Despite what some Canadian carriers would have you believe, wireless prices in Canada continue to be insanely high. But there are ways to save money on your monthly wireless bill — one of the best options continues to be frequently switching carriers.
Speaking from my own experience (and also the experience of many members on the MobileSyrup team), carrier hopping can lead to a few benefits. For one, if you keep an eye on wireless pricing, you can take advantage of sales and discounts to get lower-than-usual prices. Frequently plan switching has also made hot win-back offers — often that are better than in-market sales — more available for both myself and other members of the MobileSyrup team.
Swapping providers got me better and better deals
For example, over the last few years, I’ve routinely jumped between Koodo, Bell, and Telus to take advantage of deals and win-back offers. In my experience, none of them were willing to match offers to keep me as a customer — which is why I currently have service with Fido — but after making a switch, carriers usually sent me better offers to win me back.
A while back, I had a discounted plan with Bell thanks to a work perk, but I lost that discount after joining MobileSyrup. I switched to Koodo and later received a stellar win-back offer from Bell that Koodo wouldn’t match. After going back to Bell, Koodo tried to get me back with some special offers, but it never matched (let alone beat) the Bell deal I had. Last year, shortly ahead of Black Friday, Koodo’s parent company, Telus, called me up with an offer that finally beat Bell — $45/mo for 25GB of data. But when Black Friday arrived a couple of weeks later with $45/mo 50GB plans, Telus refused to bump up my data, and I left for Fido.
Since Black Friday 2022, there haven’t been any offers that come close to the $45/50GB promo, though I have received multiple win-back attempts from Bell. But I’m in no rush to switch again — I’ll hold onto the $45/50GB plan until an equal or better deal comes along.
Unfortunately, not everyone will get win-back offers, but you don’t necessarily need them to get good deals. Read on for tips on how to get the best wireless prices.
Tips and tricks to save on wireless
Make a realistic assessment of your needs
First and foremost, I’ve found it important to have a realistic picture of what you need from your wireless plan. This can help you avoid overpaying by getting features you don’t need. Some things to consider include:
- How much data do you need? Do you work from home and spend most of your time on Wi-Fi, or do you commute and stream Netflix from the train? Alternatively, think about how often you go over your data or if you even use your monthly allotment.
- What calling/messaging do you need? This is less important than the data portion, in my experience, since most plans now come with unlimited Canada-wide calling and texting. Still, if you have family or friends outside of Canada, or if you do a lot of travelling, it’s worth looking into international calling and messaging options, roaming packages and more.
- Do you really need 5G? Canadian 5G is a bit of a mixed bag and, at least so far, generally means you’ll pay more for a marginal speed boost. In recent years, most Canadian carriers added speed caps to their plans. For example, flanker brands like Fido and Koodo offer 4G LTE data, but cap speeds at 100-150Mbps. Meanwhile, the Big Three offer 5G plans with speeds ranging from up to 250Mbps to 1Gbps, depending on how much you’re willing to pay. Do you really need gigabit speeds to browse TikTok on the bus? Probably not.
- You can bring your number with you! Porting your number is free and relatively easy to do when you switch carriers, so you don’t have to worry about losing it.
Avoid buying a phone from your carrier
As a general rule, I avoid buying a phone from my carrier. The main reason for this is that buying a phone can lock you into a two-year contract that makes it more difficult or costly to leave your carrier. However, getting a phone could also mean paying a higher monthly cost if your provider limits which phones are available with which plans.
For example, at the time of writing, Koodo had a $39/mo 20GB plan, but if you want to get a phone, you need to get at least a $60/mo 40GB plan. And that’s before the extra cost you need to pay each month for the phone.
Instead, do some math — ugh, yes, I know! But it can help put things in perspective. Compare the cost of getting a phone with a carrier — including the cost of your monthly service — with getting one outright or on a financing plan direct from the manufacturer. Take the iPhone 13 as a quick example:
- With Koodo: the iPhone 13 is $235 plus $33/mo for 24 months on Tab Plus with a minimum $60/mo 40GB plan ($93/mo total).
- With Apple and a Koodo plan: iPhone 13 is $0 plus $41.62/mo financing from Apple, plus $39/mo 20GB plan ($80/mo total)
- If you do the same $60/mo 40GB plan, it’s $101.62 a month, which is still cheaper overall when you factor in the $235 upfront cost to get the iPhone from Koodo, plus you have the freedom to switch plans if a better offer comes along.
Naturally, the math won’t always work out this way — there will be instances where it does make more sense to get a phone from a carrier. But it’s something worth looking into when it’s time to get a new phone.
Buy online to avoid extra fees
One concern with frequent carrier switching is connection fees. Most carriers charge some kind of connection fee when you sign up with them. At the time of writing, the fee was around $50 for most providers. However, almost every carrier waives the fee if you sign up online. If you’ve already got a phone and are just swapping plans, it can be really fast and simple to do an online swap and dodge the fees, though some carriers might still charge you for a SIM card.
If you do need to go into a store, always ask if they can waive the fee or provide some other kind of bonus.
Watch for pricing “booms” and “busts”
Wireless pricing goes through what I like to call “boom” and “bust” periods. For example, during popular sale times like Black Friday and Boxing Week, prices “boom” with excellent deals. But after the dust settles from those big sales, prices can “bust” by going back to pre-sale costs, or even going higher than what was on offer before.
In my experience, Black Friday is almost always the best time to get a new plan, and Boxing Week can be good as well. Beyond that, I find providers often have decent deals during the summer and leading into the Back-To-School season. Outside of these seasonal sale times, we can get surprise “booms” when one provider kicks off a mini price war. For example, shortly before writing this post, Freedom Mobile rolled out a $50/mo plan with 40GB of data — other providers, like Fido and Virgin Plus, rushed to match it.
Learn about value and local brands
It’s well worth the time to get to know what value and local wireless providers are available to you. If you’re a frequent MobileSyrup reader, you likely already know that Fido, Koodo and Virgin Plus are flankers of Rogers, Telus and Bell, respectively. The three flankers generally have better prices than the Big Three, though you might lose out on features like 5G. But more than that, the Big Three have value brands like Chatr, Lucky and Public Mobile (Public recently got 5G, making it one of the better options for fast, low-cost data). There are also providers limited to certain provinces or regions, like Vidéotron (for now), Fizz, or Sasktel. Depending on your wireless need, chances are you can save a lot of money by ditching the Big Three.
Watch out for “value adds” that don’t add value and other scummy practices
Another way to save money is by keeping an eye out for value add-ons that don’t always add value. These can appear in various ways, such as a plan that comes with international calling when you don’t need international calling. Bundling is another technique I’d say falls under this — on paper, it might look like you’re saving money by grouping your wireless and home internet, but it can make switching providers more difficult in the future.
Learn when it makes sense to stay
While switching carriers is generally the better option, sometimes it does make sense to stay with your current provider. If you’ve been with one provider for a while, you might be benefiting from an old plan that’s better value than the options out there today. Alternatively, some carriers hand out bonus data or exclusive plans to existing customers, which can make the plan you already have even better. Just because there’s a hot deal doesn’t mean you need to switch if your existing plan serves you well (though I’d argue if switching saves you money, it’s always worth it).
Ultimately, it comes down to this: regardless of how loyal a customer you’ve been, your provider won’t hesitate to make you pay more if it can, so you shouldn’t hesitate to switch and save yourself some money.
Got more tips to save money on wireless plans? Share them down below.
Update 19/06/2023 8:39am ET: Added clarification about which value brands have 5G.