Finding the perfect SIM for lockdown

With less need for data and other extras, it’s time to cut the cost of my mobile deal.

My 12-month term for my SIM-only deal with Three ended this week, meaning I was free to shop around for the best deal. The problem is, I am on a really good offer.

I pay £8 a month for 8GB of data, unlimited calls, unlimited data and 5G ready. Plus all that data can be used for roaming not just in Europe but a number of other countries such as the USA.

That’s a deal that’s very hard to beat. In fact, one of the only ways to get it for less is as a new Three customer when you can get around £30 cashback from Quidco to reduce the effective monthly cost of a year to £5.50! (More on getting this deal here).

At the end of the day, continuing to pay £8 a month would be no bad thing, but I’m always trying to get a better deal. Would it be possible?

I tried a few different tricks, with different levels of success. Here’s how I fared:

Haggling with my existing network

I’ll always put in a call, or in this case go on an online chat, to my existing provider to see if they can offer me a discount to stay.

This can be painful. Especially with Three. I said up front what I’m paying and what I’d found elsewhere, and asked if they could beat it.

I think it’s luck of the draw sometimes, but my customer service assistant wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box. At least twice he offered me the same package I’m on now at a higher price!

It was going nowhere so at around the 20 minute mark I asked for my PAC (port authorisation code) which would let me take my number to a different network.

This spurred him into offering me more data for a few quid more, but I didn’t need the extra data. Finally after 20 minutes more and two more requests for the PAC I ended the call.

It’s important to say here that you can avoid this nightmare by simply texting PAC to 65075 and it’ll be sent to you in minutes. Here’s more on how this works.

However I needed to talk to them as I wanted to see whether they’d give me something extra for staying. Fortunately with live chat I was able to get on with other things in the background (including a call with my mum!). So though it was frustrating, it wasn’t too distruptive.

Result: Fail

Becoming a new customer

Ah, the money saving joy of being a new customer. Though there are often great deals to haggle as an existing customer, the best ones are usually for newbies.

And among the best are from cashback sites. £30 back here, £15 there. All great ways to get something extra off the price you pay.

Most of the networks had this, meaning I knew I could lower the SIM prices available to me.

And I wasn’t worried about changing network either. For a start, as mentioned above I knew I could take my number with me.

But I also wasn’t concerned about the signal. There are actually only four networks. All the others “piggyback” on those. So if I wanted to stick with Three’s coverage, there were other options. Or, if I was willing to try one of the others, there are maps which show coverage.

You can read more here about these Mobile Virtual Networks.

Result: Win

Changing my allowances

As I said, I don’t need 8GB at the best of times, let alone during lockdown. Like many of you I’ve hardly left the house this year, meaning I’m connected to wi-fi pretty much all day.

Right now, in lockdown three, my data use is pretty much just podcasts if I’m out for my daily exercise. In fact, over the last month, I’ve used 0.55GB of data. Half a gig.

And as for the worldwide roaming… well I’ve hardly left my postcode. And 5G is all well and good, but you need a 5G handset (tick) and 5G coverage (not where I live).

So dropping my allowance right now seemed like a good place to cut the cost. I found SIMs with 2GB of data for less than a fiver which would be less money and still more than I currently use.

There were also SIMs classed as “basic” which didn’t include things like 5G or roaming – both easy to sacrifice right now.

Result: Win

Going for a 30-day rolling contract

The problem with some of those deals, made even better when combined with cashback, is they tend to be for 12 months.

We don’t know yet when we’ll be out of this, and when I do I’ll be using more data. Who knows, maybe even get to go abroad (the luxury!).

So I didn’t want to lock myself into a year where if I did use more data or if I did ‘roam’ I’d be faced with extra costs.

The answer was to pay a little more and go for a shorter contract of 30-days. This means I can cut down for the current situation and change again when things allow.

I might go back to Three on the same deal if it’s available – and perhaps even blag the new customer cashback.

Result: Win

Checking for extras

I had a quick look to see if I could get a decent price on a SIM that included extras. Things like Vodafone’s Very Me rewards, Voxi’s unlimited social streaming or EE’s freebies such as Britbox.

I found that even when combining the savings and tricks to cutback, I couldn’t justify the extra costs charged by the networks offering these freebies.

That’s not to say they’re not worth a look – you might happen on a flash sale that helps bring the price down. It just wasn’t worth it for me.

Result: Fail

The result: My new lockdown SIM

So here’s what I’ve actually ended up with – I’m moving to SMARTY, which operates on the Three network.

The deal I’ve gone for is 4GB of data month for £9. Yes that is less data for more money.

But the genius thing about this SMARTY SIM is that I’ll get £1 knocked off my next bill for every 1GB of data I don’t use. If the next month is the same as last, that brings the price down by £3 to £6.

And, via TopCashback I nabbed £14.85 in cashback. Assuming I stay with SMARTY for a full year, that’ll bring the monthly price down by another £1.24. If it’s six months, that’s £2.48 off each bill.

Then once things are back to normal and I decide to go back to a 12-month plan with more data or if 5G comes to my area, I’ll be able to ditch SMARTY as it’s a 30-day deal.

Obviously if you want to do the same you do need to be out of contract. If that’s not yet, make a note of it so you can look for savings when that date comes around.


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