Friday, September 15, 2017

Consumer Cellular, 46% in fees and delayed gratification

Summary: While there is much to like about Consumer Cellular (customer service, discount phones, easy to understand website and plans, etc.), the service is just too expensive.  Under the cheapest plan, I am paying almost $15 each month for the active line only (no voice, text or data) with each individual call billed in addition per minute – that could add up fast.  There are many other discount providers (such as AirVoice, Ting, Tracfone) that provide more actual service for less. At this point, I likely will complete 6 months with Consumer Cellular then request an unlock so that I can take the phone to another provider.

I was an accidental convert to the iPhone – specifically to the 4s which I continue to use as my primary phone as of the writing of this post. I say accidental because I’d also envisioned myself more of an Android type of guy; Android having a much more open system and cell phone vendors providing phones with much better specs for the price. My first 2 cell phones were Android with the last being the Samsung S3.   While I was initially impressed with the beautiful screen, I found that battery life was considerably lacking and I also found that it was much more pleasant to carry the iPhone in my pocket.

While I love my iPhone 4s, reality is that time is quickly passing it by and I fear that it won’t be long before I try to install or update an app and get that pesky Apply Store message that I need whatever newer operating system. Thus, liking a smaller phone with great battery life (and a decent camera), the iPhone SE was identified as a likely candidate.  I decided to skip the iPhone 5s as by all accounts, that too seems on the cusp of becoming out of date.  To my chagrin, the supply of used iPhone SEs at this time seems very limited.  A very small number occasionally appeared on Craig’s list, but when those opportunities arose I didn’t get the right mix of comfort and price… Then the Sunday Target ad appeared and what did I read?  New 32gb iPhone SE for only $199.  I tried 2 visits to local Target stores and was disappointed that I couldn’t obtain clarity in regards to what plans and providers were related to this $199 offer. I followed up with some Google searches. From that search, I determined that ATT “Go Phone” seemed to be one of the providers. As best that I can determine, ATT requires that you have a data plan if you have a smart phone and at quick look these seemed to start at $30 per month in addition to whatever voice plan was selected. I noted that some indicated that they were able to get their phones unlocked but other more recent posts suggested that the loophole that was referenced had been closed. I had a prior experience with ATT and was quick to realize that this would not be a good choice for me.

A second provider for the $199 offering appeared to be Consumer Cellular.  Several years ago, when looking for a new cell provider I learned about MVNOs and Consumer Cellular was my second choice behind my current provider, Airvoice Wireless. Both Consumer Cellular and Airvoice Wireless have high grades in customer service, are great for light users and have straightforward plans that normal human beings can understand. Since I had good feelings toward Consumer Cellular from my past search, I was open to exploring further and instead of returning to Target, I took a look at Consumer Cellular’s site online where I discovered that the $199 promotion was also available. Moreover, I also discovered that at the time Consumer Cellular was offering iPhone SE returns for $50 less. I called Consumer Cellular to learn more about these returns and was assured that they were like new and would contain the accessories as new, including the ear buds and charger and would carry the Apple warranty for at least 6 months.  Being the calculating person that I am, I did the math - $150 for phone, about $10 for NY tax, and $10 per month for the lowest level service (for 6 months to be eligible for an unlock) so for around $220, I could give the service a try and if I decide to discontinue, I could obtain an unlock after 6 months and bring the phone to another provider.  This seemed like a decent deal so I gave it a go.

I received my phone and activation was simple. The phone was in great condition and when I checked with Apple as to warranty, it had almost a year. Unfortunately, the package did not contain the ear buds as promised. This wouldn’t have been a deal breaker for me, but I was upset that I was given contrary information.  It took 2 calls and a request for a supervisor to obtain a credit of $10. I thought this was a bit on the light side considering that I was given bad information and also the time and aggravation that was involved and let them know. On the plus side, I will comment that at least with Consumer Cellular you can reach customer service and they speak clear English (which being the only language I know is essential for me).

Consumer Cellular prides itself on being an affordable solution for light to moderate users and “paying for only what you need.” Certainly $10 per month is not much, but this is just for the service and under this plan all calls are charged at $.25 per minute. You certainly don’t want to do much calling using this plan and as they suggest, it is mostly for emergencies use which is how I’m using this phone. This was no surprise and to their credit, one thing I like about Consumer Cellular is that their plans are easy to understand. The CC website is clear and easy to navigate and account information is readily available online. CC also discounts popular phones (such as the SE that I purchased) for use on Consumer Cellular.  AARP members also receive a 5% discount on their phone service.

What did come as an unpleasant surprise was the amount of the taxes, surcharges and fees in addition to the $10.  My total came to about $4.60 or a whopping 46%... suddenly that $10 was closer to $15 per month and that is just for keeping an active line with zero usage. I think it would be a smart move for Consumer Cellular and a win-win for both that company and their customers if they provided at least a few minutes (maybe 15 – 20 minutes) under this $10 plan.  The benefit to Consumer Cellular is that it may encourage the customer to use their phone more often – the customer can experience the benefit and convenience of using their cell phone, become comfortable and down the road will likely want to purchase a plan with more minutes.

I don’t feel the need to provide any review in regards to the iPhone SE – there are many readily available that do a far better job than I… simply stated, it’s a great phone. Consumer Wireless is an MVNO that uses ATT (which is the same as Airvoice Wireless). At 25 cents per minute, I have restricted the use of this phone to emergency only. I have made test calls to ensure that the phone operates as expected and anticipate that the actual service is similar to that of other ATT branded MVNOs.  

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