Can I get rewards when I sign up to a broadband deal?
Yes you can, and they're everywhere. Many broadband providers offer rewards to try and entice you to take up their services. They cover everything from gift cards and gadgets, to cold hard cash.
But it isn't quite as simple as it seems. Rewards exist with the sole purpose of making a deal seem more attractive. The promise of "Free Stuff!" is one of the oldest sales tricks in the book, and the lure can be hard to resist - especially when an offer is only available for a limited time. But a free gift doesn't automatically make the deal better value, and it certainly doesn't guarantee that it's the right deal for you.
Yes, some rewards come in the form of cashback or a bill credit. These make your broadband cheaper and are definitely worth having - but only if it makes the deal better value than you can get elsewhere. And then there are the other types of reward, whose value is harder to work out. A free case of wine is a lovely gift that many people would enjoy. But is it worth committing to an 18 month contract for?
If you're still at the stage where you're comparing broadband offers you need to work out exactly how much the reward is worth to you - if anything - and in some cases you should ignore it altogether.
And remember that rewards don't just come into play when you're comparing different providers. Some broadband suppliers will offer you a bigger and better reward if you choose to take a more expensive package.
What kind of rewards can I get with a broadband deal?
The range of rewards you can get with a broadband deal is vast and varied. They change all the time, and are usually only available for a short while.
Whatever they are, rewards fit into one of several categories:
- Cashback or bill credit: money back or discounted from your bill, equivalent to a free month (or more) of broadband, or a refund on your upfront costs.
- Prepaid reward card or gift card: such as a MasterCard loaded to a certain value, or a gift card you can use on the high street.
- Money off other services: like a cheap NOW TV subscription, or a few months of free Spotify. Providers that run mobile networks might also offer you an extra data allowance on your phone plan.
- Free gifts: these range from things like nice chocolates or a case of wine to gadgets like a tablet or an Amazon Echo. These are less common, but arguably the most attractive. Who doesn't like being given shiny things for free?
In some cases, providers will let you choose between a couple of different rewards - either some money off your bill or a case of wine, for example. If you're really lucky, they'll give you a Combo reward where you get a free gift PLUS a cashback offer.
What's the difference between cashback and bill credit?
One takes less money from you; the other gives you money back. Bill credit and cashback serve the same basic purpose, but they work in very different ways.
A bill or account credit means you get a certain amount of money deducted from your first bill. If there's any credit leftover it will then be taken off your second bill, and so on. This normally results in you getting between one and two months of free broadband, and it all happens automatically.
With a cashback offer your broadband supplier sends you a cheque. The value will be in the same ballpark as a bill credit, but you have to remember to claim it first. Cashback is a little bit of a marketing trick because, since you receive a cheque, it's so tempting to think of it as free money. In fact, your provider is simply refunding you a chunk of what you've already paid, which you in turn pay into your bank account.
So really it's no different to having had the same amount deducted from your bill in the first place, via a bill credit.
If you're looking at a deal that offers cashback or credit, check the "first year cost" of that deal and subtract the value of the credit. That will show you how much you'll really be paying, and make it easier to compare against other packages. The good news is that we already do that for you, so the first year costs we display include the savings from cashback and bill credit offers.
How do prepaid reward cards and gift cards work?
Prepaid and reward cards are appealing because they give you a nice lump sum of cash to spend. They aren't the same, though, and their worth to you might not be either.
A prepaid reward card is not dissimilar to a cashback offer. You don't get a cheque, but what you do get is a pre-loaded card of a set cash value with few limitations on where you can spend it. They're usually MasterCards and you can use them anywhere that accepts that type of card. It won't cut your broadband bill in the way that cashback or credit does, but you can use it to pay for other regular outgoings. You can use it for your week's grocery shopping, for instance, or even withdraw the cash from an ATM (although you might be charged a couple of quid to do that).
Gift cards and the like also have a straight cash value, but are slightly less valuable because there are restrictions on where you can use them. You might get something like a Love2Shop card that can be used in loads of places on the high street, but just as often they're tied to a particular store. John Lewis and iTunes are among the brands you'll commonly see here. If you aren't a regular shopper in these stores the reward might not be all that useful.
On top of that, some gift cards are in the form of eGifts, so you can only use them online.
And what of those rewards that give you a discount on other services? These are the least useful. A cheap NOW TV or music streaming subscription is great if you were planning to use those services anyway. Otherwise, they really aren't. In fact, they could end up costing you more if they entice you to take up a subscription you wouldn't have bothered with otherwise.
Should I choose a deal based on the reward being offered?
Only you can decide which broadband service is right for you. Rewards complicate things and can easily lure you into making the wrong choice.
Before you commit to a deal, ask yourself these questions:
Would you sign up to this broadband deal even without the reward?
You're going to be signing a 12 or 18 month contract so you have to be sure it's right for you. Ask yourself, would you choose this same provider and this exact deal if there was no reward attached?
How much is the reward really worth?
Not just the actual value, but how much is it worth to you? A £50 bill credit is easy to figure out. But what about 5GB of free mobile data? If it enables you to take a cheaper phone plan it could be worth £5 or £10 a month to you. But what if you're already tied in to a lengthy mobile contract, or you don't need the extra data allowance? If you don't need it, it is't worth anything.
Does the reward cut the price of the broadband deal?
When you've got a cash reward like cashback, bill credit or potentially even a reward card, take a look at the "first year cost" of the deal and subtract the value of the reward. This shows you how much you'll really pay. You can't do the same with a box of chocolates.
Is your chosen package still within your budget?
Some broadband suppliers offer better rewards for their more expensive bundles. Even after you've chosen which company you want to go it's still possible to be tempted into paying more for a better plan simply because the reward is more attractive.
Could you get another broadband deal and buy the reward for less money?
If the reward is a gift that you do want, check whether you could buy it separately and pick up a different, cheaper broadband deal. Compare the first year cost of your chosen deal with similar but cheaper packages where you buy the item as well. Which is lower?
Could you sell the reward, or claim a cash alternative?
The small print will almost always say you cannot claim a cash alternative, but some rewards - tech gifts, especially - are pretty easy to sell on Ebay, if that's you're thing. Or maybe you've got a family member who would appreciate it as a present?
Given that rewards and deals change so frequently, is this even the best time to switch?
A lot of reward offers are designed to rush you into making a decision. Should you commit to an okay deal with a so-so reward today, or can you afford to wait a few weeks and see what else comes along?
How do I receive my reward?
Here's the important bit: you don't usually receive your rewards automatically, you have to claim them. And that's only the start of the rules and instructions. Make sure you know the following before you commit to buy.
- You have to claim your reward. A bill credit should be applied automatically, but every other reward needs to be claimed. If you've got a combo reward you might even need to claim both parts separately. It should go without saying, but make sure you remember to do this. Especially if you're the kind of person who likes to sign up for something then forget about it.
- You might have to wait before you can claim. You'll have to wait until your broadband has been installed before you can make your claim. There might be an extra wait on top of that, too, like 14 or 30 days. You should get an email when it's time to claim with instructions on how to do it.
- You only get a short window to claim. Even when you're eligible for a reward it isn't available forever. You normally only get between 30 and 90 days to claim your prize. Once the window has shut, it's gone.
- It'll take a while for the reward to be delivered. You can expect to wait as long as 45 days for your reward to be delivered. This is particularly important if you're getting a free gift you thought you could give to someone as a present. Don't assume it will arrive in time for their birthday.
- You need to activate reward cards. When you get a reward card or gift card you might need to activate it before you can use it. This might involve creating an account with the card provider, and will probably with have it's own deadline as well.
- Reward cards can expire. Once activated, your reward card is likely to expire within 12 months. Don't forget to spend your cash.
Basically, what we're trying to say is that you should read the small print when you sign up. There are lots of gotchas that can catch you out and leave you empty handed. Know what you need to do - and remember to do it!
What else do I need to know about broadband rewards?
For something so fun, broadband rewards can be awfully complicated. Here's a few last things you need to know before you sign up.
First, check that you're definitely eligible. Sometimes there are conditions attached to the reward. Like, you need to be in the provider's low cost service area, or you need to sign up to a particular contract length. Because the rewards of often quite prominent on the sales page it's easy to assume you're automatically going to get it. That's not always the case.
Next, check the offer is still in date. Offers tend to end at midnight, and listings pages might not be updated immediately. When you click through the provider's website to sign up, double check that the reward is still listed there. And finally, where you do get a combo reward, do make sure it is definitely AND and not OR. As always, give the small print a good once over so you know exactly what you're signing up to.