Prepaid cell phones

I hate cell phones. I hate them with the fury of a thousand suns. Nevertheless, my mother has tasked me with the job of Getting Her a Cell Phone. She wants one because she’ll be taking a trip in a couple weeks and would like to have a phone to use while she’s on the road.

She’s a tightwad, so she does not want to get a cheap cell phone plan where she’d, say, pay $20/month for a 100 minutes or something. She says she just wants something to take when she goes out of town, but I know her. She covets a cell phone. She thinks they’re cool. She wants one baaaad. So if she gets one I’m guessing she’ll keep it.

So, given that, can anyone point me in the direction of a reasonable priced prepaid phone that works without roaming charges anywhere in the lower 48? Does such a thing exist?

7-11 seems to have a good plan. I am doing research for my mom and came across a Boston Globe article about prepaid wireless and the article indicated 7-11’s was the cheapest. The plan is $50 for a phone with $10 of free airtime; then additional minutes are $0.20 each, available in increments of $25, $50, I think $75, and $100, and they last for 120 days. Thus, you could have a cell phone for only $6.25 per month. Supposedly includes roaming but I’m not sure if it’s nationwide or not. Their Web site gives a lot of details but not, strangely, on where to buy the phone or how to order it. Or if it’s there, it’s hiding somewhere. I don’t know if you have to go to a store or what to buy. But it does seem like a good plan; good for people who really only want it for emergencies.

This link to a good comparison of prepaid plans was posted by [post=4937304]Monkey Lore[/post].

And as checking the chart will show you, the ones that have roaming all charge extra.

From the linked chart, it looks like the best–meaning cheapest–national services for occasional/emergency use are AT&T Free 2Go, Cingular, T-Mobile, Trac-fone and Virgin (there are a couple others on the chart that are less than $10 a month, but I haven’t seem them in my area). What kinds of experiences, good and bad, have folks had with these particular services? I can recall reading about some consumer dissatisfaction with Trac-fone, but I don’t remember the specifics.

Also, if your Mom plans to actually use the phone–and it sounds like she might–she’d be better off getting a traditional plan with a block of free peak time, free nights and weekends, etc. Those “per minute” calling card charges can add up pretty quick.