Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile’s Roaming Rates for Cuba

Up until a couple of years ago, you could not use your cell phone, period in Cuba. The good news is that now the 4 major carriers in the US, T-mobile, Verizon, Sprint and AT&T offer roaming service in Cuba. That bad news is that the rates are…atrocious. Luckily, There are other options – but we’ll get to that later. For now, let’s explore the roaming plans that the “Big Four” US providers currently offer for Cuba. Brace yourselves.

T-Mobile

Using your T-Mobile phone in Cuba will cost you $2.00 per minute in and out. So, a 10 minute conversation will cost you $20. If you want to use data, T-Mobile will charge you $2,000 for 1GB of data.

AT&T

AT&T is even more expensive than T-Mobile. To make/receive a phone call is $3.00 per minute. Data is $2.05 per mb so over $2,000 for a GB. of data. And don’t forget to throw in the tax.

Verizon

Verizon’s rates are similar to the other competition – $2.99 per minute plus tax for one minute of calling and $2.05 per mb for data roaming.

Sprint

Sprint’s roaming rates in Cuba are also quite high. $2.49 per minute for incoming and outgoing calls and $1.99 for 1mb of data.

Cellular Abroad

Cellular Abroad’s rates for Cuba are definitely lower. $80 for 1GB of data and calls are $1.00 incoming and $1.10 outgoing.

Another advantage, besides the lower rates, is that the service has a UK number (with the option of having a US number and/or using your usual number). The advantages are multiple and also considerable. First, having a UK number allows the Cuban’s to call you. Not everyone call easily call US numbers from Cuba.

In addition, having a different number than your usual US number ensure that you will hear from only those that you want to hear from. Roaming with Verizon, AT&T, etc. does not offer you that option. If a telemarketer calls you, and even if you do not answer the call and it goes to voicemail, you will be charged their roaming rates.

Here is how to take advantage of Cellular Abroad’s rates

If your phone is unlocked, you can purchase a SIM card. Otherwise, you can purchase a phone for as low as $80 or you can rent a phone for Cuba.

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Why you should use WhatsApp when you Travel Abroad (and how to use it)

What is WhatsApp?

If you have not heard of or been using WhatsApp when you travel, or even if you do use it, you will want to read this (and it’s time to get out from under the rock by the way!)

WhatsApp is one of the most downloaded apps in the world, yet only about 12% of Americans use it. Compare this to around 80% of users in Europe who not only use WhatsApp but use it as their primary messaging app. The percentage of US users of this useful app will undoubtedly increase as historically, the US has lagged behind most of the world in cellular service and use of cellular apps.

Here are a few interesting stats:

More than 2 billion minutes of voice and video calls are made on WhatsApp daily.
More than 65 billion text messages are sent through WhatsApp daily.
Even if WhatsApp charged just 1 penny per minute for calls and 1 penny per text, their revenue would be 670 million USD per day!

Why Should I use WhatsApp?

So why exactly IS WhatsApp so popular in most countries? One very good reason is that the app is 100% free to download and free or almost free to use – and there are no annoying advertisements. In addition, WhatsApp transcends operating systems meaning, an iPhone can send a message to an Android, and vice versa, something that is not the case with iMessage. There are also lots of other things that you can do with just this one app and hence no more having to toggle between one app to make a call, another to send a picture, and yet another to send a text. Here are some more reasons that WhatsApp is, rightfully so, such a popular app:

Easy to use
Secure
You can make phone calls on it
You can send pictures
You can send videos
You can send sound bites/voice messages on it
You can send files and documents on it
You can send group messages

You can do all of these tasks on the above list with almost anyone in the world who also has WhatsApp for free or basically for fre.

Where Can I Use WhatsApp?

You can use WhatsApp while traveling almost anywhere in the world. There ARE a few countries where WhatsApp is blocked including China, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Syria and the UAE. Supposedly, the reason it is blocked is because of WhatsApps’s strong encryption features, meaning, the government cannot easily snoop in on your conversations. In fact, some governments actually use WhatsApp to conduct sensitive conversations.

Update! One of our customers in the UAE reached out and conveyed that in the UAE, WhatsApp does work. Not only does it work but the “country runs on WhatsApp” meaning, that everyone uses it. The only caveat is that you cannot use the calling feature. Messaging, location sharing and other functionalities do work however. (Thank you D.F.!)

If you use Wi Fi, you can use this app for free and subsequently call or send messages across the globe 100% free of cost. While free is good, most people are willing to spend a few bucks for the convenience of not having to hunt down a café, hotel or other location to send a message. A better solution is to opt for an International Data SIM card or the Talk Abroad SIM card. Both solutions allow you to access data anywhere you are and not just in your apartment, hotel or café. WhatsApp uses very little data. In fact, with just 1GB of data, you can call for about 85 hours or send about 1 million texts.

What are the Downsides?

In sum, WhatsApp, due to its ease of use, tight security and low or free cost is considering one of the best apps around. If there is one negative aspect about WhatsApp is that telecoms have lost billions of dollars in roaming revenue. Cellular Abroad has also seen a substantial decrease in revenues – until we began offering these fantastic deals on data SIM cards. If you are planning a trip, be sure to check out our Data SIM page.

How Do I Install WhatsApp on my Phone?

Installing WhatsApp on your smartphone is as easy as downloading it from the Android’s Google Play Store if you have an Android or from the Apple App Store for your iPhone. WhatsApp will ask you to enter the verification PIN that they send to your cell phone number. When and if you put in a different SIM card into your smartphone, your WhatsApp number will stay the same – unless you want to change it.

Where Can I Get the Data I Need for WhatsApp?

Most smart phones will work worldwide for data and most carriers offer some type of international roaming plan. Some countries, take Cuba for example, are still very expensive for data if you use your US or Canadian provider – literally a couple of thousand dollars per GB. Even in most other, less expensive destinations, you will be either still be paying too much or will be getting data speeds that are so slow that you will end up being aggravated and either give up in frustration or paying your carrier for the upgraded speeds.

Verizon and AT&T, at least for most destinations, charge $10 (plus tax, so closer to $13) per day for unlimited, albeit with restrictions, data. There certainly are much less expensive options which include swapping out their SIM card for a more affordable on, like Cellular Abroad’s Data SIM Card.

T-Mobile and Sprint offer unlimited data at 2G speeds for most destinations. 2G is actually fine as long as you are not trying to have a WhatsApp voice or video conversation which will inevitably time out. A better solution is one of Cellular Abroad’s Data SIM cards or our international roaming SIM, the Talk Abroad SIM.

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Caribbean SIM Card

The Caribbean is one of the most challenging destinations for cellular service (apart from very remote areas such as Antartica). In the Caribbean, roaming is expensive, slow (and usually both) plus buying a local SIM card is impractical for travelers since many travelers go to multiple countries. In addition, smaller carriers such as Boost Mobile and others, do not offer a solution for the Caribbean at any price. if your phone is unlocked (read this guide to check), you can order Cellular Abroad’s Caribbean SIM card that works in most countries in the Caribbean.

Here are the current offers for the Caribbean for Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.

Verizon
Verizon offers the Travel Pass for the Caribbean. For $10 per day, plus tax, you will get unlimited calling, texts and data (although the data slows down significantly after 500mb per day). if you plan on using the phone a lot

AT&T
AT&T has several plans. The first is similar to that of Verizon’s. For $10 per day, plus tax, you get unlimited unlimited calls, texts and data. This plan is not bad if your trip is short and/or you use the phone a lot. If you are making just one or two calls or sending just a couple of texts, that 5 minute phone call just cost you $10. Option two is, for $70 plus tax (so closer to $85) you get 2GB of data plus call rates at $0.35 per minute. The third option, more than an option, are the default rates if someone forgets to select a travel plan. Rates are ridiculously high – more than $2,000 per GB and significantly more if you are on a cruise. There is no reason anyone would purposefully opt for this plan.

T-Mobile
T-Mobile offers free data in the Caribbean at up to128kbps speeds. To get an understanding of how fast that is, typical dialup speeds, the kind you may have had 15 years ago where 56kbps so just double that to get an idea of how fast (how slow, actually) T-Mobile’s data speeds are in the Caribbean. Just what can you do with 128kbps speeds? Anything above and beyond checking emails is tedious and frustrating. Google Maps works but there will be quite a bit of latency. Websites will load but it will be slow and video streaming nearly impossible.

Sprint
Sprint’s service works in most destinations in the Caribbean and, like T-Mobile, Sprint offers “free” data. The free data is only 2G speeds which is ok for checking emails, less good for web browsing and virtually unusable for video streaming or maps. Sprint offers bundles of at higher speeds which many users, after being frustrated with 2GB speeds, will end up paying for. Texting is free and calls are $0.25 cents each.

If you are with Verizon or AT&T and don’t mind paying the high rates, then make sure you contact your carrier and get your plan set up. Or, if you are with Sprint or T-Mobile and are ok with using your phone just for the occasional call and only to check emails, then you can safely roam without doing anything. However, if you need fast data speeds at a low price and either do not need to make calls or can use an app for calls, or your usual provider does not offer service in the Caribbean, consider Cellular Abroad’s Caribbean SIM card.

The SIM card is data only and currently offers 1GB of data. Being a data only SIM card does not at all mean that you cannot make and receive phone calls, it just means that you will have to use an app for making your calls. Popular apps include FaceTime, WhatsApp, Google Voice and Skype.

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How to Buy a Chinese SIM Card

To put it nicely, China has its own unique way of doing many things. While obviously most of their laws, customs and practices do not pertain nor effect us on a daily basis, there certainly are a few of them that do challenge the business traveler, student or tourist to China. One of the the big ones pertains to cellular service in China. Many articles have been written on the issues of security breach and the fact that you should not bring your own phone to China. This does not mean that you have to be completely without a phone. It just means you should avoid bringing your personal phone with all your personal photos, emails, passwords and other data on it.

Of course, you can just not travel to China with a phone at all. Since this is not a good option for anyone wanting to use a translating app, a GPS app such as Google Maps or simply stay in touch with friends and family back home, which means basically anyone, lets explore some information on how to buy a Chinese SIM card.

First off, you need to consider what phone you will use with your new SIM card. You should avoid using your primary phone due to security issues. if you have a secondary phone, such as an an older phone from your carrier, chances are it is either unlocked (if it is through Verizon) or “unlockable.” Another option is also renting a phone for China, By unlockable, this means that it is paid off and that the carrier, if you contact them, will give you the code to allow any other SIM card to be used in the device. Once the phone is unlocked, make sure that you wipe it clean of any of the personal data on the phone. The easiest way is to restore the phone to its factory condition, i.e., with no data on it. For more information on this, read this article for Apple on how to restore you phone to factory settings and this one for Android phones.

Once you have a secondary device, you can simply purchase a China SIM card through Cellular Abroad. Getting a SIM card prior to your trip can help you avoid a ton of hassle as opposed to purchasing a SIM once you arrive at your destination. In fact, as of December 2019, getting a SIM card locally has become even more difficult. Previously, you only had to give the store employee your passport, which he would scan and keep a copy of. Now, the store employees that sell you a SIM card are required to do a “portrait match” of the person buying the SIM against his or her Chinese issued documentation. While it is not clear yet if this pertains to foreigners visiting the country on a temporary basis, many shops just steer clear of selling to tourists all together for fear of not applying the law correctly. So, buying a SIM cards locally is not as simple as going into a cell phone store. You may have to go to several in order to find someone willing to sell you one. There are also other challenges to consider if you are thinking about buying a SIM in China.


Many travelers purchasing SIM cards from Cellular Abroad do so because they report that they were “ripped off” last time they bought one directly in China. Being ripped off can mean a couple of things as our customers have told us. There is a good chance that you will pay more than what a Chinese would pay but that is really the least of it. The real issues is what often happens is that you purchase a SIM card with service that is supped to be valid for your entire trip only to find out that after a couple of days, the service is terminated. This practice is a huge inconvenience not only because, in theory, you would have to buy another SIM but because in practice, you can only have one SIM card registered to you and therefore you will not be able to get another SIM even if you tried. Having said that, there is always a price for everything in China but do you really want to do something potentially illegal while in China?

Another trick is that you buy a certain amount of minutes or data, at least you think you do, only to find out that what you really got is a fraction of what you paid for. Also, many SIM cards are regional meaning that if you travel from one province to another, it will not work.

In sum, nobody wants to travel and be completely without cellular service and certainly nobody wants to be a victim of security breach but nobody wants to go through a plethora of inconveniences to get a SIM card that works in China. Your best option and most affordable option is to use a phone with none of your information on it and then to get a SIM card from Cellular Abroad before you travel.

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A Comprehensive Guide to Cell Phone Security While Traveling Internationally

Cell phone security is becoming an increasingly hot topic as horror stories of hackings have increased exponentially in the news. Unfortunately, short of not owning a cellphone – or at least a smartphone – there is nothing that can protect you 100%. There are, however, certain fundamental steps that you can take that will greatly decrease the likelihood that you become a victim of security breach on your phone. First and foremost, if you cannot read the rest of this article, is to never let it out of your site or set it down on a table, for example, while eating.

Some countries, such Russia, Turkey and especially China, are commonly known for cyber fraud and security breach. Other countries, ones that you would probably not expect, such as Italy and Hungary, are also on the list of top ten destinations where you are most likely to suffer security breach.

Most people are concerned about protecting their privacy not only when they are actually in the country where they are traveling to but also through customs – both outside and inside the United States.

Let’s start with Customs and Border Protection. First off, and without sounding paranoid, what is the worst possible scenario if someone at customs got hold of your phone? If someone got hold of your phone, in a few minutes, they can use a forensic software that can copy everything in your phone – pictures, emails, passwords and more. There is an astounding amount of information about you on your phone. Your phone is a footprint of who you are, who you know, where you have been and what you may have purchased.

They can see your browsing history and hold you on any grounds pertaining to that if they want to. As explained below, they do not need much of a reason to detain you if they wanted to. Say you logged on to the Home Depot to buy paint. Since Home Depot sells supplies that theoretically could be used to build explosives, they could hold you up with that pretense in the name of homeland security.

What about all the people that you have emailed or on Facebook? If any of those people has committed a crime, they could associate you with that person and, in the future, this could be brought out as evidence against you in court.

In the United States, we have fourth amendment rights that protect us against unreasonable search and seizure. However, technically, when you are going through customs, you are not in the United States and therefore this amendment does not protect you. Therefore, if a TSA officer asks you to cough up your phone, you can protest as much as you want and if anything, this will only delay your trip and give them even more of a reason to go through your phone.

Customs is not the only place you should be concerned. You obviously should also be careful when you reach your destinations. Certain countries, like China, are not only renown for targeting travelers mobile devices and security experts go as far as to say that many attacks actually encouraged and even assisted by the Chinese government. While China is currently high on everyone’s radar as being a risky country for cyber attacks, why not reduce your risk when traveling anywhere if you can avoid doing so by taking a few extra precautions?

Now, the safest, most sure fire way of preventing breach is to travel without a phone. You obviously cannot hand over a phone if you don’t have one to hand over. Even better, you can just stay home and watch a Steve Ricks documentary from the comfort of your living room. Kidding aside, Border Protection knows that virtually everyone who travels internationally has a smartphone and they may actually detain you for that and, we all want and need our phones when traveling.

There are a number of steps that you can and should take to significantly limit your exposure to getting hacked and/or giving customs’ officials access to all your information.

Never leave your phone out of your sight.

While an obvious suggestion, you cannot imagine how many people get their phones lifted when traveling internationally. Most Americans have different sensibilities and even customs pertaining to their belongings. Generally speaking, we are much more relaxed with our personal belongings and even tend to leave them lying around a bit compared to other nationalities. Since we rent phones, we have a good idea of what percentage of our phones do not make it back specifically due to theft. At about 2%, this percentage is higher than most would imagine.

Don’t use WiFi, particularly if you are doing online banking.

Through public WiFi is one of the easier ways for hackers to access your cell phone with all of its contents. In fact, there are programs that allow you to track everything that you are doing, including logging into your online banking and see your log in details.

Password protect you phone and your SIM card

Most people have a password protection on their phone but very few have a password on their SIM card. Your SIM card may hold information such as your contacts, your SMS and your contacts. If your SIM card does not have a pin, you can simply swap out the SIM card into another phone and not only use it but access your contacts and messages. While not fool proof, this will at least deter the more rudimentary thief. Just make sure that the pin is a little more complex than a simple 1234.

Don’t assume that your hotel’s safe will ensure that nobody will get their hands on your phone if it’s in there.

There is always someone at the hotel who has the keys to all the safes in your hotel. That someone is someone you don’t know. So basically, you are giving potential access to not only your phone but whatever else you may place in there. Usually, the cheaper the hotel, the less they have systems in place for potential security breaches.

Save your information to the cloud and then do a factory reset on your phone, and then restore your information once you come back. Then you can reinstall the apps when you arrive but avoid WiFi, particularly in tourist areas or in hotels.

There is some potential of accidentally deleting valuable information and, maybe people do not want to go through the hassle of doing this.

Disable WiFi and Bluetooth

Other devices can access your devices through Bluetooth as well as WiFi. Disabling them both will give you that added level of security.

Don’t connect your phone to a public computer – or even a public charging outlet

You never want to connect your cell phone to a public computer as they may have malicious malware that can infect your phone. This is possible even through a charging port or outlet if someone really wanted to – and people do. Better to just avoid this whenever possible. In addition, if someone really wanted to have access to your phone remotely, they could swap out your charger for their modified charger and literally inject a malware into your phone that would let them have access to all the contents to your phone. For a more complete article, you can read this post

Use a VPN

A VPN offers strong protection from snoopers as well as allowing access to websites that are often blocked in other countries. For example, in China, all things Google are blocked. With a VPN, you can circumvent the restrictions and access whatever site you want as if you were back home.

Use a secondary phone and get a local SIM card

If you have an old phone that is unlocked, you can restore that phone to factory condition by doing a factory reset and put in a local SIM card. In China as well as other destinations, cyberthieves scan cell phone numbers looking for a foreign phone number. If you have a local number, you will not come up on their radar.

Rent a phone

Renting a phone and just keeping your primary phone back home is a great way to help protect your data from being accessed or compromised by both Customs and cyberthieves. A Rental phone will have none of your previous information on it (unless of course you log in with your usual Apple or Android credential, which is unadvisable). You can create a new, temporary account and download any app that you may need for your trip. For an added layer of security coming back through customers, and once you email or save any important messages or photos you may have, you can simply delete all the information on the phone that you wouldn’t want anyone to see. If you delete all the information, this may raise a red flag so you may want to leave some images and emails in order not to give them any excuses to question you.

In summary, while if someone really wanted to access your information, in today’s world, they could go to extreme measures in order to do so. But unless you are a top level government agent, scientist or businessman, usually what a hacker is after is avoidable by following the above precautions so you might as well be safe rather than sorry.

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Why You Don’t Want to use Your Verizon service Internationally

Under most circumstances, you should NOT use your Verizon service when traveling internationally. Having said that, there are very few occasions when it actually does make sense to use your Verizon service when you go overseas. But first, let’s explore what Verizon offers its customers for international cellular service.

Verizon offers a plan called TravelPass for travelers wanting to use their phones outside of the US. This plan essentially lets you use your phone as you would back home for calling, texting and data. The plan activates and charges you whether you make or receive only one text or stay on the phone all day. The cost is $10 per day plus tax so in reality, closer to about $12-$13 per day depending on your state. Some states, New York for example, add a 25% tax to telecom services (plus other taxes). While this is expensive, if your trip is only 4-5 days and, roaming with your Verizon service may make sense.

However, if your trip is longer than 4-5 days and especially if it is say 3-4 weeks or you rarely use your phone, roaming with your Verizon is a terrible idea – unless you have money to burn.

Luckily, all Verizon smartphones are unlocked. That means that if you remove their SIM card and put in a different SIM card in your phone, totally take Verizon out of the billing equation.

Here are several SIM card options:

Free Talk Abroad SIM Card

Yes, the SIM card is free. You only pay for calls, texts and data. Simply add call/text credit or a data package and you can use this SIM card virtually worldwide. This is a very good option for users who need to make the occasional call/text or use data. Again, Verizon’s solution is unlimited but that is like going to an all you can eat restaurant just for a coffee!

If you don’t already have this SIM card, you can find out more or get it here – the price is right – FREE!

Local SIM Card

You can get a local SIM card for some countries but not all. We have local SIM cards for Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Israel, China and a few other destinations. Local SIM cards will give you a local number and usually, lower rates than SIM card that work in multiple destinations. Nowadays, since many people use their phones more for data and use data based apps such as WhatsApp and iMessage, having a local number is irrelevant. (Spoiler Alert: In a few years, a local number will be totally irrelevant as all calls, messages and texts will be through data)

International Data SIM Card

This has quickly become our best seller as it is very easy to use, very affordable and offers tons of calling and data capability. We offer three versions, a 5GB version, a 12GB version and a 12GB version that lasts for 365 days. For the very savvy traveler who travels often, we recommend the 365 day version. If you travel once a year, then the 5GB or the 12GB version is fine. Discover more at International Data SIM Card.

Again, unless your are like this guy, there is no reason to roam with Verizon. In fact, when you are roaming with your provider, you will get every single phone call whether you want it or not. Many travelers, especially those on holidays, specifically want to get away from it all and do not want to be interrupted by telemarketers or non emergency calls. With a different SIM card, you will have a new number but also the option of having a new US number as well as having the option of keeping your usual number if need be.

In sum, there are plenty of options out there and virtually all of them are better and more cost effective than Verizon’s. Sorry Verizon, time for you to hear US!

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Johnny Jet: Guest Post

Johnny Jet is a travel writer and a long time user of Cellular Abroad’s services. He gets paid to travel the globe writing about his passion; traveling. He is also as nice of a guy as he looks!

Johnny has take the time out to write a guest blog for Cellular Abroad on using your miles and points while traveling. He has thousands of other articles and a plethora of travel tips on his website, www.johnnyjet.com. If you love traveling, we recommend you sign up for Johnny Jet’s Newsletter.

Do you want to use miles and points in 2019 to travel for free? Whether you’re visiting family domestically or planning a trip around the world, miles and points can help you travel further and more often. If you’re new to award travel, there are many ways to optimize your travel rewards. Let’s talk about how you can make this happen.

Using Points and Miles

If you’re loyal to a certain airline or hotel, you will most likely redeem your travel rewards directly through the airline or hotel website such as Southwest Airlines or World of Hyatt. But it can also be applied towards rental car agencies, cruise lines, train services, etc. It’s possible to use the points for free travel or reservation upgrades.

Your other option is using a flexible travel rewards credit card that lets you redeem miles using their relevant credit card travel portal. Or it may give you the option to transfer points directly to an airline or hotel partner to book future travel. Some cards also let you redeem your credit card points for recent travel purchases. If you’re not loyal to one airline or hotel, this is likely a better redemption option. But you do not have to entirely rely on credit cards, for you’ll easily be able to procure just right loans for 5000 with bad credit, and that’ll suffice for any budget you might be making.

Using Airline Miles for Free Flights

Airline miles are usually the most valuable travel rewards. This is because plane tickets typically cost more than other travel costs like hotel rooms and rental cars. Using the best airline miles credit card, you have more redemption options such as for basic economy, economy, business class, and first class seats. Plus, you have multiple airlines to choose from. For instance, there are at least 5 different ways to use miles towards flights to Hawaii.

At a minimum, redeem your frequent flyer miles for award flights when your points are worth at least one cent each. Following this rule, you spend 10,000 miles or less when a ticket costs $100.

You still have to pay any fuel surcharges, fees and taxes (at least $5.40 each way), or incidental expenses like checked bag fees or in-flight purchases when you pay with points. But, you don’t have to pay the cash price for the seat.

Try Booking Award Flights Directly From the Airline First

Usually, you find the best award flight redemption values directly from the airline. With the notable exception of the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve credit cards, most flexible rewards cards only value each point at one cent each. You may better maximize your points and miles on airline websites.

Unfortunately, most airlines use floating award rates where the number of miles you need to book a seat depends on the cash price of the seat. For domestic airlines, Delta and Southwest Airlines follow this variable pricing model.

But, some airlines still use a fixed pricing model such as United Airlines, American Airlines, and Aer Lingus. How much you pay depends on the flight distance or which continents you fly between, not the current ticket price.

You can see how much award seats cost by going to the airline website by showing the price in points instead of cash. Of course, compare the cash price to make sure you’re getting a desirable redemption rate. But, even paying points instead of cash can still be worth it if you’re short on funds.

Depending on the carrier, you can also use miles to upgrade seats once you book a flight.

Booking Alliance Partner Flights

You can also book partner flights with airline alliance members too. This is a good idea when you can pay less than booking directly from the airline you will fly. It’s also good if you want to avoid fuel surcharges on international flights.

For instance, you can use British Airways Avios to book an American Airlines or Alaska Airlines flight for fewer miles than paying with miles directly on the American or Alaska Airlines website.

Keep in mind, you may have to call customer service to book partner flights. Note that seat availability can be extremely limited.

Using Points for Free Hotel Nights

Booking free hotel nights with points is straightforward too. In general, hotel points usually aren’t as valuable as airline miles. Most free nights start at 5,000 points at a basic, lower tier property. But, you will have a hard time trying to squeeze at least one cent per point with most hotel loyalty programs.

Realistically, expect each point to be worth 0.7 to 1 cent each when booking directly from the hotel. One usual exception to the rule can be the World of Hyatt program.

If you have a flexible travel rewards card that reimburses your hotel purchases for at least one cent a mile, you might get more value booking award nights from your credit card travel portal instead of from the hotel website.

Best Ways to Use Points and Miles

If you are looking for some of the best ways to use points and miles, below are a few suggestions. The best option for airline miles can be whatever airline has the biggest hub at your local airport. Or, whichever airline, hotel, or rental car brand you use the most for business or personal travel.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Possibly the most valuable and flexible credit card points are Chase Ultimate Rewards. These points can be redeemed for travel, cash or gift card rewards and are always worth at least one cent each. With either Sapphire card or the Ink Business Preferred, you receive a travel redemption bonus when booking travel on the Chase travel portal.

You can also transfer your points to 13 airline and hotel loyalty programs including United, Southwest, World of Hyatt, and Marriott Rewards on a 1:1 basis.

American Express Membership Rewards

The American Express Membership Rewards program is also valuable if you like to transfer miles to loyalty programs including Delta, Emirates, and Etihad. You can also redeem your points on the Amex Travel website for one cent each for award flights. Note that non-award flight redemptions aren’t as valuable.

Another reason to consider American Express is if you’re a frequent flyer who wants free airport lounge access with the Platinum Card from American Express. Or, you might enjoy a lifestyle rewards card such as the American Express Gold Card which offers both travel and dining rewards.

Summary

There are many options available both domestically and internationally. The most common way to book award travel is directly from the airline or hotel website. But, travel rewards credit cards give you more flexible redemption options.

The first step is deciding which carrier you want to travel with. Then, you can decide if it’s better to book directly from their website or through your credit card rewards portal. After that, all you have to do is pack your bags, charge up your phone and ensure that it has the best coverage, and get ready to go!

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Free International Data Plans? No Thanks!



As good as it sounds and as cheap as it is, the old adage, “you get what you pay for” rings perfectly true.

Some cellular providers, notably T-Mobile and Sprint, lure you in by touting free international data for your smartphone when you travel abroad. While there are SOME instances where these free data plans are fine, chances are that for you, your free plan will be nothing but a big headache. Here’s why.

While the carriers do a great job of promoting the “free” aspect, they do the opposite of mentioning the “slow” part. In fact, the free data that they are referring to is 2G. Think back to your very first experience of using your phone for internet, possibly about 15 years ago. That is what kind of data that we are talking about. 

This is the Catch

You go overseas, you turn on the phone, try to download a website and…nothing happens. Oh wait, something IS happening. Just wait a bit more and eventually the page will open – or it may just time out. So what everyone inevitably does is to call the cellular provider and THEN, almost miraculously, they seem to know everything there is to know about the free but slow 2G service you are getting and fast 3G or 4G service you should be getting…for a fee.

Carriers pay to borrow other carriers networks for their customers so if you stick with free/slow, they are losing money. Not a ton because at 2G, you really cannot do too much damage after all. Websites don’t open with ease and you can forget about Google Maps or video streaming. Even so, they carriers calculate that a very large percentage of their users will sign up and pay for faster speeds.

Not Everyone Needs Fast


While most travelers use apps that require fast connections such as Google Maps or Waze and many travelers like to go to websites to checkin to their flights, use Facebook or just browse the internet, some people only care about checking their emails or sending text messages through iMessage or WhatsApp. Based on Cellular Abroad’s personal experience with 2G speeds, it is sufficient for emails (as long as your images do not automatically load) and is also fine for messaging. Nearly every other task (streaming videos or music, browsing the internet and maps) is at best, frustrating and usually not possible.

What’s My Alternative?


You do have options. Here are your options. Pay for your carrier’s higher speeds, get an alternative solution as mentioned below, wait until you find, if you find, a Wi Fi hotspot or forget about data all together. What we recommend is to get an International SIM Card for your phone (more information here) or, if your phone is locked and/or you need service for a PC or Tablet, get an International Hotspot.


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T-Mobile’s International Roaming Plan

Relying on T-Mobile…up to a Point

Typically, when I travel, I travel with 2 phones, my T-Mobile phone with a US plan and a European phone. I also travel with a MiFi hotspot, mostly so I can use my MacBook but also just in case someone else that I am traveling with needs Wi Fi. The main reason for this hardware is that for me, being connected while I travel internationally is extremely important as I need to attend to business. In fact, without a phone and a computer, I would be forced to take very brief trips or at the very least, head back to the hotel or apartment to get on my laptop. Hence, having a secondary back up phone is vital. I have been in a situation once before that my phone went kaput and to purchase an exact replacement of that phone cost in excess of $1000 (cell phones tend to cost more internationally than in the US).
Another reason is that many of my friends and family in Europe have my international number. If I reached out to them with a different number, most of them would ignore the call as they wouldn’t recognize the number.
Up until this trip, I have been very satisfied with roaming with T-Mobile. In fact, even though T-Mobile has advertised unlimited data (but only 2G when you read the fine print), I have found that I have almost always gotten at least 3G speeds. If you are not familiar with 2G speeds, 2G is ok for emails but can be extremely frustrating when browsing websites due to the length of time it takes the pages to load and nearly impossible to do tasks such as use Google Maps. This trip however, I was getting 2G which is (sort of) OK for emails but definitely not enough for what I need to do. I knew about T-Mobile’s offer of adding 1GB for $20 (up to 10 days) and, even though I had my MiFi hotspot, I decided to try out this offer…so that I could then write about it. This is my experience.

T-Mobile’s Shortcoming

The first few days that I arrived in Italy, besides the slow speeds, everything worked including phone calls (although I forward my calls to voice message to avoid the fees, as T-Mobile charges for calls) and text messaging. Then all of a sudden, I could only receive text but could not send them. Although I typically use Skype to make calls from my cell, I just wanted to see if the T-Mobile service worked. It didn’t. So, I called customer service, told them what was happening and had them add the 1GB of 3G data. They had me turn off the phone and told me to wait a few minutes and they would not only fix the issues that I was having but would also add the faster data speeds. When I turned on the phone, nothing worked – not even the data which up until that point, had been working at the 2G speeds. So I called again. They had me turn off the phone while they were doing some provisioning in the system. That happened about 4-5 times in the span of 3 days. Since I was (supposedly) on vacation and decided to use my back up phone, I was not as proactive as I would have been if I did not have a back up plan. Quite honestly, answering the same security questions over and over again being assured that if I turned off the phone while they changed a setting was just not worth the pain since I did have a plan B. However, since my T-Mobile phone is better than my plan B phone, I decided to slightly alter my tactic and speak to a US based technician, and not just the regular customer service, during regular business hours. I informed him of the problem, of my past conversations and after a few minutes, he assured me that he would be able to resolve the issue. I asked him to tell me what he thought the issue was for future reference and he stated that instead of turning roaming on, the previous reps kept turning it off and turned international calling on (which is the feature used to make calls to international numbers from the US).

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that this snafu can happen to anyone (and indeed, the same thing happened to me 2 years ago as well) and is, perhaps with a certain degree of frustration, resolvable. What is not resolvable is that now T-Mobile has learned to throttle their data speeds internationally (meaning, they can control if the speeds are 2G or faster). This of course is big business for them because while the “free international data” offering hooks people, a large percentage of people opt for a more usable solution…for a price.

My Recommendation

I bought my phone directly from the manufacturer when it first came out, paid cash, up front. Most T-Mobile customers do not do that. That means that their phones are locked. With my phone, since it’s unlocked, I can just put in a Cellular Abroad International Data SIM. This SIM offers 9GB of high speed data and also the ability to make calls.

If your phone is not unlocked or you are traveling with another person and/or you have multiple devices like I have, such as a laptop or a tablet, a Wi Fi mobile hotspot is really a great, affordable and easy to use solution. If you are not aware of what a mobile hotspot is, I encourage you to find out as this is fast becoming the product of choice for the international traveler who needs to stay connected overseas.

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…And the Best Cellular Carrier is….

We at Cellular Abroad, as experts in international cellular service, are often asked by our customers (and some have been with us since our humble begins in 2002) to point them in the right direction regarding what cellular carrier is the best to use in the United States. The easy answer is…it depends. That’s because without gathering additional information, giving a solid recommendation is impossible. Here is a simple analogy explaining why. Imagine if someone asks you for your recommendation on what vehicle to purchase. You might tell them that you like Ferrari’s. And then you find out, their budget is around $70,000. So then you might tell them to consider a Tesla, to which they respond that they drive long distances and that wouldn’t be ideal because they may ran out of battery, to which you may then tell them to consider an Audi. And then you find out they have 5 kids, and that they live in the country where the roads are muddy. Given all of these factors, you will probably reconsider your original recommendation – perhaps now suggesting to by a Jeep! The point is, just like we have unique needs for a car, many of us have similar needs for cellular service.

Here is a short list of considerations:

Which carrier has the best coverage?

No carrier on the planet can guarantee 100% coverage. It does not exist. Just because Verizon “works” in New York City doesn’t mean that it necessarily works where you live or work or the places you go.

The only way to know for sure if there is service where you are or where you will be is to try it out. No coverage map can tell you 100% that there will be a good signal where you are. If you’ve been to New York City, you probably know this. So how do you find out?
Legally, carriers have to give you an “out” to your contract within a specific timeframe. That means that you could sign up, try it out for a day and then pull out of your contract. There are probably better approaches than signing up with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile just to find out which carrier works the best. Probably the easiest is to ask your friends who their carrier is when they are at your house or office and find out from them how good the reception is. Please remember that “best” doesn’t mean perfect. It simply means that for you and your personal needs, there is coverage where you typically use the phone.

One more tip about this.

If you look at a coverage map and compare coverage, you will see that indeed Verizon does have a better “footprint,” specifically for more rural areas. Again, how often does that impact your? If you are a traveling salesman and you DO often go to rural places, then perhaps Verizon is your best bet. Having said that, Verizon uses CDMA which has arguably inferior sound quality. Here is an analogy. If you are in a rural setting, you may notice that you get a lot more AM radio stations than FM. AM radio waves are larger and more pervasive but, they do not have the same quality of stereo sound as FM radio. This is similar with CDMA in comparison to GSM – which is what T-Mobile and AT&T use.

Do you use lot and lots of data?

Most carriers offer “unlimited data.” On the service, that should level the playing field – at least regarding data – but the reality is that in the wireless industry there is a concept called Fair Usage. Fair usage, at the end of the day, means that there is a limit. Almost all carriers have a Fair Usage Policy.

Still, the vast majority of people are not effected by these limits. The exceptions are probably gamers, bloggers, Uber and Lyft drivers and those who upload videos for whatever reason. This article has a table showing the real limits of data Best Individual and Family Cell Phone Plans

Do you make and receive a lot of calls?

Most carriers offer “unlimited calling.” Here too there are usually fair usage policies. While the usage limits tend to be high and typically this won’t effect you, you may not be the typical user. And what if you rarely use your phone? Why should you be paying for unlimited cellular service when you need an emergency phone? It’s like paying for a buffet and having just a slice of pie.

Are you a senior citizen?

Some carriers offer discounts to senior citizens. Often they do not even make you aware that they do but, if you are a senior citizen and you get this free perk, why not take advantage of it? In fact, some carriers have great deals for senior citizens yet they hardly advertise them. Even if you do not intend to switch, if you are a senior citizen, you should find out from your carrier what they have to offer.

Do you mind using an off brand?

We’ve all heard about Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint but, there are literally dozens of other brands out there in the market. Of course, why choose a little known brand since their coverage must be terrible, right? Wrong! These smaller carriers actually use the same towers as AT&T et al and hence, the coverage is exactly the same. In fact, if coverage is an issue for your, there are even a few of these carriers that use several carriers and therefore, their coverage is even better than the Big Four.

So, how do you find out about all the different offers and deals…and what carrier gives you the best deal for ditching your carrier?

Read this excellent article from our friends at Fomopop on the Best Individual and Family Cell Phone Plans where you will find comparison charts addressing just exactly what the different carriers offer.

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