Assuming you make fewer calls than average, and you don’t need Verizon’s better network, Ting offers flexible billing and a choice of Sprint and T-Mobile coverage. Ting consistently ranks high in Consumer Reports reader surveys and placed well in past PCMag surveys (although it faded in that site’s latest round of reader assessments). And with Ting’s recent addition of third-party device financing, you can even have some of the same low up-front phone costs as with the big four.
Frequent travelers will find other bonuses in T-Mobile’s unlimited plan. It includes international roaming, and although One Plus limits that roaming to 256 Kbps speeds, I’ve found it to be more than adequate for email and basic browsing. You also get free texting, 25¢-per-minute calling, and the ability to use your phone in Canada or Mexico with no roaming charges, even for LTE.

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I’ve covered the wireless industry since the late 1990s. (My first guide to cell phone service, written in 1998, devoted much ink to comparing analog and digital cellular.) I’ve tested smartphones and cell phone plans from all four major carriers for Boing Boing, CNN Money, Discovery News, PCMag, VentureBeat, The Washington Post, and others, and I now cover telecom-policy issues for Yahoo Finance (a subsidiary of Verizon’s media division Oath) and answer telecom questions in a USA Today Q&A column.
Some devices may automatically transmit and receive data without any user action or knowledge. This may result in significant unexpected cellular data charges. Applications such as push email, news and weather updates, location services and many downloadable apps (even free ones) may do this. This list is not at all exhaustive; therefore, to avoid unexpected bills, we recommend that you take great care to disable automatic applications on your device.

With every carrier, unlimited data isn’t truly unlimited — but AT&T sets the limit unusually low, with every unlimited plan throttling speed after 22 GB of data usage. That’s half of T-Mobile’s data limit. If you spend a lot of time streaming or browsing social media in places without Wi-Fi, there’s a chance you could go over your limit. And if you want “unlimited” data but no DIRECTV Live, no dice: The pair are inseparable. There are some standard phone plans that have smaller data limits for a lower price, but the comparable value is poor. While you can set your cap at 1 GB for just $25, the 10 GB cap is $75 — more expensive than the standard $70 unlimited plan.

If you’d like to save some money with a prepaid or resold plan (we talk about the differences below), we like Verizon Prepaid, which costs about a third less than Verizon’s postpaid service for a 7 GB plan ($50) on the same excellent network. As with Verizon’s postpaid plans, you’ll still get unlimited 2G data after you hit your plan’s data cap, but Verizon Prepaid bests the company’s postpaid plans in one way: It doesn’t limit streaming video speed. However, the prepaid plans don’t include calling and texting to Canada and Mexico unless you upgrade to the 10 GB plan or buy the international-roaming TravelPass at the postpaid rate.
Verizon’s best plan for most people is also its least obvious offering: the 5 GB for $55 deal. It’s difficult to find this plan on Verizon’s homepage, but you should see this option if you select a phone, add it to your cart, and scroll past Verizon’s flagship “unlimited” offerings when selecting a plan. (Verizon’s website quotes a $60 rate for this plan, but signing up for auto-pay using a checking account or debit card gets you $5 off—though this precludes running up points on a travel-rewards credit card).
Among services that let you bring your own phone, Verizon Prepaid provides the best deals for four lines, thanks to generous multiple-line discounts on its 3 and 7 GB (per line) plans that drop those four-line costs to $100 and $125, respectively. The only exception is the least appealing data amount: four lines with 1 GB each, where AT&T Prepaid is cheapest at $90 a month. Cricket offers more data in our medium-usage scenario—$110 buys you 5 GB per line—but that comes with an 8 Mbps speed limit and no hotspot support.
For example, let’s say you’re using a Mint Mobile plan while you’re on a business trip to Dubai. You open up WhatsApp to call your spouse, who then passes the phone to each of your kiddos before you have to end your 30-minute call and go to dinner with a client. That means you’ve used about about 22.5 MB of data,4 so that one call just cost you $4,50. It adds up fast.
There are many reasons you might be in dire need of a new phone, though perhaps one of the biggest complaints when it comes to any older cell phone is battery life. With companies like Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, Huawei, and Motorola recently rolling out new flagship devices, now is your chance to take advantage of slashed prices on quality smartphones that will blow your old model out of the water.
We quizzed experts, crunched numbers, and pored over fine print and pricing to help you figure out how much data you need, which network offers the best coverage where you need it, and whether a postpaid or prepaid plan is the best for you. We think that Verizon Wireless’s single-line 5 GB plan is the best cell phone plan for most people, but we have a variety of picks for different needs.
If you don't want to drop money on a new release, shop for a prior model. Do some research into when your preferred model line is due for a new release, and then a month before the new phone drops, be on the lookout for sales on previous generations. It's during this time that manufacturers mark down previous models to make room for the newest ones, allowing you to score a great cell phone deal. Save even more by opting for an even older model; just make sure the phone's specs meet your needs. Alternately, you can try out a used or refurbished device. You can find both older and preowned devices at eBay and Amazon.
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