Best broadband deals: how special is that special offer?
THERE'S no shortage of broadband providers advertising once-in-a-lifetime deals, but it can often be hard to tell just what constitutes a genuinely great offer.
Many of the bigger ISPs seem to offer perpetual deals that change only a little, or have a selection of offers that they keep on rotation; other providers prefer to keep their promotional deals by for special occasions.
So which special offers are really special?
We'll start by looking at the kinds of offers available from the biggest ISPs at the moment, then we'll take a closer look at the kinds of incentives being offered and when they count as truly good deals.
Current ISP offers
The number of households able to get fibre broadband is increasing all the time, but there's still only a finite number of customers for broadband providers to fight over. That helps increase the amount of competition when trying to snare new business.
In alphabetical order, here are the current main deals for each of the biggest ISPs in the UK.
BT used to be known for offering new customers Sainsbury's gift cards of varying amounts, but they now favour prepaid MasterCards and discounted prices.
Here's what they're offering at the moment:
Sky almost always have a range of special offers running, with different deals available depending on which services we already have, and which ones we're interested in getting.
These are the main deals running at the moment for completely new customers:
TalkTalk used to be famous for offering free or incredibly cheap broadband (when we paid for their line rental).
They now prefer to offer fixed prices for the duration of a contract - although the contracts that come with the "special offers" tend to be longer than standard:
There's more on TalkTalk's packages, contract lengths and service in this review.
Virgin Media have a knack for increasing the value of their packages with each additional service we agree to take from them, but sometimes they also run "proper" special offers with discounted prices or freebies up for grabs.
Here's what they're offering at present:
What makes a good deal?
The easiest broadband deals to assess are also the most common: those offering money off, or money back in some form.
Following changes brought in by the Advertising Standards Authority at the end of last year, providers must now advertise deals using their total monthly price (including line rental), and make it much clearer how much a package will cost after the promotional period ends.
When we post an offer in our specials table, we include that information upfront - look for mention of "usual price", "price after x months" or similar.
Some deals are incredibly good value - we've seen two broadband plus line rental offers recently where customers would basically pay no more than the cost of the line rental for the first year.
But we've also seen introductory offers where the promotional price was less than 50p cheaper than the regular monthly price.
Most money off deals will fall somewhere between these two examples - and it's worth bearing in mind that it's common for standard broadband to be offered for the equivalent of £5 or less on top of the cost of an ISP's line rental.
Cash back and vouchers
As mentioned above, if they're not offering us money off, many ISPs will offer us money back. Straight cash back, prepaid credit cards or vouchers are all popular.
The amounts vary from provider to provider, and package to package - BT always offer higher value rewards to potential Infinity customers than they do to those signing up for standard broadband, for example.
One trick providers use when offering these kinds of deals is to offer them for limited periods, appealing to our sense that we might miss out if we don't pounce right now.
When the deal is a straightforward cash back offer, this is often justified - they're often only around for about a fortnight at a time - but there are some providers who offer cash back on a fairly regular basis.
Plusnet, for example, seem to offer cash back with one or more of their broadband packages for a few weeks at a time at least once every couple of months.
BT and Sky in particular also tend to offer vouchers and / or prepaid credit cards on similar not-quite-regular but almost predictable cycles. Expect lower value rewards to come around fairly frequently - those who can be patient stand the best chance of being able to nab the biggest returns.
Another point to bear in mind here is that signing up at a particular time only makes us eligible for these rewards - it's often the case that we need to claim our cash, card or voucher after our broadband has been activated.
It's the same situation with the free gifts that some ISPs like to offer instead of (or sometimes as well as) a discount or cash back.
These are much more difficult to quantify, even if they're given a cash value.
The question we need to ask ourselves when looking at a broadband deal offering some kind of free gift is how much use we'll be able to make of it.
We've seen a few small ISPs offer free or discounted streaming media devices for example, which are highly likely to appeal to the younger, cord-cutting audience that they aim their broadband packages at.
The bigger ISPs have to try to appeal to a broader range of people, and that can lead to some unusual either/or gift options - a £100 Bluetooth speaker or a case of wine, for example.
Again, these offers are only any good if we remember to claim them - otherwise they're really no good at all, no matter how much they're worth.