Friday, December 30, 2005

A real bargain cellular phone

The NY Times has an article today titled "A Cellphone and a Plan for Just About Any Situation". Under "The Bargain Hunter", Seán Captain touts different vendor's $40/month plans and notes, "[a]s with all plans, you will spend several dollars extra in taxes and surcharges". (In some cases it's more than several. My brother has a $60 plan that ends up costing $80+ every month even when he doesn't go over his allotted minutes.)

Bah! You call $40/month a bargain? How about if you only use your phone a couple minutes a day on average or want one just for emergencies?

I went shopping for such a phone when my daughter was close to being born and my employer decided I should be "on call" (and did not volunteer to pick up the tab). If you don't mind their young-hipster marketing, the best deal I found in the US was at Virgin Mobile.

Right now you can buy a basic phone for $20 and, if you sign up for auto payments with your credit card, you only have to add $15 to your balance every three months. (Without the auto payment, it's $20). That's $5/month (or $7). Minutes are 25-cents/minute for the first 10 in a given day, 10-cents/minute after. Incoming text messages are free, outgoing are 10-cents each. No taxes, no extra surcharges, no roaming fees. Charges are taken out of your account balance. The account balance rolls over indefinitely (up to some maximum like $150). If you're like me and don't use the phone every day, your balance adds up so even if you use the phone a lot in a given month if you do not drain your balance you don't pay extra.

At the time I was looking there was no competition. Some pre-paid plans had your minutes expire after a short time. Others had a per-day charge (which Virgin offers if you want a lower per-minute rate, but it's not required). Now it seems that some of the other wireless companies are offering similar deals, but I haven't found anything better yet. If you have information about other deals, add a comment!

Update #1: Looks like Virgin is changing its charges for text messaging. Starting 15-Mar-06 14-Jun-06 it'll be 5-cents to send a message and 5-cents to receive a message.

Update #2: Virgin's rates have completely changed. Read my update.

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