Cheap cell phone rate plans

Ok, various friends and family have been pointing out with increasing degrees of urgency that I need to get a cell phone. I have been putting it off since I don’t want to pay $30-40 a month for a service I’ve apparently been able to do without just fine. However, I do think it would be nice to have a phone so I could call for directions and find out where people are if they don’t show up at a meeting place on time, stuff like that. Also, I don’t like being totally incommunicado when my home phone goes out.

I was looking at the calling card plans, where you can buy a set number of minutes, since I probably wouldn’t use the phone much so it ought to be cheaper. However, a friend of mine who had that sort of service said you had to buy more minutes every month even if you hadn’t used up all the old minutes, which kind of defeats the purpose.

What I am asking the TM is: is there a cheap rate plan out there that will suit my needs, or is there a pay-as-you-go plan that doesn’t screw with you? And who are good cell phone service providers?

Mr. S and I have analog phones with 30 mins/month for $22 including tax (US Cellular). It’s been enough minutes for us, but when our contracts expire, we’re going to go digital.

And who are good cell phone service providers?

It depends on where you live and where you want to use the phone. I am quite happy with Verizon for about $25 a month I never use all the minutes and I don’t have a home phone at all so the cell is my primary phone.

Here’s an option that could save you money. Look for a plan w/ lots of minutes and free long distance and drop your land line service. Won’t work for everyone but for some it is a valid option.

Despite the fact that we had two cell phones and two land lines, there were always times someone was out of touch. So I bought a TracFone. It’s one of those pre-paid things. A 10-minute card is good for 30 days, but a 30-minute card is good for 60 days (and there are other permutations.) Since I got it 37 days ago I’ve used 16 minutes, so I may squeeze all 60 days out of it before I have to reload.

I think ATT has a similar plan, and the service might be a little better. But this only works if you really, truly only want to use the phone for the occasional emergency. Otherwise, you’re better off with a monthly plan.

Whatever you choose, be sure and look for rebates and other promotions that will drop your initial price, in some cases down to 0.

I’ve been looking for a prepaid cell plan too. Every plan seems to be different regarding the expiration of the minutes.With some plans, the minutes just expire within a set amount of time (anywhere from 30-90 days after the card is activated). With others, as long as you add some more time before the expiration, the whole balance gets the new expiration date,and I found one where the minutes never expire as long as you add buy a new card every so often to extend the service (one month for a $7.99,ten minute card or 2 months for the more expensive cards) The best one I’ve found so far has the 90 day expiration, the expiration roll-over, a .35 per minute rate for the lowest value card,and the phone can be used with a standard plan (one of the other providers uses a phone that can’t be used with any other service)

doreen–where’s you see this rate plan at?

And pardon my ignorance, but are the minutes just for outgoing calls, or do you use up minutes when someone calls you too?

In every cell phone plan I’ve seen (prepaid, or monthly account) your time is charged against both incoming and outgoing calls.

And yeah, doreen, who is that provider?

I guess it is a good deal! It’s the AT&T free 2 go wireless, but it may only be available in NY/NJ

I also have TracFone and their plans seem reasonable. You do have to buy minutes every month (or two months) or so, but you can also pay $99.99 for I think 100 minutes and a year of activation, so if you are really going to use it infrequently, $100 for a year of service is really not that bad.

AT&T Free2Go is available nationwide. See their homepage:
http://www.attws.com/personal/prepaid/index.jhtml

The lowest amount of time you can buy is $25, which is good for 3 months, after which you’ll have to buy more time even if you haven’t used up your old minutes - which I don’t think is so bad, but obviously you’ll have to decide for youself whether spending $25 every 3 months is reasonable or not. If you don’t already have a phone, the starter package costs $99 and comes with $50 of time plus a Nokia 5165 phone. Our local Circuit City is running a special this week where a Nokia 3360 (a better phone, IMO) is $25, so you could also get the phone first and go buy the minutes from AT&T afterward.

I’m also one of the last people without a cell phone (and cheap, too).

Earthling, here’s what the AT&T FAQ page says:

That would average $16.66/mo.

Weeeell…that’s not what the guy at the AT&T store told me. But I’ll defer to the FAQ rather than some underpaid flunky. Now, there are some interesting twists to this, one of which is that as long as you keep your account replenished, your unused time rolls over from one period to the next, as opposed to (IIRC) a regular cellular plan where you either use it or lose it. The other one is that even after your airtime has expired, there is a grace period (30 days, or so I was told - which may or may not have been the source of the confusion) before you lose the number they’ve assigned you.

Some plans have free 1st incomming minute. This would be good for you if you plan only to use it for mainly incomming calls.

Also another option is to get a pager - you can get a cheap one for $30/yr and just use a pay phone to return the calls.

I’ve had that ATT&T plan for almost a year now in New York City. Service has been pretty good, and though I use my phone more than just for true emergencies, I’ve never had to buy more than a $25 card every 90 days. Unfortunately, they just changed the plan to make time only last for 45 days. The grace period for current customers actually ends today, so that may be why the salesman didn’t know about the change. I’m writing in to complain, and the customer service rep I spoke to told me that many people have been asking how to do so. Hopefully, if enough of us complain, we can get it changed back to 90 days. Verizon also has a prepaid service in NY and elsewhere. Their minutes last for 60 days, and reception is a bit better in NYC, but they don’t have a message waiting indicator, and they charge for incoming text messages. Their caller ID is also not currently working for prepaid customers. Their minimum card is $30, and they do not have a choicebetween local and national plans. They may, however, be a better choice for someone who uses their phone more than the average prepaid customer, as they lower their rate on weekends. VoiceStream also has a prepaid service. I had been told last year that their plan offered more minutes than the others, though I also seem to recall that you could not roll over unused minutes. Their service is also poor in NYC.