Sprint lied! Any cheap cell phone plans to heal the hurt?
October 7, 2011 6:21 PM   Subscribe

What is the cheapest cell phone plan in the U.S. available with one of the major carriers, no data wanted or needed, and not a lot of minutes needed either?

My dad was with Sprint who recently canceled their lifetime Pioneer Plan (no annual fee, just pay 35 cents a minute) that was magical for my dad who uses about 15 minutes a year. He is so sad because first of all they lied because it's not lifetime since they canceled it and second of all he has to figure out a new cell phone plan!

He wants the cheapest thing possible with one of the major carriers, really only needs around 100 minutes a year if that and doesn't want data or anything resembling a smartphone. He also doesn't want to pay a lot for a new phone.

He is thinking about doing a T Mobile pay as you go plan that is $100/yr for 1000 minutes and when the year is almost up he can pay $10 every 3 months to keep his minutes active. Can you beat that?
posted by scrubbles to Technology (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Have you spoken to T-Mobile directly? I know someone who has T-Mobile and pays by the minute. I know it's not an advertised plan, and I think it might even be less than 35 cents/min. You might be able to buy a cheap, unlocked GSM phone off of eBay or Amazon and use that plan. It's at least worth asking about.
posted by nel at 6:33 PM on October 7, 2011

Tracfone (prepaid) - $99/year, including airtime and 400-600 mins depending on deal. You can carry minutes over from year to year - bonus. If you use all the minutes, I calculated that it is about 7c/min - with the same rate for roaming - which makes emergency use really undramatic. I have never failed to get a good signal, anywhere in the USA - had the same plan for > 7yrs with no problems.
The cheapest phone is $20. Which makes it an exceptionally good deal.
posted by Susurration at 6:41 PM on October 7, 2011

Consumer Cellular. $10 a month, quarter a minute, as long as you pay the $10, the phone stays active. They also have monthly plans that include minutes. Check their plans page.
posted by deezil at 6:45 PM on October 7, 2011

Page Plus. I never had the "standard plan" but I think a $10 top-up every 120 days should be considered "replenishing" your account.

You can use many Verizon phones (buy used on ebay). There's list here.

Customer service wasn't great (at least a few years ago), but it uses the Verizon network which means it gets great coverage.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:45 PM on October 7, 2011

Virgin Mobile pay as you go can be had for $20 every 90 days.
posted by COD at 6:53 PM on October 7, 2011

Best answer: The $10 card from T-Mobile every 90 days would give him 120 minutes to use over the course of year for $40. If he does find himself using more, he can buy another $10 or even a $30 card to top off early and not run out of minutes. The $100 plan would be nice if he actually used the minutes and he doesn't' have to worry about having to replenish the account with every quarter. The cheapest phone T-Mobile sells is $20.
posted by birdherder at 6:53 PM on October 7, 2011

Best answer: I am on the T-Mobile plan, and I'm _pretty_ sure that it at least used to work so that if you paid the $100 once, adding money at all added a year to all your minutes - I know I only added $10 at the 1 year mark, but I've started using it a lot more since then. And they may have changed their ways.

Not sure I worded that clearly, but I'm pretty sure it worked so that I only needed to add $10 once a year, not once a quarter.
posted by ansate at 7:02 PM on October 7, 2011

I would go with Tracfone. It is very inexpensive, the coverage is good, and it's easy to track your usage.
posted by candasartan at 8:06 PM on October 7, 2011

T-Mob doesn't let you top up automatically on a less frequent schedule than monthly, but as birdherder says, if he's fine with buying a top-up card every 90 days, he'd likely get by on $10, four times a year with a basic GSM phone that's either unlocked or T-Mob locked. (No need to pay that $100 up front -- that just guarantees that the credit lasts for a year, and any additional credit also has a year's validity.)

Ask friends/family to check their drawers for long-abandoned basic phones -- if they're current AT&T subscribers, they may be able to get them unlocked gratis.
posted by holgate at 8:35 PM on October 7, 2011

I've been really happy with the plan you mention. Each year I've added $10 of minutes, all previous minutes rolled over to the next year. So yes, there is the initial cost, but after 5 or 6 years, I'd say it costs about right.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:02 PM on October 7, 2011

I can also recommend the pre-pay Page Plus plans. I buy a $10 card (100 minutes) every 3-4 months. Like the T-mobile plan, your old minutes keep rolling over as long as you keep replenishing within a certain period. That's every 120 days for Page Plus.

They also offer an annual pre-pay card, $80 for 2000 minutes, that has a one-year replenishment deadline instead of just 120 days. In case that's more convenient.
posted by Lirp at 9:23 PM on October 7, 2011

The absolute cheapest are both prepaid:

$100 for 1000 minutes on T-mobile (expire in 1 year). This gives you gold status which will make any additional purchased minutes refresh your minutes for another year. (ie 1000 minutes the first year, 2nd year add $10 and all your minutes won't expire for another year. The longer you go the cheaper it will be.

$80 for 2000 minutes on PagePlus (expire in 1 year).
posted by wongcorgi at 11:57 PM on October 7, 2011

I signed my aging cellphone-less mother up with Virgin Mobile like five years ago, and she's used her phone less than fifty times. Ten of those were for an emergency. She also called AAA four or five times.

At the time it was something like $20 every three months. So $20*4*5=~$400. It's still some of the best money I've ever spent. The funny part is that she has like $94 in the account, and sees this as a loss. Come on mom, buy some ringtones! Or games!

It really depends on the usage. Is it for day to day cell usage like a non ~65 year old woman who doesn't really use a phone much, and would just use it for emergencies? Or will she be on it all the time?

YMMV, but being able to get an extremely nervous call from my mom when she missed her flight home from L.A. was worth every penny.
posted by Sphinx at 1:25 AM on October 8, 2011

I would check out Boost mobile! It is pay-as-you-go, 10 cents a minute, no contract. You have to buy the phone, about $50, but it seriously is no contract and pretty cheap. You can get it through Sprint stores. I have their no-contract everything included plan and have used it with travelling, and have had no problems with either the phone or reception.
posted by shortyJBot at 6:22 AM on October 8, 2011

Virgin Mobile uses the Sprint network (and is owned by Sprint now), so that would be the least painful in terms of reception changes.
posted by smackfu at 7:48 AM on October 8, 2011

Virgin Mobile, using the Sprint network, also has a pay-as-you go no monthly fee, no contract, minutes are 20 cents. Down side, IMO, is their phones are crap, acceptable, but crap.
posted by NorthCoastCafe at 10:36 AM on October 8, 2011

You don't need to pay T-Mobile $100 immediately to gain gold status - that gets triggered once the total amount you've paid them reaches that mark. So you could do the $10/90 days thing for 2.5 years instead.

Once you're 'Gold' minutes renew the account for an entire year. They don't expire so long as the account is active. So that's 300 minutes / 2.5 yrs vs 1000 minutes / 1 yr for $100, or 1060 minutes / 3 yr for $120.

T-mobile also often runs promotions where you can buy a $20-$25 prepaid phone and it comes with $10-$25 of credit.

Page Plus is significantly cheaper per-minute than T-mobile; they use Verizon's network and have, in my experience, superior coverage. I've found it impossible to get through to their support.
posted by unmake at 7:43 PM on October 8, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the great information! Turns out my dad can continue to pay by the minute with Sprint so he is going to stick with that. It's definitely the cheapest option for someone who only uses his phone every couple of months for short conversations!
posted by scrubbles at 10:31 AM on November 11, 2011

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