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Mobile cap plans: what are they?

Whether you prefer prepaid or post-paid, mobile 'cap' plans are certainly a good way to save you a few dollars, but it does depend on individual mobile phone usage patterns.
22/04/2010

Whether you prefer prepaid or post-paid, mobile 'cap' plans are certainly a good way to save you a few dollars, but it does depend on individual mobile phone usage patterns. With competition on the rise, nearly all of Australia's mobile phone providers offer their own version of capped mobile plans, so here's some info to help determine which plan is the best one for you.

What is a cap plan?

A mobile cap plan basically offers bonus credit in addition to the minimum monthly cost for your mobile phone plan. For example, Vodafone, Optus, 3 Mobile and Virgin Mobile Australia all offer an equivalent $49 cap plan, which includes up to around $350 value of talk and text.

In general, most providers offer the following cap plans:

• A $19 cap plan that includes $50 to $70 of value per month (3Mobile, Exetel, iPrimus, Dodo and Virgin.
• A $29 cap plan that includes $150 of value per month (3Mobile, Vodafone).
• A $39 cap plan that includes $250 of value per month (Vodafone).
• A $49 cap plan that includes $350 of value per month (Telstra, 3Mobile, Exetel, Virgin).
• A $59/$69 cap that plan includes $450 of value per month (Telstra, 3Mobile, Exetel, iPrimus, Vodafone, Virgin).

What's the catch?

The first catch is the occasional confusion over which mobile phone services the cap value actually covers. The monthly cap value normally covers national voice calls to other mobiles or landlines, SMS, Voicemail and MMS. However, this can vary between providers and it is wise to double check exactly what your cap plan covers, especially with respect to data usage, MMS and international calls, all of which are not guaranteed by all providers.

Secondly, it is important to determine if a particular provider is offering ‘value for money’ in their cap plans. Though it may seem like you have lots of bonus credit, it can be eaten up quickly by high call rates. Make sure you check SMS and call rates with your provider and understand the differences in how calls are being charged. For example, calls may be charged per second, or in thirty-second blocks. To get a good run down on call rates between providers, check out our Compare call rates article.

Finally, ensure you know what happens if you exceed your monthly cap. Most providers will start charging you at standard SMS and call rates once a cap limit is reached, so if you don't monitor your usage you may end up paying a lot more than your minimum monthly commitment cost. For more tips on this read our article, 'Will my plan provider tell me if I've exceeded my cap?’

What is the difference between a post-paid and prepaid cap?

Both prepaid and post-paid cap plans offer you bonus credit on top of your minimum monthly cost. However, there are two main differences: pre-paid caps give more flexibility, because you are not locked into a contract as you would be in a post-paid cap plan. Furthermore, a prepaid plan also stops you from spending more than you bargained for, because once the credit limit is reached your phone will cut out. On the other hand, post-paid plans tend to have less upfront costs and don't cut out unexpectedly when you go over your cap limit.

For a better understanding on the differences between post-paid and prepaid mobile phone plans, check out our article comparing the benefits of prepaid and post-paid mobile phone plans.

What are the differences between the various Australian mobile phone providers’ cap plans?
Each provider will put their own twist on their capped plans to distinguish themselves and attract new customers. Here is a general list of some differences in capped plans from the major Australian mobile phone providers:

Rollover Caps allow you to rollover any unused credit to the next month. This is good for minimal mobile phone usage.
• Shared Caps include two phones and lots of bonus credit. A great option for couples.
• Unlimited Caps allow unlimited calls and text messages. This is perfect for heavy mobile phone usage.
Combo Caps include calls and SMS, as well as data usage, i.e. the plan comes with 2GB of data. This is great for internet and email junkies.
SIM Only Caps allow you to bring your own handset to the Vodafone network and enjoy their cap plans.
Flexi Caps are basically a normal cap marketed as ‘flexible’, because you can spend your cap credit on calls, SMS, MMS etc.

Which cap plan should I choose?


Choose a mobile cap plan according to your individual usage. Before you even look at the different cap deals, work out your usage patterns first. Do you mostly call nationally or internationally? Do you call people from the same network? Do you use your phone mainly for the internet? Do you need a cap plan for you and your friend or partner?

Once you have determined your mobile phone usage, work out if you are a light or heavy user. Also find out if your friends and family are connected to one particular network, so you can receive free network-to-network calls.

Finally, read the fine print to determine if the cap provides real value for money in terms of calls rates, SMS and any other costs included in the deal. This prevents your cap value being eroded by high rates as well as sudden disconnections or excessive charges if you exceed your cap limit.

For more help on choosing a mobile phone and plan, read through our range of articles on the Compare Mobile Plans blog.

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