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Optus vs Telstra Phone leasing: Whose plans are better value?

Both Optus and Telstra now offer the option to lease a handset, but whose deal offers better value to consumers?

For years, when you signed up to a mobile contract, it was with the understanding that the handset that you were given would be yours at the end of the contract. It wasn’t "free" to speak of, with either the cost of the handset built directly into the plan, or added on as a handset repayment.

More recently, however, Telstra introduced the facility to lease mobile phones on a contract under its Mobile Leasing scheme. Optus followed up by announcing its own version of phone leasing for consumers under the My Plan Flex branding.

The key benefit with phone leasing is that you pay less each month for your total phone package. You never actually own the phone under a leasing arrangement, but both carriers will allow you to swap it out after just 12 months for a fresh phone, at an additional cost. At the end of your standard 24 month contract you either return the phone to your carrier or buy it off them at an agreed price.

Telstra vs Optus: How much will I save?

Both carriers tend towards a $10 discount per month, which means the general maximum you’re likely to save over a 24 month contract is logically $240. That’s a reasonable saving over a mobile contract presuming you don’t incur any other charges.

However, it’s not a flat $10 saving at every combination of phone and plan tier. That’s especially true if you opt for a low-storage phone on a high-priced plan, where often the handset cost of the phone is essentially built into the plan pricing.

As an example (and ignoring data inclusion factors), here’s the raw pricing data for an iPhone 8 256GB on Optus’ current plan tiers, including your total maximum savings:

Optus plan comparison

iPhone 8 256GB My Plan Plus Monthly My Plan Flex Monthly Saving 24 Month contract difference
$45 Plan $82 $72 $10 $240
$65 Plan $87 $77 $10 $240
$85 Plan $97 $87 $10 $240
$105 Plan $105 $105 $0 $0
$125 Plan $125 $125 $0 $0

Here’s Telstra’s ownership plan vs lease pricing for the exact same handset:

Telstra plan comparison

iPhone 8 256GB Monthly plan cost Monthly leasing cost Saving 24 Month contract difference
$59 S Plan $96 $86 $10 $240
$79 M Plan $106 $96 $10 $240
$99 L Plan $116 $106 $10 $240
$119 XL Plan $126 $119 $7 $168
$199 Ultimate Plan $199 $199 $0 $0

Not much of a difference between the two telcos, here, until you get to the higher tiers. Optus' leasing plans lose their price advantage once you hit the $105 plan, whereas only Telstra's top-end $199 Ultimate plan charges the same for leasing and purchasing an iPhone 8 256GB.

It’s a similar story when you tweak upwards, choosing a handset with more features and a higher outright price point.

Here’s the comparison of pricing between Optus’ current plans for the Samsung Galaxy Note9:

Optus plan comparison

Samsung Galaxy Note9 128GB My Plan Plus Monthly My Plan Flex Monthly Saving 24 Month contract difference
$45 Plan $95 $85 $10 $240
$65 Plan $95 $89 $6 $144
$85 Plan $95 $85 $10 $240
$105 Plan $115 $105 $10 $240
$125 Plan $132 $125 $7 $168

And here’s Telstra’s comparison for the same phone:

Telstra plan comparison

Samsung Galaxy Note9 128GB Monthly plan cost Monthly leasing cost Saving 24 Month contract difference
$59 S Plan $114 $104 $10 $240
$79 M Plan $119 $109 $10 $240
$99 L Plan $124 $114 $10 $240
$119 XL Plan $129 $119 $10 $240
$199 Ultimate Plan $199 $199 $0 $0

So in general, if you’re looking to lease a phone, you'll save ever so slightly more with Telstra compared to what you'd pay purchasing the same handset. The flip side of that is the fact Telstra generally charges a premium on access to its network, so an Optus plan with similar data inclusions will usually end up a little cheaper than its Telstra equivalent. There's also the question of your mobile reception area and general usage, because there’s not much value in a plan that doesn’t cover you where you live, work and play.

Telstra vs Optus phone leasing: Phone swap charges

Under Optus’ My Plan Flex plans, if you want to swap out your handset after 12 months, you can do so for $99, presuming that there’s no damage to the original phone. Telstra offers the exact same facility with its leasing plans at that same $99 after 12 months, but also provides another option to upgrade after 18 months for no cost at all.

If you do damage your phone, the amount you’ll pay depends on the precise nature of the damage. Optus advises that "easy fix" problems will incur a charge of at least $229 will apply, but for more serious damage charges of up to $499 will apply.

Telstra follows the same pricing scheme, with a $229 fee for a phone with minor damage such as a cracked screen and a charge of $499 if your phone doesn't work at all. Other repair charges can range "up to $499" so that will be a matter of both the handset in question and the cost of repair.

However Telstra does also advertise the possibility of keeping the existing handset and swapping out to a new one. In essence, if you change to a new phone, you can choose to keep the old one by paying what Telstra determines as "fair" market value at the time. The phone then becomes entirely yours to do with as you like.

Telstra vs Optus phone leasing: handset options

If you’re after a wide range of handset choices, Telstra’s leasing plans apply to slightly more handsets than Optus. As of October 2018, Optus offers ten handsets on its My Plan Flex leasing plans, whereas Telstra's leasing plans cover more than a dozen different handsets.

Ultimately, though, the range of leasable smartphones is pretty similar across the two telcos. Both focus on offering leasing options for the latest and most expensive handsets, which at the time of writing consisted of phones like the iPhone Xs, the Google Pixel 3 and the Samsung Galaxy Note9.

Telstra vs Optus phone leasing: What happens at the end of my lease?

Optus’ setup for its My Plan Flex leasing offers you a couple of options at the conclusion of your 24-month contract term. If you’re done with the handset and it’s still in fine working order, you can simply return the handset to conclude the contract. Alternatively, you can choose to buy it outright at what Optus determines to be the fair market price. If you don’t want to keep the phone and it’s damaged, the same repair pricing as at the 12-month upgrade period applies.

If you don’t contact Optus, your existing leasing contract rolls over for up to two more months, at which point Optus will charge you its determined price for the phone and conclude the contract. From a practical point of view, this means the longest you can lease a single handset from Optus is 26 months.

On the Telstra side, matters are essentially the same. You can opt to hand in a working handset in good order and conclude your contract or buy it outright from Telstra for its determined market price. You can also choose to keep paying your monthly plan and handset fees for another six months, at which point Telstra will automatically charge you a non-return fee equal to that determined market price.

Can I swap my phone out if I'm on a regular Telstra or Optus contract?

You certainly can. Telstra was first to market with its New Phone Feeling offer, which allows customers on full contract terms to re-contract for a new phone after twelve months. Optus has its own version of much the same scheme, marketed as the New Phone Trade Up deal which you can read more about here.

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Alex Kidman

Alex Kidman is a multi-award-winning consumer technology journalist and the Tech & Telco Editor at finder.com.au. He's been writing about consumer technology topics for more than two decades, and enjoys breaking down complex topics into their component parts. He has written for just about every major Australian technology publication, and is a former editor of Gizmodo Australia, PC Mag Australia, and CNET.com.au.

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