Tracfone: Good Alternative for Those Who Don't Use Their Cell Phone Very Much
Jan 18, 2006
Cellular phones are becoming as commonplace as wired telephones in the home with companies like Verizon, Cingular, U.S. Cellular, and other companies vying for consumer dollars. These services and others like them fulfill a growing need but for some people, they are too expensive for what little amount of time their services are needed. For these types of consumers, a company that lets one purchase cell phone time as they need it is more practical. One example of a service like this is TracFone.com, a web service for buying prepaid wireless phone service.
What Does This Site Offer?:
This on- line store provides products and services such as:
Cell Phone Accessories
Extended Service Warranties
International Long Distance
This company can be reached for support by calling 800-867-7183. You can also logon to the web site and send a message via e-mail. If you have a general question about your prepaid card, pin number, text messaging, etc., you can consult the on- line help section first. Many common questions and answers can be found here.
Tracfone.com is a company that offers a nice alternative to the traditional method of cell phone service. With most wireless providers, you have to sign a lengthy contract that locks you in for a specific time period with a penalty to pay if you cancel early. Many of these services even run credit checks and charge an activation fee to get started.
But Tracfone.com is different. This company offers customers a way to purchase cell phone time without locking themselves into a long contract and without the hassles and hidden charges that the larger, traditional companies require. The way it works is simple. You start by purchasing a Tracfone cell phone at a retail outlet (a phone that is specially marked as Tracfone and is compatible with the service). Then, you logon to the site, select the activation option, enter the serial number off of the phone, and wait for the activation process to complete (You can also call a toll- free number to activate). From the beginning, you are automatically given 60 days of wireless service and 10 minutes of airtime to get you started (these starting levels can change at any time, but this is what they are at present). You then select a calling plan, pay for the minutes, and go about your day. The minutes dont expire, like they do with other cell phone plans. If you prepay for, say, 400 minutes of time, your cell phone will continue to operate until you have used the 400 minutes you purchased. It could take one week or several months. It doesnt matter- you get to take as long as you like to use up the minutes.
I have been a cell phone user for a few years now and I have used Verizon exclusively. My phone gets a moderate amount of usage and I might be able to save a little money by switching to a service like Tracfone. But since Im not willing to change until I know more of the specifics- especially those things you can only learn by using the phone- I decided to purchase this service as a gift for someone else and then periodically check on them to see how things are going.
The results of my experiment confirmed much of what I already knew was true: That Tracfone offers a good alternative to regular cell phones with a clear signal and without the need to worry about expiring minutes. The feedback I have received has been generally positive, with only a few complaints about the phone or the service in general. The price is generally low (assuming you dont make many calls- if you do, it will cost you more per minute than Verizon or the other large wireless providers) and it offers a maximum level of flexibility where you pay only for what you use.
Besides the way the billing is handled and the other obvious advantages, I also decided to take a close look at the phone itself. One feature that I found cool is the Tracfone balance display. With most wireless service providers, you have to go on- line or call a number to check your minutes of usage and minutes remaining. With Tracfone, there is a display right on the phone itself. With the push of a button, you can quickly find out the exact number of minutes used and the number of minutes remaining on your prepaid plan.
There is an automatic alert that will warn you once your leftover minutes have dropped to ten or fewer. This is a really nice feature and its one I wish other cell phone companies would adopt it. It takes all the worry and all the guesswork out of the situation. I say guesswork because many wireless service companies provide only an estimate of the minutes you have used. You still do not know the exact amount. But with Tracfone, you know precisely the number of minutes left on your plan. Its right there, in plain numbers, on the panel of the phone.
Most of what this service offers is good, but there are a few negative points that need to be addressed. Lets start with the obvious: The chance that your service will expire when you need it most. Because the minutes are prepaid, there is always that chance that your time will expire in the middle of a conversation. The phone will warn you when that time is approaching but if you ignore it and continue to yak, there is a chance it will run out, leaving you high and dry. With traditional wireless service, you dont have this worry. Of course, traditional service also carries with it the chance that you will over talk (exceed your minutes by a large amount) and rack up a huge bill. This cannot happen with Tracfone, because the minutes are prepaid.
To help prevent against the above situation, Tracfone now offers an Autopay plan where you pay for minutes automatically using your credit or debit card. There is also a deactivation protection plan to make sure you dont find yourself in the predicament where you have no minutes left. The base charge for each of these plans is $7.99 per month right now, and this is a low base price for a service like this. If you opt for this you have, in effect, turned your Tracfone service into something resembling a traditional service, but for less money.
Another disadvantage with this phone is the limited calling area. With Tracfone, you are given a small area where calls can be placed at the same basic rate, using the same rate of minutes. But if you leave your main area, you may or may not be able to use the phone. There are some areas where your phone will not be useable at all (based on the plan you chose when you prepaid). And there are some areas where your phone service will work, but based on where you are, the minutes will be consumed at double or triple the normal rate. This feature could make Tracfone service impractical for those who do a good deal of traveling. Tracfone offers plans that help to compensate for this so that the phone can be used in more places. However, if you make a prepaid purchase that covers too broad of an area, it will become cost prohibitive. You are better off buying service from one of the large mobile wireless companies.
With the limited range for service, you need to be especially careful if you live in one of the western states or some other area where the service is more restrictive. I can remember looking at a map showing where Tracfone service was available and I noticed vast amounts of space in states like Montana, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and other places where the service was unavailable. Even in the more heavily populated East, there are substantial parts of different states that have no service. If you happen to travel, for example, to the southeast section of Georgia, there is a good chance you will hit a dead zone where your service will no longer work. This is an important consideration, once again, if youre the type who travels. If you often frequent less inhabited parts of the United States, there is a very good chance your Tracfone service will not work.
One other disadvantage that comes to mind is the limited manufacturers of phones that are affiliated with Tracfone. It is pretty easy to find a Tracfone phone for sale (they claim to offer their phones at approx. 60,000 retail outlets), but you cannot choose just any old phone. It has to be one of the makes of phone that is affiliated with Tracfones service. The companies that are partnered with Tracfone include Nokia, Motorola, Uniden, Radio Shack, Lifestyle, Microtac, and StarTac. In each instance, the models of phones that Tracfone offers are limited. In other words, you cannot select any type of Motorola phone and expect it to be a Tracfone phone. You have to select from a limited group of cell phones.
Overall, Tracfone is a decent company that offers good customer support and a lower than average cost for those who dont use a cell phone very much and dont need to be locked into a plan with thousands of minutes. Im not ready just yet to abandon my Verizon service because I like knowing I will never run out of minutes and I like knowing that I can travel most anywhere and my phone will still be able to pick up a signal. Still, I can see how this service could be very cost effective for those who want a cell phone or who want to give one to their kids but dont want to pay the high costs for minutes of usage they dont really need. This makes Tracfone a good alternative to traditional wireless companies. Its service isnt for everyone, but its nice to know that a company like this exists for those who want a cell phone but don't use it much and/or are living on a tight budget.
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