Is it cheaper to buy an iPhone outright with a SIM-only plan?

Summary: Tech types sing the virtues of buying iPhones outright and grabbing a SIM card from your favourite telco, but is it actually cheaper in the long run to buy yours this way?

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Whether it is cheaper to buy a phone outright or on a plan is a question we are asked a lot. There used to be a strong argument in favour of an outright purchase a few years ago. But as our favourite phones become more expensive, the savings seemed to have dwindled or disappeared.

Is this true for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus? Is it better to grab one through at an Apple store and choose a cheap SIM Only plan? Or, are the telcos battling for your business with unbeatable handset pricing?

There’s only one way to find out. Bust out the calculators!

To make fair comparisons, we’ll include:

  • iPhone 6s 64GB & iPhone 6s Plus 64GB
  • Plans with unlimited calls and SMS
  • 3GB data or more

Telco

iPhone 6s 64GB handset cost

iPhone 6s Plus 64GB handset cost

Plan cost per month and incl. data

Min total cost over 24 months
(iPhone 6s)

Min total cost over 24 months
(iPhone 6s Plus)

Telstra

$408

$720

$95
(6GB)

$2688

$3000

See the plans

Optus

$504

$816

$60
(3GB)

$1944

$2256

See the plans

Vodafone

$624

$936

$60
(3GB)

$2064

$2376

See the plans

Virgin Mobile

$624

$816

$60
(4GB)

$2064

$2256

See the plans

Amaysim

$1229

$1379

$39.90
(5GB)

$2186

$2456

See the plans

AlDI Mobile

$1229

$1379

$45
(4.5GB)

$2309

$2459

See the plans

TPG

$1229

$1379

$39.99
(5GB)

$2198

$2348

See the plans

Boost Mobile

$1229

$1379

$40
(3GB)

$2189

$2339

See the plans

Jeenee Mobile

$1229

$1379

$35
(3GB)

$2069

$2219

See the plans

As you can see above, for most of the plans in this comparison there is $100 or more to save by choosing a telco plan over an outright purchase and a SIM Only plan. The difference between the two options is least when the SIM Only plan costs $40 per month — which gives you a good indication of how much of the phone cost is built into the telco plans.

Let’s add in a few more SIM Only plans for consideration, but this time we’ll bend the rules and show lower prices. These plans all have at least 500 calling minutes and 1.5GB data.

Telco

iPhone 6s 64GB handset cost

iPhone 6s Plus 64GB handset cost

Plan cost per month

Min total cost over 24 months
(iPhone 6s)

Min total cost over 24 months
(iPhone 6s Plus)

Telstra

$552

$936

$70
(2.5GB)

$2232

$2616

See the plans

Optus

$504

$816

$60
(3GB)

$1944

$2256

See the plans

Vodafone

$624

$936

$60
(3GB)

$2064

$2376

See the plans

Virgin Mobile

$624

$864

$50
(2GB)

$2064

$2064

See the plans

Amaysim

$1229

$1379

$29.90
(2GB)

$1946

$2096

See the plans

Lebara Mobile

$1229

$1379

$29.90
(2.5GB)

$1946

$2096

See the plans

Think Mobile

$1229

$1379

$32.95
(2GB)

$2019

$2169

See the plans

Spintel

$1229

$1379

$35
(4GB)

$2069

$2219

See the plans

If you’re prepared to choose a lower-cost, lower-value SIM Only plan, the maths leans in favour of an outright purchase. Amaysim and Lebara both have great plans for $29.90 per month, and you'll save about $160 over the comparable plans from Optus and Virgin.

But, you'll miss out on a bunch of great plan benefits too. Both Optus and Virgin include international calls in plans, Virgin has Data Rollover and Optus plans can be combined into a Data Pool. Vodafone has similar features, plus its popular $5 international roaming for travellers.

The savings are there for low-to-medium data users, but does the cost difference offset the absence of great plan benefits? Is the freedom to switch carriers and plans with SIM Only plans worth more than all the savings added up? That'll be up to you to decide.

One thing is certain, the days when there was a considerable difference in price are long gone -- especially with an expensive phone model like the iPhone 6s.

Feature Image: Yeamake / Shutterstock.com

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