It seems like most of the carriers, including AT&T, Verizon and Sprint (but not T-Mobile…yet) are offering “buckets” or rather, X amount of call time minutes or X amount of MB for data for travelers who want to stay connected abroad. A few of the carriers have encouraged their customers so to speak to sign up for these bucket plans by raising the per minute rates. While on the surface, these offers may seem attractive to their customers, these plans often turn out to be foe instead of friend. Here’s why.
Most people underestimate their usage. Therefore, say you sign up for AT&T’s Europe Travel Minutes. In Europe, for $120 (plus tax), you get 200 minutes. That’s $0.60 per minute for all incoming and outgoing calls. Not great but not bad. However, chances are, you will not use exactly 200 minutes. You will either use less or you will use more. If you lose less, depending on how much you use, you are “really” paying another amount. Example. if you use 100 minutes, you are paying $1.20 per minute. if you use 150 minutes, you are paying $0.90 per minute. Don’t forget to add the tax which is not simply your state’s sales tax, it is all the government tax which can be around 14-20% of the total. If you go over the bucket, you are paying $1.00 per minute. If all this sounds expensive, you’re right. Still, compared to data rates, this is a bargain. Plus, we can all usually gauge what a minute or 100 minutes is – unless you’re talking to Aunt Sue and a ten minute conversation seems like a lifetime.
AT&T, possibly the most transparent and with the best rates of the Big 4 (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile) charges $19.50 per MB unless you opt for a package. If you go over your package bundle, that is what you will be paying by the way, unless you go for the largest 800 MB package from the get go. So if the average user uses about 500 MB per month of data, we’re talking about $1000, and again don’t forget your contribution to Uncle Sam. However, you can get a bundle for as little as $30 for 120 MB.
Here’s my beef with all this, and now remember, I am using AT&T as an example and they seem to have at least a clearer and more transparent pricing structure than the other guys and better rates. If you don’t use what you pay for, you are overpaying. If you go over your bundle, you are really overpaying, and, while on vacation, do you really want to have to deal with the stress of having to calculate your usage or not use Google Maps, Facebook, Google Voice Translator, Skype, Tripadvisor or whatever because you are afraid that you are going to return home to a huge roaming bill? I have personally seen roaming bills for $140,000 and I have personally received a roaming bill of $18,000. Long story but it was due to some fine print that I neglected to strain my vision and my brain to interpret.
So what is the best solution? The best solution is to use an alternative carrier. If you are going to only one country, get a local SIM card. Cellular Abroad offers plenty of solutions for data as well as voice. By getting a different SIM card and putting it into your phone, or another phone and SIM card all together, you will not be using your usual provider but another provider. The service will be pay as you go. The benefit is that you cannot accidentally do what the US carriers are banking on, and that is, go over your minutes. Better yet, the minutes and data plans are so affordable that you can use your phone, smartphone or tablet as you choice – just like you do in the US or Canada or even more. Travelers want to use their devices to see where their going or to choose restaurants and itineraries but they are afraid of the roaming fees. If you are going to several countries, then a roaming SIM like the National Geographic Travel SIM is the way to go.
In sum, the carriers aren’t doing you any favors by offering these bundles. Just ask someone who went over their bucket. Therefore, the newest trend in international cellular service is that the carriers make it even more confusing for their customers and at their expense.