mobile phone plans in New Zealand.
It wasn’t that long ago that Kiwis only had only a few providers to choose from for their mobile phone plan. Now, the big players – Vodafone, Spark and 2degrees – have competition from smaller companies including Slingshot, Skinny, Warehouse Mobile, Compass, Orcon and Kogan Mobile, and it’s possible that more will come in the future.
With more companies battling it out for their share of the market, contract prices are decreasing, plans are more flexible, and providers are throwing in perks and benefits to draw people in.
So with a lot more choice, it can be difficult to wade through your options and make a decision. Read on to find out how you can compare mobile plans and find the right one to suit your lifestyle and budget.
Picking the right plan type for you
The most important decision that you need to make when picking the right type of plan for you is whether you want to go on a pay monthly contract or have a prepay plan.
With some pay monthly plans you are locked into a contract term and need to be 18 or over and pass a credit check. A plan could be 12 or 24 months, and the provider will deduct your monthly bill from your credit card or by direct debit. Several providers do offer open-term plans which offer greater flexibility.
Included in your plan is an allocation of minutes, texts and data and it usually works out cheaper than similar prepay plans. You may also have some perks included, but being locked into a contract, it’s difficult to change providers as you may be charged exit fees.
- Payments automatically deducted
- Often cheaper than prepay
- Special perks on some plans
- Credit check required
- Some contracts are fixed term and exit fees may apply
A prepay mobile phone plan means that you pay in advance by adding credit to your account. You can either use casual minutes, text and data rates, or you can opt for a pack with specific allowances. The most common type of prepaid plan is for either 28 or 30 days, but it’s also possible to have a weekly plan with Skinny or 14 days with 2degrees.
Prepay gives you maximum flexibility as you can change your pack based on your estimated usage for the time ahead and you can switch providers at any time without any hassle or fees to pay. You do need to keep on top of making sure you have enough credit on your phone to renew your pack, but there are companies that will give you an IOU of a few dollars to tide you over.
- Flexible – change your plan when you need to
- Some plans roll over unused minutes, texts and data to next month
- No credit check
- No penalty for changing providers
- Suitable for people who can’t pass a credit check
- Some providers have an auto top-up function
- Need to top up every month
- Not as many benefits as pay monthly
- Need to be 18 to apply
The larger mobile phone plan providers offer both pay monthly and prepay, but smaller companies such as Skinny and Kogan Mobile only have prepay options. Once you have chosen the best option for you, you can then research plans to find the right amount of minutes, texts and data to suit your typical usage.
You should also look at the type of add-ons that are available, as you can get some good deals for extra minutes to a specific number, international calling minutes, or unlimited data for part of a day.
Need a new phone?
If you are changing to a new mobile plan and your current phone has seen better days, it may be time to upgrade to a new model. New smartphones can cost anywhere from $50 through to $3,000+, and every year the features keep getting better and better.
But while having the latest model phone with the best camera and fastest processing speed does sound appealing, make sure to consider if you really need it. With new models being released all the time, there are plenty of solid options to choose from with excellent cameras and impressive specs that aren’t necessarily going to cost the earth.
Where to get one
To get your hands on a new phone, you can purchase one from online retailers, from some telecommunication companies, or from electronic and department stores, and either pay the full price upfront or spread the payments out over a period of time.
Companies such as Spark and Vodafone allow you get a phone directly from them and pay it off over a certain amount of time interest-free. However this is only possible on pay monthly contracts and you’ll need to lock yourself in with that provider for 12, 24 or 36 months.
You could pay as little as $5 a month for your new phone, but one thing to watch out for is that in some cases interest-free payments are only offered when you sign up for one of the more expensive plans, and that might not be suitable for your mobile usage or budget. You can always buy the phone upfront if you prefer.
Another way to spread payments is by checking out what interest-free deals are available at places like Noel Leeming, Harvey Norman, PB Tech and JB Hi-Fi. These stores frequently have either 12-, 24-, 36-, 48-, or even 60-months interest-free depending on the price of the phone, and you can apply for finance through companies like Finance Now or Gem Visa. If you have a credit card from The Warehouse, you can take also take advantage of benefits such as 5% off.
If you think you can pay your phone off sooner than 12-months, some retailers also partner with buy now, pay later companies like ZipPay and LayBuy so you can make weekly or fortnightly payments over 6-8 weeks. And to save you time, you often can buy a SIM card at the same time as your new phone.
Locked vs unlocked
Another thing to consider when buying a new phone is whether you want a locked or unlocked model. A locked phone means that it can only be used on one network, for example if you purchase a locked phone from Vodafone, you can only use it with a Vodafone SIM. A phone that is unlocked is able to be used on any network, and you can even take it overseas to use SIM cards from other countries.
When you purchase a phone directly from a mobile plan provider, you can usually assume that it’s locked to their network. Retailers also have phones locked into specific networks, but they also have unlocked phones. If you’re happy to stay on the same network for some time and you won’t be heading overseas then a locked phone will be sufficient, but an unlocked phone does give more flexibility.
Choosing the right amount of data
One problem that a lot of people have is knowing how much data they will need and picking a plan with an appropriate allowance. You’ll need to consider the following questions:
- Do you have your data turned on all the time?
- Do you connect to Wi-Fi at work and at home?
- Do you stream a lot of videos?
- Do you download songs?
Streaming video, especially in HD or 4K, uses much more data than general web surfing so you will need to opt for a larger allowance. Keeping your phone data on all day uses data without you knowing as apps update and sync.
A rough guide to data use
Use over a one month period.
- 1GB: 40 minutes of social media and browsing every day.
- 8GB: 6 hours of web browsing and social media daily OR around 30 hours of low quality video.
- 12GB: 1 hour of music streaming, 30 minutes of video streaming and 1 hour of web browsing every day.
- 30GB: 1 hour of music streaming, 1 hour of web browsing and 1 streamed film every day.
For low data users, 1GB is often sufficient, but average users will need at least 5GB to start off with.
For heavy data users, many providers offer unlimited data plans so you don’t need to worry about how much data you are using. However these usually cost upward of $70 a month, and unlimited doesn’t necessarily mean unlimited as a Fair Use Policy comes into play when you hit a specified data limit.
Most providers will reduce your speed once you hit 40GB during your billing cycle, and it’s not usually possible to purchase more data at the normal speed. Another thing to note on unlimited data plans is that hotspotting or tethering is usually not allowed, unless you purchase a dedicated hotspot add-on which can cost around $15 a month.
If you don’t pick the right data allowance at first, don’t stress too much. Most providers have an app or online account that you can track your data usage over a couple of months and decide whether you need to change to a plan with more or less data. Plus there are add-on data packs for both pay monthly and prepay plans that you can utilise when you need a bit extra, and some plans carry over any unused data to the next month so it doesn’t go to waste.
With Wi-Fi accessible in many places we spend time in, you can save money on your phone bill by connecting to this, especially at home and at work if your company allows.
Benefits and rewards
Many providers offer perks and rewards for certain mobile plans, and although this is a tactic to keep your business for at least a year or so, you may find them very useful and can save you money.
At Spark, you can get Spotify Premium and a Lightbox subscription on selected pay monthly plans plus one hour of free Wi-Fi every day at Spark hotspots. Vodafone gives you a free Social Pass for 365 days on some plans plus all customers can benefit from Vodafone Rewards. 2degrees gives you the chance to score tickets to the hottest events in town, plus students can benefit from an extra 524MB of data.
Companies such as Orcon and Slingshot will give you a discount on your monthly bill if you bundle your mobile phone plan with a broadband package, and some providers have signing up bonuses, even on prepay plans. You may also be able to enjoy free data weekends or an hour or two of free data each day depending on current promotions.
If you do a lot of traveling, or even one or two trips overseas per year, it’s worth checking out what a provider’s roaming costs are before signing up. Roaming charges are known to be expensive, but many companies now offer special roaming packs that you can purchase either through an app, online or by phone. These usually include minutes and texts to both New Zealand and local numbers as well as data, or you may prefer a data only pack.
While these packs are more expensive than your normal plan, they do work out a lot cheaper than using your mobile with casual roaming rates. Another option that some providers offer is to use your existing plan for a set amount per day, and you are only charged a fee on each day that you use your phone.
One thing to watch out for here though is that you will not be able to use your roaming pack in all countries. Spark’s roaming packs can be used in 44 countries, Vodafone prepay roaming packs can be used in over 70 countries, or over 100 if you pay $7 a day to use your New Zealand plan. 2degrees has packs for Australia only or the Pacific Islands, but its Globetrotter pack can only be used in the US, UK, Canada or Ireland.
So if you regularly travel to specific destinations, make sure that the country is included in a provider’s roaming add-ons. If it’s not, you can look into getting an International SIM or purchase a local SIM card on arrival, but you will need an unlocked mobile phone to utilise it. SIMCorner is another option, as you can pre-purchase a SIM card that can be used in many countries across your chosen continent.
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