Cellphone Plan for Someone Who Dislikes The Phone
July 28, 2009 12:26 AM   Subscribe

Recommendations for a cheap cell plan?

I haven't had a cellphone in years. I'm thinking of getting one again. I would barely use it, and am thinking about one of those pre-paid deals. If anybody has experience or recommendations on this, I'd really appreciate your advice. Thanks!

By cheap I'm wondering if there's anything within 20-30 bucks a month.

It would be just something I'd use in case of emergencies and maybe 4 calls a week at most (2 of them being fairly lengthy long-distance, in-state calls, however.)

I don't need access to the internet or texting via the cell phone.

(If there are any really good deals out there, I'd love to get rid of my landline in the process, too.)
posted by thisperon to Technology (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Lengthy and pre-pay don't go together that well.

I'm on a Virgin Mobile plan that requires me to buy 100 minutes ($20 for 20c per) every 3 months and the minutes don't expire, but they don't offer this exact plan any more.

AT&T also has a decent prepaid minutes plan, if you buy in bulk $100 in minutes they last a whole year before going to minute-heaven if you don't use them.

You can also downgrade your AT&T landline to only be able to dial local and toll-free, which reduces its cost to $10/mo.
posted by @troy at 12:36 AM on July 28, 2009

T-mobile prepaid. Buy a $100 (1000 minutes) refill off the bat and you're given "gold" status, which means all your minutes last for a full 12 months. This could mean as low as $8 a month if you're not using a lot of minutes. Additional refills (even if they're less than $100) will also last a full year once you're a gold member. The v195 is a rock solid, no frills phone.
posted by sharkfu at 12:38 AM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think T-mobile has the best deals. You'll want to add increments of $100 (and get 10 cents a minute) and once you hit $100 in refills, your minutes don't expire for a year, and any subsequent refills will net you 15% more minutes.

If you don't mind using VOIP for home, you can use Skype with Google Voice to get free calling at home (buy a Skypein number and use GV to make calls).
posted by wongcorgi at 12:39 AM on July 28, 2009

You are in need of Bill Shatner (Cell-phone negotiator!). Think much, much cheaper. I have a prepaid plan that costs me about 8 dollars a month from T-mobile; it's 100 bucks for like 1000 minutes (and some 15 percent bonus for extra minutes), that last a year. I buy the minutes in bulk, because the rates are crap otherwise. Additionally, the bulk rate minutes expire after a year instead of 90 days, and extend when you buy more time.

1000 minutes is about 1.3 hours a month. So this isn't for everyone. If you really do need lots of phone time, other plans may be more economical. Carriers really want to put people into higher plans than they actually use; I don't think anyone in my family comes close to maxing out their plan.
posted by pwnguin at 12:45 AM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

n-thing t-mobile (and also the Moto V195, whose standby charge is approximately a week). You can get discounted (often 12% less) cards from callingmart.

That's what I use. The seriously thrifty folks on fatwallet and similar forums seems to favor Tracfone and/or NET10, lots of coupon codes, "double minutes for life" cards and whatnot.
posted by unmake at 1:03 AM on July 28, 2009

This company is who I use for my business. No contract. Ultra-simple free phone, which is all I need. Superb customer service, which I've only had to contact once. And their bills are easy to understand!
posted by BostonTerrier at 2:41 AM on July 28, 2009

I bought a Tracfone about a year ago and am very happy with it. The DMFL (Double Minutes for Life) option is a must have. Bonus codes are always available online. I paid $99 for one year of service and 400 minutes. DMFL doubles the minutes and with a bonus code which gives you 200 extra minutes totals 1000 minutes for $99. Depending on what you mean by "fairly lengthy" this might be a good deal for you.
posted by boby at 3:41 AM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Check Virgin Mobile. They have a plan that's

If you can smush all your calls into one or two days, you should check for the prepaid plans that are $1 per day and then 10 cents a minute, T-Mobile has that for sure.

Or, if you're calls really are long but you can do them at night, Virgin Mobile has a $29.99 plan that has unlimited evenings after 7pm (and 300 weekday minutes).

That's at the top of your price range but pretty flexible, really.

I've used Virgin Mobile for prepaid calling and T-Mobile for their flexplay plan, and I stuck with T-Mobile for their cheap data. But otherwise, I think I've preferred VM. T-Mobile kind of sucks.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:49 AM on July 28, 2009

T-Mobile also has something where you can dump in $10 every 3 months on the pre-paid to keep the account alive. That's what I use for my in-laws, who use the phone very infrequently. The main trick is that you have to remind yourself to manually dump in said $10 every 3 months, as this refill period isn't on their auto-refill schedule.

Of course, if you're doing a couple of "lengthy" in-state calls per week, you may opt for the $100/year option other people have mentioned. But the $10/quarter deal is very good if you only expect to use the phone for emergencies.
posted by chengjih at 5:05 AM on July 28, 2009

Oh, should have mentioned: you need to check that whatever carrier you choose has good coverage where you expect to be.
posted by chengjih at 5:07 AM on July 28, 2009

Cell phone plans assume that you' ll exceed your maximums and then pay extra or that you'll pay extra for unlimited services. And that you care about "cost per minute." If you are a infrequent user, as I am (less than one call per day), you can have cell phone service at less than $10 per month.

Get the minimum "minutes plan" from Virgin Mobile and opt to have the top-up done automatically and charged to a credit card. I've never used all my "minutes" and currently have a $balance equivalent to 340 unused, rolled-over minutes (you can roll up to 5000).

I don't care about cost-per-minute, local or long-distance, national or international. (They're all "prepaid" for me.) All I know is there'll be a charge on my credit card every 90 days for, in my case, $16.20, which will be added to my $balance.
posted by RichardS at 5:16 AM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have Virgin Mobile, mainly for cheap phones and cheap usage. I pay $5 a month for 200 texts, and $.18 a minute. I think new subscribers are $.20 a minute, or you can buy 'minute packs' that require you to reup every month, or $100 for a year without having to worry about refilling unless you use your minutes, or... Basically, there's a way to tailor a plan to how you use your phone.

VM was also the least hassle for me to get signed up with (all online, phone was FedEx'ed for free), and when I had my original phone die, they replaced it for free, and FedEx'ed overnight on their dime as well. Yes, some of the phones and services are a bit 'youth' oriented, but it works.

One great thing I've discovered is that Target offers a top-up card that gives you $20 airtime, and card and keychain that you can swipe at the registers to refill automatically. Evey 4th time you refill, you get a bonus $20.
posted by pupdog at 5:17 AM on July 28, 2009

An excellent plan for a little-used phone which I've just bought from Virgin Mobile: buy a phone ($14.99) then during online activation buy $60 of airtime. The minutes are 20 cents each but they don't expire for a year.

I actually bought a $90 airtime card at the same time as buying the phone (at Rite Aid) because the card said it was good for a year, and didn't see until activating that $60 would have been enough.

Note that you can't buy "$60" exactly. There are cards for $90, $50, $30 and $20. So use two $30 cards or some other combo, provided the total of $60 is added within three days.

The non-expiry of the minutes isn't very clear on the website, but I followed up with emails to Virgin Mobile support, who were helpful in clarifying that yes, $60 lasts a year.
posted by anadem at 5:20 AM on July 28, 2009

2 of them being fairly lengthy

As described above, this doesn't go well with pre-paid, especially depending on how long "fairly lengthy" means. You might look into T-Mobile's MyFaves 300 plan--300 anytime minutes per month plus five "MyFave contacts" (phone numbers you can call for any length of time without affecting your minutes). It's $40/month, which is obviously above the price range you're looking for, but might be the closest to what you need.

Also, depending on what part of the country you're in, look into MetroPCS. I hear very good things about them and their prices, but they don't have the widespread coverage of the big companies.
posted by jgunsch at 6:06 AM on July 28, 2009

I have ATT prepaid. My plan is $1 on each day you use it, plus 10 cents a minutes for the length of the call. I buy $100 of minutes per year, and usually end up rolling them over at the end of the year.
posted by Ostara at 6:06 AM on July 28, 2009

Addendum: MetroPCS does not require contracts.
posted by jgunsch at 6:07 AM on July 28, 2009

I have the T-Mobile Pay as You Go plan. I've spent about $50 on minutes in the last 3 months. I got the handset for $20, but it included $25 in minutes, so the phone was basically paid for.

I'd highly recommend it.

On review: the daily plan from T-Mobile may be a better fit for you.
posted by reenum at 6:22 AM on July 28, 2009

I have the same ATT plan as Ostara (GoPhone). I've been happy with it. It's worth noting that calls to other AT&T customers are free, excluding the dollar per day charge. If your lengthy calls are to AT&T customers, I'd say it would definitely be worth it. I spend 25 bucks on a recharge every 2-3 months.
posted by Otis at 6:48 AM on July 28, 2009

just to build upon what jgunsch said: MetroPCS's smallest plan is $40. It includes unlimited local and long distance. Very few fees tacted on (I have that plan +$5 for a text plan, and all together with taxes and fees costs me around $50 per month).

I really don't have any complaints (well I do, but they're text message related).
posted by royalsong at 6:53 AM on July 28, 2009

Compare cost per minute, cost per text (sent & rec'd), cost of keeping the phone active and coverage.

I ended up assuming someone's tracfone account, giving me years of service. It also gave me DMFL and I was also able to port my number to the account. I got a new phone for 30US, offset w/ minutes. With many pay-as-you-go(payg) plans, you not only buy minutes, but also days of active service. The tracfone customer service rep was calm, helpful, knowledgeable and not in a hurry. Getting the account set up this way was obviously a pain, but the customer service was really great. My tracfone minutes are .10 US, and less if I buy them online and get deals.

Tracfone seems to have good coverage. AT&T has great coverage. The person whose account I assumed got a Boost account; coverage is sketchy, price was good.

Are you getting the phone as a landline replacement? Even at .10/minute, my payg phone is cheaper than the landline, even if I talk a few hours a month.
posted by theora55 at 9:08 AM on July 28, 2009

7-11 stores prepay phones offer free long distance.
posted by Muirwylde at 12:16 PM on July 28, 2009

...and free nights and weekends.
posted by Muirwylde at 12:16 PM on July 28, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, folks! I guess because my lengthy calls do tend to exceed an hour each, the $100 for 1000 minutes a year probably won't work for me. But I had no idea they even had plans like that!

Currently I pay $20 for local service and use one of those long distance calling cards when I need to call outside the area code.

I guess I should just keep the local service for now and get the cheapest "emergency" type phone possible, which sounds like getting one of these $1 a day (+ additional minute) plans.
posted by thisperon at 2:06 PM on July 28, 2009

It may be worth checking around to see if someone local has reviewed the service providers for reception in your area. I've seen things relating that one company can be great in one city/area, not so good in another.

I've had Virgin Mobile and the call quality's been good in the SF Bay Area. Gotta say, though, that their customer service has been really bad.

I've recently gone through this and unless I missed something, there's not an enormous amount to choose from in terms of per-minute rates, etc.

Oh, I got an LG phone. Not impressed. Nokias I've had have been much better.
posted by ambient2 at 3:26 PM on July 28, 2009

Best answer: AT&T Go Phone Pre paid phone have a plan in which it will cost you $3/day if you make or receive a call. But that's it. So for $3 you can make unlimited national calls on that day (Until mid night)
Seems like that's the best plan for you since you need to make 2 lengthy calls per month.
posted by WizKid at 7:57 PM on July 28, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips. I think I'm going to go with the Go Phone...it sounds like what I need for those few times when a cell comes in handy.
posted by thisperon at 3:10 PM on July 29, 2009

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