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Prepaid Family Plans Compared

Group of young people using smartphones
Multi-line or family plans used to be one of the few use cases where postpaid was a better deal than prepaid, but that's no longer true. After T-Mobile bought MetroPCS and AT&T acquired Cricket a few years ago they both launched aggressive family plan promotions that started a family plan price war that continues to this day. Here's a roundup of the best current options for multiple lines.


Unlimited Multi-line Plans: The best deals among the currently available family plans are on plans that include unlimited voice minutes and unlimited SMS and MMS messaging. The majority of them also include unlimited data, with the first  2.5 to 10 GB (depending on plan) of data at high speeds and the rest throttled to 2G speeds, typically 128 Kbps or less. Here are my picks for the best unlimited family plans:

Cricket, which is owned by AT&T, probably has the best current family plan deals of any operator. Cricket lets you create a family plan using any combination of its single line plans priced at $40 higher. All Cricket plans include unlimited talk and text and an allotment of "high speed" data. Cricket's high speed data is not all that fast as it's throttled to a maximum of 8 Mbps. That's fast enough for any use including video streaming, but it's a far cry from the up to 100 Mbps speeds At&T's LTE network can deliver in ideal conditions. Cricket plan prices for a single line are:

  • $40 - first 3 GB of data at high speeds followed by unlimited data at 2G (128 Kbps or less) speeds
  • $50 - first 8 GB of data at high speeds followed by unlimited data at 2G (128 Kbps or less) speeds
  • $55 Unlimited data throttled to 3 mbps
  • $60 -Unlimited high speed data
Cricket charges $10/month to use your phone as a hotspot on the $50 plan. Hotspot is not allowed on tother plans. Cricket prices include all taxes and fees, even sales taxes.

Adding more lines up to a maximum of five is rewarded with a discount:

  • Second line gets a $10/month discount (a $5 per line saving) 
  • Third line gets a $20/month discount for a total discount of $30 (a $10 per line saving) 
  • The fourth line gets a $30/month discount for a total discount of $60 (a $15 per line saving)
  • The fifth line gets a $40 discount for a total discount of $100 (a $20 per line saving). 
With the discounts, five lines on the $40/month 2.5 GB plan are $100/month, a savings of $100 over five individual lines. Five lines on the $50 5 GB plan are $150/month.

On July 21, 2017 Cricket launched a promotion that gives customers two lines on the $55 plan for $80 per month.  the promotion only applies to accounts with two lines. Three or more lines of the $55 plan are eligible for Cricket's regular family plan pricing; three lines cost $135, four lines are $160 and five lines are $175.

MetroPCS  - Unlike Cricket, T-mobile's MetroPCS doesn't throttle the high speed portion of its data. MetroPCS is currently offering additional lines on any plan for $25/month. All MetroPCS plans include unlimited voice and messaging and varying amounts of high speed data. MetroPCS single line prices are:
  • $30 - first 2 GB of data at high speeds followed by unlimited data at 2G (128 Kbps or less) speeds
  • $40 - first 6 GB of data at high speeds followed by unlimited data at 2G (128 Kbps or less) speeds
  • $50 - Unlimited high speed data, no hotspot, video throttled to 480p.
  • $60 - Unlimited high speed data, 8 GB hotspot.
MetroPCS plan prices include all taxes and fees, even sales taxes.

Boost Mobile (part of Sprint) lets customers on its $50 Unlimited Gigs plan add additional lines (up to 5 lines total) for $30 per month per line. Unlimited Gigs includes unlimited talk, text and data. The first line is also eligible for a $5/month auto pay discount. Although data is unlimited and browsing data is unthrottled, video streaming is degraded to 480p resolution, audio streaming is restricted to 500Kbps, online gaming data throttled to 2 Mbps and hotspot is throttled to 128 Kbps after 8 GB is used.

There is also a promotional family plan that's available for a limited time:
  • 4 Lines of Unlimited Gigs for $100 available for new activations until Sept 7, 2017. The plan includes Three or fewer lines also cost $100 and five lines are $130.  The first line is also eligible for a $5/month auto pay discount.  The offer is available for new activations at a Boost dealer only and at least one line must be a port-in from a non-Sprint based MVNO or operator.
Boost charges all applicable state and local point of sale taxes.

Total Wireless is a TracFone brand that uses the Verizon network. All plans include unlimited talk and text. Unlike most other operator's unlimited plans, which give each line its own allotment of data, data on Total Wireless family plans is shared between all lines. Total has three multi-line plans:

  • $60/month ($57 with autopay) 2 lines, 8 GB of shared data
  • $85/month ($80.70 with autopay) 3 lines, 12 GB of shared data
  • $100/month ($95 with autopay) 4 lines 15 GB of shared data
Unlike the other carriers mentioned here, Total Wireless data is hard capped, meaning that data stops working when the high speed allotment is used up. Additional data is available for $10 for 3 GB. Unused add-on data rolls over and never expires as long as the monthly plan is renewed on time. Like all Verizon MVNOs, Total Wireless' high speed data is throttled to 5 Mbps. Hotspot and tethering are not allowed on Total Wireless.

Total Wireless  charges all applicable state and local point of sale taxes plus an additional 1.7% for federal USF and cost recovery.

Net10 is another TracFone brand that offers service on the the user's choice of either AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile. All plans include unlimited talk, text and 2G data. Net10's throttled data is 64 Kbps which is significantly slower than the 128 Kbps throttled speed on most carriers. Net10 high speed data is also throttled to 5 Mbps for phones on the Verizon network. Hotspot and tethering are not allowed on Net10. The following family plans are available from Net10:
  • $75/month ($72 with autopay) - 2 lines, 3 GB of high speed data per line
  • $90/month ($85 with autopay) - 2 lines, 5 GB of high speed data per line
  • $130/month ($125 with autopay) - 3 lines, 5 GB of high speed data per line
  • $170/month ($165 with autopay) 4 lines, 5 GB of high speed data per line
Net10 charges all applicable state and local point of sale taxes plus 1.7% for federal USF and cost recovery.

Lycamobile is a T-Mobile MVNO that offers a Family Plan priced a $80 for 2 lines, $105 for 3 lines, $120 for four lines and $125 for 5 lines. Each line gets unlimited voice minutes, unlimited messaging and unlimited data with the first 5 GB per line delivered at high speed. The price for a single line is $45//month.

Ultra Mobile, another T-Mobile MVNO, offers an Ultra Flex Family plan that includes unlimited nationwide calls, unlimited global text, unlimited international voice to 10 destinations and 250 MB of shareable 4G LTE per line. The plan is priced at $22 for one line, $35 for two lines, $45 for three lines and $50 for four lines. Five or more lines cost $12.50 per line.

The table below compares the best of the plans mentioned above.

Multi-line Plans with Unlimited Voice and Messaging 
Operator Network High Speed Data Hotspot Unlimited 2G Data? 1 Line 2 Lines 3 Lines 4 Lines 5 Lines Notes
Ultra Mobile T-Mobile 250 MB per line (shareable) No N/A $22 $35 $45 $50 $62.50
Total Wireless Verizon 8 to 15 GB Shared No No $33.20 $57 (8 GB shared) $80.70 (12 GB shared) $95 (15 GB shared) N/A With Auto Pay
Boost Mobile Sprint Unlimited 8 GB Yes $45 $75 $95 $95 $125 With Auto Pay
MetroPCS T-Mobile 2 GB Per Line Yes Yes $30 $55 $70 $95 $120 480P video
Cricket AT&T 3 GB Per Line No Yes $40 $70 $90 $100 $100
MetroPCS T-Mobile 6 GB Per Line Yes Yes $40 $65 $80 $105 $130
Lycamobile T-Mobile 5 GB Per Line No Yes $45 $80 $105 $120 $125
MetroPCS T-Mobile Unlimited No N/A $50 $75 $100 $125 $150 480P video
MetroPCS T-Mobile Unlimited 8 GB N/A $60 $85 $110 $135 $160
Cricket AT&T 8 GB Per Line $10/mo Yes $50 $90 $110 $140 $150
Cricket AT&T Unlimited 3 mbps No N/A $55 $80 $135 $160 $175
Net10 AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon 5 GB Per Line No Yes $45 $85 $125 $165 N/A With Auto Pay
Cricket AT&T Unlimited No N/A $60 $110 $150 $180 $200

Non-unlimited Family plans: If you and the other members of your family or group use their phones sparingly, you might be able to save a little with a family plan that offers a fixed number of minutes, texts and MBs of data. Here's what's available in non-unlimited family plans:

Pure TalkUSA is an AT&T MVNO with family plans that let up to five lines share a limited number of minutes and texts. There are five plans. Prices per month for a single line are:

$10 - 160 minutes, $20 - 400 minutes, $30 - 700 minutes, $40 - 1100 minutes, $50 - 1500 minutes.

Texts count as a third of a minute per text sent or received.
There's a $5/month charge for each additional line.
Data and MMS are not included but can be added: 9.95/month for 200 MMS and 400 MB, or $19.90/month for 1 GB and 400 MMS for $19.90. Data and MMS add-ons are per line and are not shared.

Consumer Cellular is a no-contract postpaid MVNO that offers service on your choice of either T-Mobile or AT&T. Consumer Cellular allows up to five lines to share a plan for an additional $10 per month per extra line. Consumer Cellular has separate plans for voice minutes and for data, SMS and MMS. Customers build a plan by combining any voice plan with a data/messaging plan. Both voice and data/SMS/MMS are shared on family plans.

Available voice plans are (price is per month):
$15 - 250 minutes, $20 - 1500 minutes, $30 - unlimited minutes.

Available data and messaging (SMS or MMS) plans are:
$2.50 - 300 messages, 30 MB; $5 2000 messages, 200 MB; $10 - unlimited messages, 500 MB; $20 - unlimited messages, 1.5 GB; $30 - unlimited messages, 3 GB; $40 - unlimited messages, 4 GB.

Plan prices do not include include taxes and fees which add between 15% and 35% to the monthly cost.

Warning: On all plans, if you exceed the minutes, messages or megabytes included with your plan in any month, Consumer Cellular will automatically upgrade to whatever plan covers the minutes, messages or megabytes you have used. Unless you manually downgrade you plan you will stay on the higher plan in subsequent months. If you use more than 4 GB in a month, Consumer Cellular will charge $10 or each gigabyte over four, up to a maximum of 10 GB. In addition to charging $10/GB for data over 4 GB, Consumer also throttles the added data to 128 Kbps.

Ting  is another no-contract postpaid MVNO. Ting offers service on the customer's choice of T-Mobile or Sprint. Ting's pricing model is unusual. Customers are billed for separate tiers of minutes, texts and megabytes of data. If a customer uses up all the minutes, messages or data in a tier, Ting will automatically upgrade them to the next larger tier for the current month only. Customers can block automatic updates by setting usage and/or spending limits on a line by line basis as well as restrict some lines from using voice data, tests or MMS.

Here are the available tiers.
Talk 100 min $3 500 min $9 1000 min $18 2100 min $35  2100+ $35 + 1.9¢/min
Text 100 texts $3 1000 texts $5 2000 texts $8 4800  min $11  4800+ $11 + 1/4¢/text
Data 100 MB $3 500 MB $10 1 GB $16 2 GB $20 2 GB+ $20 + $10/GB

There's a $6/month charge per line, which is charged on each line of a family plan, including the first line. Plan prices do not include include taxes and fees which add between 15% and 35% to the monthly cost.

Image: Tom Sulcer [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Updated July 22 2017: Added new Cricket $55 plan.

10 comments:

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  1. Cricket wins again. Unless you like faster data.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What is 8mbps too slow to do?

      Delete
  2. Wireless Services US (for dealers who promote their own brand) Family Plan:
    Operator Network HS Data Ulim 2G 1Line 2Line 3Line 4Line 5Line Notes
    "Dealer's Own" VZW 3-6GB No $40 $75 $110 $145 NA
    3GB 4.5GB 6GB
    Shared Shared Shared

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Dennis, pls. add Gophone to the comparison table too. They now have multi line discounts, international calls texts and hotspot included on At&t

    ReplyDelete
  4. Darrell what's the website for wireless services us?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sagar, the dealer portal is at www.wirelessservices.us

      Delete
  5. "Unlimited" is not the best word to use that Boost plan, which can't be used in most of the territory of the contiguous 48 States. That is QUITE limiting.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you for the insightful article, very helpful indeed. I checked out Consumer Cellular's website and from what I understand minutes are not deducted when making calls to other members under the same account, which is a good fit for my family. I also appreciate that they have lower data options, as we utilize wi-fi as much as possible (we stay under 1 GB between our 3 lines).

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have yet to see a family plan that makes sense for two users who normally pay $20 to $30 each for single user plans. Using PureTalk's $29 unlimited Talk/1GB data on AT&T towers as a baseline, even PureTalk's own family plans are not competitive!

    A family plan would result in us paying more (we don't need more data), getting less, or having less coverage.


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  8. Tracfones' Total Wireless now seems to be available at most Target Stores. There are (4) phones now available on their website and in most of my local Target Stores.

    ReplyDelete
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