Giffgaff Review: The UK’s Low Cost, People Powered Mobile Network
March 23rd, 2016
giffgaff is a low-cost mobile network running on O2. Their goodybags start from £5/month with 4G included at no extra charge. Members earn cash or free credit by participating in the network.
giffgaff is a low-cost mobile network in the UK and is a fully-owned subsidiary of O2. Founded six and a half years ago in November 2009, giffgaff uses the same underlying network as its parent company, O2. Members of giffgaff hence receive the same level of coverage as they would on O2 with the added benefit of getting substantially lower prices.
Most giffgaff members choose to buy one of their goodybag bundles. A giffgaff goodybag is a monthly bundle that includes a set amount of calls, texts and internet. The most popular goodybag at present is the £10/month offering. This includes 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of internet. 4G is provided to all members at no extra charge.
Occasional users can Pay As You Go at 15p per minute, 5p per text and 5p per megabyte for accessing the mobile internet. giffgaff also has competitive rates for calling abroad.
Being a no-frills network with much lower prices, giffgaff does things differently to its parent company O2. Firstly, customer support is an online-only affair. You won’t be able to get support in an O2 high street store and you won’t be able to pick up the phone to call customer services. Secondly, you won’t have access to O2 customer exclusives. Features such as O2 Priority and O2 TU Go aren’t available on giffgaff.
Something unique that giffgaff has is a Payback rewards scheme which gives money to members who contribute to the network. For instance, you can earn cash or free credit by recommending giffgaff to your friends. You can also earn money by posting in the online community. It’s possible to earn up to £18 per referral and up to £100/month by posting in the community. With members helping to shape the giffgaff network, giffgaff brands itself as “the mobile network run by you”.
At the end of 2013, giffgaff had 1.2 million subscribers. This makes it one of the UK’s largest virtual network operators.
- 1 Bundles & Pricing
- 2 Comparison with Rival Networks
- 3 Using Your Current Handset
- 4 Buying A New Handset
- 5 Coverage & Network
- 6 Payback Rewards
- 7 Customer Support
- 8 Popularity & Number of Subscribers
- 9 Keeping Your Phone Number
- 10 More Information
Bundles & Pricing
Giffgaff Goodybag Bundles
Most giffgaff members choose to buy a goodybag bundle. Goodybags are perfect for people who use their phone regularly: each goodybag contains a certain amount of minutes, texts and internet. The goodybag will last for one month and will offer much better value than paying as you go. The goodybag is paid for from your Pay As You Go credit: there’s no need to sign a contract.
For added convenience, you can set up your giffgaff goodybag bundle to automatically renew itself every month. In this case, giffgaff takes the long number on the front of your credit card or debit card. They’ll charge you once per month for the following month’s goodybag. With auto-renewal, getting a goodybag is just as convenient as getting a SIM-only contract. There’s no need to manually top-up your phone every month. Compared to contracts, you also get improved spend control (there’s no chance of running up extra charges: you can only spend the money on your Pay As You Go balance).
At present, giffgaff offers a choice of seven goodybags:
A nice feature of giffgaff is the “recommended best plan” e-mails at the end of every month. It summarises your usage during that month e.g. how many minutes of phone calls you’ve made, how many text messages you’ve sent and how many megabytes of data you’ve downloaded. Based on your usage, a recommendation will then be made for your best value goodybag in the following month. The “best plan” e-mail ensures you’re not over-paying for allowances that you never actually use.
Out Of Bundle Charges. If you exceed the allowances included in your goodybag, you’ll pay the standard rates for calling and texting. These are 15p/minute and 5p/text. Outside of your inclusive data allowance, you’ll pay 2p per megabyte for all further data usage (this is slightly discounted from the normal charge of 5p/MB).
Always On Data (£20 Goodybag). The £20 Goodybag comes with ‘Always On’ data. For the first 6GB of usage every month, you’ll get the fastest speeds available and you’ll be able to tether. If you reach the 6GB limit, tethering will no longer be permitted. Your download speeds will also be capped to 256kbps between 8am and midnight.
Pay As You Go Pricing
If you don’t have an active goodybag on your account, you’ll pay giffgaff’s standard rates for Pay As You Go. These are 15p/minute, 5p/text and 5p/MB for accessing the mobile internet.
|Voice Calls||15p/minute to other networks (free to giffgaff*)|
|Calls to Voicemail||8p/call|
|Text Message (SMS)||5p to other networks (free to giffgaff*)|
|Picture Message (MMS)||16p|
* You’ll get free calls, texts and video calls to other giffgaff members providing you top up at least once every three months. Free giffgaff-to-giffgaff calls can last for up to 60 minutes (after an hour you’ll need to hang up and call again).
In general, giffgaff’s rates are fairly competitive compared to other major Pay As You Go networks. For instance, both O2 and Vodafone will typically charge 30p/minute and 14p/text. EE will typically charge 30p/minute and 12p/text.
Lower calling rates can be found if you take the time to shop around on other networks. ASDA Mobile is a popular alternative that’s great for light users (they use coverage from EE and charge just 8p/minute and 4p/text). Alternatively, even lower prices are available on Three’s 321 tariff (3p/minute, 2p/text and 1p/MB). For more information, see our in-depth reviews of ASDA Mobile and Three’s 321 tariff.
Gigabags: Tablet & Mobile Broadband Bundles
If you’d like to use a giffgaff SIM card in your tablet or for mobile broadband, you can choose to buy a data-only bundle. Known as giffgaff gigabags, these start in price from £5/month for 500MB of 4G data. There’s also a £7.50 gigabag that gives you 1GB of 4G data.
A gigabag can be used in any device including your smartphone, tablet or mobile broadband dongle. You can also use a gigabag for tethering. If you’d like more than 1GB of data each month, it’s possible to instead use a giffgaff goodybag in your tablet or mobile broadband dongle.
If you’re struggling to decide which gigabag to buy, see our guide to the real-world meaning of mobile download limits.
Outside of the inclusive allowances in your giffgaff gigabag, you’ll pay 2p/MB for any extra data used. There’s a 50MB buffer before you start getting charged (i.e. on the £5 gigabag you can actually use 550MB before you start getting charged).
giffgaff also offers low-cost international calling. Calls from the UK to another country start from 2p/minute (charges will vary depending on the country you’re calling and also whether you’re calling a mobile or a landline in that country). Rather bizarrely, this means it is often cheaper to call a number in another country than it is to call a number in the UK.
International text messages cost 8p each (this is a fixed price regardless of which country you’re texting).
For people who regularly call abroad, significant savings can often be found by switching to giffgaff. Often, mainstream mobile networks will charge you up to £1.50/minute for calling another country. With giffgaff, the per-minute rates are substantially lower.
|Country||Calls to Mobile||Calls to Landline||Text Message|
|Sri Lanka (+94)||10p/minute||10p/minute||8p/message|
|United States (+1)||2p/minute||2p/minute||8p/message|
Cost of international calls & international text messages on the giffgaff network (calls & texts made to a phone number in another country whilst you're in the UK). Last updated on 24th April 2016. Source: giffgaff.com.
For more information, see our full comparison of international calling rates. The article has a side-by-side comparison of the rates on giffgaff, EE, O2, Vodafone, Lebara and Lycamobile.
Comparison with Rival Networks
In our opinion, the giffgaff goodybags are fairly competitive when compared to other major networks.
£5 per month bundles
On their £5/month goodybag, giffgaff offers 125 minutes, 500 texts and 100MB of data. For £7.50/month, the allowances are increased to 250 minutes, unlimited texts and 500MB of data.
Around this price point, ASDA Mobile is another attractive offering (ASDA Mobile uses 2G & 3G coverage from EE).
£10 per month bundles
For £10 per month, giffgaff has a goodybag bundle with 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of 4G data. For the same monthly price, most other networks have less than half as many minutes and half as much data.
£15 per month bundles
For £15 per month, giffgaff offers 1000 minutes, unlimited texts and 4GB of 4G data. For £18 per month, this can be upgraded to 2000 minutes, unlimited texts and 6GB of 4G data. This compares against other mobile networks as follows:
£20 per month bundles
giffgaff’s £20 goodybag has unlimited calls, unlimited texts and Always On data (this will give you unlimited downloads but 4G and tethering are restricted to the first 6GB/month).
For more information, see our full comparison of the UK’s best value Pay As You Go bundles. If you’re willing to sign a Pay Monthly contract, it may also be worth having a look at the best SIM Only deals.
Using Your Current Handset
Historically, giffgaff was a SIM-only network where you needed to provide an unlocked handset of your own. The majority of giffgaff members are still using the network on a SIM-only basis: you can simply order a free SIM card from the giffgaff website and you can slot it inside your unlocked smartphone.
If you need to unlock your handset before using it on giffgaff, please see our guide to unlocking your handset. We’ve also got detailed step-by-step instructions for unlocking an iPhone and unlocking a Samsung Galaxy smartphone.
If you’ve previously used your handset on O2, it shouldn’t be necessary to unlock it for giffgaff (an O2-locked handset will normally accept SIM cards from giffgaff).
giffgaff provides a Triple SIM that’s designed to work in all smartphones (it incorporates Standard SIM, Micro SIM and Nano SIM).
Buying A New Handset
In addition to offering SIM cards for your current smartphone, giffgaff also sells unlocked smartphones on their website. You can use them on the giffgaff network or on any other network.
At the time of writing, there are 45 handsets to choose from in the giffgaff phone store. They include the Galaxy S7, the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6s Plus.
The cheapest way of buying a handset from giffgaff is to pay the full cost as an upfront lump sum payment (this is just like as if you were buying the handset from a retailer like Amazon). Handsets currently range in price from £59 to £569 SIM-free.
If you don’t want to pay the full amount for your handset upfront, giffgaff also offers a handset financing option in partnership with RateSetter. You can take out a loan for the cost of your handset – it’ll then be re-paid in monthly instalments (you can choose the length of the financing option from 6 months up to 24 months).
At the time of writing, interest rates range from 9.7% APR (over 24 months) to 25.8% APR (over 6 months). You’ll need to be 18 or over to use the handset financing option. You’ll also need a UK bank account in your name and you’ll undergo a soft credit search.
|Length of Payment Plan||Interest Rate||Total Cost Of Financing|
|6 months||25.8% APR||£7.66 for every £100 borrowed|
|12 months||14.7% APR||£8.14 for every £100 borrowed|
|18 months||11.4% APR||£9.27 for every £100 borrowed|
|24 months||9.7% APR||£10.42 for every £100 borrowed|
Typical interest rates for giffgaff’s handset financing option, at the time of writing.
If you don’t need to use the financing option, we strongly recommend buying your handset with an upfront payment (for a flagship handset like the iPhone 6s, this can save you up to £96 in interest and charges). You should also shop around at other SIM-free retailers. They might offer a lower price than giffgaff. Alternative sources of financing can also be better value (e.g. an interest-free credit card offer).
If you choose to buy your handset from another retailer, simply order a free giffgaff SIM card and slot it into your new smartphone.
Coverage & Network
2G, 3G and 4G Coverage From O2
giffgaff uses O2 as their network coverage provider. This means, as a member of giffgaff, you’ll get exactly the same coverage as customers on O2.
At the time of writing, there’s 99% population coverage on 2G, 98% coverage on 3G and 78% coverage on 4G. You should use giffgaff’s online coverage checker to make sure coverage is available where you live.
giffgaff’s 4G coverage uses O2’s band 20 LTE spectrum (800MHz).
For more information, see our guide to virtual network operators and how to compare coverage on different networks.
Tethering is the process of sharing the mobile internet connection from your smartphone onto other devices like your laptop or tablet. Typically, this involves making use of the portable wi-fi hotspot feature on your smartphone.
giffgaff allows tethering on all of their goodybags and gigabags. The only caveat is on the £20 goodybag, you can only tether for the first 6GB per month.
If you’re using a fairly old iPhone, tethering might be blocked if you haven’t yet updated to iOS 7.1.1 or later. On older versions of iOS, it might be necessary to jailbreak your phone (the official giffgaff carrier settings were only made available in May 2014). You can check the version of iOS installed on your iPhone by going to Settings > General > About.
For more information, see our guide on tethering from your smartphone.
One of giffgaff’s unique selling points is their claim to be the world’s first people-powered mobile network. The company’s motto is “the mobile network run by you”. To that extent, giffgaff asks its members to get involved with the running of the network. Members can participate in the network by promoting it to friends, by answering support questions online and by suggesting new ideas for giffgaff to implement.
It’s by no means compulsory for giffgaff members to get involved with the network. Indeed, only a small proportion of giffgaff members are actually active in their online community. However, for members who do choose to participate in the network, giffgaff has a scheme called “Payback” which offers monetary rewards. Members can earn up to £18 for every friend they refer and up to £100/month by posting in the giffgaff forums.
Payback For Referring Friends & Family
The easiest way to earn Payback is by recommending giffgaff to your friends and family. For every person you refer to giffgaff, you’ll earn 500 points of giffgaff Payback (this is equivalent to £5). The person you refer needs to top up their SIM card by at least £10 for you to qualify for Payback.
Frequent recruiters can earn even more by taking part in giffgaff’s Super Recruiter programme. It’s an invitation-only programme: to join you’ll need to refer at least three new members in three consecutive months. Once you’ve joined the programme, you’ll be able to earn up to £18 per referral. To earn the full reward, the people you recruit must top up monthly for the first 3 months after getting their SIM card. The referral commissions are based on volume: you must consistently be recruiting at least 30 people per month if you’d like to earn the full £18 of Payback.
In reality, it’s incredibly difficult to join the Super Recruiter programme. Consistently recruiting 3 people per month means referring 36 people to giffgaff every year. Assuming they each top-up in the first three months of use, you can earn £540/year by recruiting 3 new members to giffgaff each month.
Community Payback: Submitting Ideas & Providing Support
Another way to earn Payback is via giffgaff’s online community forums. Here, members are asked to suggest ideas for the network. They’re also asked to provide technical support to other giffgaff members.
The drive behind community-based support is lower operating costs without telephone call centres. According to giffgaff, community-based support is faster than telephone hotlines. giffgaff claims that most support queries are answered within 90 seconds. As a consequence of reducing support costs, some of the savings are passed back to members in the form of Payback for contributing to the community.
Each month, members who participate in the community are awarded payback based on their contributions. Up to £15 can come from “basic payback” (this is from simply participating in the community). Up to another £85 can come from “enhanced payback” (this is from answering support queries and from submitting new ideas). In reality, very few people will actually earn the full £100/month of Payback – a figure closer to £10/month is probably much more realistic.
Claiming Your Payback
Once you’ve collected Payback points, there are three ways you can choose for it to be paid:
- Pay As You Go Credit. This is the simplest method of receiving your Payback: it’ll be added to your account as extra Pay As You Go credit. The credit can be used for airtime or it can be used to buy a giffgaff goodybag.
- Cash (minimum £10 payout). Providing you’ve earned at least 1,000 points of Payback (equivalent to £10), you can ask for your Payback to be sent as cash. Payments will be made via PayPal (from here, you can spend it online or you can withdraw it to your bank account).
- Charity Donation. You can also ask for your Payback points to be donated to charity. If you choose the charity option, giffgaff will match your donation. For example, 1,000 points of Payback is normally equivalent to £10 in cash. If you make a charitable donation, giffgaff adds an extra £10 giving you a total donation of £20 to charity.
Payback is made twice every year: once in June and once in December. You’ll be sent any Payback earned up to the start of that month.
When claiming your Payback, there are two important things to be aware of.
Firstly, giffgaff requires you to re-select your payment method in each Payback cycle (i.e. you’ll need to log in to choose the option of credit, cash payment or charity donation). If you don’t select a payment method during the Payback cycle, your points will roll over once into the next 6-month cycle. There’s a maximum of only one roll-over: the second time round your Payback points will expire.
Secondly, you’ll need to make sure your giffgaff SIM card remains active. You must have used your giffgaff SIM card in the three months preceding Payback. This means having at least one chargeable event (e.g. buying a goodybag, making a phone call, sending a text message or accessing the internet). If your SIM card is inactive, any Payback points on your account will expire. Please note there is also a six month inactivity period after which your phone number will also be lost.
To start earning Payback, grab a free SIM card and activate it online. You don’t need to use giffgaff as your main network but you’ll need to use the SIM card at least once every three months.
Being a purely low-cost offering, giffgaff doesn’t offer in-store support or a telephone hotline where you can ask questions. Instead, support is a purely online-only affair. There are three standard support channels: a knowledge base on the giffgaff website, an online community and the ability to “ask an agent” for account-related queries.
General Queries: Knowledge Base & Community
Commonly asked questions are normally answered within the knowledge base articles. At present, there are several hundred articles which are all searchable to find the answer you require. The knowledge base articles are all maintained by elected members of the community (the members are known as giffgaff’s knowledge gardeners).
If your query isn’t answered within the knowledge base articles, you can post your question on the online help forums. At the time of writing, the online help forums have more than 5 million posts. The average response time is around 90 seconds: comparing favourably to the time it takes to get through a customer support line.
After posting your queries on the giffgaff forum, it’ll normally be answered by other members of the community. Members providing the best answer will receive Payback as a reward for their contributions. One common issue is quantity of answers rather than quality: replies can sometimes be brief and lacking in detail.
As an effort to improve the quality of support, giffgaff has launched an Approved Helpers scheme. Members are invited to take a series of tests before answering queries. The multiple-choice tests are designed to ensure a basic level of knowledge amongst those participating in the help forum. Before taking part and answering questions of your own, it’s well worth taking these online tests.
Account Related Queries: Ask An Agent
For queries relating to your account, it’s possible to contact a giffgaff agent. Common reasons to contact an agent might be payment-related queries, a problem with your mobile service or a question about something on your account. You must also contact an agent if you’d like to remove restrictions on your accounts (e.g. the over-18 content filter).
Agents can be contacted securely through a form on the giffgaff website. The typical response time from an agent is around 6-8 hours with 100% of cases normally responded to within 24 hours (check the giffgaff notice board for up-to-date statistics). Agents can be reached 7 days a week between 8am in the morning and 10pm at night.
Compared to other mobile networks, a disadvantage of giffgaff is that account-related queries can take longer to process. With most other networks, you’re able to call a telephone support line. Though you may need to spend a bit of time on hold, you should normally get an immediate response once connected to an advisor on the phone. With giffgaff’s “ask an agent” system, you may need to wait a few hours before getting a response.
Popularity & Number of Subscribers
In 2013, giffgaff gained 405,000 subscribers bringing their total to around 1.2 million members. The previous year, they added 532,000 subscribers giving a total of 800,000 members. The growth in subscribers has made giffgaff the UK’s fastest growing mobile network for the past few years.
Keeping Your Phone Number
If you’re switching to giffgaff, it’s super-easy to keep your current phone number. The process involves two simple steps and shouldn’t take any longer than 24 hours.
Firstly, ask your old network to provide you with a PAC Code. A PAC Code is nine-digits long and authorises the transfer of your phone number to giffgaff. It’s a legal requirement for your current network to give you a PAC Code: they must do this within 2 hours of your request.
Once you’ve got the PAC Code from your old network, order your SIM card from giffgaff’s website. Once the SIM card has arrived in the post, fill in this form on giffgaff’s website. After you fill in the form, your number transfer will normally be scheduled for the next working day. Until this happens, you’ll continue receiving coverage on your old network.
For a step-by-step guide on transferring your phone number to giffgaff, please select your current network provider:
|PAC Code Finder: Transfer Your Phone Number to giffgaff|
For more information, please see the giffgaff website. You can also order a free giffgaff SIM card by clicking this link.
I'm a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005 with the aim of demystifying mobile technology for the rest of us.
Before writing about mobile technology, my background was in space & atmospheric physics. I have also worked in software development. Nowadays, I help companies to explain mobile technology to their customers. Please check out my portfolio or get in touch for more information. I'm also on Google+.