Best cell phone plan with limited use?
August 7, 2022 1:24 AM   Subscribe

I've found myself not using my cell phone very much, but when I do it is critical such as job related. I might not use my phone for a month or so (but use iMessage), then suddenly I might have a flurry of calls. Same with data, if I am out to dinner or getting an Uber I'd need it, but beyond that I rarely have the need for hotspots. Would be nice to pay $10 or whatever it is if I end up being stuck somewhere and need a hotspot for a day. What plan is best for me?

I'm on an iPhone, and pay an outrageous amount with Verizon unlimited, right now my bill is $120. That's after reducing it after calling them up. I'd like to keep my number but at this point I guess if I have to change I don't care. What are my options?

I should add in the summer months I go out jogging and I guess that does mean I use Soundcloud on my data plan, so anything to mitigate that or download things offline would be great.
posted by geoff. to Work & Money (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have an iPhone and use the old people Consumer Cellular, my last bill was like $35.00.
posted by oldnumberseven at 3:06 AM on August 7, 2022

My wife and I had been using AT&T for years, but with the latest forced price increases for our 6gb plan, we finally decided to ditch them. We looked at Consumer Cellular, which seems to be pretty decent, but got seduced by Mint Mobile instead. Plans start at $15 a month for 4gb a line to $30 a month for ‘unlimited.’ It was surprisingly easy to bring our numbers over, once we got them unlocked on the AT&T side, since we had extra protection on them. So worst case, you’ll be spending $30 a month instead of $120!

Things to watch out for - make sure your phone is unlocked. They use t-mobile as the backbone, so check if their coverage works where you are. For us it has been faster and better service in the city, rural seems about the same.
posted by rambling wanderlust at 3:41 AM on August 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

Seconding Mint Mobile, as well as looking at the T-Mobile map.

It’s easy to switch your plan up or down, tho If most of your calls are at home, however, you can use wi fi calling.

It’s been largely hassle-free; and at the beginning of the pandemic, we got a phone message from Ryan Reynolds reading us a bedtime story, and last year a Christmas Card from him with no Mint Mobile branding on it at all, which I appreciated.
posted by Silvery Fish at 4:48 AM on August 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

Figure out how much data you're actually using on those runs (and figure out whether you can configure soundcloud to download the music to your phone while you're on wifi).

There are lots of prepaid plans that will likely meet your needs. Here are some of T-mobile's current offerings - they start at $10/month for 1000 minutes of talk, 1000 texts, and 1 GB of data. (Also fwiw, I have been a T-Mobile prepaid customer for years, and on the very rare occasions when I've exceeded my limits, I just renew the plan early - no big deal.)
posted by mskyle at 6:01 AM on August 7, 2022

I use the $15 prepaid "Connect" plan from t-mobile & have been happy with it. If you buy refill cards from Target, you avoid the taxes & fees charged by t-mobile when paying online. Using the Target RedCard also saves you 5% and they often have sales where you can get it even cheaper.
posted by belladonna at 7:23 AM on August 7, 2022

RED POCKET. Sorry to shout but i am like you, and I'm mostly WhatsApping my friends on my tablet. It's a reseller and you can choose whichever carrier you want, Verizon, T-Mobile etc. There are many pre-paid plans, mine (not the cheapest one) is around $9 per month ("Essentials Plan" ?) and I buy a year in advance because who needs another monthly bill? (I think it's $10 per month for my plan if paying monthly). Weirdly, you do have to buy the Annual Plans on eBay, don't know why but it is legit. You have to burrow into the website to find the annual plans but it is worth it. I've never run out and I've never had an issue with connections. The customer service chat is not the best but then that was my experience with my last plan. It's the best deal I've found--and i researched every prepaid reseller when I last switched.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:31 AM on August 7, 2022

I am a very light phone user and I use ting mobile. They're a Verizon reseller now, I think. Maybe still T-Mobile? They won't say.

I pay $10 for the line and $5 a GB. Any data usage under 1GB counts as 1, so I always end up spending $15. With taxes and fees, it's ~$17.30.

Even when I actually use data, like reading all my rss feeds every day on a bike tour or vacation, it's $17.30. It's been $17.30 every month for over a year. Maybe, someday, when I go nuts, it'll be $22.30.

(Ting used to be fully pay-as-you-go per text, MB, and minute. I would pay $7-$14 on a backup phone.)
posted by Snijglau at 7:42 AM on August 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

I use Visible, 25/month, Verizon network, unlimited data that can be used as a hotspot. if you use a lot of data, you might get throttled, this has not happened to me. It has been quite easy and reliable to use.

With Visible, to get the better rate, you have to join a party, a meaningless task with no other effects. Reddit has subreddits, or I can give my details, if you like. I can give you a referral, we would both save some $, but no big deal.
posted by theora55 at 8:19 AM on August 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

Verizon has a monthly prepaid plan for $25/month, and somehow I qualified for a discount, so I'm paying about $20 and change. It covers all the data, iMessage, text and calls that I need. My phone is usable as a hotspot. It was simple to change to this plan from my previous more-expensive Verizon plan. I'm in NY, NY with an iPhone, if it matters.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:26 AM on August 7, 2022

Tello. If you need more data, you can change your plan on the spot or add some "pay as you go" that lasts 90 days.

Mix and match your plan. Here are some examples:

- 100 minutes/free text =$5
- Unlimited mins/text + 500MB = $9
- Unlimited everything = $29/month
posted by aniola at 10:10 AM on August 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

I think it's the T-mobile network. I think they say and I just forget.
posted by aniola at 10:10 AM on August 7, 2022

T-Mobile lets you buy more data or a daypass hotspot on the fly. If their coverage map works for you, strongly recommend.
posted by Bottlecap at 10:36 AM on August 7, 2022

I'm a happy Visible customer too. I had one problem near the beginning and their customer service was outstanding. I found out about it here too.
posted by kathrynm at 11:33 AM on August 7, 2022

Another happy Mint customer here.
posted by cyndigo at 11:33 AM on August 7, 2022

For anyone interested in using a cellular Apple Watch, Visible has an unlimited plan that includes service for your watch for just $30 all in. I don’t think there’s many other pre-paid options in the u.s. for the Apple Watch. Otherwise I’d probably recommend Mint or Red pocket, both of which I’ve used and been satisfied with.
posted by skewed at 1:15 PM on August 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

Another very happy Tello user.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 1:34 PM on August 7, 2022

Just a heads up about Verizon Prepaid (if you decide to go that route): their customer service is atrocious! Any problem you have -- big or small -- will result in you having to deal with their useless chatbot and it's almost impossible to talk to a real person. Not ideal if you're stranded somewhere or in an emergency situation. I'll grudgingly admit that they seem to have the best coverage of all of the major players, but even with my grandfathered in $25/mo plan, I'm probably going to switch soon because every time I've had a problem, their customer service has been incredibly bad.

Mint and Ting both have outstanding customer service and usually run great deals even if you're on a low usage plan, so I can heartily recommend both, as I've used them in the past. The only thing to watch out for is that their coverage might not be great in your area.

So I recommend holding onto you phone number until you're ready to commit because you don't want to port it and then find out that the carrier you chose doesn't have good coverage in your house or at the places you visit frequently. Some companies charge you a ridiculous fee to port your number, so this can add up if you're testing a few different carriers.

You can either stay with the company you have now and use a cheap throwaway phone while you test out the other services using the assigned number that they give you, or you can park your number (google it) somewhere else until you're ready to commit. As far as data, check your usage under Settings --> Cellular --> Cellular Data --> Current Period.

And Soundcloud has premier plans that allow you to download music for offline listening. The best deal appears to be for students at $4.99 a month; everyone else it's $9.99 per month. They offer a free 30 day trial as well.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 1:37 PM on August 7, 2022

I am another happy Tello user. My monthly plan is $8, which is plenty for me.
posted by coffeecat at 3:52 PM on August 7, 2022

I will Nth Consumer Cellular. It has one feature which is nice and could be problematic at the same time - if you have a plan with low data (I don't use a lot of data), it will warn you when you get near the limit but also upgrade you automatically to the next level if you exceed your plan - so your bill will temporarily go up. You need to remember to use their app or website to change the plan back when you're done with that temporary spike in data usage. If you plan on using tethering you need to call them to enable that because very few of their customers use tethering. I learned all this on a vacation where one family member had to work remotely part of the time, and the wifi / internet at the house was sketchy, dropping, and slow so we tethered them through the phone
posted by TimHare at 6:49 PM on August 7, 2022

Ting user here, 2 phone on ATT plan were ~$100-120/month. Bill now is typically $25-30.

Coverage & speed are worse on Ting than ATT (at least where I live & work). I don't know if that's a Verizon vs. ATT thing or perhaps Ting is getting the lowest priority on Verizon. But it's a minor issue, and the rare times I notice it I'm like "Hey, still saving $100/month"
posted by soylent00FF00 at 3:40 PM on August 8, 2022

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