Switching from expensive AT&T iPhone plan to bare-bones phone/plan
March 16, 2015 3:33 PM   Subscribe

Right now I pay AT&T $120 each month for iPhone talk/text/data service. For the past several months, all I have really used is maybe 1-2 hours of talk per month and perhaps 100 texts. I don't use the data at all. I miss ye olde $40/month Cingular plan on my indestructible Nokia brick of yore. How do I get back to that place (and keep my current phone number)?

I want to swap my iPhone 5 for a feature phone and the cheapest talk and text plan possible, with no contract. What are my options? I've been poring over google results but I'm confused. Should I just buy a pay-as-you-go phone from Walgreens? If yes, can I keep my phone number? How "dumb" of a phone can I get these days? (Like I said, I really miss my Nokia brick.) Should I do the $40 per month MetroPCS plan? Would that require buying a new phone?

If you've done something similar, tell me all about it!
posted by Munching Langolier to Technology (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Google seems pretty ignorant about pay as you go options. Before I got my smartphone (a year ago) I would lose or break my dumb phone about every 6 months. I was/still am on the Att pay as you go plan. It was very simple to walk into best buy, pick a phone and have them port my number over. They do all the setup for you. The bill comes out of my account monthly.
posted by bleep at 3:40 PM on March 16, 2015

I'm sure this will get some pushback, but I currently have a Tracfone and it suits my purposes fine. It's pay-as-you-go, so you buy minutes in advance (that come with a time limit). If you pick the right phone, all minutes that you buy are doubled or tripled (so for instance, if you have a triple minute phone, you can spend $100 to buy a 400 minute airtime card and it turns into 1200 minutes on your phone, and you have a year to use them before they expire - some airtime card options here). I recently upgraded from an old Tracfone brick to an Android-style Tracfone, so I'm not yet as familiar with how the data aspect works, but I'm sure you can find out. In my experience the minutes are under 10 cents each, which is very cheap if you're not planning to talk extensively. I looked at pay-as-you-go options a few years ago and came to the conclusion that Tracfone was the cheapest if you weren't using all that many minutes. I combine it with a Skype unlimited-calling-to-landlines-and-cells plan which is also very cheap ($3/month?), which I use when I'm not on the go, and with those two together I have a much lower monthly rate than I could ever get with a major carrier.
posted by ClaireBear at 3:42 PM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

How do you feel about $35/month? My guy switched to Cricket recently and it's been just fine. You can still use the smart parts, keep your phone. They are owned by AT&T. Here are a few other options along the same lines.
posted by jessamyn at 3:46 PM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

AT&T themselves offer unlimited talk and texting for just $25 through Cricket Wireless. They also offer very cheap plans with data (on edit: like the one jessamyn's SO uses), the only catch being that the data is limited to 8mbps. It's the exact same wireless network. You don't even need to buy a new phone, just swap the old SIM with the new one you get from Cricket.
posted by eschatfische at 3:47 PM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just changed to Ting three months ago and it is pay for what you use with minute usage, text usage and data usage. Obviously, YMMV, but I went from paying $93 with AT&T to around $40. Ting uses the Spring network. My only complaint is that the reception is not as good but it is acceptable.
posted by Kitty Cornered at 3:51 PM on March 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

I should also say that I bought my current tracfone as part of a phone-and-minutes bundle (available through 3rd parties like QVC and HSN). They vary in style and pricing depending on when you look, but something like this might suit your needs (it's an Android, but I think they have dumber phones available on the Tracfone website). This one is on sale for $80, and includes the phone plus 1200 minutes, 1200 texts, and 1200 MB data, and you get a year to use all of that. This sort of plan would give you 100 minutes per month on average for a year (plus 100 texts and 100 MB internet/month), which sounds like it's about your current usage; at this rate, it would cost you $80/year in total, or under $7/month, with all the cost upfront and no further commitment or bills. If you need to buy more airtime or texts or whatever, the phone already has triple minutes on it, which means that Tracfone will triple any future purchases of minutes (or texts?) that you make. I've been using Tracfone for a few years and have been happy with it, especially given the pricing; my main issue with them is that Tracfone's customer service is mediocre, in my limited experience, but I haven't had too much occasion to use it; I wasn't too bothered about it because I felt like I was getting what I paid for, for the $8/month or so that I'm paying.
posted by ClaireBear at 3:57 PM on March 16, 2015

Virgin Mobile has this, though my plan with them is very old so might be outdated/grandfathered. It's something like $20/3 months, and that gives plenty of minutes for very light use. Worth checking their offerings for sure.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:02 PM on March 16, 2015

You can always transfer a US phone number to another US phone in the same area code, but no guarantees if you're moving away.

I've been happily using Net10's 30-day plans for three years. They charge $15/month for 200 minutes, texts are free, can make int'l calls, but not int'l texts. Since I've been using it a while, and text 80% of the time, I now have 4000 minutes on my account (they automatically roll to the next month) but it's the cheapest plan I've found.

Because they buy data from all carriers, I've been able to get signal some places where fancy iPhones and Androids can't connect. I got an LG 900 feature phone, with a lousy camera, an MP3 player I've never used, a handy alarm, and a Blackberry-style vertical keyboard. They're still "selling" LG 900s for $0, at least in my zip code. I think Net10 and Tracfone are different brands of the same company, but not sure.
posted by Jesse the K at 4:07 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am a huge fan of Tracfone and have been for a few years. I also concluded that it is the cheapest phone plan available if you don't spend much time on the phone. You should be able to keep your same phone number. You can get a phone for as little as $10-$20. If it doesn't come with a double minutes for life plan as part of the cost of the phone, you can purchase a double minutes card to upgrade it. They are currently $20. They used to be $40.

I like Tracfone because most pay-as-you-go plans have a 30 or one month limit. That is too short of a tether for me. Tracfone adds 90 days for most of its refill cards PLUS any unused minutes roll over when you extend the plan by adding a new card. Most pay-as-you-go plans have the minutes expire at the end of 30 days. So I think Tracfone is the best value, with the most flexibility, for someone who doesn't spend much time on the phone. It also displays your remaining minutes and remaining number of days, which is very convenient. I don't think any of the other services do that.

You can add a lot of minutes or a few minutes. Go someplace where they sell it and look at the various options (in terms of refill cards you can buy). Break out a calculator and figure out what size card you need to have your 1-2 hours talk time plus 100 text messages per month X 3 months. I think texts take either a half minute or a third of a minute, so 100 text messages would be 50 minutes or less. So it looks to me like you need like 9 hours or less every three months. That's 540 minutes or less. If you get a double minute plan, you need under 300 minutes every time you buy a new card (because it would double).

You could start with a 450 minute card (which would double to 900 minutes), currently $80, and the next refill get a 200 minute card (which would double to 400), currently $40 and alternate. That would be $120 every six months, or an average of $20/month (though spent in two uneven chunks).

You might need even less than that. I ran the numbers in a "worst case scenario (and pad the figures)" kind of way. You might find yourself spending an average of under $20/month. Plus, if you buy it at a store where you get some kind of discount, it could come down further (I have a discount card for Target, so I get my 5% off Tracfone refill cards when I buy them there).
posted by Michele in California at 4:12 PM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding Ting if you have good Sprint coverage.
posted by moira at 4:56 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't know what the best option is in terms of plans/service providers, but in terms of porting (taking your number with you when you switch services), you legally have the right to keep your number. However do *not* tell your current provider you're leaving, they have a history of playing games. You tell the new provider that you want to bring a phone number, and they will ask for some identifying information (a bill probably) and handle the port.
posted by radioamy at 5:06 PM on March 16, 2015

Just a quick note about Ting, it now offers both CDMA and GSM networks, so your current phone may work. Coverage maps and compatibility checker on their site, linked above.
posted by Sleddog_Afterburn at 6:23 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I had three Iphones on Verizon at about 180 a month. A few months ago we switched one number to Republic Wireless for 30 bucks a month. So far so good and I just bought two more phones to switch the other two numbers. We don't hardly use data at all on those phones and I will get the unlimited text and talk with no data for 10 bucks a month each. You have to buy their phone at 100 bucks for the bottom line. They use sprint towers and your own wireless when you are home. For three phones my bill will go from 180 to 50 a month.
posted by InkaLomax at 6:31 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm at $45/month with ATT's pay as you go plan that has unlimited talk, text, and 2 GB data at 3G speeds. Just get an unlocked smart phone .
posted by astapasta24 at 9:08 PM on March 16, 2015

Consumer Cellular has fantastic pay-as-you-go plans. High quality customer service, and they use the AT&T network.
posted by apennington at 5:43 AM on March 17, 2015

Seconding InkaL's comments about republic Wireless. Even if you don't have good Sprint coverage at home or work, it doesn't matter because the phone will hook to your wi-fi and then everything -- calls, texts and data -- goes through a network better than the cell network. Republic Wireless' call clarity over wi-fi is so good that I don't need a landline anymore.

Republic Wireless offers number porting but not bring your own device. Their four plans are
$5/month for usage only over wi-fi
$10/mo for unlimited talk and text over the cell network and unlimited data while you're hooked in a wi-fi
$25/mo for unlimited talk, text and 3G data
$40/mo for unlimited talk, text and 4G data.
They've got solid, competitive smart phones from Motorola: $100, $150 and $300.

Their point and policy is to get you to use their phone over wi-fi, a better network than cell network.
posted by dlwr300 at 7:16 AM on March 17, 2015

If you have an unlocked smartphone, any number of prepaid calling plans will work for you. You can even keep AT&T's network and use either GoPhone, or Cricket (owned by AT&T), or various other carriers. We're down to $20 per month on Cricket with 5 people on a "family" plan.
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:33 PM on March 17, 2015

I have an AT&T iphone on straight talk. Literally my only complaint is their totally fucking awful buggy terrible website. It took me SO LONG to make it work and get my SIM actually active and going, and even more work to get the discount for auto renew set up. Such a confusing, buggy, glitchy mess.

The service is flawless though. It's just AT&T. All the settings also auto-propagate from their server on to your phone, because they officially sell iphones now. I didn't have to punch in anything(and i had a NIGHTMARE experience getting LTE working on my nexus 5 with them, ugh).

Also, unlike some of the others, you get full LTE, and three gigabytes of data where other plans have 2. I'm sad there isn't some $15-20 upgraded plan with more data, because i'd absolutely do it, but oh well.

Note that like net10, they work through tracfones servers/systems. They use the AT&T network, but it's just tracfone by another name. Make sure you get the AT&T sim though, as they also offer tmobile and if you dont specify will try and coral you on to tmobiles shittier network.

I don't think it's worth it to ditch data or the iphone since you'd only save like $10-15. It's just too useful. Also, the performance has been awesome. I hadn't used AT&T in years since the early iphone days, but they have really stepped up their game and it's almost as good as verizon(with better data speeds in some areas, but slightly worse voice coverage in the boonies). Definitely WAY better than a lot of the other options mentioned that piggyback on the still crappy sprint and tmobile networks.

Also, it makes your carrier logo show "TFW" which i find completely hilarious.
posted by emptythought at 5:11 PM on March 17, 2015

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