As many of you know, Tim and I finally got prepaid cell phones in preparation for the separate trips we’re taking. A couple of you expressed interest in how we chose the provider, so I’ll do a breakdown of plans.
One caveat: Once the trip is over, Tim and I will rarely use the phones. After the trip, they’ll mainly be there in case we have an accident or break down. So if you’re looking to use a phone for talk/text more regularly, take my advice with a grain of salt. If you want a phone for data as well, I’ve listed those options at the end of the post.
Also, the cash back amounts listed are only for the phone purchase. The only exception is Verizon through Ebates.
Verizon was quickly ruled out. It chargse 20 cents a minute, and the cheapest phone (in-store at least) was around $30. Both of those amounts are twice that of AT&T. I didn’t bother finding out more, like how long before the minutes expire. Anyone who has used Verizon prepaid, please feel free to mention more details in the comments.
AT&T’s 10 cents/minute is the lowest rate I found. The phones were more affordable. It was $15-20 for a basic flip phone. That said, the low-end smartphones were pretty reasonable too.
I didn’t choose it because the minutes expire in 30 days. The least amount we could initially put on would be $25. There’s no way we’d use that many in a month. Expiration dates do get extended when you buy more, but that still means $25/month to keep any minutes on there.
Another option is a daily flat rate of $2 — but only on days you use the phone. That said, “use” refers to making and receiving calls/texts. I think it’s only while the phone is on, but that means any time your phone is on, you run the risk of getting dinged $2. That can add up quickly. Also, you still have the issue of expiration dates.
For the record, my mom has the $2 plan, and is very happy. Then again, most friends and family try not to call that number unless it’s important.
After much searching through the site, I finally discovered that it does offer individual minutes for their phones. It’s advertised as 10 cents a minute or flat daily rates of $2-3 (depending on how much data you use) But the deal isn’t as good as it sounds.
There’s an automatic $3 charge per month. You get 3o minutes, but if you don’t actually use the phone much, that’s not great.
Also, the minutes issue is very confusing. Your minutes don’t seem to expire. As long as you have a balance at the end of the month, you’ll continue to get 10 cents/min. Except that the refill card don’t equate. You get 30 minutes for $10, 160 for $30, 400 for $50 and then only at $100 do you get the promised 10 cents/min.
I thought maybe after the initial purchase, the company just goes based on what you paid for the refill card, but the cards’ descriptions read like this:
This card provides:
- 400 minutes for your Prepaid – Pay As You Go
- $50 you may use toward other T-Mobile plans
“Other T-Mobile plans” makes it sound like you’re just getting the minutes if you choose Pay As You Go. If that’s correct, the minutes rate varies between 10 – 33 cents/min. Maybe there’s something I’m missing.
Tim has a grudge against this company for reasons I can’t recall, so we didn’t even consider it.
This is the company we chose, although it doesn’t have the best minute rate. Actually, on the face of it, the dollar-to-minute ratio is terrible: 60 minutes for $20. The company tricks you into feeling smart by either doubling or tripling the minutes when you use one of its phones.
We got basic, $15 flip phones, so our minutes double. That means we’re getting 120 minutes for $20. This means we’re still paying nearly 17 cents a minute, but it was still the best plan. Why? These minutes don’t expire for 90 days. If I’m going to have to keep refilling minutes at $20 a shot, I want to do that every three months, not monthly.
For those of you interested in data, here’s all of the prepaid services I could think of:
Straight Talk: $30 for unlimited talk/text & 100 MB data. Unlimited plans start at $45 for one month up to $495 for a full year. Mr. Rebates: 10%; Extrabux: 24%; Ebates: 13.5% up to $23.50. NOTE: Make sure you go to the Straight Talk store on cash back sites. Purchasing through Walmart won’t be eligible for a rebate.
Sprint: $35 for unlimited talk/text & 1 GB data; $45 for 3 GB; $55 for 6 GB. Mr. Rebates: $30; Extrabux: $28; Ebates: $11.60 NOTE: I’d check with Mr. Rebates/Extrabux to make sure even cheap prepaid phones are eligible for such large rebates.
T-Mobile: You get unlimited talk/text on all plans. It touts no data overages. Best as I understand it, the data limits just refer to 4G LTE speeds. $40 a month for 500 MB; $45 for 2 GB; (weirdly) $50 for 1 GB; $60 for 3 GB; $70 for 5 GB; $80 for unlimited. Mr. Rebates: $10; Extrabux: $8; Ebates: $7.50
Verizon: Unlimited talk/text & 500 MB data for $45. Add 500 MB for $5 (expires in 30 days); $10 for 1 GB (90 days); $20 for 3 GB (90 days) Mr. Rebates: $20; Extrabux: 8%; Ebates: $15 & 5% on service replenishment
MetroPCS: Unlimited talk/text/data. $40 for 1 GB 4G LTE; $50 for 3 GB; $60 for unlimited. No cash back available
Cricket: Unlimited talk/text/data. $35 for 1 GB 4G LTE; $45 for 3 GB; $55 for 10 GB. Prices are for Auto-Pay users. Taxes & fees included. No cash back available
Ting: Technically, it’s post-paid. But there’s no contract, and you pay for what you use. They’ll pay 25% of your Early Termination Fee if you’re in a contract. Average bill per device (according to the company) is $21 a month. If you use the address http://phil.ting.com you should get a $25 credit in your account.
What are your experiences with prepaid services? Did I forget any? If you’ve ever used T-Mobile, please explain the refill card rates thing.