2017-06-15 / Columns

Which cell provider has top travel plan?

Flying Squirrel
Thor Challgren

TAKE YOUR PLAN WITH YOU—Not long ago, using a cellphone while traveling abroad meant a huge bill at the end of the month. Today, all major wireless providers offer some type of temporary international package for a fixed cost. TAKE YOUR PLAN WITH YOU—Not long ago, using a cellphone while traveling abroad meant a huge bill at the end of the month. Today, all major wireless providers offer some type of temporary international package for a fixed cost. In the world of computing, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore observed in the early 1970s that computer processor speeds would double every two years.

Moore’s Law, as it is famously known, has generally held true in the years since. Consumers have come to expect regular speed boosts in their computers and mobile devices.

I cite this because in July 2014 I wrote about cellphone coverage while traveling.

Whether it’s accessing city maps, Googling info on museum hours, making a restaurant reservation or texting a question to a tour operator, travelers use their phones a lot on vacation, a trend that has only accelerated in the last three years.

At the time of my first piece, I found that if you wanted to use your cellphone overseas, one thing was certain: It would be expensive.

My, how times (and competition) have changed things. Call it Moore’s Law for cellphone plans.

Here’s a quote from the 2014 piece, in which I cited the international rates from my own carrier: “With AT&T, for example, you can add coverage for one month only, at a rate of $5 for voice calls, $10 for 100 text messages and $30 for 120MB of data.”

With that as a typical 2014 baseline, let’s review how the top three carriers (measured in subscribers) stack up today.

AT&T: With a qualifying plan (AT&T Unlimited Plus or Unlimited Choice), you can add the “AT&T International Day Pass” plan. For $10 a day per device, you’ll receive unlimited talk and text as well as access to the data allotment in your domestic plan.

You pay only for the days you use, but assuming daily use, your cost for a seven- to 10-day trip would be $70 to $100. Compare that to the $45 you would have paid in 2014 for a minimum talk, text and data plan. Yes, it costs more today, but you’re getting substantially more data today than you were then (120 MB then versus more than 10 GB today.)

AT&T also offers benefits to U.S. customers who travel to Mexico or Canada. With a qualifying plan (see above), you’ll essentially be able to use your phone in those countries exactly as if you were at home. Talk, text and use as much of your data as you want; there’s no extra cost.

Verizon: America’s largest cell provider offers its own “TravelPass” plan, which has a similar cost structure to the AT&T plan described above.

For $10 a day per device, you’ll have access to your domestic plan’s allowance of talk, texting and data in over 100 countries. You’re charged only on the days you use your device in those countries.

For travel to Mexico and Canada, the cost per day is $5 per device, though that fee is waived if you happen to have the carrier’s new Verizon Unlimited Plan.

T-Mobile: If you’re an AT&T or Verizon customer and you benefit from the deals described above, you can thank America’s third-largest cell provider. T-Mobile markets and prices their cell plans aggressively, often forcing the other two majors to match them when possible.

With its popular T-Mobile ONE plan, you’d receive free data and texting in over 140 countries. Compare that to Verizon and AT&T, which charge $10 a day to use those same services. For voice calling with T-Mobile, you’d pay 20 cents per minute in most countries— still a relative bargain.

The data speed for this included benefit is described as “up to 3G.” If you want faster speeds abroad, you could select their ONE Plus plan for an additional $5 per month, which doubles download speeds and adds a stash of hotspot data you could use for a tablet. T-Mobile also offers an “On Demand Data Pass,” giving you a fixed amount of additional data for a set price.

Of course, no matter which provider you use, companies often change the plans they offer, so I recommend speaking with them directly before you travel to make sure you have the best plan, pricing and international coverage for your needs.

If talk, text and data usage are stitched into your normal routine at home, you’ll be happier if you can enjoy the same benefits while traveling abroad.

Thor Challgren is a travel consultant who lives in Thousand Oaks. For more info and resources on this story, visit www.loveyourvacation.com/acorn. Email questions to thor@theacorn.com.

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