How to Pick a Cellular Plan

by Colin Berkshire

Shopping for a cellular plan is perhaps the most confusing thing you will ever shop for. It’s as fun as eating cardboard and less informative then buying a refrigerator.

But there are some very simple rules to follow to get the greatest pricing:

There are four kinds of pricing plans:

  1. MVNO Plans
  2. Prepaid Plans
  3. Affinity Plans
  4. Sucker Plans
They are listed in order from cheapest to expensive.

Chances are, you are on a “Sucker” plan. A “Sucker” plan is a post-paid plan where you are billed monthly at the end of the month, except that you are actually billed in advance. On these plans you almost certainly are paying the very highest rate for what you are getting. When you go to the carrier’s website you will be shuffled to a “Sucker Plan”. Even if you seek out prepaid plans, you will find you are always subtly steered towards post-paid plans. The Carrier web designers are very good at providing lots of links away from the best deals. If you are seeing incentives such as free Netflix, or free Disney, or any sort of promotion, you are fairly into “Sucker-land”.

To get a far better price you should start by looking for prepaid plans. These will always—and I pretty much mean always—give you a much lower price for the same thing. The savings are very typically 50%. Pretty much every single prepaid plan will give you superior value, even if you choose a plan that is “too big” for your needs. Really, prepaid plans are where you probably should be.

If you want the rock bottom price and super-best deal you should not be buying your cellular service from any of the big-three carriers directly. You should purchase through an MVNO. There are two kinds of these: Carrier owned and unaffiliated. Examples of carrier owned MVNOs are:

  • T-Mobile = Metro
  • Verizon = Visible
  • AT&T = Tracfone
Carrier Owned MVNOs will give you the best quality service and they include WiFi calling,. This means that when you are in your home where the carriers have miserable tower coverage, the phone will switch to using your WiFi. You won’t notice the difference except that you have coverage inside your home. Basically, the quality of service from a carrier owned MVNO is about equal to the carriers themselves.

Independent MVNOs will give you the rock bottom price. You will typically save an additional 20%. But beware that the carriers don’t have any sense of fairness with you or their “partners”. The non-carrier MVNOs do not get the WiFi feature, which means significantly worse service, especially inside of your home. And, typically carriers will prioritize MVNO traffic below all other types. So you will get worse service for the best price. There are approximately a million billion MVNO companies out there for each carrier…just search on “MVNO”.

And, finally, if you just cannot resist getting on a postpaid (“Sucker”) plan then you should look for an Affinity rate. These include:

  • Somebody in your home is 55 or older.
  • Somebody in your home is a first responder or pretty much any type.
  • Somebody in your home has military affiliation.
  • Sometimes your school or employer will have an affiliate deal.
The Affiliate plans such as “55 and over” are always a better deal than a straight-up Sucker Plan. You get the same package, the same promotions, the same unlimited plan, the same everything…at a price that is 25% to 40% less.

In Summary

If you are on one of the unlimited post-paid plans from any carrier, you are on a “Sucker” plan. You are being gouged. For an hour of your time you can get on an MVNO or affiliate plan, or a prepaid plan and keep your carrier and your number and you can be saving about 30% or 50%. This is probably a savings of about $50 a month or $600 a year. Think about it, that is $1,000 in your pocket in a year and a half. Not bad for an hour of your time.

So, Sucker, whatcha waiting for?