giffgaff review - a neglected network

By Adrian Vincent - 9 Feb 2024, 19:51 giffgaff review - a neglected network
2.5 / 5
  • Free EU roaming up to 5GB
  • Wide range of plans to choose from
  • Payback scheme still ongoing
  • Occasional good phone deals
  • 5G with all plans
  • Powered by O2, who have the worst coverage and slowest download speeds
  • Prices are no longer competitive
  • No WiFi or 4G calling
  • Other MVNOs offer better value

giffgaff was a pioneering network. Founded as a subsidiary brand of O2 in 2009, giffgaff was the first network to popularise 1 month rolling plans, with a generous amount of data per month at some of the cheapest prices around.

However, since then, many other networks have caught up.

giffgaff are no longer the cheapest network. There are many new MVNOs in the space, offering more data for less money.

In addition, O2 have lagged behind when it comes to coverage and download speeds. They are simply the worst of the 4 major networks, with a 5G network that is struggling to compete.

With no WiFi calling, a lack of additional benefits and no call centres, we’re struggling to find reasons to recommend giffgaff.

giffgaff are not the most expensive network, and you do get free EU roaming with all plans, so it’s certainly not all negative - but we’re really looking at the bottom of the barrel here.

When compared to other networks, particularly similar MVNOs such as SMARTY and VOXI, giffgaff leaves a lot to be desired. What was once a network at the forefront in the budget space, has become neglected, exacerbated following the O2 and Virgin Media merger.

An odd selected of SIM plans

Founded as a subsidiary brand of O2 in 2009, giffgaff was the first network to popularise 1 month rolling plans, with a generous amount of data per month at some of the cheapest prices around. However, since then, many other networks have caught up.

Although giffgaff still offer 1 month rolling plans, they’ve recently shifted their focus to 18 month contracts. This is particularly evident when visiting their homepage, as it’s the first product that’s advertised above the fold.

They also offer pay as you go plans. These are nearly identically priced to their 1 month rolling plans, except they include slightly less data, and there’s no option to automatically renew every month. Therefore, we’re struggling to see why they even exist in the first place, as they offer no additional benefits. giffgaff advertise the fact that they don’t automatically renew every month, however 1 month rolling plans can be paused, stopped and restarted at any time, effectively providing the same benefit. If anything, these pay as you make giffgaff’s offerings look like a convoluted mess and probably confuse a lot of customers.

Let’s start with giffgaff’s 1 month rolling plans. To be honest, they are no longer the cheapest network, which was their main attraction when launched in 2009. You can get more data for less money with alternative MVNOs, such as SMARTY. For example, giffgaff’s £10 rolling plan includes 20GB data, whereas SMARTY delivers 40GB data for the same price. When you also consider giffgaff is powered by O2, which is consistently ranked as the worst network for coverage and download speeds, giffgaff really leaves little to be desired in this regard.

Having said that, giffgaff are not the most expensive network out there, and their 100GB Always On plan for £25 per month is an interesting product. You essentially get unlimited data, however after 100GB, speed is reduced to 384 kbps, from 8am to midnight. With such speed limits, streaming video and music may be problematic, however it should just about be sufficient for messaging apps such as WhatsApp, as well as simple web browsing. It basically gives you peace of mind, knowing you will always have access to data, without paying £35 for the truly unlimited plan with no speed restrictions.

Plan Data Speed limit
£6 2GB -
£8 5GB -
£10 20GB -
£12 26GB -
£15 35GB -
£20 100GB -
£25 Unlimited 384 kbps after 100GB
£35 Unlimited -

giffgaff’s 18 month contracts are fairly similar to their 1 month rolling plans. Most plans cost the same, but include a bit more data for your money.

One interesting thing to note is that they don’t require a credit check. In addition, they are flexible in the sense that you can downgrade or upgrade your plan during your contract on a monthly basis, as many times as you like.

You can also get the Always On plan, which is similar to the plan offered with a 1 month rolling plan, except it includes more data at 120GB data, instead of 100GB.

Plan Data Speed limit
£8 6GB -
£10 25GB -
£15 40GB -
£20 120GB -
£25 Unlimited 384 kbps after 120GB
£35 Unlimited -

Now while you do get more data for your money when compared to 1 month rolling plans, the increase is not a significant amount. So we don’t think it’s worth locking yourself into an 18 month contract for just a bit more data. Although you can cancel the contract early, you’ll have to pay 50% of the total remaining months on your contract. For example, if you’re on a £20 plan, and you decide to cancel at 10 months, you’ll have to pay £80 - the remaining 8 months at a 50% discount (£20 x 8 months, then 50% off). It just doesn’t sound worth it.

And finally, giffgaff’s pay as you go plans. As we mentioned earlier, these aren’t even worth looking at. They cost the same as their 1 month rolling plans, but include less data. giffgaff, if you’re reading this review, just get rid of them.

Plan Data Speed limit
£6 1GB -
£8 4GB -
£10 15GB -
£12 25GB -
£15 30GB -
£20 80GB -
£25 Unlimited 384 kbps after 80GB
£35 Unlimited -

A few additional benefits, but not much

For 1 month rolling plans and 18 months contracts that cost £10 or more, you’ll get an extra 1GB data after you’ve paid 3 consecutive months (excluding Always On plans). The additional 1GB will be added every month to your allowance, as long as you continue your plan.

All plans also include unlimited minutes and texts, as well as 5G connectivity powered by O2’s network.

There are no mid-contract price rises for 18 month contracts. The amount you pay will remain the same throughout the duration of your contract.

giffgaff also offer an app for iPhone and Android phones. You’ll be able to manage your plan and check your remaining allowances for the month, but otherwise it’s pretty basic. Unfortunately, there’s no rewards scheme like O2 Priority.

Payback scheme is still ongoing

One of giffgaff’s main selling points when originally launched was its Payback scheme. Although still ongoing, it’s not advertised as much on its homepage.

Essentially, giffgaff customers are rewarded points for posting on the community forum, referring friends and family to giffgaff and offering suggestions to improve the network.

Points can then be traded in June and December, for cash, account credit or charity donation. 1 point per worth 1p.

We’ve noticed the community forum is very active because of this. There are multiple replies every minute, as customers are essentially being paid to post. You’ll also get additional points when someone likes or upvotes your post.

For referring a friend, both of you will receive 500 points (£5).

We don’t think the Payback scheme alone is a good incentive to become a giffgaff customer. Most networks offer similar referral schemes. In addition, you don’t get many points for participating on the forums - you’ll essentially have to be posting 24/7 to see any noticeable amounts.

Phone plans with 0% interest

Although giffgaff are primarily known for their SIM plans, they’ve recently started offering phone plans, but not in the traditional sense.

Essentially, giffgaff sell SIM free phones (new and refurbished), but provide the option to pay with Klarna, to split the cost over 12, 24 or 36 months. This is basically a loan with 0% interest, similar to payment plans offered directly from Apple and Samsung.

However, you’ll have to pay a small upfront cost. This starts from £20 for most phones, and £25 for more premium phones such as the iPhone 15 Pro. If you prefer, you can pay a larger £50, £100 or £200 upfront, for smaller monthly payments, or even pay the full cost upfront.

Note that the total cost of the phone stays the same, regardless of the contract duration or upfront cost.

As far as value is concerned, giffgaff are very competitive, with similar prices compared to Amazon and other retailers. We frequently see their phone deals pop up on websites like Hotukdeals, which is a good sign.

One small caveat is that you have to purchase a giffgaff SIM plan with your phone. You can pick any plan starting for £10, including 1 month rolling plans and 18 month contracts. If you just want the phone, you can purchase a £10 rolling plan and then cancel it immediately, so you don’t need to pay for any more months.

giffgaff also offer an extended 21 days return period - longer than the 14 days required by law.

Overall, their phone plans are very competitive, and are even a good choice if you don’t necessarily want to become a permanent giffgaff customer, as you’re only required to commit to a SIM plan for 1 month.

Not the best coverage

Being powered by O2 is not one of giffgaff’s best features. O2 is consistently ranked at the bottom for UK coverage, within multiple independent tests and studies.

In RootMetrics’ recent report for UK network performance, O2 ranked bottom for availability, with 90.8 points.

However, although O2 is ranked the worst of the major networks for coverage, that doesn’t necessarily mean their coverage is bad. It simply means they aren’t as good as EE, Three and Vodafone.

O2 claims to deliver 4G coverage of over 99% of the UK population. In addition, in 2023, O2 set their own record for investment in infrastructure, adding 4G to an additional 241,000 postcodes, and introduced 5G to 300 towns and villages.

5G is lacking, but is being improved

All giffgaff SIMs and plans include 5G at no additional cost. Being powered by O2, you’ll get decent 5G coverage, but not the best.

Over 50% of the population can currently access O2’s 5G network, with availability in over 3,000 towns and cities across the UK.

O2 claim their 5G network is 35% quicker compared to their 4G network. This isn’t quite as fast as other networks, as we’ll explain in the following section.

Slowest download speeds in multiple tests

As a result of utilising O2’s network, giffgaff unfortunately have some of the slowest average download speeds and 5G speeds throughout the UK.

In RootMetrics’ late 2023 report, O2 ranked at the bottom for median download speeds, with 19.9 Mbps. EE was first with more than triple the speed at 68.6 Mbps, followed by Vodafone with 34.5 Mbps, and Three with 32.2 Mbps. The gap between O2 and the other 3 major networks is noticeably wide.

When looking at 5G specifically, the results are equally just as bad. Median 5G speed with O2 clocked in at 68.7 Mbps. The other 3 major networks were over twice as fast, with EE at 174.1 Mbps, Three with 165.7 Mbps, followed by Vodafone at 158.3 Mbps.

No WiFi calling is not a good sign

Now this is a surprise. We have no idea why giffgaff do not provide WiFi calling for any plans. This is particularly strange when you consider giffgaff is a subsidiary of O2, so it should be quite trivial to add support. Furthermore. most other networks and MVNOs, including newer ones, provide WiFi and 4G calling with all plans for free.

As we mentioned at the beginning of our review, giffgaff was once at the forefront for budget networks, and was somewhat of a pioneer in the space. But it seems giffgaff has been ignored and neglected by O2 in recent years, particularly following the merger of O2 and Virgin Media. When such basic features are not added, questions will start to be asked.

Free EU roaming up to 5GB per month

Following in the footsteps of its parent company, O2, giffgaff include free EU roaming with all plans, but only up to 5GB per month.

After 5GB, you’ll be charged at the same out of plan rate as in the UK, which is currently 10p / MB. Note that it equates to £100 for 1GB, which is very expensive. You’ll be automatically charged this rate if you’re on an 18 month contract, but you’ll only be charged with 1 month rolling and pay as you go plans if you have additional top up credit on your account.

For more information, check out our guide on giffgaff roaming.

Pay as you go rates are very expensive

Although the preferred way to use giffgaff is with 1 month rolling plans or an 18 month contract, you can opt for traditional pay as you go rates, which will be deducted from top up credit added to your account.

You’ll also be charged at the same rates if you go over your data allowance.

Service Cost
Data 10p / MB
Calls 25p / minute
Texts 10p / text
Voicemail 8p / minute
MMS 30p / MMS

It’s pretty clear that you shouldn’t use giffgaff this way. The rates are very expensive - you will end up paying £100 for 1GB data. Instead, if you’re thinking about becoming a giffgaff customer, take out a 1 month rolling plan or 18 month contract, where you will get far better value.

No call centres, but good customer reviews

Unfortunately, giffgaff do not have any call centres. The only way to speak to a human is to send a message to a giffgaff agent, with up to 24 hour response times.

When initially launched, giffgaff was advertised as a community network. This meant customers were directed to the community forum for help. It seems giffgaff have slightly pushed back on advertising on this front, with customers directed first to the online knowledge base for help. We did find the help section well documented, with clear answers for many common questions. The community forum still exists however, with an active community providing support.

giffgaff currently has a 4.1 star rating on Trustpilot, with over 22,500 reviews. We noticed many of the negative reviews mentioned poor coverage - giffgaff is powered by O2, who generally rank at the bottom in independent tests for coverage, so this is no surprise. With an official “Great” rating from Trustpilot, giffgaff fairs far better than its parent company, O2, who have a 1.2 rating on Trustpilot.