My husband and I both are hard-line creatures of habit. A significant change to our life’s routine requires considerable thought. That’s why we struggled to let go of our ATT cellphone service we relied on for nearly 25 years, even though friends told us we would cut our monthly bill substantially by switching to Consumer Cellular.
And for a year, we were grateful Consumer Cellular groupies saving $101 a month, contract free, and getting 10 GB more a month than from our previous provider. We saved over $1200 this past year, enough for an extra road trip.
However, we recently switched yet again to T-Mobile’s Magenta 55 plan. Not only are we reducing our monthly cellphone bill by $15 more with T-Mobile, we’ve eliminated the charges we used to pay for cellphone service when we traveled abroad.
Consumer Cellular and T-Mobile—What They have in Common
- Neither Consumer Cellular or T-Mobile require an annual contract like our initial long-term service provider—definitely a plus–(although we have since learned that other Big Name providers are following suit).
- Both companies allowed us to bring our own phones for a small access fee or purchase one of theirs outright or over time–probably standard for most companies.
- Each Consumer Cellular and T-Mobile company representative we’ve worked with by phone or in person has been courteous, knowledgeable, and patient.
- Both companies provide a brick and mortar presence for one-on-one expert assistance. T-Mobile has 5300 stores across the United States and Consumer Cellular representatives can be found in most local Target stores.
Consumer Cellular offers the better deal for those who use minimal data.
We certainly don’t want to discredit Consumer Cellular. After all, they saved us $1200 dollars last year (we took a road trip to New England). And for the retired individual or couple on a tight budget with no travel plans and minimal data needs, their unlimited talk and text plan with 3GB to 10GB of data is more affordable than T-Mobile’s minimum plan.
But we’ve discovered T-Mobile has the edge when it comes to several criteria that are important to retirees who love to travel.
T-Mobile Magenta 55 Plan Costs Less for More Service
- When it comes to cellular service packages for retirees on a budget, T-Mobile’s Magenta 55 plan doesn’t seem to have a contender. This plan offers unlimited talk, unlimited texting, unlimited data for two lines plus a 3GB hot spot for 4G data (unlimited 3g afterward) for $70 a month–period. That $70 includes taxes and fees. In addition, that same $70 also includes unlimited international texting and international 2G data along with unlimited inflight texting and one hour of free wi-fi. (The Magenta 55 Plus plan offers even more perks for $90 a month including taxes and fees).
- Consumer Cellular also offers unlimited talking and texting for two lines, but only 25 GB of data for $75 excluding taxes in fees. Additional charges apply for international travel. The company offers a 5% AARP discount, but our bill each month with the discount and taxes and fees was $84.49–nearly $15 more a month and nearly $175 more a year.
T-Mobile Has Better Coverage
- Take some time to study the maps provided by each company and it appears T-Mobile offers the wider coverage even extending into Canada and Mexico.
- Consumer Cellular’s coverage is limited to the continental United States. In our year with Consumer Cellular we always had service on our trips to Florida and New England, but often had trouble finding a signal during our week in New Mexico.
T-Mobile Has Better Customer Service Hours
- You can count on live customer service 24/7 with T-Mobile. My calls in the morning led me to a live representative in moments. This evening I called to inquire about my bill, and I had less than a five minute wait.
- Although my 9:00 am calls to Consumer Cellular were usually answered quickly, afternoon and evening calls required a considerable wait times. My last two interactions by phone involved holds that exceeded an hour. The call back option offered a time slot the following day. Consumer Cellular doesn’t seem to have the necessary support to meet the demands of its customers.
T-Mobile’s International Service is Free, and Consumer Cellular’s is Costly
We’re happy about saving $15 more a month on our cellular bill with T-mobile. We’re ecstatic the $70 a month also includes free unlimited texting and guaranteed 2G data while traveling abroad in most countries. In addition, that $70 includes unlimited inflight texting and one hour of free inflight wi-fi.
We had the opportunity in November of 2021 to experience T-Mobile’s service in seven countries: England, Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Greece, and our layover in Germany, and we’re happy to report T-Mobile is true to its word. We had service everywhere and no unexpected charges and we didn’t have to purchase an additional data plan. In fact, entire articles have been devoted to T-Mobile’s international service like traveler Ben Lucky’s account on his blog, One Mile at a Time. Lucky claims his experience with T-Mobile’s international service is “life-changing.”
BEWARE of Racking Up Roaming Charges as Unsuspecting Travelers
While international service is included with T-Mobile, it appears that as of this writing (February 2022) ATT still charges for this service. Customers must pay $10 a day per phone for an international roaming pass. As ATT customers prior to Consumer Cellular, we considered the roaming charges to access data abroad were the necessary evils of traveling, trip after trip. Our cellphone bill following our return home was always $200 or more for the month we traveled.
Consumer Cellular requires international travelers to purchase a $10 SIM card and charges .25 cents per 1 MB of data. On a typical day of international roaming–inadvertently downloading the 50 or so unsolicited email in your in-box, accessing google maps for navigation and other travel resources, and posting pictures on Facebook to communicate with friends and family back home–you could easily exceed 100 MB and add $25 or more to your bill per day.
In fairness, ATT’s website provides an exemplary overview of what a customer can expect to pay in roaming charges. It even provides a data calculator.
Consumer Cellular is also upfront about additional roaming charges, providing this warning on their website to customers traveling abroad:
“Be aware that when using your phone internationally, charges can add up, so it is always best to use on a more limited basis. For your protection, service will be disabled once we have received billing records showing $100 in international roaming charges has been incurred on your account during a billing period (this includes calls, text messages, and web data). Due to delays in receiving billing records, your charges will likely have exceeded $100 when international access is disabled” (“International Roaming,” Consumer Cellular).
Consumer Cellular Falls Short for International Travelers
Unfortunately, when Consumer Cellular suspends your service when international charges reach $100, you’re without telephone service until you can somehow resolve the issue with Consumer Cellular’s billing office.
Of course, the easy, but not so desirable remedy is keeping your cellphone on airplane mode at all times while you’re traveling from destination to destination, and accessing wi-fi only in the safety of your hotel or a secure hot spot.
When we switched to Consumer Cellular, I couldn’t ignore the negative reviews I located online regarding the company’s track record with international service. In addition to an inflated bill, I was concerned whether we would have service at all while traveling. Several customers complained that they had no service when traveling internationally, including my sister who could make nor receive calls on her 2018 trip to Europe. A customer service representative acknowledged the complaints and explained that older phones with 3G networks won’t work abroad. He assured me our 4G phones should have no issue providing we have the appropriate SIM card installed for approximately $10, a couple of weeks before our departure.
But why take the chance when you can have unlimited texting and guaranteed 2G data, wandering about over 200 countries on the planet included in your $70 a month with T-Mobile’s Magenta 55 plan?
And, I didn’t mention the plan includes one hour of free inflight wifi and Thank you Tuesdays.
Should you Break your Current Contract to Make the Switch?
And once you’ve decided it’s time to change your cellphone service, should you break your contract if you are committed to another provider?
The answer is most likely, YES.
Although we waited out our contract to switch from ATT to Consumer Cellular, you may still be ahead if you buy out the contract with your current provider and switch now.
When we decided to move to Consumer Cellular, we only had three weeks left in the contracts for my Iphone and my husband’s Ipad. In addition, I still owed five months of the payment plan for my Iphone—approximately $125.
However, I paid that additional $125 and arranged for our former provider to release the phone so that I could use it with Consumer Cellular. Even with that $125 additional payment, we still saved $380. On the other hand, if we continued with our former cellular service over the next five months, we would have paid $101 more per month for service totaling over $505 additional. It was a smart move for us.
But, even if we were locked into a new two-year plan with our former provider, we would have paid the $325 to terminate it. With an estimated savings of $101 per month with Consumer Cellular (and now, $116 with T-Mobile), we calculated we would be ahead over $2,000 when our former cellular service contract ended in 24 months.
And, if we happened to be buying a phone through the contract with the installment plan, we would still be more than $1000 ahead by paying off a $1000 phone.
Three years later, our only regret is that we didn’t do the research and make the switch earlier.
Curious. What stories do you have about T-Mobile that might dispel some our infatuation with the company?