Contracts Vs Upgrades - What's the difference?

The differences between these two types of plans can be confusing, so we've put together this guide to help you make the right choice. In both cases you'll receive a new phone and start a new minimum term (usually 24-36 months). In short:

Contracts
These deals are exclusively for new customers. Your current contract is not with this network, but you'd like to transfer over to them.
Upgrades
Your current contract is coming to an end but you'd like to stay with the same network and get a new phone, along with possibly changing your plan's allowances.

We'll go over each in detail along with the pros and cons and a few tips.

Contracts

After you've received your order you'll find in the packing: your new phone, a new SIM, the full written contract you've agreed to and some informational material. The SIM that comes with the packaging will have its own number - you can just use this new number and cancel your old contract separately. However most people will wish to keep their old number on their new network, either way you'll still be using this new SIM card in your new phone.

To transfer your number, first call your old network and ask for a PAC code (Port Authorisation Code) - it's a code in the format ABC123456 that your new network will need for the number switch process. They might try to retain you as a customer, but they're required by Ofcom regulations to provide you with a code either right then or within 2 hours via text. If you've changed your mind after receiving the PAC code and want to stay, just do nothing - it will expire after 30 days and your old contract will continue as normal.

When you're ready to switch, check the informational materials that came with your new phone for a website link or phone number to initiate the transfer. They'll need three things:

  1. PAC code
  2. Number you want to keep
  3. Temporary number the new SIM had been assigned
After you've completed this step, the transfer will usually happen the next business day in the late morning or early afternoon. The old phone will lose service and within 15 minutes your number will be up and running on your new phone.

Once this is done your old contract will be cancelled automatically - there's no need to cancel any direct debits or make any further calls to customer service.

Upgrades

If you want to stay with your current network and not have to go through the PAC process, then you can choose an "Upgrade" deal. You might find a better deal than calling your network directly or logging into your account and checking for offers within the final 30-45 days of your contract.

A benefit of upgrades is that there's usually no credit check, so if you have poor credit or are worried about excessive checks on your file then you may prefer this.

You'll receive your new device along with the new contract terms, but your current SIM will automatically be upgraded to your new plan so just pop it into the new phone and get going.

Comparison

A new contract can either be used straight away with a new number or you can choose to keep your old one, but the transfer process can take a day or two. With Upgrades on the other hand you're good to go as soon as you receive it.

A new contract will require a credit check on your file. In most cases upgrades don't need a credit check.

While upgrade deals might seem less hassle, we've found that in almost all cases new customer deals work out cheaper. It's definitely worth taking advantage of these offers if possible.

Tips

What if you really want to stay with your current network, and still want to take advantage of the best prices? There are two options:

  1. If the reason is network coverage alone - for example only one of O2, Vodafone, EE or Three have good signal in your area. Then you could order a deal from an MVNO network (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) that has the same coverage - they lease network space from one of the main four operators. For example if you have good coverage with O2 then Sky Mobile will have exactly the same signal strength since they use the same masts. See our Network Operator table for details.
  2. If you absolutely want to stay want to stay, then first port your number to a free pay-as-you-go SIM from a different network. A few days later port back to them with to your new contract. e.g. EE old contract > O2 PAYG SIM > EE new contract. The whole process is a little more complicated and will take extra time, but if there are big savings available then it could be worth it.

Whichever you choose, get in contact with the network that your old phone was on and ask them to unlock it. All the networks will be happy to do this for you once your old contract is over. If you want to keep the phone as a backup or a give it to a family member you won't be limited to only using their SIMs. Even if you want to sell it you'll generally get a better price for an unlocked handset.