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Prepaid mobile explained: Starter packs vs subscriptions vs recharges

A breakdown of everything you need to know about Prepaid mobile plans, revolving around starter packs, subscriptions and recharges.

Nathan Lawrence
Jan 07, 2022
Icon Time To Read3 min read

Prepaid is a term used in the mobile space to describe a plan that’s paid for before the fact rather than after. That’s it, right? If only! As it turns out, there’s a lot more nuance to Prepaid mobile than just when you pay. Let’s dive into it.

What is a prepaid mobile plan?

Like most things in life, a Prepaid mobile plan is bought before you can use it, which is different to most SIM Only mobile plans and NBN plans. While SIM Only and Prepaid plans tend to come with unlimited nationwide talk and text these days, it’s important to note that when data is used on a Prepaid plan, you either need to recharge again or wait for your next automatic recharge. Conversely, some SIM Only plans will automatically charge you more once you pass your data cap, while others will cap your speeds for the rest of the month. If you don’t run out of data on a Prepaid plan, certain providers let you roll that forward either to the next recharge or perpetually as part of a data bank.

Check out the list below for a daily updating snapshot of popular Prepaid plans from our comparison engine.

What types of prepaid plans are there?

At the top level, there are three types of Prepaid plans:

  • Starter packs
  • Subscriptions
  • Recharges

Prepaid starter packs offer great value and are targeted at those signing up with a telco for the first time. Below is a list of Prepaid starter packs from our comparison engine, sorted by popularity.

Subscriptions are relatively new in the Prepaid space, offering a SIM Only-like payment structure that automatically renews after a set number of days. Check out the daily updating list below of popular Prepaid subscriptions from our database.

Prepaid recharges are designed to pick up where starter packs leave off and, in terms of their typical pricing, offer a more accurate picture of ongoing costs. Recharges are the most common form of Prepaid plan, and you can check out popular picks from our comparison engine below.

How long do prepaid plans last?

This is something of a “how long is a piece of string?” question. Durations range from the one-day plans from Optus Prepaid and stretch up to 12 months from Boost Mobile Prepaid. Telstra Prepaid also offers a seven-day Prepaid starter pack, and that’s true of Amaysim and Optus. Most Prepaid plans, though, are recharges that sit around the monthly mark.

There’s a catch there, though: Prepaid months aren’t always a month. In terms of the telcos we track in our database, Amaysim, Lycamobile, Vodafone, Optus, Boost Mobile and Telstra all treat a month as a 28-day affair. Meanwhile, Optus, Lebara Mobile, Gomo, Aldi Mobile, Exetel, Coles Mobile and Woolworths Mobile all sell 30-day Prepaid plans. Finally, Internode, TPG and Felix Mobile also sell actual monthly Prepaid plans.

It might sound like we’re splitting hairs here, but sticking with a 28-day Prepaid plan for a year means recharging 13 times to get you through the bulk of the year, whereas a 30-day plan is pretty much 12 recharges and a monthly Prepaid plan is only 12 payments. For comparison, below is a daily updating list of popular Prepaid 28-day, 30-day and monthly plans from our database.

Info Box
Prepaid vs Telstra Upfront
For the longest time, SIM Only plans were paid for at the end of a billing cycle whereas Prepaid plans were paid upfront. Simple. Then along came Telstra to shake it up by introducing Upfront plans. Like Prepaid, Telstra Upfront plans are paid in advance, but unlike Telstra Prepaid plans, going over your data allowance results in a 1.5Mbps data cap for the rest of the month. Telstra Upfront plans are also charged monthly rather than on a 28-day cycle.

Optus Prepaid is a bit of an outlier in that it also sells 14-day, 21-day and 42-day Prepaid plans; similarly, Kogan Mobile offers a 90-day Prepaid plan and Amaysim has a 90-day Prepaid plan. Woolworths Mobile and Lebara sell a 180-day Prepaid plan for those after a few days shy of half a year, while Amaysim and Telstra offer a six-month Prepaid plan.

The rest of the long-expiry Prepaid plans are either 365 days, one year or 12 months, which is more semantic than budget-impacting than the monthly breakdown above. Below is a list of daily updating long-expiry Prepaid plans from our comparison engine.