Giffgaff review: The best no-frills network for service and value

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Simple plans, great service and exceptional value for money – it’s top marks for Giffgaff

Simple, flexible monthly plans
Cheap roaming outside the EU
High data allowances at low prices
Excellent customer service and satisfaction
Underwhelming 4G performance
Not the best place to buy your phone

Giffgaff was one of the original no-frills virtual networks, delivering all the convenience of a traditional monthly contract but without the commitments and all at a much lower cost. Not much has changed since it first appeared. You simply pay £6 to £35 a month for a rolling package or “Goodybag” of minutes, texts and data, and you can cancel or switch Goodybags whenever you like.

This gives you real flexibility and control; you can switch upwards if you’re likely to need more data, then flex back downwards if it turns out you’re not using it as much as you had thought, and there’s no chance of getting locked into a bad deal, either.

This approach has won Giffgaff plenty of fans, and that helps explain its excellent performance in this year’s Expert Reviews Mobile Network Awards. With Sky Mobile sweeping the board, Giffgaff doesn’t come away with any overall awards but it does win Highly Commended in three out of four award categories, making it the best of the low-cost options.

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Giffgaff review: What do you get?

All of Giffgaff’s Goodybags come based on this straightforward model. Unlimited texts and calls are inclusive, and you’re really just paying more if you need more data. We’d skip the cheapest £6 Goodybag as it comes with a measly 500MB, but the £8/3GB Goodybag is a good option if you have modest requirements.

The £10/8GB, £12/12GB and £15/15GB deals give you enough data for most activities outside of streaming for a relatively low monthly outlay. And if you do need more, the £20/80GB and £25/Always On Goodybags have you covered, with the latter acting like an unlimited contract, though your speeds are throttled after the first 80GB to 384Kbits/sec between 8am and midnight.

To make things slightly more complicated, Giffgaff now offers a selection of Golden Goodybags. These still don’t tie you in to any kind of annual contract, but you have to accept a recurring billing cycle and use a saved credit card or debit card for payment – the regular Goodybags can also be paid for through a one-off purchase or a top-up voucher. These give you even more data for your money, with 10GB for £10, 25GB for £15, 100GB for £20 or a true Unlimited data package for £35 a month.

Giffgaff’s Goodybags and Golden Goodybags aren’t always necessarily the cheapest option – you’ll still find Three, iD Mobile or Tesco Mobile sometimes giving you even more data for the same price or the same allowance for less. However, they’re always very competitive, and you’re never tied into paying the same monthly fee for the next 18 months or two years.

In any case, Giffgaff’s users feel they’re getting great value for money. Over two-thirds of those surveyed said they were very satisfied on this account, and a further 26% were satisfied, putting Giffgaff just behind Sky Mobile and just ahead of Tesco Mobile. iD Mobile might have equalled or even beaten Giffgaff here, but we didn’t get a big enough sample to include it in the survey. That means Giffgaff takes a Highly Commended in this category.

There’s just one area where Giffgaff falls short on value: buying a smartphone. The network doesn’t actually sell smartphones on a contract, and the prices it charges aren’t any lower than those you’ll pay from Amazon or Carphone Warehouse – and can be more expensive.

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Giffgaff review: Customer service

Giffgaff’s customer support is a little unorthodox. It’s primarily community-led and based around the Giffgaff website and its forums, and you only really get involved with the formal customer support team if there’s an issue with your account or if something goes seriously wrong.

However, if you were expecting that this results in poor customer service, you’d be wrong. Over half (53%) of Giffgaff users told our survey that they were very satisfied with their customer support – only Sky Mobile and Tesco Mobile scored higher. A further 32% were satisfied, and only 3% were dissatisfied.

Giffgaff also came out well from Ofcom’s latest research, with the highest score (93%) for satisfaction with the overall service of any network and good results for complaint handling, too. Only 5% of Giffgaff’s customers had any reason to complain.

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Giffgaff review: Coverage, reliability and speed

Like Tesco Mobile and Sky Mobile, Giffgaff is a virtual network running on O2. O2 still lags behind the other three major UK networks on performance, but it is improving, particularly with further investments after its merger with Virgin Media.

Over 99% of the UK population should be able to get a decent 4G signal, and though RootMetrics’ latest coverage maps show some poor signal areas in the Scottish Islands and Highlands, you shouldn’t have any issues getting a connection elsewhere. What’s more, O2 also scored highly for the reliability of its data connections in RootMetrics’ latest tests and had its network accessibility rated as outstanding.

True, O2’s UK-wide median download speed – 15.6Mbits/sec – is the slowest of the four major networks, but its speeds have also increased since RootMetrics’ last round of testing, with two more UK cities showing median download speeds of over 30Mbits/sec, and four fewer registering median download speeds of below 20Mbits/sec.

In other words, Giffgaff won’t win any speed awards, but that doesn’t mean it feels slow. In our survey, 96% of users said they had adequate speeds for web browsing and social media, 92% said the same for audio streaming, and 87% could stream video without any problems, putting Giffgaff ahead of O2 itself, Vodafone, Three and even EE. In RootMetrics’ more scientific testing EE is streets ahead, but Giffgaff’s users don’t seem to feel that they’re getting any kind of second-rate performance.

If you’re thinking of shifting to 5G, Giffgaff is getting better all the time. O2 registered three of the five fastest Everyday 5G median download speeds in RootMetrics’ latest tests, with speeds of 163.3Mbits/sec to 179.3Mbits/sec in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Leicester. Availability is also improving across and outside the UK’s 16 biggest cities, though it still lags behind EE, Three and Vodafone in eight of the metro areas where RootMetrics tests. It’s still early days for 5G, but the great thing about Giffgaff is that you’re not locked in if you feel that you could be getting a faster connection elsewhere.

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Giffgaff review: Roaming

EU roaming still comes free on Giffgaff, so you can still use your inclusive data, minutes and texts within the EU without any issues, and at the time of writing the network hadn’t announced any plans to change this. What’s more, you won’t pay ludicrous charges even where that isn’t the case. Calls come in at £1 to make and £1 to receive, while texts are 30p and data is just 20p per MB. It’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder why, if Giffgaff can keep the costs this low, other networks are so keen to rip their customers off.

The only downside is that you’ll need to top up your account with credit before you venture abroad, as Giffgaff has no facilities to pay later through your monthly contract charges, as other networks would.

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Giffgaff review: Other services and spending caps

Due to the way Giffgaff operates, there’s no option (or reason) to set a monthly spending cap. Instead, you can set up a plan to recur automatically, then start your next Goodybag early if you need to. The alternative is to pay extra for data at a charge of 5p per megabyte, or simply top up your account.

Giffgaff review: Verdict

With Highly Commended awards for value, reliability and the best overall mobile network, Giffgaff is the second biggest winner in our 2021 Mobile Network Awards, and it says something that 97% of users would recommend it to someone else – the highest percentage for any mobile network in our survey.

You won’t get the best connection speeds, but you will get a great service without any sneaky rip-off charges at a very competitive price, with a smart and engaged community behind it. With such great feedback from so many customers, Giffgaff is definitely doing something right.

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