We no longer live in an age where major carriers monopolize the wireless space, charging high prices for year-long contracts. Now, cell phone users have many options among prepaid, no-contract carriers. Tracfone is a carrier that brings a unique flavor to the world of prepaid wireless plans.
In this product review, we will examine Tracfone’s pros and cons, along with a detailed look into their pricing, coverage, compatible phones, and more.
Table of Contents:
- Tracfone: An Overview
- How Tracfone Plans Work
- Tracfone Device Selection
- Tracfone Coverage
- Best Places to Shop for Tracfone Devices and Plans
- Tracfone Customer Service
- Our Top 5 Alternatives to Tracfone
- Final Thoughts
Tracfone: An Overview
Parents of teens, small business owners, and senior citizens are enjoying Tracfone’s service style.
Instead of the traditional monthly plans for both postpaid and prepaid carriers, Tracfone allows users to purchase minutes and data one time for a set number of days – 30, 90, or 365. For these reasons, many are finding Tracfone to be an affordable option befitting their lifestyle.
While not the best carrier for heavy data users, Tracfone allows business owners to hand out work phones to staff members. Tracfone’s vehicle hotspot also aids workers on site to access the Internet.
Parents can control how their teens use a smartphone, whether for overnights with friends or summer camp excursions.
Tracfone coverage is reliable and uses AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and US Cellular service across the country. And for addressing questions and issues, customers have a nice variety of help options from Tracfone Support.
Tracfone Pros and Cons
- Wide variety of 30-day, 90-day, and 365-day plans
- Access to Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and US Cellular networks
- Easy add-ons Add New
- LTE hotspot for your car (Car Smart)
- Free flip phones with the purchase of a Tracfone plan
- Customers may rollover unused minutes, texts, and data into the next pay period
- Not a great provider for medium to heavy data users
- Customer service is spotty
- When service timeframe expires, you have to renew your plan to access rollover minutes, texts, and data
How Tracfone Plans Work
If there’s one way to describe Tracfone plans, it would be “pay as you go.” While you would think that all prepaid, no-contract carriers fit this description, few embody “pay as you go” more than Tracfone.
Tracfone customers don’t use standard monthly plans. As mentioned above, they make a one-time purchase for what they need in a given timeframe. If they run out of minutes, texts, and data, they can easily purchase add-ons at their leisure. Or, they may opt for Tracfone’s auto-refill program.
Navigating Tracfone’s Website
Tracfone’s website is reasonably user-friendly. It’s a great place to get to know the brand, shop for plans and phones.
When shopping for phones and plan pricing, you’ll consult the first option on the toolbar, “Shop.” If you’re only “window shopping” for a new carrier, you should begin at the “Why Tracfone” page. Here you can view a coverage map, as well as overview information.
Initially, Tracfone sported the flip phone with basic, prepaid talk and text pricing. Today, Tracfone supports smartphones, flip phones, vehicle hotspot, and various service add-ons. Naturally, pricing varies by category.
Basic Phone Plans
All basic plans track usage via minutes (talk, text, and web). You can purchase these minutes via an airtime card or online. Your basic plan exists for flip phones.
These plans begin at $9.99 for 30/30 (30 minutes for 30 days) to 1,500/365 for $199.99. There is a wide variety of 30-day and 90-day plans in between.
Customers that want to set up auto-refill for 30 and 90-day plans can save a few bucks each pay period and ensure that their service won’t lapse.
If you have a smartphone, you can choose from classic or smartphone plans. For new smartphone users, a classic plan is best. Classic plans start at $15 for 30 days and include 500 minutes, 500 texts, and 500 MB of data.
The most expensive classic plan costs $125 for a year and includes 1,500 minutes, 1,500 texts, and 1.5 GB of data. Again, you’ll save money by enrolling in Tracfone’s auto-refill program.
Tracfone’s smartphone plans are most like the traditional prepaid carrier plans. Rates include unlimited talk and text. For LTE, you’ll receive 1 GB for $20/month or 3 GB for $30/month.
You can still purchase add-ons and set up auto-refill, as needed.
While not a major data carrier like Verizon or T-Mobile, Tracfone does offer something that you don’t typically see apart from the major carriers: vehicle hotspot. Devices that require Internet can connect to the car hotspot, so long as they are within range of the vehicle.
To find out if your vehicle is compatible with Car Smart, provide your vehicle information here.
For $99, you get a year subscription that maxes out at 24 GB of LTE wireless Internet. Very few prepaid, no-contract carriers offer car hotspot services. It’s an excellent solution for small businesses that use work vehicles or for those on frequent road-trippers.
Time limits do not constrict any service add-ons. Whether you need extra minutes, texts, or data, add-ons prices range from $5-10.
When signing up for Tracfone, you have two options. You can either purchase a SIM kit or airtime card (if your phone is already Tracfone ready).
Tracfone also distinguishes between “pay as you go”/phone plan options and service add-ons. If you’re bringing a smartphone, be aware that you can save money by choosing a smartphone plan as described above.
When using an airtime card or SIM kit on your current device, you only need to enter a PIN to get started. Make sure you understand the time limit wherein your prepaid minutes, texts, and data are available. Once you reach the end of the service period you purchased, Tracfone ends your service until you renew.
When shopping amidst Tracfone’s plans, you need to know that there are two things to consider. First, you are prepaying for minutes, texts, and data, and that probably comes as no surprise.
Second, Tracfone also considers the service timeframe. That is, you are paying for service within a strict time limit upon which to use your prepaid minutes, texts, and data. However, if you maintain an auto-refill agreement with Tracfone, you shouldn’t have to worry about the service time limit unless you want to cancel your service.
Further, you save money when enrolling in the auto-refill program. For some, being able to turn one’s phone on and off as needed means that airtime cards make more sense. But for others, they need to be able to count on uninterrupted service, as well as long-term savings.
Minute, Text, and Data Rollover
If you use your phone inconsistently, then Tracfone needs to be one of your top picks. When you don’t use all your minutes, texts, and data for one month, it rolls over into the next month.
Remember that Tracfone also requires you to maintain or renew a subscription for uninterrupted service. As long as you do so, you can stock up one month and use the next.
If this is appealing to you, you are not alone. One of the chief complaints of cell phone users is their inability to rollover unused portions of their plan into the next month or pay period.
Tracfone Device Selection
If you’re into the very latest smartphones, chances are that you’re better off with a premium carrier like Verizon or T-Mobile. But if you’re a light data user and enjoy working with slightly (or much) older models, Tracfone will suit you just fine.
Tracfone works for older Samsung, LG, and iPhone smartphones. You can also enjoy other brands like ZTE and Alcatel.
If you want to bring a phone you already own, you should begin at the device compatibility page on Tracfone’s website.
Before you begin verifying your phone’s compatibility, make sure that you know whether your smartphone is T-Mobile, Verizon, or AT&T ready. If your phone is GSM and unlocked, it is most likely compatible with Tracfone.
After confirming that your device is compatible, you can enter your SIM kit code (if you purchased a Tracfone SIM kit at Walmart or Amazon), or you may opt to buy a SIM kit directly from Tracfone.
At this time, Tracfone does not offer smartphone financing. Since most of their smartphone deals cost less than $200, financing hardly makes sense anyway.
If you prefer the flip phone from early Tracfone days, you have several flip phone brands to select for free with the purchase of a plan.
In theory (since they have contracted with the leading carrier networks), Tracfone coverage is great. However, there are a few customers that report signal difficulty while in parts of the country where coverage should be decent.
The reliability of your Tracfone coverage will depend on your area and the age of your phone. Older phones (even though compatible with Tracfone) may not switch between service providers well.
What is an MVNO Carrier?
Tracfone is an example of an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) carrier. Being an MVNO provider means that they harness the wireless infrastructure of another provider. In Tracfone’s case, they contract with T-Mobile, US Cellular, AT&T, and Verizon.
Under normal circumstances, Tracfone customers enjoy the same coverage quality as those on premium carrier plans. However, the downside to using an MVNO carrier is that your service may suffer if the premium carrier’s system is under heavy use.
For example, Tracfone will always select the best coverage in your area. Let’s say that Verizon is the best wireless provider in your area; as such, Tracfone will deliver Verizon coverage to your phone.
But if Verizon customers are at peak usage, Verizon is going to care for their customers over the customers of their MVNO partners. Your coverage may suffer periodically as a result.
Best Places to Shop for Tracfone Devices and Plans
Customers can purchase Tracfone phones, SIM kits, and airtime cards at several stores, including Target, Best Buy, and Dollar General. You may even find refill cards at your local gas station.
That being said, Amazon and Walmart are two great options beyond surfing the Tracfone website where you can find anything you’ll need to make the switch.
Tracfone on Amazon
As the leading e-commerce store, Amazon is a great place to shop for devices, airtime cards, and SIM kits. Customers also enjoy examining user reviews.
Tracfone at Walmart
If you prefer an in-store experience that allows you to look and touch, Walmart is the best place to shop for Tracfone devices, airtime cards, and SIM kits. Additionally, you can enjoy user reviews via your Walmart shopper app.
In fact, downloading the app will tell you what Tracfone phones are available at your nearest Walmart location.
Tracfone Customer Service
They offer online chat and a customer service 800 number 7 days/week from 8 am-11:45 pm Eastern Time. If you prefer text help and forums, you can access the following options any time of day or night:
Tracfone’s customer support options are adequate, though not above average. As a general rule, only the major wireless carriers offer the best customer service.
For example, when we tried (twice) to contact Tracfone customer support via their 800 number, the wait was short, but the customer service rep’s connection was poor (note: we did confirm that the issue was not on our end).
Other customers noted the same problem and stated that they got better help from Tracfone’s chat option.
Tracfone Carrier Smartphone App
Customers can track their usage and change their account settings through the Tracfone app.
The app is available for download on Android and Apple devices. With nearly 60,000 downloads, customers rank the app above four stars (on average). Tracfone’s app is easy to use and helps you keep your service from expiring.
Our Top 5 Alternatives to Tracfone
If the features of Tracfone service don’t fit your lifestyle, here are five alternatives with similar price points.
1. Straight Talk
Of all the reliable, no-contract carriers, Straight Talk is the most cost-effective for heavy data users. Base plans begin at $30 for unlimited text, 1,500 minutes, and 100 MB of LTE. The top plan offers genuinely unlimited LTE, plus 10 GB of hotspot (excluded for AT&T smartphones) for $55/month.
Even more astounding is Straight Talk’s international subscription. It is $60/month and includes unlimited talk/text, plus 25 GB of LTE. But before you choose this plan, make sure that the country to which you are headed is a country that Tracfone supports.
A possible downside for Straight Talk is the odd way it uses other carrier networks. It is not a straight-forward MVNO provider that uses all of one or more coverage areas managed by a premium provider.
Instead, it harnesses bits and pieces of many networks to build the broadest possible coverage.
On the one hand, it can boast almost 100% coverage nationwide. However, some customers are reporting spotty call quality and data speeds. This problem is likely due to phones (particularly older ones) having to switch rapidly between various GSM and CDMA networks.
As a side note, Straight Talk is a brand under the ownership of Tracfone.
Straight Talk Pros
- Best truly unlimited everything plan for those on a budget
- Incredible nationwide coverage
- One of the best international plan providers
Straight Talk Cons
- No hotspot options for AT&T smartphones
- Not cost-effective for low data users
- Questionable coverage reliability for older phones
2. Mint Mobile
If you like introductory offers without having to commit to a subscription, you are going to enjoy Mint Mobile. The $15/month intro offer includes unlimited talk and text, plus 3 GB of LTE data. The intro offer lasts three months and increases to $25/month thereafter.
These offers extend to bigger plans, such as $20/month for three months at 8 GB of LTE ($35/month thereafter) and $25/month for three months at 12 GB of LTE ($45/month thereafter).
There is a critical difference in Mint Mobile pricing over its competitors. Instead of monthly prepaid plans, you pay for three, six, or twelve months upfront. While you spend a little more initially, long-term savings are still high, especially if you are willing to pay for a full twelve months.
Customers also enjoy Mint’s customer service – a luxury for which MVNO carriers are not known to have.
As a bonus, you get your SIM kit for free upon signup.
Mint Mobile Pros
- Incredible introductory plans starting at $15/month for three months
- Immensely cost-effective for those that are willing to pay six or twelve months upfront
- Great customer service
- Free SIM kit
Mint Mobile Cons
- No unlimited plans
- No month-to-month subscriptions
3. Republic Wireless
As one of several MVNO carriers contracted with T-Mobile, Republic Wireless gets reliable coverage and cost-effective unlimited talk and text starting at $15/month. Cost savings with Republic Wireless are comparable to Tracfone but with a more traditional month-to-month prepaid subscription.
And while Republic does not allow customers to roll over unused data, you can increase or decrease your data each month, as needed. You can increase your data incrementally for $5 per 1 GB up to 15 GB/month.
A Republic Wireless plan with 3 GB of data totals $30/month. If you regularly use more than 3 GB of LTE, you’d likely do better with another competitor.
However, you do get the flexibility to change your plan at will. If you reach a month where you need significant amounts of LTE, you can adjust your plan easily on the Republic Wireless app. Afterward, you can set your plan back to a low LTE subscription.
Republic Wireless Pros
- Top provider app for managing your plan
- Reliable coverage
- New phone financing
- Easily adjustable data use month-to-month
- Up to 15 GB of data available
Republic Wireless Cons
- Not that cost-effective after 3 GB of LTE
- Poor customer service (no 800 number or chat)
- No unlimited data plans
4. Metro by T-Mobile
If you’re looking for an affordable no-contract provider that will allow unlimited data, Metro is one of the better options.
Like most carriers, Metro throttles your LTE after a certain point, but the limit is astoundingly high. You have to use 35 GB of LTE before throttling begins.
Like Republic Wireless, Metro uses the T-Mobile network, second only to Verizon. Customers can access unlimited data plus options to add hotspot. Their top plans – $50 and $60/month – offer unlimited data, plus 5 GB and 15 GB of hotspot, respectively.
Top plan subscribers also enjoy great perks, such as Google One storage and free Amazon Prime.
- High data limit before throttling
- Affordable unlimited plans
- Great member perks
- Low-cost family plans
- Not cost-effective for customers that don’t use a lot of data
5. Simple Mobile
Once again, T-Mobile supports yet another MVNO carrier. Simple Mobile is a great “middle-of-the-road” no-contract carrier if you need moderate data and unlimited talk and text. It also boasts 5G ready (as does T-Mobile).
Disclaimer: Before you run to Simple Mobile for 5G LTE, make sure that your smartphone is also 5G ready.
Also, another Tracfone subsidiary, Simple Mobile fits comfortably between Tracfone and Straight Talk. Simple Mobile also offers unlimited international texting with options to add-on international call and data coverage.
Simple Mobile’s lower plans are somewhat bewildering: $25/month for unlimited talk/text and 3 GB of LTE, or $30/month for unlimited talk/text and 2 GB of LTE. If all you’ll need is 3 GB of LTE or less, $25/month is hard to beat.
Unlimited plans range from $50-60/month, depending upon how much hotspot you’ll need.
Simple Mobile Pros
- Unlimited international texting with all plans
- Most cost-effective subscriptions for medium LTE users
- 5G LTE ready
Simple Mobile Cons
- Not cost-effective for low data users
- Not especially cost-effective for heavy data users
For those that need a limited number of minutes and texts, Tracfone is a winner.
You can pay for only the minutes and texts you’ll use (starting at under $10 for 30 days), and there’s no need to pay for LTE unless you want to. What’s more, you’ll save even more money by enrolling in auto-refill plans.
Unused minutes, texts, and LTE are automatically rolled over into the next pay period. Add-ons are low-cost and straightforward to use. And if all you need is to convert your car/van/truck into an LTE hotspot, you can purchase Tracfone’s Car Smart service.
Tracfone is the ultimate “pay as you go” mobile carrier for low data smartphone and flip phone users.