Choosing the Right Cell Phone Plan
Choosing the right cell phone plan can be confusing. These days there are so many different options in the areas of pricing, data, talk minutes, text and then on top of all that you have to decide what cell phone you want to get it all on.
We’ve made a short checklist for anyone looking to sign up to a new contract. It’s important to address what elements of a phone plan are important to you and therefore help you decide which cell phone plan is right for you.
Individual or Family Plan?
This choice is relatively simple. Do you require an individual plan, or are you looking to combine a number of phones and lines in a group to minimise costs? If you are, a family plan work best for you.
- An individual plan offers minutes and data for monthly use by one individual
- A family plan offers a 'bucket' of minutes and data for use between members of a family, with each line added to the bucket costing around $10 per month.
Family plans can often offer impressive savings, rather than signing up for several individual plans for you, your spouse and your children.
Set Your Priorities
Are you after a good plan or a hot new phone? More and more people are chasing the phone they want (think iPhone) before they even start looking at carriers and contracts. If you are one such person, make sure whichever carrier you’re looking at offers the desired cell phone you’re after. With our site, just pick the phone and we'll check which carriers it is available from. The hottest new phones will have an upfront cost on your 2 year contract.
If you’re more focused on getting a good deal then it’s important to figure out what you use your cell phone for most so that you can optimise or right size your minutes and data. Importantly, if you’re upgrading to a new smartphone with access to HSPA+ or 4G data speeds, you'll be able to use a lot of mobile internet data on the move. So, how much email and web surfing are you thinking about for your new phone?
What to know?
- Monthly Minutes Remember minutes are calls you make and receive so have a look at a couple of previous bills
- Data Both email access, and web surfing (and your use of apps on your phone like Facebook)will count towards your monthly usage
- Tethering If you want to be able to plug your phone into your computer and access your data plan, you'll need to tether and there are additional charges. Click 'tether my phone' on the data selection on the WhistleOut search results page to see the right pricing from each carrier.
- Messages How many messages do you send each month
- Calls to Canada How many calls do you make to Canada each month
Most carriers offer cell phone plans with varying focuses on different areas such as data, calling and text. So if you’re a texting addict then you’ll definitely want to consider a cell phone plan with unlimited text. If you love surfing the web, watching YouTube and using navigation software then you may want to consider a more data-centric cell phone plan.
Choosing a Cell Phone Carrier
This might seem like it should be the first step, but identifying the type of contract you want first can save you a lot of time when looking for a carrier.
Next, make sure the carrier you’re looking at even has service in your area, as most carriers in the US don’t have coverage in every city. If you've seen their shops in your town, then they've got coverage. When there is no coverage in your area from a specific carrier, they wont' bother setting up a shop.
Second, think about where you’ll be using your phone. Will it still have service where you work? Do you travel often, either nationally or internationally? If you are a traveller, especially an international one, it’s extremely important to check that the carrier supports this. Be especially wary of this with CDMA carriers such as Verizon or Sprint, as many of their phones simply will not work overseas.
Carriers tend to offer similar prices for similar styles of contracts. The bigger carriers generally charge a little more, but they also tend to boast superior coverage, network speeds and reliability.
Utilising Past Experience
Now you have a rough idea of the kind of cell phone plan you’re looking for, it’s time to start comparing prices to value. Think carefully whether or not an extra $10 or more per month is actually worth what the carrier is offering to you. Past experience with cell phone plans is extremely helpful in this instance, as only you know how often you use your cell phone.
Sometimes it’s worth upgrading to a more expensive plan, especially if you are upgrading your phone. Many new smartphone users find their cell habits change significantly once they make the switch, as a smartphone can become a much larger part of your day-to-day life than cell phones traditionally have been.
How long you want to be locked in to a contract is entirely up to you. 24 month contracts are usually the cheapest way to go, but can be brutal if you choose the wrong plan or handset.
Make sure you’ve gone over all the facts before agreeing to any contract. Do the math and figure out if the 24 month contract is really that much more affordable than a shorter contract. They almost always are and most people find them to be quite agreeable, but just remember that 24 months is a long time to pay for a mistake.
Things to consider when buying a phone:
- Battery Life
- Data Speed
- Menus & Navigation
- Audio / Call Quality
- Locked vs Unlocked
It’s easy to get a little jumbled after looking through a huge number of cell phone plans so we advise that you go over each part of the plan carefully before making a final decision. Do you really want that much data, or could you do with a little less/more? Will you survive on how many texts and call minutes you’ve chosen?
Remember, only you can really know what type of cell phone plan is best for you. So trust your own judgement to make the final call.
- Be aware of any additional fees that may be incurred (activation, overtime, 411, international/roaming, etc).
- Investigate the cooling off period whereby you may return your phone if unsatisfied by the service. It is important to fully test out your cell phone capabilities early on to ensure the service in your area is acceptable.
- Understand the peak and off-peak times and how many minutes you have in each time slot.
- Learn how to track your cell phone usage to avoid any excess charges for overuse.
- Take advantage of special offers such as free calls to others on the same network or bonus text messages.
- Look in to additional data plans if you expect heavy use of internet or email.
- Insurance options are available from many carriers in case your cell phone is lost, stolen, broken, etc.
- In order to avoid the potential for excess usage charges you may wish to consider using a pre-paid plan option.
Tip: You can use our Cell Phone Plan Comparison technology to help compare cell phone plans from the major carriers.
Tip: There are a range of 'waived connection fee' and free shipping deals almost every week so keep checking the site to secure a deal.
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