Bill Pay Versus Prepay: How to Buy the Best Value Phone

consumer researching on their phone

People are generally changing their phones less often. For many years, phone companies had everyone convinced that a two-year contract means changing your phone every two years too. As technology advances and becomes more reliable, people are changing less than ever. But there’s a lot more to consider that “when” you change phone. You should also be considering what plan do you want to get, because bill pay contracts rarely offer the best value.

In this article, I’ll bring you through the pros and cons of all the options you have to buy a new phone, show you the costs and give you a handy calculator to help you with your own purchase decision. My hope is that armed with this information, you’ll be able to save yourself a small fortune on your next phone purchase.

How to Buy a Phone from a Network

When you buy a phone from a phone network, you generally have two options. You either buy the phone on prepay or bill pay. 

Buying a Phone on Prepay

On prepay, the network you buy with usually gives you a small discount on the phone versus what it would be to buy outright from a manufacturer like Apple or Samsung. This is usually between €20-€50 off the full price. The network will “lock” the phone to their network until you’ve spent a certain amount on phone credit. 

Once you’ve topped up by enough, you can unlock the phone and away you go. You can unlock the phone and buy a plan from any other network offering a great deal.

Buying a Phone on Bill Pay

On bill pay, you are making a much bigger commitment and will likely pay more monthly. Typically, it’s a two-year commitment but in return, you pay significantly less up-front for your new phone. This makes it a relatively popular option for high-end flagship smartphones like iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S-series.

However, being enticed by a lower up-front cost can cost you a lot more throughout your two-year agreement. Often, networks will tempt you with “Free” pricing up-front to distract you from the long-term cost involved in a 24-month agreement.

There are alternatives to you that can save you money.

Alternatives to Buying a Phone from a Network

It’s not that long ago that to get a phone really would have meant the phone shop on the high street was your only choice. Today, you have a plethora of options.

Straight from Apple, Samsung and More

Phone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung would gladly cut the phone networks out of their deals with you, the shopper. And in recent years, they’ve done just that setting up online stores and bricks and mortar stores in for you to shop with. The phone you buy from the manufacturer will be a SIM-free phone with no SIM lock whatsoever. 

And they offer an enticing option too.

Let’s take a look at a practical example of this. The iPhone 15 on an Irish network today would cost you €229 up-front and €60 per month for 24 months. Overall, you would spend €1669 over those 24 months.

Alternatively, you could buy the same phone directly from Apple online for €979. But let’s not forget you’ll still need a plan. Ireland’s best value sim-only plan right now is 48, at €12.99. In this scenario, you would pay just €1290 over 24 months for the same phone and similar service. That’s a saving of €378.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – “I can’t afford €979 up front”, and I’ll come back to that in payment methods later.

SIM-Free Retailers

Another growing market in Ireland is SIM-free retailers. These are your big electronics retailers like Harvey Norman, DID and Currys. Just like buying from the manufacturer, these are SIM-free phones and you will need to go buy a plan elsewhere, like the 48 plan I mentioned earlier.

Oddly, some of these retailers can offer you better prices than the manufacturer, even Apple. I can’t begin to explain how hard it is to get discounts on Apple products. At the time of writing, the iPhone 15 was just €879 with all of the retailers I mentioned; that’s Harvey Norman, DID and Currys.

That makes your savings with this route even greater at €478 versus buying the same phone from a mobile network.

I’m not done yet with how much you could save.

Refurbished Phones

People are less fussy about their new phone being completely “new”. Refurbished phones have become an extremely appealing option for people seeking out a new phone. These phones have already had one owner and gone through a refurbishment process to make them “like new”. This means if the battery was old, it was replaced along with some other parts. Sometimes, these phones were purchased and returned within 14 days because shoppers just changed their minds.

These refurbished phones are appealing for their sustainability amongst other things, but most of all because of their price. 

Let’s get back to our iPhone 15 example. Even though this phone is current, you can still find them refurbished from Apple or from companies like, which I’ve reviewed before.

A refurbished iPhone 15, which granted isn’t brand new like the one from the network, would set you back €722. Once again, assuming you take the 48 sim-only option, you are now saving €635 in total over 24 months versus buying new from the network on a 24-month contract.

I can’t ignore the online shopping beast that is Amazon. The e-commerce giant will be opening an Irish store in 2025, but you can already buy that same iPhone 15 online today for just £699. After exchange rates, import charges and everything else, this route to your new iPhone 15 will cost you €850.

Let’s not forget that Amazon Prime Day 2024 is just around the corner too. So by shopping during these days, during another Amazon sale and by using Revolut, you could save even more. But buying that iPhone 15 on Amazon today would save you €507 versus the Irish network on a 24-month contract.

Payment Methods

Earlier I did say I understand that not everyone will have this kind of up-front cash lying around. Mobile networks have relied on this scenario for years, but the options for you, the consumer, have changed dramatically, but you do need to be careful.

If you look at buying a phone as credit, or hire purchase, it makes weighing up your options a lot easier. Buying the phone from the network would work out at about 13% interest. 

Now, you can look at how much other options cost. A credit card with 18% interest would give you the buying power to buy the iPhone 15 from Apple and pay it off over 24 months for less than €40 per month would cost you around €150 interest in total. A fraction of what it would cost with the network. 

There are still even better options too. If you’re a Revolut customer,  you can also use Pay Later. This lets you split up your purchase into three payments. For the privilege, you pay a 1.6% interest and the iPhone 15 costs you three payments of €331.

With all of these options, it comes with a massive caveat. These are riskier credit options than a phone contract with a network. You need to be confident that you can manage your finances. But once you plan it out properly and make your payments, you could save a small fortune by purchasing your phone from one of the methods I’ve outlined here instead of a 24-month contract from a mobile network.

Bill Pay vs Prepay Calculator

It can be hard to know what the best value is for you, depending on what phone and plan you’re thinking of buying. So I’ve built this calculator to help. You’ll need to pick the phone you’re interested in buying, look up the price it costs on a network (both upfront and monthly) and the price with another retailer like Harvey Norman or

Once you input all of this below, the calculator will tell you how much you could save by buying from a non-network retailer.

This pricing example of bill pay versus prepay is the one I’ve been using throughout the article and is an iPhone 15 which costs €229 on €60 per month for 24 months with a network, but €979 up front from Apple direct. It assumes you’re picking the best value plan on the market today, which is currently 48 at €12.99 per month. If the below returns a negative result, you would be saving money by picking the 24-month network option, but this will likely be rare.

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Founding Editor of Goosed, Marty is a massive fan of tech making life easier. You'll often find him testing something new, brewing beer or finding some new foodie spots in Dublin, Ireland. - Find me on Threads

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