The Switch to Virgin Mobile
Every month I'd open our carrier's mobile phone bill and wonder what we'd gotten ourselves into. My wife and I had two Android smartphones and we paid $172 a month for the privilege of using them. Our plan, among other things, included “unlimited” data, messaging and 700 minutes-- all more than we needed, yet there were no cheaper options offered. On the plus side, the coverage nationwide was excellent and we never had problems with either the phones or the carrier. Still, I could not let go of the fact that I'd paid $200 per phone and would shell out more than $2000 a year to use them. I am ashamed to admit that I also agreed to pay for a year's insurance on the phones.
Let me digress for a moment. Though I've worked with computers for a long time and generally keep up with advances in technology, I've never had a driving desire to be available anywhere and anytime. I also-- still-- feel like I'm interrupting people when I call them on the phone. Hence, for years my wife and I had one free cell phone and a 30-minutes-a-month plan which cost us around $24 a month. It stayed in the kitchen drawer unless we traveled more than 30 miles away. Then the iPhone came out. I usually resist buying cutting edge technology so I was able to remain disinterested-- but I knew if I looked into it, I would be hooked. Then Android phones came out and I was screwed. The OS was Java-based (my favorite language), fairly open and I could write apps for them without even learning a new language. I started justifying smartphones as pocket-sized computers you could talk to people with. The wife and I wandered up to the carrier's kiosk at the mall, babes in the woods.
After a year, the gee-whiz had worn off. I'd just sent our twelfth payment of $172 and knew something had to give. I was seriously considering just getting no-contract, pay-as-you go no-frills phones when I stumbled upon (I was literally browsing www.stumbleupon.com) Virgin Mobile's Beyond Talk plans.
There were no-contract plans that had smartphones available. I investigated the LG Optimus V which, at $150, was cheaper than the others and yet had higher ratings. I checked Virgin Mobile's plans. They offered three, all with unlimited web, data messaging and email and differing only by the amount of Anytime Minutes: $25 for 300 minutes, $35 for 1200 minutes and $45 for unlimited minutes. We've never used more than 100 minutes between us in one month so the cheapest plan would definitely cover us. One caveat: checking voice mail counts against your minutes. I reviewed other people's experiences which, like other carriers, ranged from horrible to fantastic, but I detected an elevated level of satisfaction overall. After all, if you get the same service for much lower cost, you can't help but be more satisfied.
There has to be a catch though, doesn't there? Virgin Mobile uses the Sprint network and ONLY the Sprint network. Now, Sprint's network is pretty good if you are in coverage, but if you're not in coverage, Virgin Mobile WILL NOT ROAM. We live in Eastern Iowa and have good Sprint coverage but I know there are a lot of places where this will be a deal-killer. I thought about this for a couple days and finally decided this was not the reason to keep spending $172 a month.
I went to Radio Shack and bought two LG Optimus V phones and they set each up on the $25-month-plans. I could have ordered the phones or bought them at Best Buy and set them up myself using Virgin Mobile's US web site www.virginmobileusa.com but I didn't want to wait or pay shipping and Best Buy had sold out all their LG Optimus V's. It cost me $350 plus state tax-- and that's another thing I like about Virgin Mobile's plans: there are no hidden costs. I also made sure I could return the phones within a month if I didn't like the service. I was assured this was no problem, but the $25 monthly service fees could not be refunded. I decided the gamble was worth it. I had our accounts set up so I have to pay every month with a credit card I registered-- remember, there is no contract. If I don't sign in and okay the $25+tax transaction for each phone, I lose service until I do. That's the way I want it, but I could have set up the accounts to automatically charge our credit card every month.
After a week, I was ready to cut the ties with our old carrier. One unexpected benefit was that the quality of the phone calls is much better than I was used to. Anyway, I knew there would be a penalty fee, since we were only one year into a two-year contract, but it was a shock to learn we would still have to pay $440 to break away. I gritted my teeth, assured them I would never do business with them again and decided it was just one more reason to get out of their clutches. When I got the last bill, it came to over $480 with state tax and hidden costs. It will take longer to break even, but at about $52 a month versus $172 we will soon reap the benefits.
There has been one disappointing development recently: I see Virgin Mobile has increased each of their three plans by $10 a month. That is truly disappointing and I am downgrading my enthusiasm from “Fantastic” to “Very Good”. According to my account, it's still listed as $25 a month but, as I have no contract, I expect that to change. Gosh, if that happens, I'll only save $100 a month.
Although newcomers will indeed have to shell out $35 a month for the 300 minute plan, I have since learned that those of us who joined at $25 a month will be able to keep paying $25 unless we let it lapse. So, if I decide to skip a month or two, I will thereafter have to pay the new rate. This is indeed good news for existing customers-- after all, with no contract, Virgin Mobile had no obligation to maintain the lower rate. But it's also a very smart move on their part since I have more incentive to continue every month, even without a contract. This is how a smart business is run.
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