How to choose the right cell phone plan (Part 1)
As cell phone users who enjoy the convenience of our gadget’s versatility, most of us probably don’t mind how much we spend on our mobile phones as long as they serve their purpose. In fact, how often do we hear about people who’d rather buy electronic loads than use the money for other more pressing needs like food?
There’s a high probability you’ve been with the same carrier and have been using the same plan for years. After all, if you’re a postpaid subscriber, you’re stuck to a two-year contract. Even if you’re a prepaid user, it’s a bummer to keep changing your cell phone number.
But in all likelihood, you’ll make a switch sooner or later. You may want to go from prepaid to postpaid, or vice versa. You may have gotten tired of your current carrier’s customer service, or lack thereof. Or you probably just want to try something new.
In any case, you will find yourself so bombarded with confusing subscription plans, never-ending promos, and enticing new services that you don’t even know where to start. To make things easier for you, there are certain decision points you have to go through. Follow these steps and you’ll make a much more informed decision:
DECISION 1: Do you want prepaid or postpaid?
How should a consumer know if she would benefit more from a prepaid or postpaid plan? Renato B. Garcia, President of the Philippine Electronics and Telecommunications Federation (PETEF) Foundation, explains, “Postpaid plans are designed for heavy users so it is best to select the plan according to your average usage, such as minutes per month.”
He actually sees prepaid plans as the more expensive option, “The voice call rates are higher and they have less free SMS. The only advantage of prepaid is the ability to pay based on need, like ‘pay as you go’ or tingi.”
But there’s one other important benefit: If you are dissatisfied with the service, it is quick and easy to change mobile carriers by simply buying a new SIM card and chucking out the old one.
However, if you already are a regular cell phone user, going prepaid can be such a hassle. Frequent trips to eload retailers can be a waste of time and energy, not to mention resources if you need to pay for transportation fares just to get there. During emergencies, you may find yourself without enough credits to make a quick phone call. Small amounts of load credits expire for as short as one to three days. If you’re a consumer who tends to buy a P30 load regularly as soon as the last one expires, you are actually spending P300 already in one month!
Option A: Go prepaid
Admittedly, a lot of Filipinos are not capable of paying substantial and fixed monthly cell phone bills. The best next thing then is to go prepaid. After all, you can already greet somebody at the other end of the country with just a quick trip to the friendly neighborhood store where you can get load credits for as low as P10.00. If you really have to go prepaid, follow these savings tips:
Go online. If you’re often online, make use of free Internet SMS services like those found on www.chikka.com and Yahoo! Messenger. Just be considerate to your text recipient and warn him to reply to your mobile number directly to avoid being charged extra.
Text or call only if it’s important. Maximize texting capacity (number of characters) per send. Use unlimited texting services when you need to contact a lot of people regarding significant matters and not primarily because you wanted to send forwarded messages.
Load using call cards instead of e-loads if possible. The former has longer expiration dates and free text allocations. That is, if you have enough self-control to stretch your credits up to two months.
Avoid extras. Subscribing to SMS alerts, daily quotes, weekly logos, ringtones, etc. eat up load faster and deduct from
your credits regularly.
Make your own ringtones. Instead of buying ringtones, make and download your own! Find websites where you can copy ringtone codes that can be easily encoded in some phones’ composer windows. Or edit your own MP3s to make them shorter using free software from the Internet. Save them to your phone via a phone-to-PC cable to get your personalized and cost-friendly polyphonic ringtones.
Sell, don’t just buy. Are many of your friends and family prepaid users? Consider being an e-load dealer or retailer, so you can pay for your own phone bills and even make a little income on the side.
Option B: Go postpaid
Now, if you’re planning to switch from prepaid to postpaid or planning to upgrade from a lower plan, here is some advice when deciding on which postpaid plan to avail of:
Canvass. Find out the different postpaid plans available in the market (see “Choosing postpaid plans”). Check out plan providers’ websites, call their customer care hotlines, visit their service centers, and bring home fliers to see which suits you best. Read the fine print before signing anything and never hesitate to ask questions.
Ask around. It would probably help to also seek the opinions of friends and relatives on what worked for them and which might also work for you.
Define your needs. What do you need cell phone services for? Is it for business, personal, emergency / security reasons for the family, etc.? In the article “Choosing the Optimal Cellular Plan for your Lifestyle” which appeared on epinion.com in 2001, one reminder mentioned that would be great to keep in mind was, “The most common mistake for emergency or security use cell phone users is to choose a plan where there are too many minutes included that do not get used every month. If you do not plan to use your cell phone often, search among the cellular service competitors to find a plan suited
to low usage needs.”
Look at your options. Do you think you would benefit more from a family plan where you and your loved ones can avail of free inter-network privileges? What plan or company gives the best deal in terms of a free phone unit, number of free call minutes, and free SMS?
Estimate your potential usage. On average, how many calls will you be making on your phone? Are you more of a call than a text person? These details are essential because there are plans that have more free texts than free minutes and vice versa.
Decide on a budget you can stick to. How much can you afford to pay monthly for a fixed number of months? Know that most postpaid plans have lock-in periods of at least 24 months and opting out before the contract is over may mean paying penalties.
Research on the ease of paying your bill. What tie-ups does the provider have in terms of convenience when paying? Will you be able to settle your obligations via electronic or phone banking in the comfort of your home/office or would you still need to go out to a certain bank or store just to pay? Consider the additional expenses you
DECISION 2: If you’re going postpaid, do you want a regular or consumable plan?
A regular postpaid plan allocates a fixed number of SMS messages and fixed call minutes per month. Beyond that, and you have to pay regular SMS and voice call rates. The advantage is that the allocation is higher than consumable plans.
On the downside, you have to pay extra every time you use value added services such as downloading ringtones, make IDD calls, or send SMS. All-consumable plans, on the other hand, let you use your monthly fee to do whatever you want – call, text, make IDD calls, send MMS, download stuff, etc. The disadvantage is that your free text allocation is lower and you don’t get free calls at all.
Option A: Get a regular plan
Regular plans are good if you hardly use value-added services and you already know your usage of SMS and voice calls.
Option B: Get a consumable plan
Consumable or flexible plans are better if you do use your cell phone for all sorts of services, not just making calls and sending text messages. It’s also a good choice if you do more text messaging than making calls, as you get free text allocation and consume the rest of the fee for SMS usage.
This article is from is MoneySense, the country’s first and only personal finance magazine. You can read more financial tips and stories at www.moneysense.com.ph.