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Pre-paid mobile billing practices - fair or not?


#1

We received the below report about Optus prepaid mobile phone billing practices:

I have a prepaid Optus plan for my mobile phone. I think I started on the plan around the 27th or the month and I thought I would be paying monthly on the 27th of every month. I started to wonder why the date kept on coming down. This month’s payment is due on June12th. I went in to the local Optus shop and asked the question, “Why do I seem to be losing days on my plan?” I explained that I sometimes pay a day or two early if I know I will be away or busy on the due date. The young man explained that the early payment was the reason that I was losing days. If I paid on the due date every month then the payment would always be due on the 27th.

As you can see in the T&Cs (pdf) for the ‘Epic Value’ pre-paid plan, “included minutes will expire in the time frames specified above, or on the next recharge, whichever is earlier”. Optus is not the only prepaid mobile providers that bills this way. Telstra (pdf) has similar billing procedure for its standard ‘Prepaid Max’ plan. So, recharging your pre-paid mobile earlier than expiry reduces the value you receive in terms of ability to make standard calls.

Data on the other hand can be rolled over. However, both of the examples above require you to recharge your account before expiry to rollover unused data. The closer you allow your account to get to its expiry, the better value you can extract from both calls and data. However, if you forget to pay or the website goes down, then you might miss out on your data rollover at the expense of extending your access to make calls included in your original plan.

I’m interested to hear, what do people think about this practice - is it fair or not?

Some other factors:

  • These are not the only plans from Optus, Telstra and other SIM providers. The former both have ‘long expiry’ plans that allow call credit to rollover to a capped limit. The long expiry plans also apply call charges differently.
  • The aforementioned prepaid plans offer ‘unlimited standard calls’ (time based) rather than call credit. Would it be reasonable for the providers to have unused days roll over, or not?
  • There are many other options on the market, please share your experience with different plans and providers or alternative approaches.

While not specifically looking at this scenario, here is an article from CHOICE about prepaid vs phone plans.


#2

The practice of restarting the period from the date of recharge is unacceptable and in effect is money for nothing for Optus (and other telcos if they do the same). If the recharge payment is incentivised by rolling over data…then one is likely to make payment early to ensure that this data is lost. Optus uses this to ensure that they make additional money when such payments are made early.

Maybe to get around this is to set up an ‘Auto Recharge’.

The other issue is many of the telcos have moved from a month (expiry on the same date every month) to a set period, say plan lasts for 28 days.This means over a year, one has to make an extra period payment (12 monthly compared to 13 four weekly)…an one additional payment in the telcos coffers. This also means that the date of expiry of the plan slowly moves forward by a few days each month.

The other point is if one is forced to recharge every month, maybe one may be better switching to a month by month plan.


#3

Whether right or wrong, all the pre-paid plans I looked at are similar and are clear about the customer essentially ‘starting a new month’ from the moment of payment; data roll-over or data-lost being plan dependent.

That being the case, isn’t there an option to set auto-debit/recharge? That manages the roll over date to avoid losing anything although some of us are resistant to losing hands-on control of charges.


#4

I bought a personal mobile “many years” ago and looked at the plans available then. It was cheaper for me to buy the mobile than pay it off in a plan. Telstra was the only choice as they were the only provider in our area (their signal died 5km from town, so not great). Next choice was Pre-paid or Plan. There was no difference, except remembering to pay each month, or being locked in to a plan with direct debit. It did surprise me that convenience was the only differentiating factor between the two.

I went Pre-Paid 30 days. For a while I got SMS alerts for renewal (“will expire in 2 days”), then they stopped. I missed the date a few times and hence lost unused data etc. I could not find how to reset these, I ended up talking to Telstra, being passed from one to the other, till finally someone said they had reinstated it. They hadn’t. Then I was told it was no longer an option for Pre-Paid.

When I go to recharge through Telstra My Account I have a problem where it does not complete the payment, about 5 months of this. There does not seem to be a way to do an automatic recharge. After some discussion with Telstra they have come up with a less secure way for me to re-charge (apart from buying vouchers) which works. As we have no mobile signal where we live, I need an on-line solution. I first realised the loss of days when I recharged early and my expiry wasn’t what I expected. I guess these are designed to propel you to a Plan.

Once I started losing days due to this “use in 30 days” clause I started to consider other providers; now we live in an area with choice. However, no mobile provider covers our property. For now I keep the expiry date written on my Bills To Pay list.

My husband has an old Telstra mobile on a “long life” plan where every $40? recharge gives him another 6 months. His expires in 2028. The call costs are big, but it suits him to have a phone for times I am not with him. It is also months between uses. I have not checked on the status of this pre-paid.


#5

Ah Telstra. The person ‘helping’ you probably could not find this link :roll_eyes:

https://www.telstra.com.au/support/category/mobiles-tablets/pre-paid/pre-paid-mobile-automatic-recharge


#6

Thanks @TheBBG. If you read the “fine print” under Good to Know … you must chose the same day each month. That means you will miss the 30 days date by one day every month with 31 days, and lose days in February. Telstra said there is no scheme that will renew every 30 days - you need to go to a Plan for that. I tried to set up a saved credit card, but that failed just like the New Credit card payment option.


#7

Interesting, but wouldn’t a balance based recharge work? When your 30 days expires the balance goes to zero and would trip the balance based recharge, would it not?


#8

Is the process fair? No I don’t think it is fair or morally right even though it may be spelt out in their T&Cs.

I think that if you recharge early then your date of expiry should be extended by the amount that recharge would normally give you. With Optus for example if you recharge with a $30 recharge 1/2 way through your current period then the 42 days should be added to the date it would have expired on the previous payment. This could allow you to plan for periods where it might not be possible to easily recharge because of things like pay dates, anticipated incapacity, or overseas travel. I do think that “pay as you go” plans are a bit more difficult to cover this way and perhaps should be treated differently.

The variety of providers each with their own T&Cs makes it hard to pick who to use for your best outcome. Requiring that recharge payments be added to current plans rather than over writing the dates would help many users better make decisions. I do note here that the recharges are for the plan and not for “extra data” or “extra” facilities eg International call credits unless included already as part of the plan.

AutoRecharge was partially covered in another topic re the 28 or 30 /31 day months for recharges Best SIM only plan provider. ALDIMobile as an example have a similar auto recharge process like Telstra and Optus, though as long as you recharge within 24 hours after your plan expiry the unused data is rolled over. They also provide similar to many others the option to “Auto-recharge” as both @phb and @TheBBG both referenced in their posts.

The benefit of auto recharge with Telstra is that the same date in any month other than February are used for auto recharges gaining a user up to three extra days in a month when the plan is recharged eg December would gain 3 days and April would gain you 2 days “free” plan usage. If not on auto recharges then they use a 28 day Month for recharge periods.

For Optus their information on AutoRecharge is that a number of days can be set to be the recharge date. If you pay for the $10 plan you would need to set the number of days to 21 (this is inclusive of the date of recharge in all cases), if you pay the $15 recharge you will need to set it for 28 days, if you pay $30 or more the number of days covered under the plan are extended eg $30 to $50 gives 42 days of plan coverage and $180 gets you 365 days of coverage. They do however limit the amount of data rollover to 50 GB for any plan.


#9

When I started looking at Prepaid Combo Plus with Vodafone, I asked the sales assistant about credit roll-over in case I hadn’t used all that I paid for. They said:
It’s like going into a restaurant and ordering a 3 course meal: whether you finish it or not, you still have to pay for all of it.

For a while I was on 28 days combo plus
with unlimited calls and I made the most of it!
Recently there was an Ad for Bulk Buying: 10 auto recharges at a good saving price (upfront fee of course).
Couldn’t get on to it myself and ‘chatted’
on line with someone who could not manage it either. Something to do with having to be a new customer. But when put on the phone to a senior assistant, they agreed to do it for me.
Now at least for a while I won’t be getting the ‘About to expire’ messages.

I choose Prepaid for the freedom it gives me to change providers and plans, and am prepared to pay more for this.

I do think we should be allowed to recharge the day following the expiring date, and not lose any days if we recharge before that day.
Also, it would be fairer to be charged for the actual calls we make and be able to roll-over credit for calls and for data, on prepaids.


#10

That is dependent on the “month” being a calendar month, & not Telstra’s 28 day ‘month’ - which causes the due date to change every month, thus making it nearly impossible to have a fixed date recharge.
This shonky practice caused Telstra to lose my business (after losing the rollover too many times!). They may have changed this by now, but I stay well away from the company…


#11

I agree Telstra seems inflexible and their auto-recharge by a fixed date each month seems ‘faulty’, but what about an auto recharge for balance. It appears if ones sets the auto-recharge to trigger on a $0 balance it should work fine, or is there another gotcha with data roll-over? Yes, the recharge would happen on different days with months being 28,29,30, and 31 days, but it appears it would address the 30-days prepaid periods. Not ideal, but does it work for the purpose?


#12

Fair or Not? (back to original post) It is as I expect from a prepaid service & I assumed is the norm.
Is this not always the case?

The supposition behind prepaid is that there is a certain allocation of resources to be used: an amount of different types of calls, of texts, of data, of duration, of something else specified. The the whole credit expires when any of the items is used up. You can opt to recharge when any is depleted to restart the credit. It is no surprise that if you recharge early the period starts a fresh.
Would it be better if a recharge isn’t activated until the first item depletes, yes certainly. Please advise which prepaid service actually does this - without auto recharge.

The rollover scenario is interesting in that you either recharge one day early to prevent expiry, or use auto recharge. That happened to me recently when I couldn’t do an auto recharge to a different plan.
As @grahroll mentions, you have the first 24 hours after plan expiry to recharge and not lose the rollover. Another reason Aldi’s service is recommended.

Auto-recharge is the glue to keep you on the service without thinking. Of course they are going to push you that way. Prepaid doesn’t have many marketing tactics available.


#13

If I recall correctly, balance used past a trigger point as it descends will action a recharge, but balance expiry will not - seemed odd to me.

I’ve used the Telstra branded plans for a long time, because they have typically provided geographical coverage that the re-badged Telstra services like Aldi don’t. The other day I heard something about a re-badged plan that uses the whole Telstra network, but unconfirmed whether that is true and/or how long it has been true and for which re-badgings.

I recharge based on day of month - easy enough to set up online. My plans have a 28 day life, but they always carry over if the recharge is in place even though clearly I’m usually recharging every 30/31 days, as @grahroll also commented.

As long as I remember, with Telstra, a recharge just adds to what your current balance is, and extends that expiry for that amount of the recharge, which can mess with the timed recharge - though I I think I’ve only run out early once in a decade or so …

Two things I find incredibly annoying about the Telstra online functionality:

  • It is seemingly impossible to register a new credit card without an immediate recharge. Even updating the expiry date is impossible without recharge - so you need to cancel auto recharge and wait until the plan expiry to do a manual recharge with the new card …
  • If you have 3 pre-paid services registered to your online portal, the first point applies equally and separately to all 3 services (I have 3, same goes for other values of ‘3’ :wink: ). You can’t store a common payment card …

It’s been like that for as long as I can remember as well … can’t rush these things …


#14

At least they’re so much more efficient now that they’re not in public hands.

/sarcasm


#15

From what I’ve read, sounds like Boost. Switched my wife over a month back & recharged a few days ago to a 365 plan - losing a day. All going well so far.


#16

A large number of plans on prepaid do have unlimited calls, SMS, MMS to national numbers both landline and mobile and even like post paid there is the fixed data allocation. Most prepaid plans do not expire on usage of the data however if you need to use data after you have used the included amount then you have to buy a data top up. If you wish to ring or text International numbers then in some cases you need to buy extra credit in the form of a separate payment for that purpose. Post paid plans also have limits imposed and if you go past your allocation they increase the payment drawn from your payment source to cover this. Prepaid these days just gives you the flexibility to change providers as you want and no contract to lock you in.

Pay as you go plans expire on the use of the amount of credit available and was more the case in past years that most prepaid plans had this but this has changed a lot.


#17

I should have said, regarding the losing a day recharge, that that was to retain the rollover of 20GB. The rollover data only lasts another 28 days rather than the full 365 day period.


#18

I should have said 'The supposition behind prepaid used to be that there is…
Today unlimited almost anything changes how we see it. I’m saying in terms of the history of prepaid, the restart of period with recharge had some reason behind it.


#19

Absolutely agree with you on the history and the current unlimited. Even with ALDIMobile you buy a base credit that is used for anything outside the “unlimited” plans eg extra data when the allocated plan amount runs out, calls outside the included plan allowances, when you forget to recharge in time it allows use until the pay as you go credit is used up or you recharge a plan, it pays for international roaming.

The fact that you can auto recharge a service now to keep the plan benefits rolling over and that these auto recharges are planned to cover the anticipated expiry I think should also allow someone to manually recharge early and just add to the plan expiry date rather than overwrite. Data packs or extra credits do not overwrite and they may even add a few extra days to current expiry dates, they just add extra usability for data or non included plan calls and similar so what is so different that causes an early plan payment to effectively wipe days or even weeks of a current plan period. My answer is “nothing” but a grab for profit at the expense of the customer.


#20

Absolutely agree that it is an unfair practice, and should be illegal, but there is competition in the market, so take your business elsewhere unless you are dependent on the Telstra network. I use Yomojo, which operates on the Optus network. They have month by month contracts, which you can change any time or even leave without penalty. The changes apply from the next renewal date, which occurs every 30 days. You pay for 30 days in advance. To me that makes them no different to a prepaid 30 day plan, except I don’t have to remember to renew it at the end of 30 days. The renewal happens automatically until you stop it. The prices are low, and the range of plans they offer has something for everyone, other than those who hardly ever make a call or text or use data, in which case they are probably better off with a long expiry PAYG.
Mobile phone operators aren’t the only ones that use this practice. I have to have fire safety inspections done on some commercial properties, and the Bayside council requires submission of the safety certificates every 12 months. They send a reminder about 2 months early, which is a good idea - it gives you enough time to get the inspection done and rectify any problems by the due date. But if you send your certificates in early, the next 12 months start from the date you submit them. The council fee isn’t much, but the inspection fees are quite expensive. They say it is because the inspections must be done within 12 months, so they can’t give you 14 months next year just because you put your forms in 2 months early. It sort of makes sense, but they don’t tell you this unless you ask.