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AT&T's Unlimited Plans Explained: Which One Is Best?

Here are the differences between AT&T Unlimited Starter, Unlimited Extra, and Unlimited Elite, and which plan you should sign up for.
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AT&T Unlimited Starter vs Unlimited Extra vs Unlimited Elite cell phone plans

AT&T offers a selection of cell phone plans to choose from. But, what are the differences and which plan is best?

In this article, I’ll be covering exactly what the differences are between AT&T’s offerings and which cell phone plan you should sign up for. 

An Overview of AT&T’s Cell Phone Plans

AT&T offers a total of four cell phone plans to choose from:

  1. AT&T 4GB
  2. AT&T Unlimited Starter
  3. AT&T Unlimited Extra
  4. AT&T Unlimited Elite

All of AT&T’s main cell phone plans are postpaid. A postpaid cell plan means you pay for your service either in the middle of the month or after your month of service and during your next billing cycle. 

To sign up for a postpaid plan from AT&T, Verizon, or T-Mobile, they need to run a credit check to make sure you will pay your bill after your month of service.

If you’d prefer not to have your credit checked, then you may consider AT&T Prepaid. With AT&T Prepaid, and all of the other prepaid plans out there, you pay for your month of service up front. This means you don’t have to get your credit checked to sign up. 

What Are The Differences Between AT&T’s Cell Phone Plans?

The first question you are probably asking is, “what are the differences between AT&T’s cell phone plans?"

There are four main differences between AT&T’s cell phone plans:

  1. The amount of premium data
  2. The amount of hotspot data
  3. The streaming quality
  4. The included perks

Here is a comparison between each of the plans, and what each plan specifically includes. 

AT&T 4GB - $50/month

Beginning with the cheapest plan, we have AT&T 4GB. And right upfront, this plan is terrible. 

It’s $50 per month, and you get 4GB of premium data, mobile hotspot support, and 480p video streaming. 

As for the perks, you are looking at use in Canada and Mexico, unlimited texting from the U.S. to 200 countries, and AT&T ActiveArmor security. 

Sure, this plan may sound fine at first, but there are two reasons that make it a terrible choice:

  1. Data overages. AT&T charges you $10 per 2GB when you go over your data allowance. That can rack up your bill quickly if you aren’t paying attention. 
  2. You can get truly unlimited data for $45 per month from AT&T Prepaid Unlimited Max if you’re a single-line user, and a family of four can just get AT&T Unlimited Extra for $40/line, which is the same price as the 4GB plan. 

So WHY would you get the 4GB plan when you can get unlimited data for the same price or less and avoid any overage charges?

Avoid this plan like the black plague you avoided. Because you were born after it. It wasn’t even an option for you to get. And neither is this plan. 

Don’t get it. 

ATT& 4GB plan details and features

AT&T 4GB Plan

  • Price: $50/month single-line, $40/line/month for a family of four
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited
  • Data: 4GB premium data
  • Hotspot: Hotspot included
  • Video streaming: 480p video streaming
  • 5G access: Yes
  • International texting: Unlimited texting from the U.S. to 200+ countries
  • International data: Unlimited high-speed data roaming in Canada and Mexico
  • Perks: Active Armor security (spam and fraud call blocking), 6 months of Stadia Pro

AT&T Unlimited Starter - $65/month

The next plan is AT&T Unlimited Starter. This is AT&T’s entry-level unlimited plan. 

$65 per month gets you unlimited deprioritized data, no mobile hotspot, and 480p video streaming. 

The perks are basic here, too. You get unlimited use in Canada and Mexico, unlimited texting from the U.S. to 200 countries, AT&T ActiveArmor security, and AT&T throws in 6 months of Stadia Pro. 

Two key things I want to mention here: 1) what is deprioritized data? and 2) what is Active Armor Security?

  1. What is deprioritized data?

Deprioritized data means that any time the AT&T network is busy, such as at a crowded sports game, a stadium, a concert, an event, the airport, or another crowded area, your data speeds might be slightly slower than someone else’s speeds who is paying for premium data

How much are you likely to notice this?

Honestly, you’re not likely to notice at all. I did a full speed test of all AT&T plans at the Boston Logan airport, and surprisingly the deprioritized AT&T Unlimited Starter plan averaged the fastest speeds out of them all. And all plans averaged well over 200Mbps. 

So the bottom line here is don’t worry about being deprioritized. If you are curious though, I did do a side-by-side-by-side-by-side speed test comparison video of Starter vs Extra vs Elite vs Prepaid vs MVNO. Check that out here if you’re interested:

  1. What is Active Armor Security?

Okay, thing #2 I wanted to mention: what the heck is ActiveArmor security? 

Basically, this is a feature that blocks spam and fraud calls. And the only reason I’m bringing it up is because AT&T includes ActiveArmor Advanced in their other plans, which adds a couple of extra features.

AT&T Unlimited Starter plan details and features

AT&T Unlimited Starter

  • Price: $65/month single-line, $35/line/month for a family of four
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited
  • Data: Unlimited, deprioritized (data speeds may temporarily slow down during times when the AT&T network is busy)
  • Hotspot: No hotspot support
  • Video streaming: 480p video streaming
  • 5G access: Yes
  • International texting: Unlimited texting from the U.S. to 200+ countries
  • International data: Unlimited high-speed data roaming in Canada and Mexico
  • Perks: ActiveArmor security, 6 months of Stadia Pro
  • AT&T Signature Program discount: Military & veterans, first responders, teachers, nurses & physicians

AT&T Unlimited Extra - $75/month

AT&T’s mid-tier plan is Unlimited Extra. This is $75 per month, and it includes three key upgrades over Unlimited Starter.

First, Unlimited Extra includes 50GB of priority data. This means that in crowded environments where the AT&T network is busy, Unlimited Extra customers will notice slightly faster speeds than Unlimited Starter customers.

However, this is only for your first 50GB of usage. After 50GB, you’ll have the exact same speeds and performance as Unlimited Starter.

Second, Unlimited Extra includes 15GB of high-speed hotspot data, and then unlimited hotspot data at 128Kbps. This is great for sharing your cellular data connection with your tablet, computer, or other devices while you are traveling.

And third, AT&T upgrades the “ActiveArmor security” to “ActiveArmor advanced security.” In additional to spam and fraud call blocking, you now get three more features: caller ID, identity monitoring, and expanded Wi-Fi protection.

The rest of the plan features are the same between Starter and Extra. You still get 480p video streaming, 5G access, unlimited texting from the U.S. to 120+ countries, and unlimited high-speed data roaming in Canada and Mexico.

The 6 month free trial of Stadia Pro is also still here, as well.

Here’s the recap of what’s included with AT&T’s mid-tier plan:

AT&T Unlimited Extra plan details and features

AT&T Unlimited Extra

  • Price: $75/month single-line, $40/line/month for a family of four
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited
  • Data: 50GB premium data, then deprioritized
  • Hotspot: 15GB high-speed, then 128Kbps
  • Video streaming: 480p video streaming
  • 5G access: Yes
  • International texting: Unlimited texting from the U.S. to 200+ countries
  • International data: Unlimited high-speed data roaming in Canada and Mexico
  • Perks: ActiveArmor advanced security, 6 months of Stadia Pro
  • AT&T Signature Program discount: Military & veterans, first responders, teachers, nurses & physicians

AT&T Unlimited Elite - $85/month

AT&T Unlimited Elite is AT&T’s top-tier plan. It includes the best features, perks, and benefits AT&T has to offer. 

It also comes with the highest price tag: $85 per month.

So what do you get for the extra cost? There are five big improvements with Unlimited Elite compared to Unlimited Starter or Extra.

First, you now get unlimited premium data. AT&T will never slow your data speeds down based on how much data you use. AT&T also puts Elite customers on a higher priority tier, so they will get slightly faster speeds than Unlimited Extra customers when the AT&T network is busy. Again, you’re probably not going to ever notice this, but it is kind of nice knowing that you’re always getting the fastest speeds available on the AT&T network. 

Second, AT&T over doubles the hotspot data to 40GB. This isn’t as much as the 50GB Verizon includes in their 5G Get More plan, but it still is plenty for most people. 

Third, AT&T finally gets rid of the 480p video streaming limit. Unlimited Elite customers can enjoy their favorite TV shows and movies in up to 4K quality on their mobile device. To enable 4K streaming, just jump into your account settings and turn off “Stream Saver.”

Fourth, Unlimited Elite customers get HBO Max bundled in for free with their service. 

And finally fifth, this plan expands offers a special $10/month discount to AARP members, union members, students, and employees of participating businesses.

The rest of the plan features on Unlimited Elite remain the same as Unlimited Extra. You’re still getting 5G access, unlimited texting from the U.S. to 120+ countries, unlimited high-speed data roaming in Canada and Mexico, AT&T ActiveArmor advanced security, and 6 months of Stadia Pro.

Here’s a recap of what you get with AT&T Unlimited Elite:

AT&T Unlimited Elite plan details and features

AT&T Unlimited Elite

  • Price: $85/month single-line, $50/line/month for a family of four
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited
  • Data: Unlimited premium data
  • Hotspot: 40GB high-speed, then 128Kbps
  • Video streaming: 4K video streaming
  • 5G access: Yes
  • International texting: Unlimited texting from the U.S. to 200+ countries
  • International data: Unlimited high-speed data roaming in Canada and Mexico
  • Perks: ActiveArmor advanced security, 6 months of Stadia Pro, HBO Max
  • AT&T Signature Program discount: AARP members, military personnel and veterans, first responders, teachers, nurses and physicians, union members, students, and employees of participating businesses

AT&T Plan Discounts

Now let’s talk pricing and discounts.

AT&T offers a Signature Program where eligible members can save big on their AT&T service.

Business employees, AARP members, union members, and students all can save $10 per month per line off of the cost of the Elite plan. This makes it the same price as Unlimited Extra. 

Military veterans, first responders, teachers, and nurses and physicians can also all save 25% off the cost of any AT&T plan. 

This brings the cost of Starter, Extra, and Elite down to just $49, $57, and $64 respectively for single-line users.

AT&T of course also offers a multi-line discount on their plans as well. 

For a family of four, the regular pricing per line is $35 for Starter, $40 for Extra, and $50 for Elite.

And with the 25% off signature program discount, those family prices drop to just $27, $30, and $38 per line respectively.

What AT&T Plan Is Best For You And Your Family?

This is a great question, and there are two answers.

Best AT&T Unlimited Plan for Single-Line Users

First, if you are a single-line user looking for an unlimited data plan on the AT&T network, the best option is actually none of the plans we’ve covered so far.

Not Unlimited Starter. Not Unlimited Extra. And not Unlimited Elite.

Yup, that's right. The best unlimited data plan for single-line users actually comes from AT&T Prepaid.

It’s the AT&T Prepaid Unlimited Plus plan.

AT&T Prepaid Unlimited Plus is normally $75 per month, but AT&T is currently offering a discount where new customers can get the plan for just $50 per month with auto-pay. You even get the discount on your first month of service.

And with AT&T Prepaid Unlimited Plus you get 22GB of priority data, 10GB of hotspot data, 4K video streaming, and unlimited use in Canada and Mexico.

You’re even still getting the same features as the more expensive postpaid plans: 5G access, spam and fraud call blocking, unlimited high-speed data roaming in Mexico and Canada, and unlimited texting to over 100 countries.

For $50 per month, this is easily one of the best unlimited data plans a single-line user can get on AT&T. Heck, we even rated the plan as one of our best unlimited plans overall. AT&T Prepaid Unlimited Plus is basically the same as AT&T Unlimited Extra, the mid-tier plan, but for 33% less per month. It’ll save you $300 per year.

The only downside with AT&T Prepaid Unlimited Plus is that you are not able to finance your phone through AT&T. Instead of having a nice $23.61/month payment plan over 36 months for your shiny new iPhone 13, you’d need to pay the full $830 up front.\

AT&T Prepaid Unlimited Plus plan details and features

AT&T Prepaid Unlimited Plus

  • Price: $50/month
  • Minutes: Unlimited
  • Texts: Unlimited
  • Data: 22GB premium data, then deproiritized
  • Hotspot: 10GB high-speed, then 128Kbps
  • Video streaming: 4K video streaming
  • 5G access: Yes
  • International texting: Unlimited texting from the U.S. to 200+ countries
  • International data: Unlimited high-speed data roaming in Canada and Mexico
  • Perks: Fraud call blocking and spam alerts, 100GB cloud storage

Best AT&T Unlimited Plan for Families

The best AT&T unlimited plan for families is where things can get a little more nuanced.

Most people will be totally fine with the AT&T Unlimited Starter plan. It’s the most affordable option at just $35/month for four lines, and I think it’s a great plan to consider.

However, with AT&T’s introduction of “Unlimited Your Way” in mid-2020, you can now mix and match unlimited plans. You can pick exactly what plan each line is on.

You can have your kids on Unlimited Starter, put yourself on Unlimited Elite, and have your spouse or partner on Unlimited Extra.

And you know what? That’s exactly what I recommend. Customize your plans so they meet the needs of the people who will be using them.

I think put most people on Unlimited Starter. It’s the lowest-cost plan, and it’s likely going to meet the needs of 99% of people.

Even though it doesn’t have hotspot data, most public places that are great for doing work, such as libraries, hotels, coffee shops, etc., typically have decent public Wi-Fi. So most people probably don’t need hotspot data with their plan.

If there is someone who needs hotspot data, then bump them up to Unlimited Extra.

Finally, if you want the HBO Max perk, or if there is someone who needs more than 50GB of priority data or more than 15GB of hotspot data, then bump that one person up to Unlimited Elite.

It only takes one line on Elite to get the HBO Max perk, and considering it’s only $10 to upgrade a line from Extra to Elite compared to $15 for getting HBO Max as a standalone service, it is easily worth upgrading that one line for the perk.

And if you don’t want or need HBO Max, then keep your lines on Starter or Extra.

Should You Switch to Cricket?

My final bit of advice is if you should switch to Cricket Wireless.

If you have a family plan on AT&T where ALL lines are on AT&T Unlimited Starter for the best value, then you should 100% consider switching to Cricket Wireless.

The reason is because Cricket Wireless is an even better value.

Cricket is a prepaid carrier that is actually owned and operated by AT&T, so you get the exact same coverage and performance.

Cricket is so compelling as a carrier because they offer an amazing family discount. Four lines on Cricket’s Unlimited More plan comes out to just $33/line, and all taxes and fees included.

Compared to AT&T Unlimited Starter, Cricket’s plan saves you about $25 per month ($300 per year). Plus, Cricket also includes extra features like 15GB of high-speed hotspot data and 150GB of free cloud storage.

Those are nice perks to have, especially for a lower cost.

Furthermore, Cricket’s plan is also deprioritized on the AT&T network, just like AT&T Unlimited Starter is, so you’ll have the exact same speeds and performance.

So if you’re going to end up getting a family plan where all lines are on Unlimited Starter, why not switch to Cricket and get a better plan for a lower cost?

Heck, Cricket’s Unlimited More plan could even be a good option for people on AT&T Unlimited Extra who need the hotspot data but who want to save some extra cash.

Either way, Cricket’s plan is worth considering given the value it offers at such an affordable price point.

About the Author(s)
Stetson Doggett profile picture
Stetson Doggett

Stetson graduated from Ithaca College in 2019 with a degree in Communication Management and Design. He launched BestPhonePlans.net as part a senior project in school. He loves helping people find great, affordable cell phone plans that meet their needs. When he’s not reviewing cell phone plans on his YouTube channel or website, Stetson is out hiking in the crisp Colorado air, playing board games with friends, or competing in an epic game of pickleball.

Cell Phone Plans

Here are the cell phone plans referenced in the article.

Family Cell Phone Plans

Here are the family cell phone plans referenced in the article.
AT&T Unlimited Starter
VZ
ATT
SP
T-Mo
4
$
35
/person
Unlimited
LTE
Deprioritized
Priority
Deprioritized
Full
Speed
Full Speed
Speed
Unlimited 2G
Data
Unlimited 2G
Data
3GB
Hotspot
Included
Hotspot
Add On
Hotspot
No
Hotspot
Unlimited
Minutes
Unlimited
Texts
Visual VM
Visual VM
MMS
MMS
WiFi Calling
WiFi Calling
VoLTE
VoLTE
5G Access
5G Access
5G
Access
Roaming
Roaming
Intl Calling
Intl Calling
Intl Calling
Intl Data
Intl Data
Intl Data
Group Savings
Group Savings
eSIM
eSIM
AT&T Unlimited Extra
VZ
ATT
SP
T-Mo
4
$
40
/person
Unlimited
LTE
50GB premium data
Priority
Deprioritized
Full
Speed
Full Speed
Speed
Unlimited 2G
Data
Unlimited 2G
Data
15GB
Hotspot
Included
Hotspot
Add On
Hotspot
No
Hotspot
Unlimited
Minutes
Unlimited
Texts
Visual VM
Visual VM
MMS
MMS
WiFi Calling
WiFi Calling
VoLTE
VoLTE
5G Access
5G Access
5G
Access
Roaming
Roaming
Intl Calling
Intl Calling
Intl Calling
Intl Data
Intl Data
Intl Data
Group Savings
Group Savings
eSIM
eSIM
AT&T Unlimited Elite
VZ
ATT
SP
T-Mo
4
$
50
/person
Unlimited
LTE
Unlimited premium data
Priority
Deprioritized
Full
Speed
Full Speed
Speed
Unlimited 2G
Data
Unlimited 2G
Data
40GB
Hotspot
Included
Hotspot
Add On
Hotspot
No
Hotspot
Unlimited
Minutes
Unlimited
Texts
Visual VM
Visual VM
MMS
MMS
WiFi Calling
WiFi Calling
VoLTE
VoLTE
5G Access
5G Access
5G
Access
Roaming
Roaming
Intl Calling
Intl Calling
Intl Calling
Intl Data
Intl Data
Intl Data
Group Savings
Group Savings
eSIM
eSIM

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