The Best Mobile Phone Family Plans: Discounts and Data Sharing Explained

by Sandra Henshaw - , Last Updated on October 29, 2018, Buying Guides

If you’ve got a family, then monthly mobile bills might be taking a big chunk out of your budget. Fortunately, most operators offer shared mobile plans which can be perfect for families (and even housemates). But what are your options? What should you be looking for? We’ve got everything you need to know right here!

Why Get a Family Plan?

In basic terms, the advantage of a mobile family plan is financial. It’s generally cheaper to sign up for a family plan than it is to get each of those contracts separately. For most people, that’s reason enough. However, there is another reason why a family plan might work for you.

With most family plans the plan itself is tied to the main account holder (generally one of the parents). This means that only one person in the family needs to pass a credit check and sign a contract. If one of you has better credit than the other, this could be a lifesaver. And if one or more of your family members can’t sign a contract (because they’re under 18, or not a UK resident yet), then a family plan can get all of you the mobile service that you need.

Are There Any Disadvantages to shared mobile plans?

It’s tough to say if there are real disadvantages. For the most part, you’re going to have to do the math based on your family’s needs. Generally, a family plan is going to be cheaper. But there are times when it’s not (such as if younger children need only text and minutes, but aren’t old enough to have a smartphone that needs data).

One other disadvantage is that some (though not all) plans require all members to have the same phone plan. So if you as the main account holder need a lot of data, but your kids and partner don’t, then a family plan tied to your account might not be the cheapest solution.

What Are My Options?

There are really two kinds of family plan available. And at this point, it’s worth noting that not all operators refer to these plans as “family plans.” Sometimes they’re called shared plans, family sim deals or are even just advertised as multi SIM discounts. However, there are two real forms that these plans can take:

A Discounted Family SIM Plan

With a discounted style plan you’re signing up for one contract with one SIM card, and then additional SIMs and plans will come with a discount. So, for example, your medium-sized phone plan costs £15 a month, but add another SIM to that and that second plan is only £13 a month, add a third and the third plan is £11 a month, and so on.

Pros: Discounted plans are usually pretty cheap, and the more SIMs you add the cheaper they get. Everyone has their own plan, with their own allotment of minutes/texts/data.

Cons: Usually, all members are required to have the same phone plan, meaning the same amount of minutes/texts/data. This might not work out if one of you is a big data user, or if small children who don’t need data are involved.

Best For: Families where members have very similar phone usage, meaning all members use approximately the same amount of minutes/texts/data.

A Shared Plan

Shared plans work a little differently. Usually, everyone on the plan gets unlimited texts and calling (which is fairly standard in most phone contracts these days). But when it comes to data, there’s a data “pool.” Whenever a member goes online, data is subtracted from this pool until the data limit is reached. There is usually a fair amount of data in these plans, at least around 30 GB or so.

Pros: Because of the data pool, it doesn’t matter if one member tends to use more data than the others since higher usage by one person will be offset by lower usage by another.

Cons: Shared plans tend to be a little more expensive than discounted plans. And since you’re all sharing data you’ll all need to be considerate of everyone else on the plan so that there’s enough for everyone.

Best For: Families with uneven phone usage, families where young children are involved who may not need the data portion of the contract.

What Should I Be Looking For?

If you’re looking into signing up for a family or shared mobile plan, then there are some things that you should be aware of. Your main considerations should be:

Contract Length

How long a contract is should always be a concern when signing up for a mobile plan. But with a family involved, it becomes even more important. As kids grow up they tend to need more data and more calling minutes, and at some point, that kid is going to leave home and need to pay for their own phone contract or sim only deal. Only ever sign up for a contract period that you know you can keep to, since cancelling or changing a contract later is likely to cost you a bundle.

Data Amount

Again, how much data is necessary is generally a concern with any mobile contract. And with a family contract, things get a little more complicated. Ensuring that you have enough data for everyone and don’t get extra charges is important, but so is making sure that you’re not paying for data that no one uses. If possible, figure out how much data the entire family uses during a normal month (by checking old bills or digging into the settings menus of phones to find the usage tracker), and choose your plan accordingly.

Number of People

How many people do you want to add to your plan? Most family plans do have a limit to the number of SIMs that can be on one contract (which is generally five), so you’ll need to keep this in mind, especially if you have a larger family.

Adding or Subtracting Users

Many plans let you add a user at any point during the contract, though few let you take a user off the account without paying a penalty. But the ease of adding and subtracting users should play a part in your decision, especially if there’s a chance that a kid is going to leave home, or grow old enough to need a smartphone.

Overall Price

Obviously, finances play a role in your decision. And as we’ve said, usually family plans work out cheaper, but not always. It’s up to you to do the math and figure out if a family plan is a good deal for you. And don’t get suckered into thinking that you’re automatically saving money. Prices on family plans vary with operator, and if standard prices are already high that small discount might not get you decent savings when compared to prices with another company.

Bundling

Family plans usually mean discounts, but so does bundling. If you’re in a position to get not only your mobile plan but also perhaps home broadband or cable TV all from the same company you’re likely to save even more.

Other Conditions

Finally, you will also want to consider other conditions that mobile operators put into contracts. What are charges for mobile roaming, or for calling abroad, for example? If you frequently travel as a family, this could be important information. What is the operator’s policy on tethering (using your phone as a hotspot to allow your computer or another device to go online)? Does the company offer data rollover (letting unused data from one month be rolled over to be used the next month)?

Which Networks Offer Family Plans?

Most large operators offer family or shared mobile plans, though not all do. To help you make your decision, we’ve listed all the major family plan operators below, ranked from best to worse based on our own findings, along with a look at their plans and general costs to help you find the best one.

Rank Product Features Pros Cons
1
BT Mobile
BT Mobile
  • Discount style plan
  • Add up to 4 extra plans (5 total)
  • Bundle with TV & Broadband for extra savings
  • Main contract can be phone or SIM only
  • 20% saving on every extra SIM
  • Additional SIM's can be 30 day contracts
  • Lots of big data plans available
  • All members must have the same phone plan
  • Not the cheapest plan around if you’re not bundling in broadband/TV/landline

Check Price

2
Tesco Mobile
Tesco Mobile
  • Perk style plan
  • Add up to 4 extra plans (5 total)
  • Main contract can be phone or SIM only
  • Very flexible, users can have different phone plans
  • Choice of perks changes each month
  • Very cheap prices
  • Main account holder gets no control over phone usage of other users
  • If you don’t need any of the perks, there’s no real advantage to having the plan

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3
EE Shared Plan
EE Shared Plan
  • Discount style plan
  • Add up to 4 extra devices (5 total)
  • Main contract has to be 12-month+ SIM only or phone contract
  • Can be used on phones, SIMs, tablets and dongles
  • Easy to see the discount - save 10% on each added plan
  • Not the cheapest network to begin with
  • Sharing data can get problematic

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4
Vodafone
Vodafone
  • Discount style plan
  • Add up to 9 extra devices (10 total)
  • Main contract has to be 12-month+ SIM only or phone contract
  • Tons of plan options
  • Simple, easy to understand discount system
  • Very reasonable prices
  • Main account holder gets no control over phone usage of other users
  • All users must have the same phone plan

Check Price

5
Three
Three
  • Discount style plan
  • Add up to 4 extra devices (5 total)
  • Main contract has to be 12-month+ SIM only or phone contract
  • Easy to see discounts
  • Often waives up front costs
  • Not the biggest savings
  • No consistent level of discount

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6
O2 Data Sharer Plan
O2 Data Sharer Plan
  • Sharing style plan
  • Add up to 10 extra devices (11 total)
  • Main contract has to be a phone contract
  • Flexible choice of plans
  • One device can control data usage of all the others
  • Up to 10 devices can be attached to the plan
  • Shared data means potential family arguments
  • Some contracts and phones cannot be used with a shared tariff (notable contracts including the Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus)

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7
O2 Family Plans
O2 Family Plans
  • Discount style plan
  • Add up to 20 extra devices (21 total)
  • Main contract has to be an O2 Refresh deal
  • Flexible choice of plans
  • One device can control data usage of all the others
  • Up to 20 devices can be attached to the plan
  • Doesn't apply to SIM only contracts
  • Main plan must be O2 refresh

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A Closer Look at the Best Family Mobile Phone Plans

We take a closer look at the offers and discounts available in the UK when you add on a contract for family and friend to your main plan. We compare pricing, number of devices, advantages and the drawbacks of each plan.

BT Family SIM – Our Winner of Best Family Mobile Plan for 2018

bt-mobile-provider

Number of Phones: Up to five

Shared or Discount Plan: Discount

Bundling Possible: Yes, BT also offers landline, broadband, and TV plans

Contract Length: 12 months

BT’s family SIM plan is a simple discounted option. Basically, one member of the family signs up for a 12-month BT SIM only contract, and then up to 4 more 30-day contracts can be added to that main contract. The 30-day contracts automatically roll over so you won’t need to renew them, but they can also be cancelled at the end of any 30 day period, giving you more flexibility. BT also offers discounts for broadband, landline, and TV packages, meaning even bigger savings.

All members of a BT family plan are required to have the same phone plan, and prices vary depending on which plan you choose. Each extra SIM you add saves you an extra 20% against the total cost. So for some real-world examples, the cheapest plan (unlimited texts and minutes, 1 GB of data) costs £15 a month with one SIM, £23 a month with two SIMs, up to £47 a month with five SIMs. The most expensive plan (unlimited texts and minutes, 40 GB of data) costs £30 for one SIM, £50 for two SIMs, up to £110 for five SIMs.

Pros

  • Lots of big data plans available
  • Hefty savings not only for multiple SIMs, but also for broadband/TV/landline
  • Flexible 30-day contracts on extra SIMs
  • Manage from one central account or individual logins

Cons

  • All members must have the same phone plan
  • Can't add on phone contracts and make a saving
  • Not the cheapest plan around if you’re not bundling in broadband/TV/landline

Tesco Mobile Family Perks

tesco-provider-mobile

Number of Phones: Up to 5

Shared or Discount Plan: Neither, perk style plan

Bundling Possible: No

Contract Length: 12 months

Tesco’s Family Perks plan isn’t exactly a family phone plan. One user signs up for an account and is then free to add up to four more phone plans to their original plan. All plans are full cost, so there’s no discount. There’s also no shared data, and additional plans do NOT have to be the same amount of minutes/texts/data as the original plan.

However, Tesco does offer something to those who add additional plans. Once there’s more than one SIM card on your account each month each user can choose a perk. That might be more data, or more minutes, or even Tesco Clubcard points. Every user can choose his or her own perk, and it can be changed each month. And since Tesco Mobile’s prices are relatively cheap anyway, this plan could work out to your advantage. Contract prices with Tesco Mobile go from £7.50 a month.

Pros

  • Very flexible, users can have different phone plans
  • Choice of perks changes each month
  • Very cheap prices

Cons

  • Main account holder gets no control over phone usage of other users
  • If you don’t need any of the perks, there’s no real advantage to having the plan over BT

Vodafone Household

Vodafone

Number of Phones: Up to 10

Shared or Discount Plan: Discount

Bundling Possible: Yes, Vodafone also offer broadband options

Contract Length: 12 months

Vodafone’s family plan is very simple. One member of the household signs up for any full price contract, and every additional household contract gets 15% off. Easy, right? Everyone is required to have the same phone plan, and all family members must live at the same address in order to qualify.

There’s little else to say about this contract, it’s really as simple as they come. Vodafone contract prices range from £11, and go up depending on how much data you want and whether you decide to include a phone with your plan or not.

Pros

  • Tons of plan options
  • Simple, easy to understand discount system
  • Very reasonable prices

Cons

  • Main account holder gets no control over phone usage of other users
  • All users must have the same phone plan

Three Discounts

Three

Number of Phones: Up to four

Shared or Discount Plan: Discount

Bundling Possible: No

Contract Length: Any

Whilst not strictly a family plan, Three does offer discounts for multiple contracts, though these vary heavily. Depending on what kind of phone plan you have and which mobile phone you choose, you may get a discount on an additional contract that includes a phone.

These discounts vary and can be as little as £1 a month, though upfront costs for the second mobile are usually waived. This isn’t exactly a family discount, but if multiple members need new phones then it could be a good deal.

You can add these additional plans as long as you’re on a 1-month, 12-month SIM only plan or 24-month phone contract with Three

Pros

  • Up front costs on new contracts often waived
  • Discounts on phones, sim only and dongles

Cons

  • Discounts different for every plan or device so no consistency
  • Savings can be as little as £1 a month

EE Shared Plans

EE

Number of Phones: Up to five

Shared or Discount Plan: Shared

Bundling Possible: Yes, EE also offer broadband options

Contract Length: 12 months

EE’s shared plans are very similar to O2’s offering. You get one main contract either an EE sim only or an EE mobile phone contract and can add up to four other devices to the plan. All devices get unlimited minutes and texting, and you choose anywhere from 1 GB to 50 GB of data to be shared amongst all devices.

The main account holder can control data usage on other devices, including blocking certain content, as well as the other device’s ability to call abroad or use mobile roaming. EE also caps their data use, turning data off to all devices once the limit has been reached, so no surprise bills. Prices with EE go from £10 and up, depending on the amount of data that you want to have.

Pros

  • The main account holder has control of data usage for other users
  • Lots of plans to choose from
  • Super fast 4G data where available

Cons

  • Sharing data can result in problems, especially if one user uses too much
  • Not many bundling options

O2 Sharer Plans

O2

Number of Phones: Up to ten

Shared or Discount Plan: Shared

Bundling Possible: Yes, O2 also offers TV and broadband options

Contract Length: 12 months

O2’s sharer plans are extremely simple. One person signs up for a regular O2 contract which has to be at least 12 months long (there are also 24-month options available) and must contain at least 1 GB of data. After that, the main user (which O2 calls the “lead device”) can add extra SIM cards to the plan and share their data allowance with those other users (all O2 plans include unlimited texts and minutes, so these don’t need to be “shared”).

The beauty of this plan is that you can choose pretty much any regular contract that you like with O2 and share it with any of your family members simply. Plus, the lead device (which almost certainly belongs to a parent) can control the data usage of other devices, which could be handy if you have kids. Prices on O2 contracts range from £12 and up, depending on the amount of data you choose and whether you choose to include a phone in your plan or not.

Pros

  • Flexible choice of plans
  • One device can control data usage of all the others
  • Up to 10 devices can be attached to the plan

Cons

  • Shared data means potential family arguments!
  • Some contracts and phones cannot be used with a shared tariff (notable contracts including the Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus)

O2 Family Plans

O2

The O2 Family Plan’s look great on paper but when you look into the crux of the deal it’s not as good as it appears. This is because the family plan can only be used on O2 refresh plans which are structured a little differently.

O2 refresh deals are split into two parts: the repayment for the handset you got at the start of your contract, and the monthly payment for your bundle of minutes, texts and data. The discount on offer from O2 only applies to the latter, not the repayment of the handset.

The discounts are tiered for each device added, starting at 20% for the first, 30% for the second, 40% for the third and 50% for the fourth and beyond.

For a worked example, look at a  monthly deal that normally costs £30 for the phone + £10 for the airtime, so £40. A 50% airtime discount makes the total cost £35 (£30 + £5) rather than £20 (50% of the total price) as you might expect when you first see the 50% headline figure.

 

 

Pros

  • Add up to 20 devices (21 total)
  • Up to 50% discount when you add 4 or more devices

Cons

  • Doesn't apply to SIM only contracts
  • The main plan must be an O2 refresh

Final mention: Vodafone Red+

vodafone-red+

Finally, it is worth mentioning Vodafone Red+ plans. But there’s a big caveat, they are no longer available to new customers. If you’re an existing Vodafone customer and took out your main plan between 5th May 2016 and 11th April 2017, you can still get your contract converted to a Red+ one, as long as your deal comes with at least 1GB data.

The Red+ is a simple data sharing plan. One user is the main account holder, and up to 9 additional SIMs can be added to the account. Everyone gets unlimited texts and minutes, and between 1 GB and 50 GB of data is shared amongst all users.

Again, the main account holder gets full control of the account and other users data usage. This means you can set data limits for other accounts, block content, or simply take devices off offline. Prices with Vodafone range from around £15 to about £30, making them one of the cheapest options around.