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Prepaid Operator Profile: TracFone

This is one of Prepaid Phone News' series of comprehensive US prepaid mobile operator profiles. I will be posting new profiles frequently, starting with the best known carriers. Eventually these posts will cover all the major US mobile operators that offer prepaid plans as well as the MVNOs that offer a good value.

Overview: TracFone, NET10, Straight Talk, Simple Mobile and SafeLink are all  owned by Mexico based América Móvil, the fourth largest mobile operator in the world. Interesting trivia: according to Forbes, the world's richest man is América Móvil's founder and CEO, Carlos Slim.

TracFone, NET10, Straight Talk and SafeLink combined had 23 million subscribers at the end Q3, 2013, making América Móvil the largest US prepaid mobile operator

TracFone is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), it does not have a network of it's own but buys service from other operators which is re-sells.

The main networks TracFone uses are T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon in the 50 states and Claro in Puerto Rico. Each TracFone has one of the four as its home network which it uses whenever possible. Where service on the home network is not available TracFone feature phones will roam at no extra charge on other networks, including about 30 small regional operators that TracFone has agreements with. See How to Tell Which Network (AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon) a TracFone, NET10 or Straight Talk Phone Uses for more about TracFone's network options. TracFone Android phones and BYOP devices use either the AT&T or Verizon network and do not roam.

Technology: AT&T, T-Mobile and Claro based TracFones use GSM on the 850 and 1900 Mhz bands with  GPRS (2G), Edge (2.5G) and HSPA (3G) data support. TracFones on the Verizon network use CDMA on the 850 and 1900 Mhz bands with 1xRTT (2.5G) and EVDO (3G) data support. LTE data is available with Android phones and BYOP devices on the AT&T and Verizon networks.

Devices: Originally TracFone offered  only non-smartphones. In Sept., 2013, TracFone introduced its first Android phones. In Nov, 2014, TracFone began allowing users to activate Verizon 3G phones. Currently TracFone allow the activation of GSM and Verizon phones including LTE capable models. Verizom phones on TracFone use the Verizon network, GSM phones use AT&T.

Plans and Prcing:  TracFone's pricing structure is very complicated and confusing with rates ranging from awful to very good depending on the plan, refill denomination, model of phone and if a bonus code code is used.

There are four basic types of TracFone airtime:
  • The regular Pay As You Go minute cards that are sold at convenience stores, Target, BestBuy, Walmart etc. They work on  branded TracFone feature phones, TracFone branded smartphones and Bring Your Own Phone (BYOP) devices
  • Monthly and Family Value Plan airtime. The value plans renew themselves automatically each month using your bank account or credit or debit card and are only available at tracfone.com. Value Plans work on all types of TracFones and BYOP devices.
  • Smartphone-only refills that only work on BYOP devices and TracFone branded smartphones. Most of the smartphone-only refills are only available directly from TracFone omline, not in stores.
  • DMFL cards that convert single minute Tracfone feature phones into Double Minutes For Life phones. Current TracFones are already DMFL phones so DMFL cards are of limited use.
Here are all the different TracFone refills currently available:

Pay As You Go Minute Cards
Price Validity Minutes
$9.99* 30 days 30
$19.99 90 days 60
$29.99 90 days 120
$39.99 90 days 200
$69.99 90 days 450
$99.99 365 days 400
$159.99* 365 days 1000
$199.99* 365 days 1500
Monthly Value Plans*
Price Minutes
$9.99 50
$19.99 125
$29.99 200

Family Value Plan*
Price Minutes
First Phone$9.99 50
Add'l Phones $5.99 40
Value plan members can purchase minute bundles (50 minutes for $10 or 100 minutes for $20) if they run out  before the month ends.

DMFL Cards
Cost Minutes Days Of Service Includes
$19.99 none none Adds DMFL to a single minute phone
$119.99* 400 (800 doubled) 365 Adds DMFL, 400 minutes and 365 days of service
* only available online at tracfone.com.

TracFone feature phones can be single, double or triple minute phones. Single minutes phones give you the face value in minutes of the top up card used. DMFL (Double Minutes for Life) and TMFL (Triple Minutes for Minutes for Life) phones give you two or three times as many minutes. So a 60 minute top-up card gives 60 minutes on a single minutes phone, 120 minutes on DMFL phone and 180 minutes on a TMFL phone. DMFL and TMFL phones get doubled or tripled minutes on Value plans too.

Text messages are charged at a rate of 0.3/minutes per text on feature phones.

Feature phone data and MMS picture messaging is billed various ways, all of them rather expensive.

  • Old phones, released before June 2012: Data is charged at half a voice minute per minute of data use which is counted from the moment the browser or data using app is closed until it is closed. Picture messages cost one minute plus the cost of the data transfer which is typically another minute or two.
  • Phones released between June, 2012 and Feburary, 2014 including the Samsung S390G, Samsung S425G and LG 840G: Data is charged at the rate of 1.5 voice minutes per KB of data. Picture messages cost one minute plus the cost of the data transfer which is typically another eight or nine minutes!
  • Phones released since March, 2014, including the LG 305C and LG 306G: Data is charged at the rate of 0.5 voice minutes per KB of data. Picture messages cost one minute plus the cost of the data transfer which is typically another two or three minutes.

You can check your TracFone's data rate by entering *#106 on the code entry screen which can be reached by pressing Menu>Prepaid>Code Entry Mode.
BW=ACT R=1.5 means 1.5 minutes per KB
BW=ACT R=1.5 means 0.5 minutes per KB
BW=T R= 0.50 means 0.5 minutes per minute of data use

TracFone Android phones and BYOP phones activated on TracFone get triple talk, text and data, AKA "triple-triple" when topped up with a regular pay as you go minute refill.  For example, a 60 minute card provides 180 minutes, 180 texts and 180 MBs of data. Additional minutes, texts and data can be added with special smartphone/BYOP only cards. Minutes, texts and data added wuth these special cards (listed below) do not triple.

Smartphone/BYOP Only Cards
Cost Minutes SMS Data Days Of Service
$50* none none 4 GB none
$30 none none 2 GB none
$15 none none 750 MB none
$10 none none 300 MB none
$10* none 1000 none none
$90* 3000 3000 1.5 GB 90
$75* 2000 3000 1 GB 90
$50* 1000 2000 500 MB 90
$35* 500 1000 400 MB 90
* only available online at tracfone.com.

On all plans unused plan balances roll over if a top up is made before the expiration date. For example, if you start with a 60 minute top up and only use 30 minutes worth of  calls, texts and data, and add another 60 minute top-up on the 89th day the 30 minute balance will roll over. giving you 90 minutes for the next 90 days. Rollover continues indefinitely as long as you top up before expiration.

Bonus codes  TracFone always has some bonus codes that will give you extra minutes when topping up. Some of these can be very good. There's currently one that gives you an extra 60 minutes when adding a 60 minute top up. You can find lists of current codes on  TracFone specialist sites like Prepaid Phone GuyPrePaid.com and Turk Forums (log-in required).  Bonus code minutes are NOT doubled or tripped on DMFL, TMFL or triple-triple phones. There are sometimes bonus codes that give you extra minutes when enrolling in a value plan. However, once you are using a value plan you can no longer use bonus codes. Bonus codes do not work on Android or BYOP TracFones.

International Rates: TracFone users can make calls to 60 counties including Canada, Mexico, China and most Western European countries for the same price as a domestic all.  To make an international call you first dial 1-800-706-3839. You will then prompted to select your language and then to dial 011 plus the country code and number. (For Canada, do not dial 011).  It is not possible to call other countries besides the 60 supported ones except by using a 3rd party international calling card. TracFone doesn't support sending international text or picture messages.

Coverage: TracFone has the largest coverage footprint of all the USA prepaid operators. TracFone feature phones can use over 30 US operators. The coverage with TracFone CDMA non-smartphone models that use Verizon is the best but the GSM coverage on phones that use AT&T or T-Mobile as their home network is almost as good. See Coverage Maps For All Prepaid Carriers to compare coverage. Android and BYOP phones use either the Verizon or AT&T networks with no roaming.

How to Buy: TracFones are available from tracfone.com and at major retailers including Target, Best Buy Walmart and Costco.  Basic models can be purchased at supermarkets, convenience stores and chain drugstores.

TracFone branded GSM feature phones use SIM cards. However TracFone SIMs are locked to the phone they were sold with and can not be used in any other phones including other TracFones. The phones themselves are virtually impossible to unlock and can not be used on any other service.

How to Activate: The easiest way to activate a TracFone branded phone is by going to tracfone.com, clicking Activate phone and following the instructions.   If you don't have a PC with Internet service you can also activate by calling 1-800-867-7183.

Bring You Own Phone Activation: TracFone now lets users activate unlocked and AT&T locked GSM phones and Verizon phones. You can check if a Verizon phone is eligible here. If your phone is deemed OK you will need to purchase a $6.99 Network Access Code for 3G phones or a BYOP 4G LTE Kit for GSM phones along with an airtime PIN.

To activate a GSM phone, you need a $6.99 BYOP 4G LTE Kit and an airtime PIN'

One you have the activation kit and airtime PIN, complete the BYOP activation process online or by calling 1-800-867-7183.

After activating a 3G Verizon based phone online or by calling, TracFone will tell you to dial *22890 on the mobile phone to complete the activation. If that doesn't work try dialing *228 and choosing option 1 when prompted. GSM and Verizon LTE phones should activate automatically when the phone is turned on with a TRacFone SIM in it.

Switching Phones:
To move your TracFone account from one TracFone branded phone to another, choose the "Transfer my number and service from one TracFone to another" option on the TracFone website's Activate Phone page.

To move your TracFone account from one Verizon 3G BYOP phone to another BYOP phone, use the TracFone BYOP page. After entering and validating your new phone's MEID  choose the "I want to upgrade my active Bring Your Own CDMA Phone to another Bring Your Own CDMA Phone" You do not need a Network Access Code to swap between one BYOP phone and another.

To move your TracFone account for one GSM BYOP device to another, simply transfer the SIM from the old to the new phone.

Payment Options: PIN cards or codes are available at convenience stores, supermarkets, chain drugstores and big box retailers like Target and at tracfone.com. PINs can be purchased at a discount from callingmart.com and other online retailers.
Added information about checking your balance on Android and BYOP phones and clearing Service Disabled errors.
You can top up with a PIN using the Prepaid menu on Tracfone feature phones. You can also top up with a PIN or a credit or debit card at tracfone.com  or by calling 1-800-867-7183.  If you have a promotion code don't forget to use it when you are topping up.  If you forget, TracFone can usually apply a code if you call within 24 hours on adding airtime.

Account Management: Your airtime balance and expiration date are displayed every time you turn on a TracFone feature phone. You can check your balance and expiration date at any time using the Prepaid menu on TracFone non-smartphones.  If you register at tracfone.com you can also check your plan expiration online for all phones and your balance for Android and BYOP phones.

You can also check balance and expiration for Android and BYOP phones by going to www.fastactportal.com/static/balance with the phone's browser or a PC and entering your phone number. Registration is not required. There's also a TracFone Android app that lets you check balance and expiration and refill using a PIN code. TracFone AT&T smartphone and BYOP can check their minutes, texts and data balances by dialing *777*1#

Fixing Service Disabled errors: If your TracFone feature phone is displaying "Service Disabled" click here, enter your phone's serial number and choose the "prepaid disabled" option

Free information services calls
911 - Emergency services

Customer Service:
Phone support: 1-800-867-7183 is the official TracFone support number. Use this number to access the automated service for adding top-ups 24/7.  You can also reach a customer support representative at this number from 8 AM to 10:45 PM Eastern Time 7 days a week . Calls are handled by off shore call centers. Wait times are usually short and the representatives courteous. However they often appear to be following a script and seem unfamiliar with the details of TracFone devices and services.

An alternative is TracFone's  "Executive Resolutions Dept." Miami based call center at 1-305-715-6500. It's available Monday – Friday from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM EST.

The Executive Resolutions representatives are more knowledgeable and better equipped to resolve complex issues.  I recommend always calling 1-305-715-6500 for things like no service and billing issues, PINs that don't work, porting your number from another carrier and switching phones while keeping your balance.

Support via Facebook: TracFone has a FaceBook Support Page that lets you submit a trouble ticket or live chat with a support representative.

TracFone on Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube

Phone Sales and General Information Web Site: www.tracfone.com

TracFone Pros: best coverage (feature phones only), strong retail presence, BYOP, lowest pay as you go data rates of any operator.

TracFone Cons: complex pricing structure, customer support is not trained and equipped to deal with the systems complexities.

Updated 27-Nov-2015: Feature phones no longer get 10 or 20 free minutes at activation.


Comment Page :
  1. I am thrilled to think of the amount of money I have saved by using Tracfone. A lot of my friends have contract phones and they seem to pay a hang of a lot out everymonth. With me, I can go as low as $20 for three months and I get 60minutes of time. Tracfone has been real value for money for me

  2. I have to agree these savings are the best things out there. I was nervous at first about getting prepaid phones for me and my family... but they have turned out totally exactly perfect. Plus the costs...... I cannot believe the savings.

  3. Talk about savings. Did you know that with Tracfone you can get triple minutes for life. For every minute that you purchase you actually get three. There is no catch just purchase the LG500 and you will see. I cannot believe how much money I am saving with this offer

    1. Where did you find a TMFL LG 500G? The one's on Trac's site are DMFL.

  4. Does anyone know if Tracfone is going to ever get a real smartfone(the current ones are a box of rocks)? They don't ever tell you when a new phone is coming out, but I think they will lose customers if they don't enter the 21st century soon.

    1. Tracfone is just one of the brands used by America Movil in the US. It's targeted at talk and text users. Running a smartphone, which needs to a constant data connection on Tracfones 1/2 a voice minute for every connected minute data rate would be prohibitively expensive.

      I wouldn't be surprised if someday Tracfone gets smartphones and smartphone friendly data plans but for now NET10 and Straight Talk are America Movil's smartphone brands.

  5. I don't need a smart phone. I have a laptop to do all my fancy stuff on. My phone is here for me to communicate by voice and occassionally I send a text. I am still using my Samsung 155 and have absolutely no desire to change to something smarter.

  6. Benjamin I think that you meant the LG800.
    The LG500 comes with double minutes (i know cos I have one) It is the LG800 that I have seen promoted with triple minutes which has caught my interes

  7. Is there still the $45 unlimited plan that I used to hear so much about?

    1. There's is but it's from Straight Talk not TracFone. Same company, America Movil owns both brands.

  8. I have the Straighttalk $45 unlimited plan and actually wasn't aware that it was the same company - can I use my straighttalk card in a Tracfone?

    1. Unfortunately you can't, Tracfones are locked to the SIM they came with.

  9. I purchased the LG800 from Tracfone and I could not be happier. Besides being a really fantastic phone, it comes with triple minutes, so eat your hearts out all you doble minuters!!!

  10. I have used a Tracfone for over a year and it's worked well for me. I haven't ever had any problems with reception and I have the double minutes plan. Because I don't work outside the home, I only use it when I'm out....basically for emergencies. I realize that if you break it down by minutes, they aren't cheap, but I don't have a contract and if I don't want to use up my time, I just tell the person I'll call them back later. For me, it's worked great. I would love to have a smart phone, but don't want a contract so will just wait for Tracfone to enter the 21st Century...may be waiting a very long time.

  11. Have you taken a look at the LG800 touch phone from Tracfone. It isn't a smart phone but it almost is and is very bright indeed. What I like about it as well, is that it comes with triple minutes for life, which has really brought my costs down. I don't have the Samsung 455, but apparently this is also a good phone to have

  12. straight talk have good coverage like the tracfone the phone i what is samsung sch-r455c it is cdma phone dose it work off verizon

    1. Yes, the R455C runs on the Verizon network.

  13. Hi Yeswap,
    If I were to purchase a Triple Minutes for Life Tracfone, activate it, and then purchase a $200/1500 min refill card, how many minutes would I get, 4500 or 1500? Also, if I were to purchase a triple minutes for life Tracfone that comes with minutes already, would those minutes also be tripled?


    1. A 1500 minute one year card would be good for 4500 minutes on a triple minutes phone.

      The triple minute phones from HSN, ShopCellDeals etc that are advertised as coming with 1200 minutes come with the equivalent of a 400 minute card which gives 1200 minutes when tripled.

  14. The theory of Tracfone service is great. And when it works, it suits the need. However their customer service is HORRIBLE. I guess you get good and bad with it.

  15. Relationship between AT&T and Tracfone; interesting background story in Fierce Wireless: http://www.fiercewireless.com/story/att-sells-part-its-stake-tracfone-owner-am-rica-m-vil-564m/2013-06-06?utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal

  16. "TracFone offers a large selection..." Really?! I guess you have a different definition than I about large. I think their selection is horrible.

  17. I hope they included the ability to toggle data usage on/off for apps so that you don't use up all your data inadvertently. This was a big reason why many android straight talk phones were not allowed on the $30 1000 minutes/1000 texts plan to use phone minutes as data.

    1. All Android phones allow the user to disable data use.

      No smartphones have ever been available for the $30 plan.

  18. "If you register at tracfone.com you can also check balance and airtime online."

    This is actually not true. It will tell you your service end date, but not your balance. I wish I had known this before I bought the phone...

  19. The check balance feature only works on the android phones. If you select a feature phone and "Check balance," you will get the message "check your phone for remaining minutes."

  20. I have a droid x2 on tracfone byop text woks fine, email works fine.MMS will not work after sending MMS says service not activated on network.Can't receive MMS either. Been talking with Tracfone for several weeks with no solution any suggestions on how to fix this.I did get on MMS to go through don't know why it did unable to send anymore.

  21. Tracfone goes international with the NEW $10 GLOBAL- Call anywhere in the world, including cell phones.

  22. Tracfone settles with fcc on phone unlocking. Must stipulate on their websites by September 1st. http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2015/db0701/DOC-334195A1.pdf

  23. New TRACFONE Phone Coming: Samsung Galaxy J1 http://www.samsung.com/us/mobile/cell-phones/SM-S777CZKATFN

  24. Good Read: American Movil offers US Roaming http://www.wirelessweek.com/news/2015/07/america-movil-offers-us-roaming-readies-8b-network-investment

  25. Will my Android Samsung Galaxie Centura's Mobile Data capability work in UK, Portugal, and Spain?

    1. No, TracFone's don't roam internationally and even if they did the CDMA Centura wouldn't work because it uses the wrong radio technology (CDMA vs GSM) for Europe.

  26. When it's released next month, I want to use the Motorola X Pure Edition on Tracfone near The Villages, FL. But I live in a "COGSM5" area (Verizon/T-Mobile). Does this mean I will only get "3G" data? Do I need to put in one of those 'fake' zip codes centered in Tracfone's AT&T areas to get 4G-LTE signals where I live???

    1. All TracFone GSM BYOP SIMs use the AT&T network. You will get LTE everywhere AT&T has it. You don't need to use a fake zipcode unless TracFone says there's no service in your zip.

  27. Do the minutes/texts/data on the 1 Year cards get triple/tripled as well with a BYOP android? Or just the ones with 30/60 day expiration?

    1. Yes, all minutes cards get tippled including the one year ones. The only one's that don't are the data and texts cards and the one year double minutes upgrade card.

  28. Walmart - NEW - TracFone Bring Your Own Phone SIM Activation Kit (TFRTPKP4CNA) - $6.99, Online- Only. Compatible with most 3G/4G LTE GSM or CDMA Smartphones. This is $3.00 cheaper on the CDMA side than on the TracFone site, which is saying there is a Network Access Code. Walmarts' SIM activation kit mentions nothing about a Network Access Code.

  29. If you read Spanish and want to know more about Carlos Slim, an extensive, unauthorized biography is available now. It took 7 years to research and write. http://news.yahoo.com/tycoons-telecoms-trotsky-book-lifts-veil-carlos-slim-171328128--sector.html

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