Brits travelling to Europe this summer risk racking up extra mobile charges - even if their network provider offers free EU roaming.
This is due to many networks imposing a Fair Usage Policy (FUP), which puts a cap on the amount of mobile data consumers can use while on holiday before incurring a fee, regardless of their plan at home.
On Tuesday, giffgaff is set to reduce its FUP restriction from 20GB to 5GB. Customers who go over the limit while abroad will be charged 10p per MB to continue roaming. This means that using an extra 1GB without buying a new plan will cost at least £100.
On 26 September, Asda Mobile, which runs off the Vodafone network, will cut the amount of data its roaming customers can use from 25GB to 5GB, with a 10p/MB out-of-plan charge. This is part of a number of changes that will also affect the provider’s pay-as-you-go customers.
The data cap in a FUP can vary wildly across providers. Vodafone has set its bar at 25GB, while Three’s is under half that at 12GB. EE and Sky Mobile have not imposed a cap, although under the government’s rules, customers that roam abroad will not be able to spend more than £45 a month on data.
O2 and Virgin Media, who claim their customers can roam like at home, both have FUPs in place. While O2’s fair usage limit is 25GB for all customers, Virgin Media’s limit is linked to the cost of a customer’s overall monthly plan. This means for every £1 of your usual monthly bill, you can access 543MB of data. For example, a Virgin customer roaming abroad on a £50-per-month tariff with unlimited data at home can use a maximum of 26.71GB while roaming.
Catherine Hiley, mobiles expert at Uswitch.com, comments: “For those heading abroad this summer, the mobile roaming rules are tricky enough to understand, yet Fair Usage Policies add another layer of complexity.
“The lack of consistency from providers on data limits is hard to understand - and in the case of Virgin Media - hard to calculate. With such a range of restrictions, it could mean that families travelling on holiday may find some members run out of data far more quickly than others.
“While 5GB may seem like a fair amount of mobile data, giffgaff and Asda Mobile customers will soon face hefty fees if they break their limit without putting a new plan in place.
“Consumers on unlimited plans could find downsizing tough on their travels. If they’re used to regular data-heavy activities like downloading or streaming films, they may well hit the data wall much sooner than anticipated.
“Anyone planning to use their phone abroad should check their provider’s Fair Use Policy and, if they think they’re likely to reach the cap, consider buying a data add-on.
“While on holiday, use Wi-Fi where possible on a safe and secure connection to preserve your allowance. Alternatively, consider a plan from a SIM-only provider without a Fair Use Policy, like ID Mobile. They offer a 50GB deal for £10 a month or an unlimited plan for £16 a month.”