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Best Cell Phone Plans 2018

Sept. 11, 2018
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 plan for the average user

Most smartphone owners use 2GB to 5GB per month, according to various industry reports. We scoped out plans that meet those 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: Verizon 5GB plan
  • Price (monthly): $60; $55 with $5 discount for automatic payment
  • Plan at a glance: 5GB of data, plus unlimited minutes and text messages
  • Why we like it: Not ready to go prepaid? Verizon’s 5GB plan offers the lowest price per gigabyte of the traditional plans we considered.

 

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.
Verizon’s 5GB plan includes carryover data, which is good for 30 days. And you can nix overage charges by turning on Safety Mode, which drops you to 2G speeds when you hit your monthly high-speed limit. You can save $5 per month if you opt for paperless billing and automatic payments, but you can only use a checking account or debit card. This is a single-line plan, so you can’t add additional lines to make it a family plan.

 

Best family cell phone plan

Families can often get more for their money — on a cell phone plan, at least — if they stick together. Using a family of four as our model, we researched price per gigabyte and monthly cost per person — excluding taxes, fees, insurance and the price of phones — 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
  • 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: Sprint Unlimited Basic
  • Price (monthly, four lines): $160; $140 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 Hulu and 500MB of hot spot access per line. New customers can score additional discounts.

 

THINGS TO KNOW

Boost Mobile’s promotional plan also includes HD video streaming. Boost is owned by Sprint and uses Sprint’s network. Customers may be able to bring their own phone, or they can buy a new one at retail price.
Sprint’s Unlimited Basic plan includes calls, texts and 5GB of high-speed data to use in Canada and Mexico. Video streams in standard definition.

Best unlimited data plan

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: It’s the cheapest unlimited plan on the market
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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
  • Why we like it: An affordable, entry-level unlimited plan with bonuses like Hulu and 500MB of hot spot access per line. New customers can score additional discounts.

 

THINGS TO KNOW

This prepaid plan comes with 8GB of mobile hot spot data, but video streaming is limited to standard definition. Boost is owned by Sprint and uses Sprint’s network. Customers may be able to bring their own phone, or they can buy a new one at retail price.
Sprint’s Unlimited Basic plan includes 500MB of mobile hot spot data, as well as calls, texts and 5GB of high-speed data to use in Canada and Mexico. Video streams in standard definition.

Best basic cell phone plan

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
  • 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 prepaid cell phone plan

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: Straight Talk 10GB plan
  • Price (monthly): $45
  • Plan at a glance: 10GB of data, plus unlimited talk and text
  • Why we like it: A great value compared with other prepaid plans, which offer roughly half the data for the same price.

 

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.
Straight Talk’s 10GB plan typically expires after 30 days, unless you opt to automatically refill your account. But you can also purchase in three-month, six-month and yearlong increments at a discounted rate. Straight Talk 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 plan for international travel

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 One
  • 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 210 other countries.
  • Why we like it: Easy text and data access while overseas, with the option to upgrade to One 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. Project Fi is owned by Google and runs primarily on Wi-Fi, using cellular networks from Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular as backups.
T-Mobile One’s price includes taxes and fees, but add-ons such as insurance or device payments are still assessed. You can upgrade to One 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.

 

Best cell phone plans: Summary

CarrierDetailsGet started

Plan: MetroPCS - 5GB

Best for: Average users

Monthly cost: $40
Get started at MetroPCS' site
Plan: Verizon 5GB plan

Best for: Average users

Monthly cost: $60; $55 with autopay
Get started at Verizon's site
Plan: Boost Unlimited

Best for: Unlimited data

Monthly cost: $50
Get started at Boost's site
Plan: Sprint Unlimited Freedom

Best for: Unlimited data

Monthly cost: $65; $60 with autopay
Get started at Sprint's site
Plan: Cricket Basic with Group Save – 5GB per line

Best for: Families

Monthly cost: $110 (4 lines)
Get started at Cricket Wireless' site
Plan: AT&T Unlimited Choice

Best for: Families

Monthly cost: $165 (4 lines); $155 with autopay discount
Get started at AT&T's site
Plan: Republic Wireless No Data

Best for: People who want a basic plan

Monthly cost: $15
Get started at Republic Wireless' site
Plan: Cricket Talk & Text

Best for: People who want a basic plan

Monthly cost: $25
Get started at Cricket Wireless' site
Plan: Cricket Wireless Basic - 5GB

Best for: People who want a prepaid plan

Monthly cost: $40
Get started at Cricket Wireless' site

Plan: MetroPCS - 5GB

Best for: People who want a prepaid plan

Monthly cost: $40
Get started at MetroPCS' site

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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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