Back-to-school is prime time to get a better phone plan. Here’s what to know

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Canadians looking to cut line items from the household budget as inflation bites would be wise to try trimming down their mobile phone bills during the back-to-school season, according to some experts.

Stephen Clark, senior writer at price comparator WhistleOut, says that back-to-school is one of the three times of the year that wireless rate plans see price drops, with Black Friday and Boxing week being the other two hot spots.

But before you start hunting for more data at a better deal, it’s critical to know what your needs actually are, he says.

Clark says the first step is to download your past 12 months’ worth of bills and take a look at how much data you actually use, both on an average basis and in the heavier months.

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Read more: How to save on clothes, electronics for back-to-school amid high inflation

Many Canadians have deals with way more data than they use, he notes, and end up paying for a more expensive plan than what actually fits their lifestyle.

“Once you’re armed with that information, then you can really call your provider and say, ‘Hey, I’m only using at-most this much. Can you come up with a deal where I’m paying less than I am right now?’”

Switching often a good way to get a better deal

The widespread Rogers Communications outages last month and the ensuing backlash pushed the company to offer a five-day credit to customers affected by the disruption.

Clark says he hasn’t yet seen the company offer cheaper plans or other incentives to hold onto their frustrated customers.

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While it’s always a good bet to start within your existing carrier to find a better deal, moving to a new provider could be the best way to trim down on your bill, Clark argues.

“A lot of people will find that being a long-time customer doesn’t always have that much of an effect. And when it comes to cell phone providers, quite often switching is what you have to do,” he says.

While the prospect of switching might sound like a headache, the Canada Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) Wireless Code has been modified in recent years to make the process a bit smoother.

For example, carriers cannot charge cancellation fees on any wireless contract after two years.

Under the code, Canadians can also bring their own phone and keep their number when switching providers. The phone just has to be unlocked, meaning it’s not tethered to a particular provider. Any phone less than four years old should be unlocked by default, but if it’s not, your carrier can unlock it for you as a free service.

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Gerry Wall is a consultant who’s tracked pricing in the telecom industry for the CRTC for most of the past 14 years. He says that depending on where they live, most consumers will find discounts by turning to their regional providers with more defined networks rather than one of the nationwide incumbents.

“If you want a better deal out there, you can look to your regional player in most cases,” he says.

Bundling can be cheaper, but watch out

Wall says that most of the major telecoms such as Rogers, Bell and Telus sell their services on the back of their well-known brands. It appeals to some consumers to go with a “known entity,” with the expectation that their service levels will be better.

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He cautions that some resellers — companies such as PC Mobile or good2go who piggyback on the major telecoms’ networks but provide their own, often at cheaper pricing — could take longer to come back online after a disruption.

“If there’s an outage like Rogers just had, maybe you’re not going to get the same recovery,” he says.

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Similarly, while some Canadians could get a discount on their plans by bundling multiple services such as phone, internet and television, Wall cautions that diversifying your service providers could mean you’re not stuck without any connectivity in the event of an outage.

“I’ve looked at those bundling opportunities and I could save money. But to me, I just like to have the security of not being stuck when one of those things goes awry,” Wall says.

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While Canada is still among the most expensive countries in the world for telecom services, overall, wireless mobile plans have been declining in price and improving in quality over the decades Wall has been analyzing the industry, he says.

But that doesn’t mean savings will come to you. Knowing your bill and pressing your provider to give you a better deal is an important part of finding the best deal for the services you need, according to Wall.

“You can’t just be a passive consumer in this world,” he says. “You’ve got to fight.”

“There are better opportunities out there. And I think providers have wiggle room. They will relent.”

Disclaimer: WhistleOut compares phone and internet plans publicly on offer from 19 mobile service providers across Canada, based on search terms. The company receives a fee from some providers if you click through to their sites from WhistleOut, but does not receive a commission on any sales and does not rank carriers that partner with the company higher than others.

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