Trac Fone - scam or good buy?

I’m looking for an “Emergency use” cell phone for my mother-in-law – something to carry in case she needs help on the road. I’ve seen the ads for Trac Fone and it sounds pretty good, especially no monthly fees. And while the unused minutes expire after a period of time, it’s still cheaper than paying the monthly minimums that “regular” cell phone companies offer.

However, when I did a Google on Trac Fone I saw a large number of complaints about Trac Fone service, customer support, etc. Are these just the ravings of the inevitable handful of customers who have bad experiences? It’s hard to believe that Radio Shack, WalMart, Best Buy, etc. would knowingly partner with a company with a slezy rep (At one time or another, all of those retailers have featured Trac Fone in their advertising).

Anyone out there with experience to share?

I used to have a trac phone (I still have it at the bottom of a drawer somewhere). I really thought it would be a good idea, but I had a hard time putting new minutes on the thing, it was a big hassle. And it seemed to me that everthing was charged at a roaming rate. It’s not something I recommend.

I use a TracFone for emergencies. I haven’t had any problems except the first time I tried to reload minutes. The directions were confusing, but I called customer service and they were actually helpful.

I don’t think it’s a scam. I got an old-model Nokia phone (I also got a rebate that meant I paid 0 for it), and the per-minute price is really expensive, but if all you want is a phone to leave in your car for emergenices, you can get by for about $9 per month.

Of course, if you make any more than 1 or 2 short calls per month, you’ll probably be better off with a basic package from a regular company.

I think ATT and Cingular also have pre-paid cellular plans, so it would be worth your while to compare.

I have a trac fone, and I like it for what it’s worth.

Here’s my usage, though: probably less than 15 minutes a month. No other service anywhere comes close to serving my minuscule needs. If I used it more, I’d get a different service. But I like it because (a) I know exactly how much calling time I have left–it shows you on the phone’s display–so there’s never any surprises at the end of the month, like I get with my wife’s cell phone (b) I never have to worry about bills. I only have to add air time every few months–it also tells you what date your airtime will expire–and I pretty much forget about it in the meantime.

I have had no coverage/service problems in my experience. (Much better coverage, frankly, than my wife’s voicestream digital service.) But:

a) it’s more expensive than other services
b) you’re charged double rates when roaming
c) it has no voice mail, etc. Strictly for calling out and receiving calls when you know someone’s going to call you.
d) adding airtime can be daunting for the tech-illiterate

I like the lack of hassle. That’s the main selling point. (Unless you’re a kid with no credit history–then the fact that no credit check is required is the main selling point.) And, near as I can tell, none of the other “prepaid” services are truly prepaid–you still have a minimum monthly payment of $30, etc., as opposed to tracfone’s theoretical minimum of about $9/mo (the smallest card denomination). If I’m wrong on that point, someone please tell me.

My dad used to have a Trac-Fone for emergencies. It was a pain putting new minutes on it but other than that it was fine. He started using it more often, though, so now he has a real cell phone provider plan.

I don’t know about TracFone, but I have AT&T prepaid. The service coverage is good. You can get by with it by buying $10 worth of airtime every 45 days. If you buy it in larger chunks, the price per minute goes down ($10=50cents per minute, $25 = 35 cents per minute, etc.) The unused amount expires after 45 days, unless you add more money to the card, then all of it rolls over to the next 45 day deadline. You can also choose between a local plan that charges you a huge amount if you use roaming, or a national plan that has a higher per minute cost, but never charges roaming. It is great for occasional use (I use ~15 minutes per month).

When I got the phone, I bought it through, and with a combination of instant and mail in rebates, I wound up paying $30 for the phone (Nokia 5100 series) and 2 prepaid cards worth $25 of airtime each. You can call and add minutes via a 1-800 number or their website.

There are no monthly fees, but if you let the minutes expire and don’t add any more for something like 3 months, you have to pay a $30 reactivation fee.

Overall, I’ve had no complaints.

If you are buying this phone true emergency usage only, you can accomplish the same by buying a used cell phone (I am sure you can find friends that are more than willing to give you their used cell phone). Make sure it comes with an AC and car adapter since the battery will be dead when you need to use it. In an emergency, plug in the power and dial “911”. You will be connected.

True, but there are emergencies and emergencies. With an old cell phone (no service provider), you can ONLY dial 911. You can’t, say, call AAA for a tow truck if your car breaks down in the middle of the desert.

sometimes you can get a plan about $15/month from some dealers if you have your own phone. If you don’t have your own phone you can buya used one off ebay for under $30.

That said once you have a phone 911 and 611 still work
with 611 you can make a call - it might cost you $5-$10 and need a CC but it will work, 911 is always free. It might be a cheaper option if it is truly just for emergencies and you don’t have many of them.

Thanks to everyone for their comments. By the way, I haven’t seen any plans around the DC area with ‘regular’ carriers that have a monthly fee less than about $20

What does 611 connect to?

I think that 611 connects you to the service provider’s customer service line. From there you should be able talk to a person to pay for a call with a credit card (like an operator assisted call).