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Battle: Comparing the Cheapest Cell Phone Plans

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Talk may be cheap, but unfortunately cell phone plans aren't. To help you choose a plan that's right for your budget, we compiled data to compare the cheapest cell phone plans. Which carrier offers the most comprehensive plan for the least amount of money? Find out below.

Least Expensive Cell Phone Packages

Verizon Wireless
Sprint
AT&T
T-Mobile
Metro PCS
Least expensive (basic) plan
$39.99/mo for 450 mins, $0.20/txt, $1.99/MB
$29.99 for 200 mins, $0.20/txt, $0.03/KB
$39.99 for 450 mins, $0.20/txt, $2/MB
$39.99 for 500 mins, $0.20/txt, $10/200MB
$40 for unlimited mins, unlimited txt, unlimited MetroWeb
Least expensive (unlimited) plan
$119.98
$99.99
$114.99
$79.99
$60
Note: Prices current as of May 2011. All prices are subject to change.

Each of the above carriers offers a dizzying array of individual and family-based plans. The plans, rates, and terminology can be overwhelming, so we compared data on just the least-expensive, individual basic plans and the least-expensive, individual unlimited plans.

In terms of basic plans, Sprint comes in with the lowest package offering a $29.99 basic plan that includes 200 talk minutes, a la carte texting at $0.20/txt, and a la carte Web access at $0.03/KB. However, while Sprint may offer the least expensive basic plan, Metro PCS offers the best value with its $40 basic unlimited plan. It's worth noting that this basic "unlimited" plan offers unlimited MetroWeb data, which doesn't take into account YouTube streaming, instant messaging or other data-heavy features. What MetroWeb does cover is access to Facebook, AccuWeather.com, GameLoft, Fox News and more. (Click here to see the full list of supported sites.)

As far as unlimited plans go, Metro PCS again wins by a large margin. This time we looked at Metro PCS' top-tier unlimited plan: the 4G LTE Unlimited Premium Plan, which includes unlimited access to everything. At $60/mo, it's roughly $20 cheaper than the lowest unlimited plan offered by Verizon, Sprint, AT&T or T-Mobile.

Ultimately, our best recommendation when choosing a plan is to read everything carefully. Rates change constantly and what one carrier calls "unlimited" may not fit your definition of unlimited. In addition, make sure you don't overpay for something you don't need. According to BillShrink, the average user overpays on their cell phone bill by $336 per year. So while the sound of unlimited may seem appealing, there might be a chance you can squeeze by without an unlimited plan. Gauge your usage and find out which features you're willing to compromise on and which ones are a necessity.


An avid gadget lover, Louis Ramirez has covered technology for Gizmodo, CNET, Laptop, and various other publications. Follow him on Twitter — @LouisRamirez. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.

Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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13 comments
aaabrown
"Solavei" is by far is the cheapest and best mobile service by far!
UNLIMITED TALK TEXT AND DATA FOR ONLY 49/MONTH
Nationwide 4G Service with No Contracts
Starting at $39 a month, Solavei offers Unlimited Data, Talk and Text,
Don’t need data? Get UNLIMITED TALK TEXT for $29/mo*
Click here to join Solavei today:

tp://www.solavei.com/Mysollaveil]
tulsarunner
Why are companies always using the term "unlimited" like it is the ultimate sales pitch. I have the $30 plan from page plus. I won't even use 50% of the 3000 texts or 1200 minutes of call time it gives me. 500 mb of data isn't alot but unless you are watching videos, do you really need that much data. It is an awesome plan. There aren't a large variety of phones but all you have to do is go to ebay.
doconnell864
Pageplus - for $12/mo I get 250 min and 250 text... not bad for casual users
tech_ed
Hmm....but if you go with a prepaid phone plan, you can get 250 minutes for $25/month and unlimited texting. So if you're going for a purely voice only plan, *NONE* of these plans are all that good...Not when you get unlimited texting with the prepaid plans!
I purchased a small flip-phone for $20 at Best Buy, and fill it up at the beginning of the month. For data, I purchased a Samsung Tab 3 8 inch and a data plan at AT&T which cost me $30/month for 3GB...So for $55/month, I get voice, texting and data. Not too shabby!
stangale
Please update this article as it's years old. Currently paying 100.00 + taxes for 4 lines with T-Mobile.
Sure couldn't do that in 2011!
WhiskeyJosh
I bailed on Sprint 3 months ago for Virgins $25/mo plan and the Optimus V.  I can honestly say that Virgin plan and Optimus V phone are stunning. I'm free from contract and able to use the phone in ways that even Sprint users have to pay for.  Like Wireless Mobile Hotspot.  Plus, with Google Voice, I'm running unlimited minutes with my unlimited data.  I tried Virgin for a month before bailing on Sprint and was completely satisfied in every way, from customer service to reception.  I advise you all to stop wasting your time and money on expensive, useless plans and contracts. 
pyroskater85
See thats something nice to see. a comparison of different cell plans. i didnt know there were two different types of Metro PCS plans. my friends have metro pcs and brag how they only pay 40 a month for their unlimited everything. didn't know it doesn't include 4G internet. I have the Unlimited everything plan with 4G Speeds from t-mobile but instead of 79 like everyone else i only pay 59 a month for it. it was a special 1 day promo for no-contract plans. but i have to pay full price for my phones up front. but the plus side of that is the 20 dollar difference i save by not having a contract plan over a 2 year period is 480 dollars. so i pay 500 for my phone now but over two years i save 20 bucks a month on my plan and after two years i walk away paying only 20 bucks for my phone. then i turn around and resell the phone to someone else or recycle it to a company that pays me for it and in the end result i get paid to have a cellphone and get a new one every two like everyone else with a contract. i pay my bill like normal than put the 20 difference into a savings account so when the two years come up i will have enough money to pay cash and not have any issues. as that as a major plus side i would recommend tmobile to anyone out there who is looking for a new cellphone company. but they dont offer what i have so you would have to go with the 79 a month plan. which isnt bad. seeing how tmobile will be possibly bought out by att you can have an iPhone and unlimited everything for 79 a month. and dealnews just posted it's least expensive unlimited by att as 114.99. so take the difference save the money in a savings account then when contract is up buy a new phone with that money. it's money that would have been spent anyways. right?? anyways thats just my opinion.
lildavyjensen
I had been using Tracfone for years until the Virgin Mobile plans came out. While the choice of phones is limited, I could still get the Android phone I could not imagine having on Tracfone. As just about everyone else has said here, the $25/month plan cannot be beat.
tclim
As Kevin says, the Virgin Mobile plan really is the cheapest--that is, as long as you do not talk a lot. I pay $25/month with no extra taxes or fees. The data plan is unlimited--no other plan comes close to this deal--and you can talk up to 300 minutes. The tradeoff is in the choices of phone.
emmerson
I've been using Tracfone for years.  With a little effort you can find specials and promo codes online for free minutes to get the cost per minute well below 10 cents.  If you rarely use a cell phone you could pay less than $10 per month.  If you use less than 400 minutes per month you should consider a prepaid plan. 
mnealbarrett
I use Virgin Mobile, and like it a lot.  You simply cannot beat the $25 a month plan, which includes unlimited data.  The 300 minutes of talk is no nearly as much of a limit as you think; with an Android phone like the Optimus V, you can install the Google Voice app, which lets you place voice calls over the 3G data connection, or over WiFi if you are near an access point, and it is completely seamless.  Also, for some reason, Virgin charges sales tax and not communication taxes; for me, this means I'm paying $26.50 a month total.  (communication taxes around here are usually about $6 a month and up)  
bjliii
 Since the title says "Cheapest Cell Phone Plans", the data presented is patently wrong. The rates shown for the Big 4 are correct, and they are all contract rates.  While the pricing shown for metroPCS is also correct, it is a pre-paid plan that does not require a contract.  

Since pre-paid plans are apparently fair game, then Virgin Mobile's $25/mo plan with 300 minutes and unlimited text and data needs to be included.With Google Voice, I can make calls over the data network (3G) for free, so I only need the 300 minutes when 3G is unavailable.  I am paying $50 less per month than I used to and now talk all I want.  That makes the Virgin Mobile plan the best there is, as far as I can tell.  If anyone knows of a lower priced unlimited data plan, I'd love to hear about it.
bigevil2005
I don't see how you don't have Boost Mobile in the conversation.  At $50 a month for truly unlimited talk, text, and web how is it not the leader?   That $50 also includes all taxes as well with no hidden fees.  
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