Phone contracts are a great way of getting the expensive handset you want without paying for the whole thing upfront. You can get an iPhone, Galaxy or similar for around £35 per month with no initial handset cost.

Of course, the 24 months of paying £35 will subsidise the cost of the phone. Thanks, maths.

The four major UK operators, and some of the smaller ones, offer you early upgrades. This can often be free, and it’s basically to commit you to paying another long-term contract with them. 

But this is a great way to get the latest handset, often at an incentivised, discounted rate. Here we break down how each offers this for you, when in your contract that is, and how much it’ll cost.

You can do it all online or within your operator's app, but you can also just go in-store to get it sorted too.

Vodafone

If you’re on a two-year contract with Vodafone, then you can upgrade two months early – that’s 22 months into your contract.

The operator offers decent deals to lock you into another long-term contract, with a specific option to ‘upgrade to iPhone’ as well as loads of different Android handsets.

You’ll need to log into the My Vodafone app on iPhone or Android or the account section of the main Vodafone website to take stock of your options.

O2

The simplest way to get an early upgrade on O2 is if you’re part of O2 Refresh. This is O2’s pay monthly option that encourages you to sign up and easily be able to get a new handset when you want one.

It works by splitting your monthly bill into two parts. The ‘Device Plan’ is the subsidised cost of your phone, while the ‘Airtime Plan’ is the cost of your minutes, texts and data. 

You can trade in your phone at any time for cash, and then use it to pay off your remaining device plan balance. Slightly confusing, but then you are free to upgrade to a new handset on O2.

If you have an O2 contract but it’s not a Refresh plan, O2 might still offer you a handset upgrade. Check here

EE

If you’re on EE, you need to check if you’re eligible for an upgrade. Click here to log in and check using your EE account, or just text ‘UP’ to 150.

EE will offer different kinds of early upgrade if you are over six months into your contract. If you are on a pay monthly SIM-only plan then it’s after three months. 

Sometimes fees apply though, so be sure to read the fine print.

EE does offer a lot of upgrade deals too, many of which are online only

Three

Three is slightly more stringent with its upgrade policy. You can only upgrade your phone plan if you are in the last 30 days of your contract, or if your contract has ended.

This applies to all of Three’s 1, 12 and 24-month contracts.

Use the Three app on iPhone or Android or on a browser to access your My3 account to check if you are in a position to upgrade.

You can upgrade before the last month or your contract, but it’ll cost you a fee. Sometimes it’s just easier to go into a store to sort it out.