Money at 30: How I’m Saving Money with T-Mobile
Earlier this year, I suddenly found myself inspired to reassess some of the bills I had taken for granted and find new ways I could be saving money. As part of this goal I realized that, after a 10+ year run, perhaps it was time that I considered leaving AT&T and looking at a different carrier. Incidentally I’ve actually had my phone number with all four major U.S. carriers at one time or another, so there wasn’t an obvious choice. However, after some time, a clear frontrunner emerged: T-Mobile.
So what is it about T-Mobile that got my attention and how is it saving me money now? Let’s take a closer look at the “uncarrier”:
What T-Mobile Has to Offer
T-Mobile One vs. T-Mobile One Plus
While T-Mobile offers a number of different plans, seemingly their most popular options is T-Mobile One. This unlimited plan includes all of the benefits I’ll be discussing below. Additionally there is also an upgrade to T-Mobile One aptly named T-Mobile One Plus.
If you’re trying to decide between the two and determine if the extra $15 a month for One Plus ($10 if you add One Plus to two or more lines) is worth it, I’ll be noting how the perks differ in each section. Spoiler: unless you plan on doing a lot of international travel, sticking with T-Mobile One is probably just fine.
Unlimited talk, text, and data
There was once a time when it seemed that carriers were killing off their unlimited data plans, with those who were grandfathered into such arrangements holding on for dear life. Yet somehow, in more recent years, the pendulum has swung back the other way and unlimited plans are now commonplace once again.
Like other major carriers, T-Mobile does warn that, while you will have unlimited data usage, they may throttle your connection speed (AKA: make it slower) after you consume over a certain amount in a given month. Currently that threshold is 50 GB. By comparison, both the Verizon Plan Unlimited and AT&T Unlimited &More plans may begin throttling after 22 GB. I don’t anticipate using more than 22 GB in a month let alone 50 GB, but I think it’s worth pointing out nonetheless.
Netflix on Us
Another way carriers have been luring consumers to their side is by bundling plans with various streaming services. Some Verizon plans include Apple Music, select Sprint plans have Hulu, and various AT&T plans feature access to the WatchTV app. As for T-Mobile, their T-Mobile One plans have Netflix on Us.
Just like it sounds, this perk entitles you to a free Netflix subscription as part of your service. You can either set up a new account through T-Mobile or follow a few easy steps to have your current membership billed to T-Mobile. What’s also cool is that, while this perk includes the Standard Netflix plan, you can also elect to pay the $3 difference and upgrade to the Premium plan.
One word of warning, in an FAQ asking about how the recent Netflix price hikes would affect the Netflix on Us benefit, T-Mobile first says that there is currently no change. However they go on to note that “Stay tuned for additional updates by May 1.” That would suggest there’s always a chance this feature will change or go away (especially with T-Mobile’s proposed merger with Sprint in the works), but hopefully Netflix on Us sticks around as this perk amounts to a significant savings for me.
Before I jump into this section, I should make clear that “discount” in this case may be a bit misleading. When you’re looking at pricing on T-Mobile’s website, more often than not the number you’re seeing has already factored in this autopay “discount.” Therefore you’ll need to make sure to opt into this feature if you want to reap the savings. Without autopay, you’ll end up paying an extra $5 per line per month. As someone who’s had questions about the benefits of autopay in the past, this is one case where I can say it’s definitely worth it.
Lastly my favorite aspect of T-Mobile is the travel benefits that come with their service. These are actually where I anticipate being able to save the most in the coming month. Given their prominence in my decision to switch, I’ll actually discuss free roaming and free Gogo WiFi in their own section.
Benefits of T-Mobile for International Travel
Free international data roaming and texting
With the autopay discount and Netflix on Us factored in, I’m saving about $15 a month versus what I had on AT&T. That is significant, to be sure, but the biggest reason I decided to switch was their international roaming policy. T-Mobile One users can visit most countries and utilize their mobile data for free. Plus your texting is also included in this deal. Meanwhile phone calls start at $.25 a minute.
For me, this was a huge deal as AT&T required me to purchase International Day Passes — a $10 fee that would allow me to use my regular phone plan for 24 hours while abroad. While I could maximize this offer by being clever about when I started my 24-hour clock, a week trip would still end up costing us an extra $60 per person if we wanted to keep our phones active. Having just returned from a trip to Hong Kong (actually I’m typing this from the Incheon International Airport), I can say that being able to turn on my phone and not worry about this added $10 a day was well worth the switch.
There is one big asterisk to this deal you should know about, however. T-Mobile notes that T-Mobile One users will only have data speeds of 2G at most while abroad. Those who upgrade to T-Mobile One Plus can double that speed. In my experience, the T-Mobile One data worked well enough for texting, messaging, and using apps, although the slower speed did mean that news articles were sluggish when loading. The One Plus speed was better but could also feel a bit slow at times. By the way, despite my wife being on T-Mobile One and me being on T-Mobile One Plus, both of our phones regularly displayed “LTE” while we were overseas. Presumably that just means LTE speeds were possible where we were, although we were being served lower speed service.
Free Gogo In-Flight WiFi
Another great perk for travelers included with T-Mobile One is Gogo in-flight WiFi. Luckily for me, my preferred airline (Delta) utilizes Gogo, so I knew I’d be able to take advantage of this benefit. Once again, the mileage you get out of this feature will vary depending on whether you have One or One Plus.
T-Mobile One customers can enjoy one hour of free WiFi on their mobile device by visiting the Gogo airborne site, selecting the T-Mobile option, and entering their phone number. As for One Plus users, they can follow the same instructions to receive unlimited WiFi for their entire flight. This even works on international flights (at least ones equipped with Gogo, of course), as I can attest to.
The one downside here is that, officially, you can only take advantage of this free WiFi on your mobile device. In fact, if you try to visit the Gogo site from a laptop, the T-Mobile option won’t even display. That said, if you do some Googling, you may or may not find a workaround that reportedly allows you to use your free WiFi benefit on a different device. I haven’t personally tried this trick so I can’t speak to its effectiveness but, nevertheless, I enjoyed being able to use my mobile browser, messaging services, apps, and more at 30,000 feet.
Final Thoughts on T-Mobile (And Their Service)
Having now been able to test out T-Mobile both at home and abroad, I’m really happy with my decision to switch. In terms of service and speed, I haven’t experienced any major issues. Admittedly there have been a couple of times when I had less than stellar service in a hotel room… but without having my AT&T phone in the same room to compare, I can’t really say for sure that T-Mobile was the issue.
As I said, on paper, I’m not saving that much with T-Mobile versus my AT&T. However, with the price of Netflix factored in, the monetary incentive to switch grew. Moreover the outstanding perks for domestic and international travel made my most recent trip much easier. For that reason, if you’re on the fence about T-Mobile, I personally think it’s worth giving the “uncarrier” a shot.