The wireless industry is flooded with hundreds of plans from many different carriers. So how did I sift through all of these plans to select the top 30 ones?
I used this very website along with a massive spreadsheet hosted on AirTable.
The cell phone plan comparison chart compares over 160 plans from 30+ carriers. The plans are sorted by price and include details about which features are supported by each plan.
I sifted through my website and the comparison chart to compare plans, prices, and features, and select the very best plans. I also factored in my experiences using each carrier.
For those of you who don’t know me, hi, I’m Stetson, and I’ve been reviewing cell phone plans since 2015.
I got interested in cell phone plans because I was a high school student looking for an affordable cell phone plan for myself. I started doing research and testing out different carriers.
I’ve tried Cricket, Metro, US Mobile, Tello, Ting, Visible, Wing, Mint Mobile and more. I learned these carriers offer basically the same coverage and service as Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, but at a much more affordable price.
From my testing and my experiences, my goal is to help you save money on cell service with what I think are the best, most affordable cell phone plans of 2020.
For the first part of this article, I want to cover how these cell phone plans can be so cheap.
(Technically U.S. Cellular is the fifth network in the U.S., but I don’t think they’re very good, so I don’t really talk about them).
Because these carriers build and maintain their own networks, they are called MNOs, or Mobile Network Operators. They typically charge expensive prices for premium service.
However, not everyone can afford these expensive $80 or $90 plans. As a result, the networks are never operating at full capacity.
To make up for this, the big carriers use two strategies: 1) they create Flanker Brands and 2) they lease access to their networks to smaller carriers.
Both of these strategies allow new, affordable cell phone plans to enter the market with essentially the same coverage and service.
Flanker brands are brands created by the same company to target a different demographic of consumers. For example, Verizon’s Flanker brand, or flanker carrier, is Visible. Verizon targets premium users with expensive plans, while Visible targets budget-minded consumers with their $40 unlimited plan.
Other carriers have flanker carriers too. AT&T owns Cricket, Sprint owns Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, and T-Mobile owns Metro by T-Mobile.
These flanker carriers provide similar service at more affordable price points to target different consumers.
The second strategy of the big carriers is to lease access to their networks to smaller carriers at wholesale prices.
These smaller carriers are called MVNOs, or Mobile Virtual Network Operators because they don’t build their own network but rather operate virtually on an existing network.
MVNOs use other cost-saving strategies to provide some of the most affordable plans in the industry. They are typically online only, often don’t have unlimited plans, offer self-help articles to reduce the load on their support team, and more recently they have started offering their plans in bulk 3-, 6-, or 12-month packages.
Both flanker carriers and MVNOs use the same major networks for coverage, so I think they are a great way to save on cell service while still getting the same coverage you’re used to.
Now that you know how these plans can be so cheap, let’s dive in to what I think are the best cell phone plans of 2020 on the Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile networks.
My top picks for the best 1GB LTE data plans are from US Mobile, Red Pocket, Tello, and Mint Mobile:
On the Verizon network, I recommend US Mobile. They just updated their plans with cheaper prices, support for eSIM, and international roaming support. Their new 1.5GB plan is just $20/month and includes unlimited minutes and texts. You can also build your own plan with US Mobile to get the exact amount of minutes, texts, and data you need at affordable rates.
On the AT&T network I recommend Red Pocket. Their 1GB plan is just $15/month and includes 1,000 minutes and unlimited texts. The biggest caveat with Red Pocket is the support for visual voicemail, hotspot, and VoLTE varies depending on which phone and network you’re using with them. Check my website for more details.
On the Sprint network I recommend Tello. Their 1GB plan starts at just $7/month. Similar to US Mobile, you can also customize a plan to meet your needs with affordable rates for minutes, texts, and data.
As an honorable mention, I’ll also mention Gen Mobile on the Sprint Network. Their 1GB plan is $15/month, but it includes international calling to over 100 countries. This is a great option for people who want to keep in touch with family living internationally.
And on the T-Mobile network I recommend Mint Mobile. Their bulk 12-month pricing allows you to get unlimited talk, text, and 3GB of data for just $15/month. This is a plan I personally used for about a year, and I loved the service. Mint supports Wi-Fi calling, VoLTE, and the personal hotspot.
The best 3GB LTE data plans come from US Mobile, Pure TalkUSA, Tello, and Mint Mobile:
In the Verizon network, US Mobile’s new prices make them the best option again. This time $30 per month gets you 5GB of data with unlimited minutes and texts.
On the AT&T network, I’m recommending a new carrier this year. Often I recommend Cricket, but Pure TalkUSA recently updated their prices and now offer 3GB for just $25 per month. While haven’t tried them personally, their new plans do seem great for lighter data users.
On the Sprint network I’m recommending Tello again. They simply offer the best prices, and this time $16/month gets you 4GB of LTE data. Tello also includes free international calling to Canada, Mexico, and China, which is pretty unique.
And on the T-Mobile network we have Mint Mobile’s $15 plan again.
The best 5GB LTE data plans come from US Mobile, Pure TalkUSA, Tello, and Mint Mobile:
On the Verizon network, I’m recommending US Mobile’s $30/5GB plan again. It’s simply the cheapest option I’ve been able to find. It includes hotspot support, international roaming, eSIM, and has one of the cleanest online account dashboards I’ve ever seen.
On the AT&T network, I’m recommending another plan from Pure TalkUSA. I realize this is somewhat risky as I haven’t tried them personally yet, but guys their new prices do seem really good and I wanted you to know about them. As alternatives you may also consider H2O’s $27 5GB plan, although I’ve heard they have group messaging problems on iPhone, or Cricket’s $40 5GB plan, which is $35 after the auto-pay discount.
On the Sprint network Tello continues to dominate. This time their 6GB plan is just $22 per month. Tello has dropped their prices last year, and it really shows with their new affordable plans.
And finally on T-Mobile, you guessed it, Mint Mobile’s $20 8GB plan gets my recommendation. Their combination of features and price makes them pretty hard to beat, plus you can try them out before committing with one of their $5 trial kits. If you’re not looking for a longer 3, 6, or 12 month plan, you can also consider some of the monthly plans available from Ultra Mobile, which are pretty affordable too.
My recommendations for the best 10GB LTE data plans come from Verizon Prepaid, Red Pocket, Twigby, and Mint Mobile:
Moving on to the best 10GB plans. This is a tough category because we’ve reached a point where many unlimited plans are actually similar in price to 10GB plans. I’m quickly going to breeze through these so we can get on to the unlimited plans and you can see what I’m talking about.
For the best 10GB plans I’m recommending Verizon Prepaid, Red Pocket, Twigby, and Mint Mobile. If you need 10GB of data, these are good options to consider, but you may also consider an unlimited plan.
The best value unlimited data plans for 2020 are from Visible, AT&T Prepaid, Wing, Sprint, and Ultra Mobile:
These plans deliver unlimited data at the best prices on your favorite networks.
On the Verizon network, I want to give a shoutout to US Mobile. Their new $50 unlimited plan includes 50GB of priority data, hotspot support, 10GB of international data, and the option for a family plan where US Mobile will cover subscriptions to Spotify, Apple Music, Apple TV, Netflix, Disney+ and more. However, the true best value unlimited plan on the Verizon network comes from Visible.
Visible is Verizon’s flanker carrier. Their unlimited plan is $40 flat and can be dropped to as low as $25 per month if you join a Visible party. This is probably one of the best values in wireless right now.
There are four big caveats with Visible though: they support limited devices, their customer support is notoriously bad, hotspot speeds are capped at 5Mbps, and your data will always be deprioritized. They are great for some, not so great for others. Read my Visible review for more information.
On the AT&T network I want to recommend two plans as well. First, AT&T prepaid for their $45/month unlimited plan. This will provide a pretty good experience because it’s from AT&T directly, but the hotspot is a $10 add-on for only 5GB and data speeds are always deprioritized.
Another great value plan to consider is Wing’s unlimited plan. This plan is $55/month, so $10 extra, and includes 22GB of priority data along with 15GB of hotspot data. Wing somehow offers AT&T business plans, which have the same data priority as AT&T postpaid, and they are supposedly working on making the hotspot data unlimited too.
On the Sprint network, Sprint’s own Unlimited Kickstart plan is the most affordable option at $35/month. Data speeds are deprioritized, but for unlimited handset data this plan is tough to beat.
And on the T-Mobile network, Ultra Mobile has an unlimited plan for $40 per month. This plan includes 32GB of priority data, hotspot support, and all the features you love, but this amazing price is from their 12-month plan. Their monthly plan is still reasonable at $49/month.
The best premium unlimited data plans are the postpaid plans from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, along with a plan from Google Fi:
These premium unlimited data plans are the best of the best of what the industry has to offer. And yes, they’re expensive.
If I had to choose just one of these, I would honestly go with T-Mobile. Taxes & fees are included in the price, and T-Mobile also includes a Netflix subscription, which for me is a value-add.
Also I want to give a shoutout to Google Fi. Compared with these other plans, their $70 unlimited plan doesn’t seem that bad, especially considering it uses the Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular networks simultaneously to provide coverage. Google Fi also includes international coverage, making it a great option for travelers.
Cell phone plans that deserve an honorable mention:
And finally, honorable mentions. I’ll give Google Fi a shoutout again for their $30 1GB plan. More expensive than other options, but works great on Pixel phones, offers great coverage, and awesome international support.
Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile also deserve shoutouts for their $45 unlimited plans using the Verizon network for coverage. These prices are only for current customers though, as non-customers will be paying $65/month.
I think Reach Mobile deserves an honorable mention too. Their plans are a little more expensive, but I love their cause. Reach donates 10% of all data plans to provide cellular data connectivity to people in need, so you can feel good about paying your mobile phone bill.