How to get a 'free' mobile deal with no upfront cost

No upfront cost phone icon

Contract deals on mobile phones are great. They mean you can get a top smartphone for a far, far more affordable price by paying it off over two years - and on some deals, you don't even have to pay anything upfront.

How do I get a 'free' mobile phone deal?

We're afraid that a 'free' mobile deal, or a plan with a 'free' device is a bit misleading - most of us can't get a brand new mobile phone completely free of charge.

What it really means is that you sign up to a contract that has no charge today. The phone itself is given to you 'free' - that is, you get it without paying anything upfront right now.

Instead, the cost of the phone is spread out over the course of your contract. It's incorporated into your bill along with your monthly tariff on a SIM.

Sometimes, the bill is even split up in two, so you can see how much you've paid towards the handset and pay it off whenever you like. O2 Refresh, Sky Mobile Swap, and giffgaff contracts work a little like this.

How to choose a contract phone with no upfront cost

It couldn't be easier to find a mobile contract with no upfront cost. Just use our comparison grid.

First of all, select 'free' under the 'phone cost' filter on the left hand side. This will make sure we only show you deals with a free device.

Browse and compare all the phones available, or pick a handset you want from the filters at the side. Remember you can also select the minimum internal storage you want, as well as your favourite colour.

You can pick the allowance you want, too - you'll need enough to cover how much you use your phone in a month. You could go for 1GB data or less with a few minutes if you're a fairly light user, or spring for unlimited data if that's more your jam. Just remember that higher allowances come with higher monthly costs, especially if you're not paying anything upfront.

And finally, select everything else in the toggles that matters to you. That could be a network you like, 4G-only deals, a monthly budget you can afford, or a particular contract length.

What are the best 'free' phone deals?

It doesn't get much better than 'free', but the best mobile deal for you all depends on what you're looking for. That's where our comparison tool comes in.

There are a few things you can do that will keep costs down, though. You can:

  • Go for a small network or MVNO - Such as giffgaff or Virgin Mobile. These tend to charge less than the big boys and you still get the same great service.
  • Find an existing customer deal - A lot of mobile networks offer discounts or special deals if you're already a customer, or even if you have their broadband or TV services. EE and BT Mobile offer something extra in this way.
  • Buy through a reseller - Resellers like Carphone Warehouse buy phones and networks' SIM plans in bulk, then sell them onto you at a lower price.
  • Pick a refurbished handset - A refurbished or reconditioned phone may have had a previous owner, but has been given a refresh and a spring clean before getting passed on to you - at a nice discount, natch.

What's good about no upfront cost?

  • You can get a phone straight away without breaking the bank
  • They make the cost of expensive phone more affordable
  • There's lots of choice
  • Special offers and deals are often available

What's bad about no upfront cost?

  • Monthly bills are higher
  • They can cost more in the long run - it's better value to buy a phone outright and go SIM-only
  • Long contracts - they usually last two years
  • Plans aren't very flexible