In the not-so-distant past, carrying a cell phone was a luxury. For many, the costs associated with doing so was too much for them to bother– they already had their landline after all!– then TracFone showed up on the scene.
TracFone carved out a new industry-within-an-industry: cell phone plans that were prepaid, so you only had to pay for what you used. Now, TracFone is one of the largest cell phone carriers– coming in just behind Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint— of course, this make them the largest prepaid carrier.
TracFone is even big enough to own several other Mobile Virtual Network Operators of their own — some of which you may have heard:
That’s not even all of them, either. Anyhow, TracFone focuses on consumers who are just light-to-moderate phone users; most often, these customers land in the 55+ age range. We’re not being ageist here– it’s just a fact. Take a quick look at their website and you’ll see plenty of images of people in that age range, as well as deals that appeal toward that market.
Since TracFone was established in 1996 (under a different name), yet are still around and relevant, then they must be doing something right. But how good are they really? We dug in to find out, and now it’s your turn.
TracFone Plans + Pricing
TracFone has no contracts; only plans split between “Smartphone Only” and “Basic phone”. They only offer no-contract, prepaid plans that range between 30, 60, 90, and even 365-day increments. So, say you buy one of the year-long plans, that will last you the entire year… or until you use all of your minutes. It will also carryover so long as you buy a new plan before your current one’s time period runs out.
One look at their website, and it can get overwhelming. To make it easier to understand, we split up the details of their plans in the next sections.
Basic phone plans
|30 minutes||30 days||30 minutes talk, text, and web||$9.99 ($8.99 w/ auto-refill)||View plans|
|60 minutes||90 days||60 minutes of talk, text, and web||$19.99 ($17.99 w/ auto-refill)||View plans|
|120 minutes||90 days||120 minutes of talk, text, and web||$29.99 ($26.99 w/ auto-refill)||View plans|
|200 minutes||90 days||200 minutes of talk, text, and web||$39.99 ($35.99 w/ auto-refill)||View plans|
|450 minutes||90 days||450 minutes of talk, text, and web||$79.99 ($71.99 w/ auto-refill)||View plans|
|400 minutes||365 days||400 minutes of talk, text, and web||$99.99||View plans|
|1000 minutes||365 days||1,000 minutes of talk, text, and web||$159.99||View plans|
|1500 minutes||365 days||1,500 minutes of talk, text, and web||$199.99||View plans|
TracFone’s basic plans start at just $9.99 a month, but eventually escalate to $99.99 and higher for the 365-day plans. The good news on the higher-priced front is that that’s a one-time fee: $99.99 – $199.99 gets you a full 365 days of service, or until you run out of minutes.
But, if you’re square in TracFone’s target group– i.e. you don’t use your phone for much except texting and calling when you’re running errands– then these plans just might be perfectly-priced. Many competitors simply can’t beat these prices– not Cricket, Verizon prepaid, or MetroPCS. The only one who offers a similar plan is FreedomPop’s free plan (it’s free until you use a certain amount of data), which lasts just 1 year before leaping up.
Where the TracFone’s basic plans fail is that they don’t offer unlimited talk and text, like those same competitors listed above– there’s a limit. Of course, that’s kind of the whole hook of the brand, so I guess you have to take the good with the bad.
|500MB||30 days||200 minutes, 500 texts, 500 MB data||$15 ($14.25 w/ auto-refill)||View plans|
|1.0GB||30 days||300 minutes, 1,000 texts, 1GB data||$20||View plans|
|500MB||60 days||500 minutes talk, 1,000 texts, 500 MB data||$25 ($23.75 w/ auto-refill)||View plans|
|1.0GB||60 days||750 minutes, 1,000 texts, 1GB data||$35 ($33.25 w/ auto-refill)||View plans|
|1.5GB||90 days||750 minutes, 1,000 texts, 1.5GB data||$45||View plans|
|2.0GB||90 days||750 minutes, 1,500 texts, 2.0GB data||$50||View plans|
|1.5GB||365 days||1,500 minutes, 1,500 texts, 1.5GB data||$125 ($118.75 w/ auto-refill)||View plans|
TracFone’s smartphone-only plans start a little higher, at $15 a month. Once again, however, TracFone doesn’t offer unlimited talk and text– and the max offering is 1,500 minutes and texts each, meant to last 365 days.
But they do come with between 500MB and 2 GB of data which is just enough for the casual user to run a Google search every now and then; so long as you don’t who don’t stream Netflix or play games on your phone, you should be fine.
If you do plan on streaming with your phone, then TracFone’s plans aren’t your best bet– the best data option is still $50 for just 2GB. While that might be a 90-day plan, if you are streaming a lot, then there is no way you will be able to stay under that 2GB threshold. In short, you’d be better off going with either MetroPCS or Cricket Wireless:
- MetroPCS — unlimited data, talk, and text for $50 a month.
- Cricket — unlimited data, talk, and text for $55 a month.
The difference between those is network coverage: MetroPCS uses T-Mobile (perfect for metro areas), and Cricket uses AT&T (more widespread reliability). If you’re interested in TracFone’s coverage, you should check out our section on that below. It is surprisingly complicated.
|Add-on||$10 Global calling card||500 minute card||1.0GB data card||1,000 Texts|
One area where TracFone does meet with other carriers is in its add-ons. The price-to-value of TracFone’s is on even keel with other carriers– Cricket offers 1GB of extra for $10, and Simple Mobile offers 1.5GB for the same.
That said, if you find yourself adding data or minutes to your plan every month, it can quickly become worth it to switch to a carrier or subsidiary with higher data caps– like Simple Mobile or Total Wireless.
If you signup for Auto-Refill, when you use up all or most of your minutes, text, or data before service days are up, TracFone will automatically refill your plan. With this comes a 5-10% discount on some of the plans, either smartphone or basic.
There are some trade-offs to this either way. For instance, if you’re on a budget, an auto-refill could be a precarious thing that sends you into the red. Moreover, you don’t always get to choose the plan that might fit your current needs the best; maybe you just wanted to buy a $10 500 minute add-on and didn’t want more texts.
Phones + Devices
|Apple||iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus, iPhone 7|
|Samsung||Samsung Galaxy J3, Galaxy J7, Galaxy S7|
|Others||LG Premier Pro, LG Rebel 4, Motorola Moto G6, Alcatel MyFlip, ZTE Blade T2, Moto E5|
TracFone doesn’t carry the latest in Apple and Samsung phones, so if you love getting your hands on those, TracFone isn’t the carrier for you. They typically trend a few models behind the newest iPhones and Galaxies. There are plenty of older models to choose from, though: like the iPhone SE, the Samsung Galaxy S&, LG Stylo Premier, and more.
The good news? That means that they’re cheaper phones… although those same phones are available elsewhere alongside the newer, more expensive phones.
The bad news? Planned obsolescence is a real problem in the modern smartphone landscape. Investing in a phone that’s been on the market for two or three years means it won’t support updates within a few more years; you’re effectively shrinking what is already a stunningly small viability window.
What if you already have the latest iPhone? Can you bring it over? But of course– like most carriers nowadays, you can bring your own (unlocked) phone over with you when you switch.
And if you’re concerned that your device is GSM or CDMA– don’t be. While some sources suggest that TracFone tends to prefer GSM phones, they run on both types of networks. You can check if your phone will work with their BYOP program with TracFone’s compatibility checker.
TracFone Coverage + Performance
TracFone, like all MVNOs, piggybacks its network onto those of the Big 4. But while most MVNOs use just one or two big carrier towers, TracFone actually uses 5: Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular. That’s a good and a bad thing — the first of those 4 rank in 1st-4th place, respectively, according to OpenSignal.
For the good, since TracFone uses all of the top carriers’ towers, your network use will depend on which one is most available in your area (check that here), as well as the type of phone you use (GSM vs. CDMA). That means that you should get good coverage no matter what. As such, if you travel a lot, even in your local area, it is possible that you go into and out of dead zones.
That’s not always the case, though — just taking a look at their coverage map shows gaps in coverage through the more rural midwest, including an hour west of where I live.
Add onto that the fact that, as an MVNO, TracFone is essentially “leasing” space on the networks’ towers, so you will always be deprioritized first in favor the direct customers of whichever major carrier (Verizon, T-Moble, etc.) is facing congestion. That’s not specific to TracFone, though– it’s the price you pay for the cheaper prices of budget carriers.
We’ll say it again, as we’ve said for every review on our site: the cell phone industry is not known for great customer service. Or even good; or fair. Basically the best customer service in this industry is still kind of trash… but there’s a good chance you already knew that.
Like most carriers, though, reviews vary. Unlike other carriers, including Cricket and even Total Wireless, TracFone doesn’t run any local stores, but that’s not necessarily a detriment (Verizon always tries to sell me a several hundred dollar upgrade when I go in there; who needs that?) their online help center is set up very well. Just about everything is easy to find– the only thing we had trouble finding was data speeds for non-smartphone plans.
They’re also reachable on social media and support forums; if you elect to call by phone, you may be sitting for a while, though:
TracFone Wireless recap -- how good are they?
TracFone Wireless gives you a lot of options when it comes to plans– almost too many. But, unless you really and truly don’t need data or the extra minutes, go with the smartphone-dedicated plans. That way, you’ll have enough data as a casual user and when you need it.
But, if you fall on the other end of the spectrum, where you often use data– go with a different carrier. Either one of TracFone’s subsidiaries, like Total Wireless; or a competitor, like Cricket Wireless or MetroPCS. They have unlimited talk and text, as well as unlimited data plans for similar rates.
Since TracFone runs on the Big 4 carriers (plus U.S. Cellular), you shouldn’t have too many issues with coverage, unless you live in Tornado Alley.
Lastly, customer service can always improve, but TracFone has a navigable website and good presence on social media and forums to answer your questions.
Can I keep my phone number, too?
Yes. You can transfer your phone number, so long as it’s active, by calling TracFone’s customer service. They will take you through the process, called “porting,” and within a few hours to a few days your number will be transferred over and usable.
The only information you’ll need to provide is:
- Your name
- Phone number (other than the one you’re porting)
- A bill with your current carrier
Now that it is all written out, that kind of looks like a lot…
Does TracFone have any overage charges?
No. If you use up all your data before the end of your service plan’s length, you’ll have to refill your plan or add extra Airtime or data with an add-on.
Does TracFone have any activation or hidden fees?
There are no activation fees with TracFone Wireless. Nor are there any cancellation fees. Return policies vary, depending on whether you bought it online, or at a retailer (Best Buy, Walmart, etc.). Check out TracFone’s terms and conditions for more.
Do minutes carry over?
Yes. As long as you keep your service active (i.e. keep renewing a plan), your unused minutes will rollover. It doesn’t matter whether that’s minutes, texts, or data– they’ll rollover as long as you keep your service active. As far as we can tell, add-on’s do not extend the period until you need to buy a new plan; they only give you more of whatever you bought.
In other words, if you buy a plan with a 30-day limit, you will need to buy a new plan prior to those 30 days being over if you want it to rollover.