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Best Cell Phone Plans 2019

Sept. 11, 2019
Cell Phones, Utilities
Best Cell Phone Plans
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Finding the right cell phone plan doesn’t have to be hard. We analyzed dozens of plans to help you find the best value, whether you’re looking for a family plan, a solo plan or a plan with tons of data.

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Best cell phone plans: average user

Smartphone owners currently use 2GB to 5GB per month, on average, according to various industry reports. That figure is expected to climb to nearly 9GB by 2021. We scoped out plans that meet current and future data needs while minimizing costs.

  • Plan name: Virgin Mobile 5GB plan
  • Price (monthly): $35
  • Plan at a glance: 5GB of data, plus unlimited minutes and text messages
  • Why we like it: A solid amount of data at a price that can’t be beat. Plus, Virgin Mobile customers can score discounts on flowers, suits, car-sharing services and more.
  • Plan name: T-Mobile Simply Prepaid 10GB plan
  • Price (monthly): $40
  • Plan at a glance: 10GB of data, plus unlimited talk and text
  • Why we like it: Mobile hot spot access and unlimited music streaming make this prepaid plan a great value, plus 10GB is more than enough data for most cell phone users.

 

THINGS TO KNOW

Virgin Mobile’s 5GB plan does not include mobile hot spot access, but you can add it for an additional fee. The prepaid provider does not require a contract or credit check, but you will pay full retail price for a new phone.

Virgin Mobile is owned by Sprint and uses Sprint’s network. Sprint struck a deal to merge with T-Mobile that includes selling its prepaid service (including Virgin) to Dish Network, but the agreement still has several hurdles to clear before it is effective. Until then, it’s business as usual for Virgin Mobile customers.

T-Mobile Simply Prepaid includes mobile hot spot access, which draws from the 10GB of 4G LTE data included in the plan. Unlimited music streaming is available via select apps. T-Mobile is hoping to merge with Sprint, but the deal still has several hurdles to clear. Until then, it’s business as usual for T-Mobile prepaid customers.

 

Best cell phone plans: families

Families can often get more for their money — on a cell phone plan, at least — if they stick together. We used a family of four as our model to find the best family plans.

  • Plan name: Boost Mobile Unlimited
  • Price (monthly, four lines): $120
  • Plan at a glance: Unlimited talk, text and data, plus 30GB of mobile hot spot and HD video streaming
  • Why we like it: An unbelievable prepaid deal that’s too good to last. This limited time offer from Boost is available for new and existing customers.
  • Plan name: T-Mobile Essentials
  • Price (monthly, four lines): $140; $120 with autopay discount
  • Plan at a glance: Unlimited data, minutes and text messages
  • Why we like it: An affordable, entry-level unlimited plan with bonuses like mobile hot spot (at 3G speeds) and unlimited texting from more than 200 countries.

 

THINGS TO KNOW

Boost is owned by Sprint and uses its network. Sprint struck a deal to merge with T-Mobile that includes selling its prepaid service (including Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile) to Dish Network, but the agreement still has several hurdles to clear before it is effective. Until then, it’s business as usual for Boost Mobile customers.
T-Mobile Essentials includes unlimited mobile hot spot data, but at 3G speeds, which is slightly slower than the 4G data speed you get on your smartphone. International features include unlimited texting while outside of the United States, plus talk, text and 2G data (read: slow) in Mexico and Canada. Unlike other T-Mobile plans, taxes and fees are not included in the price. T-Mobile is hoping to merge with Sprint, but the agreement still has several hurdles to clear. Until then, it’s business as usual for T-Mobile customers.

Best cell phone plans: unlimited

Carriers are going all-in on unlimited data. We looked at the current offerings to find the best unlimited plans for single-line users.

  • Plan name: Boost Unlimited
  • Price (monthly): $50
  • Plan at a glance: Unlimited minutes, texts and high-speed data
  • Why we like it: Boost’s plan includes more high-speed mobile hot spot data (12GB) than similarly priced plans offered by its competitors.
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  • Plan name: Sprint Unlimited Basic
  • Price (monthly): $65; $60 with $5 autopay discount.
  • Plan at a glance: Unlimited high-speed data, minutes and text messages, plus 500MB of high-speed mobile hot spot access
  • Why we like it: Bonuses like a Hulu subscription and 5GB of high-speed data to use in Canada and Mexico make this plan stand out. If mobile hot-spot access is more important to you, consider the T-Mobile Essentials plan, which includes unlimited hot spot data (at 3G speeds).

 

THINGS TO KNOW

This prepaid plan comes with 12GB of mobile hot spot data, but video streaming is limited to standard definition. Boost is owned by Sprint, which recently struck a deal to merge with T-Mobile. That deal includes selling its prepaid service (including Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile) to Dish Network, but the agreement still has several hurdles to clear before it is effective. Until then, it’s business as usual for Boost Mobile customers.
Sprint’s Unlimited Basic plan includes a subscription to Hulu, plus 500MB of mobile hot spot data, which is easy to burn through. International features include calls, texts and 5GB of high-speed data to use in Canada and Mexico. Video streams in standard definition. Sprint is hoping to merge with T-Mobile, but the agreement still has several hurdles to clear. Until then, it’s business as usual for Sprint customers.

Best cell phone plans: basic

Do you miss the good old days, when cell phones weren’t smart? If you want a simple phone and plan, these are the best options.

  • Plan name: Republic Wireless No Data
  • Price (monthly): $15
  • Plan at a glance: Unlimited minutes and text messages; not available on iPhones
  • Why we like it: Just minutes and messages for a very low cost, plus data access via Wi-Fi
  • Plan name: Tracfone 30 minute airtime card
  • Price (monthly): $9.99 per month
  • Plan at a glance: Any combination of 30 minutes or texts (sent or received) or megabytes of data
  • Why we like it: Simple, affordable service available on a variety of networks.

 

THINGS TO KNOW

Republic uses a combo of Wi-Fi and cellular networks for calling, texting and data. This is different from most carriers, which rely primarily on cell towers. Republic’s unique approach doesn’t work with every phone, so you’re limited to the handful of devices the carrier offers.
With Tracfone’s 30-minute airtime card, incoming calls and texts count toward your 30 total, as do calls to access your voicemail. Tracfone contracts with each of the big four nationwide carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. The network you use will depend on where you live and the phone you activate.

Best cell phone plans: prepaid

Prepaid providers offer great rates and the latest phones — think iPhone and the latest Samsung Galaxy models — to go with them.

  • Plan name: Virgin Mobile 5GB plan
  • Price (monthly): $35
  • Plan at a glance: 5GB of data, plus unlimited minutes and text messages
  • Why we like it: A solid amount of data at a price that can’t be beat. Plus, Virgin Mobile customers can score discounts on flowers, suits, car-sharing services and more.
  • Plan name: T-Mobile Simply Prepaid 10GB plan
  • Price (monthly): $40
  • Plan at a glance: 10GB of data, plus unlimited talk and text
  • Why we like it: Mobile hot spot access and unlimited music streaming make this prepaid plan a great value, plus 10GB is more than enough data for most cell phone users.

 

THINGS TO KNOW

Virgin Mobile is owned by Sprint and uses Sprint’s network. The 5GB plan does not include mobile hot spot access, but you can add it for an additional fee. There is no contract or credit check required, but you will pay full retail price for a new phone.

Sprint struck a deal to merge with T-Mobile that includes selling its prepaid service (including Virgin) to Dish Network, but the agreement still has several hurdles to clear before it is effective. Until then, it’s business as usual for Virgin Mobile customers.

T-Mobile Simply Prepaid includes mobile hot spot access, which draws from the 10GB of 4G LTE data included in the plan. Unlimited music streaming is available via select apps. T-Mobile is hoping to merge with Sprint, but the deal still has several hurdles to clear. Until then, it’s business as usual for T-Mobile prepaid customers.

Best cell phone plans: international

Want a plan that suits your wanderlust? We scouted out plans that let you use your phone overseas, without paying exorbitant international roaming fees.

  • Plan name: Project Fi
  • Price (monthly): $20 per month, plus $10 per GB
  • Plan at a glance: Unlimited talk and text in the U.S. Unlimited texting while abroad. High-speed data is a flat $10 per gigabyte, even when roaming internationally.
  • Why we like it: Use your service (texts and data) in more than 170 countries for the same price you pay at home. Calls from overseas are an additional cost.
  • Plan name: T-Mobile Magenta
  • Price (monthly): $75; $70 with autopay discount
  • Plan at a glance: Unlimited talk, text and high-speed data in the U.S. Unlimited talk, text and 5GB of high-speed data in Canada and Mexico. Unlimited texting and 2G data in more than 200 other countries.
  • Why we like it: Easy text and data access while overseas, with the option to upgrade to Magenta Plus for faster data speeds and free in-flight Wi-Fi.

 

THINGS TO KNOW

You only pay for the data you use with Project Fi, and your usage is free after you hit a certain threshold — 6GB for one line, 10GB for two lines, 12GB for three lines, 14GB for four lines and 16GB for five lines. So the most you would pay for five lines is $240, or $48 per line, plus taxes and fees. Project Fi is owned by Google and prioritizes Wi-Fi calling using secure Wi-Fi hotspots, switching over to the cellular networks only as a backup.
T-Mobile Magenta’s price includes taxes and fees, but add-ons such as insurance or device payments are still assessed. You can upgrade to Magenta Plus for $15 per month, per line to get extra features, including HD video streaming, 20GB of mobile hot spot data, faster international data speeds and free in-flight Wi-Fi via Gogo. T-Mobile is hoping to merge with Sprint, but the deal still has several hurdles to clear. Until then, it’s business as usual for T-Mobile prepaid customers.

 

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Best cell phone plans: summary

CarrierDetailsGet started

Plan: Virgin Mobile - 5GB

Best for: Average users

Monthly cost: $35

Plan: T-Mobile Simply Prepaid - 10GB

Best for: Average users

Monthly cost: $40
Plan: Boost Unlimited

Best for: Families

Monthly cost: $120 (four lines)

Plan: T-Mobile Essentials

Best for: Families

Monthly cost: $140 (4 lines); $120 with autopay
Plan: Boost Unlimited

Best for: Unlimited data

Monthly cost: $50
Plan: Sprint Unlimited Basic

Best for: Unlimited data

Monthly cost: $65; $60 with autopay
Plan: Republic Wireless No Data

Best for: People who want a basic plan

Monthly cost: $15
Plan:Tracfone 30 minute airtime card

Best for: People who want a basic plan

Monthly cost: $9.99
Plan: Virgin Mobile 5GB

Best for: People who want a prepaid plan

Monthly cost: $35
Plan: T-Mobile Simply Prepaid - 10GB

Best for: People who want a prepaid plan

Monthly cost: $40
Plan: Project Fi

Best for: International travel

Monthly cost: $20 per month, plus $10 per GB
Plan: T-Mobile Magenta Unlimited

Best for: International travel

Monthly cost: $75; $70 with autopay

METHODOLOGY

We evaluated more than 200 cell phone plans offered by the following carriers: AT&T, Boost Mobile, Consumer Cellular, Cricket, GreatCall, Google’s Project Fi, MetroPCS, Net10, Republic Wireless, Sprint, Straight Talk, T-Mobile, Tracfone, Verizon Wireless and Virgin Mobile.

To determine the best plans, we looked at the monthly plan price before taxes and fees, the price per gigabyte, and features such as unlimited video streaming or rollover data. We only considered national carriers, which ruled out regional providers like U.S. Cellular. For average users and prepaid users, we looked at plans with 2GB to 5GB. For families, we looked at plans with at least 6GB and calculated pricing for a family of four. Recommendations for heavy data users only factored in plans with at least 10GB of data.

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