Is there a fair prepaid cell phone plan on the market?
July 3, 2008 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone suggest a good prepaid cell phone plan? I find I need a cell phone only once every couple of weeks but don't want to get tied down to an annual contract.
posted by tangyraspberry to Technology (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In the U.S., when I shopped around a few years ago, Virgin Mobile was the best deal for me.
posted by Dec One at 10:00 AM on July 3, 2008

I've had Virgin Mobile for several years and have been very happy.
posted by COD at 10:02 AM on July 3, 2008

Where are you located? In Canada the best deal, hands down is the 7-11 Speak Out Wireless Pay-as-you-go Plan. Most national carriers expire your minutes after 30 or 60 days, while the 7-11 ones last 1 year. Other good options are Petro-Canada branded cell phones. Avoid Rogers, Fido, Telus, Bell, Solo, Koodoo, etc.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:06 AM on July 3, 2008

I just signed up for T-Mobile pay-as-you-go, sounds similar to the Virgin plan others have mentioned - best feature being minutes that don't expire for 90 days, whereas many other plans expire in 30. If you prepay $100 the minutes last for a year and you get a discount for additional minutes purchased after that.
posted by mattholomew at 10:10 AM on July 3, 2008

I've used t-mobile prepaid for years and it has suited me fine. It's cheap, flat rate/minute and I think it does do roaming as sometimes a different provider appears on my phone's screen, but I can still make/get calls.
posted by Science! at 10:47 AM on July 3, 2008

T-mobile. I buy 1000 minutes at a time for $100, and they don't expire for a year.
posted by number9dream at 10:56 AM on July 3, 2008

Another vote for Virgin Mobile. (The $20-every-90-days is necessary to keep the same phone number on an ongoing basis; if you don't need to preserve the number, you can skip it.)
Virgin Mobile gets their "phone lines" from Sprint; if you live in an area with bad or nonexistent Sprint signal, Virgin will suck too.

When comparing with others, watch out for the connection fee. Lots of other prepaid carriers will have lower per-minute charges than Virgin, but charge you $1/day connection/service charge when you use the phone. So a single $0.10 call made each day is actually $1.10 each day. I went with Virgin because they have no such fee.

You'll get nickel-and-dimed to if you also do a lot of texting, etc. on prepaid phones; but if you just want a phone that only charges you by the minute when you use it- and for nothing else - I'd go with Virgin.
posted by bartleby at 11:19 AM on July 3, 2008

AT&T's $1 a day connection fee is an excellent deal if and only if you will be calling mostly people who also have AT&T and talking for longer than a few minutes each day you do use the phone, because mobile-to-mobile calls (to other AT&T subscribers) are free aside from the $1 a day.
posted by kindall at 11:38 AM on July 3, 2008

Cingular (AT&T) Go phone prepaid. Better coverage than virgin mobile prepaid, and $100/year,
25 cents/minute, whichever comes first. Minutes roll over if you renew within the grace
Convenient website. Text messages after each call to give you your current account
The only thing I don't like about it is that it is AT&T.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:41 AM on July 3, 2008

T-Mobile is 10 cents a minute if you put down an initial $100. It does not have the $1-per-day-of-use that most other similar plans have.

The cheapest phone is a pretty good Nokia for $25.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:24 PM on July 3, 2008

Tracfone gets a bad rep based on people's interactions with their customer service staff, but I've never had much trouble with it, and I've been using it going on 3 years now. My wife and I aren't heavy cell phone users - we end up paying maybe $30 every other month to top up minutes for two phones.

Their minutes also expire after 90 days, but as that limit is incrementally added to your current expiration date, you can end up with a lot of time left before you need to "renew."

They also have "free phone" deals where you buy your first prepaid card and it comes with a free phone. Granted, the phone is likely to suck, but it's something.
posted by anthom at 12:39 PM on July 3, 2008

I got my T-Mobile phone from Target free with the purchase of 1000 minutes for $100. I'm told you can buy the minutes from independent web sites even cheaper (see HowardForums for details).
posted by grouse at 1:10 PM on July 3, 2008

I've been using T-Mobile's prepaid plan for years. Coverage is kind of spotty outside of major metropolitan areas/major highways, but it's good for what I need it for. Go to for refill cards below face value. You can also usually find coupon codes for even more savings.
posted by calistasm at 1:40 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Page Plus Cellular is $10 for 120 days. They use the Verizon network. If you recharge with $10 cards the rate is $0.12/minute and $0.50/month. With the $80 card the rate is about $0.06/minute and $0.24/month, so the service scales up to higher usage pretty well. You can use any Verizon branded CDMA phone, including the $30-$40 Verizon InPulse phones they sell at Wall-Mart. Now that they have a web interface it is a bit easier to manage your account as well.

If you are satisfied with Verzion's network, Page Plus kicks the pants off all other carriers for voice and texting (plus free 14.4kbps data, which is how my laptop is connected to the Internet right now).

There is a good FAQ on HowardForums.
posted by ChrisHartley at 2:09 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tracfone also has a deal where you can buy a year's worth of time in one go. It costs like $150 up front for what seems like a huge amount of minutes to me. I tend to use my phone when I'm traveling and then not use it for months at a time so I really like only having to pay once a year.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:13 PM on July 3, 2008

I use Beyond Wireless GSM, which seems a little wonky but is completely legit. They use AT&T's network, and are much, much cheaper than any of AT&T's pay as you go plans. Your minutes roll over as long as you keep paying. I spend $25 every 75 days, which is pretty great considering that the standard monthly minimum on a regular AT&T wireless is $40, plus taxes and fees.
posted by cnc at 5:34 PM on July 3, 2008

Possibly late to the party, but I've had Virgin Mobile for over a year, and for me (who doesn't use his cell more than a time or two a week on average), Virgin's 'Sugar Mama' service is great - you have to watch little ads, and you get free minutes - up to 75 a month. I rarely use actual paid-for minutes, my 'bill' is mostly the $5 a month fee for 200 texts, which I get more than calls.
posted by pupdog at 6:37 AM on July 4, 2008

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