Finding a cell plan that fits

Max Heine
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Are you spending too much on your cell phone plan? Is service what it should be?

Dissatisfaction on either count is good reason to shop around in this fast-changing market. This year’s average monthly communications bill for the thousands of clients of owner-operator consulting firm ATBS of Denver is $124. Excluding Qualcomm and other costs, says Todd Amen of ATBS, “if a driver is spending over $115 on cell today, it is too much.”

Service varies with providers and the lanes you run. Providers’ coverage maps are a good indication, but hardly foolproof. Talking with fellow drivers about their experience with a particular service can help, but there’s a better safeguard before you lock in 24 months of payments. All national carriers and many regional ones subscribe to their industry’s consumer code, which allows you a 14-day trial period with no termination penalty if you want to nix the contract, according to

Here are some other tips on cutting costs and getting a plan that fits your operation:

KILL THE FRILLS. If you have features you don’t need, such as text messaging and picture mail, cancel them.

GET NUMBERS FREE. Cell companies typically ding you for every call to 411, but you can avoid this. Google’s (800) GOOG-411, for example, is a free, automated service that provides numbers for local businesses. Also free is (800) FREE-411, though it makes you endure one or two brief ads.

FIND YOUR SWEET SPOT. If you regularly use many more or many less than your plan’s maximum minutes, you probably can find a more cost-effective plan.

STUDY THE PLAN. Features other than total minutes can make a big difference. Some plans offer free evening minutes, but not all evenings start at the same time. Others allow you free anytime minutes if you’re calling a customer of the same provider – a great deal if you’re on a multiline family plan (usually a good value) and your biggest gabfests are with family. Some plans allow you to roll over unused minutes from month to month. Others allow free incoming calls.

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CONSIDER PRE-PAID. Say you run a dedicated route and spend few nights away from home, so you require few minutes. Pre-paid plans, which can be as low as 10 cents a minute, can be just the thing. I spend $50 twice a year to cover pre-paid minutes for travel and quick local calls from the car; it sure beats $40 or more a month. Try to find a plan with an extended expiration date on minutes or a good rollover provision.

DON’T BE A FOOL FOR COOL. Sure, the newest and most expensive phones look sharp and offer great features. If you know you’ll use them and can afford the monthly fees, fine. But don’t expect a snazzier phone to improve your reception markedly, if at all.

Some websites compare cell phones, cell plans or both. One of the most thorough is Two others: and

So many people want a premature exit from two-year cell plans – without the pinch of that hefty termination fee – that online brokers now find buyers for partial plans. These sites offer the service at nominal fees: