We Help You Decide: You Travel Frequently

A few weeks back, we covered what prepaid plans would work best for people who are visiting the US. We've been getting requests for something similar lately: what if you live in the US, but you travel a lot? Well, we thought “domestic or abroad?” But then we slapped ourselves in the forehead and remembered that with locked phones, international roaming is basically nonexistent. So we're focusing on those individuals who travel within the US.
What we're really looking for here is a large coverage map — which gives an automatic recommendation to the major carriers and most MVNOs. But make sure to read the whole deal on them. We're figuring that if you travel a lot, you use your phone a lot, too, whether it's for business or just calling home. So we're also looking for decent plan rates. The strictly per-minute rates probably aren't going to work out so well in this scenario, but there are a couple that offer favorable deals for the infrequent caller.
(read the review) They've got an enormous coverage map, so that's a good start. If you're traveling across the states, you'll find at least roaming services, and probably home calling area services in most major metropolitan areas. And their plans are fit for a big talker. The pay-per-day plan can work out well and doesn't cost a ton if you use it correctly. And the pay-per-month plans are pretty decent, too. Especially the $70 plan that gives you unlimited nights and weekends, mobile to mobile, and text messaging, plus 700 anytime minutes. We can definitely see Alltel working for a big traveler.
(read the review) Yes, we're all pretty aware of AT&T's national coverage map. It's a bit spotty once you get past Texas, but it still provides full coverage in most popular travel destinations in the US. Unless you're staying in the nether regions of Idaho, you're safe — and if you were traveling there, would you want a cell phone, anyway? AT&T's per-month plans look very much like those of Alltel. With the most expensive plan, you're paying a tick over 10 cents per minute, but you also get unlimited nights and weekends and mobile-to-mobile. Too bad there's no free texting in that deal.
(read the review) Since they use Sprint's coverage map, Boost covers most of the US. That is, unless you're traveling to Montana, Wyoming, or New Hampshire (how can I live free or die without my Boost phone?). From there coverage is pretty good in the other states, meaning you're safe pretty much wherever you travel. As for plans, once again, they're on the same frequency as AT&T and Alltel. All three offer comprehensive coverage maps and competitive plans. They should all work out well for travelers. Too bad Boost Unlimited hasn't left California and Texas yet.
(read the review) Cricket's coverage map is real spotty, and is only available in a handful of states. So, for our purposes, it's probably not the best deal. If it's not available in either Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York, then you could do better for travel purposes. They're supposedly working on expansion, so maybe one day they can combine their wicked unlimited plans with a national coverage map. Until then, though, Cricket is mainly for you stay-at-homers.
(read the review) Since both Cricket and Jump are subsidiaries of Leap Wireless, it would make sense that they have the same coverage map. Really, the only difference between the two services is the method of billing. One is a flat-rate provider while the other is a pay-as-you-go service. Pay-as-you-go usually isn't what works for travelers. Either they need a lot of minutes to keep up while they're on the road, or their company provides them with a phone. So when the time comes for Leap to expand its coverage map, look to Cricket, not Jump if you frequently move from place to place.
(read the review) Kajeet works off the Sprint network, so they also have a high-quality national coverage map. However, the whole service is designed for kids, so the plans are as inflexible as they get. Not that it's a bad thing overall — it's just a bad thing for our current purpose. But if you take your kid traveling with you, kajeet wouldn't be the worst phone for him or her.
(read the review) Because Sprint doesn't have a prepaid service directly through them, they have a ton of MVNOs that offer prepaid services through their network. Boost is the foremost, but as you can already see, there are plenty more. Liberty is one of them, and their coverage map is on par with the rest of them. As for plans, they have quite a few, which are pretty much on par with the AT&Ts and the Alltels. They have announced a $100 unlimited plan, but there is no word of it yet on their website.
(read the review) The advantage that Locus has over the competition: they offer a variety of services on various networks. So depending on where you travel, they have a map that can suit you. That said, you can't overlap maps from service to service, so if one map covers Chicago and not New York, and another map is the opposite, you're kinda screwed. Plus, the plans aren't all that great, so we can pretty much forget about Locus for you travelers.
(read the review) If you thought Cricket's coverage was limited, check out Metro's map. It's been long speculated that the two companies would join forces, because they both have limited coverage areas, but don't seem to overlap. Anyway, although we love the flat-rate unlimited plans, Metro simply won't do if you're traversing the country.
(read the review) And we have yet another MVNO using the Sprint PCS coverage map. So you basically know what to expect at this point. Mojo is also a pay-as-you-go service, so you'd expect us to not recommend it and move on. However, their minutes plans are intriguing. For $30 you get 140 anytime minutes and unlimited nights and weekends. Can you find better? Probably. But this is one of the better options for strict pay-as-you-go.
(read the review) Look at Net10's coverage map. Look familiar? You can definitely guess which it is by now. Like many services, they are strictly pay-as-you-go. But at 10 cents per minute and 5-cent text messages, it might be worth your while. You could certainly do worse.
(read the review) Omni seems to have a hybrid coverage map, borrowing some from Sprint and what looks like some from Verizon, but it could be Alltel. The catch is that their phones are so old (refurbished models) that they have certain ones that only work in parts of Florida, Texas, and Wisconsin. Even if you get one of the “better” phones, your coverage isn't full. In fact, the majority of Texas isn't covered at all, as well as the coast of North Carolina. So regardless of plans, this probably isn't the best service for travel.
(read the review) You have to check individual states to see Page Plus's coverage, but from clicking around a bit it seems quality. They are strictly pay-as-you-go, but you can get decent deals, like the $50 card that gets you 700 anytime minutes. If you jabber a lot on nights and weekends it might not fit you, but otherwise it seems fine.
(read the review) As far as coverage map goes, Simple Freedom works off Alltel, so you know you're getting quality service. They're pay-as-you-go, and although we've found some good deals in that realm earlier, 15 cents per minute just doesn't fly.
(read the review) STi is another company with what looks to be a hybrid coverage map, as it has few areas with no coverage. Some of their areas even have 3G capabilities, which give STi a leg up. As for their pay-as-you-go rates, they're not terrible: 10 cents per minute or 7.9 cents per minute. The catch: 10 cents and 25 cents per day access fees. They do have a sorta flat rate plan: $50 per month for unlimited nights and weekends and 10 cents a minute with no access fee. So they're not terrible. But if you're traveling a lot, we still like flat rate plans.
(read the review) T-Mobile has a comprehensive coverage map, but is strongest in Vermont and in the midwest. Now, we're not saying that these aren't hot travel destinations. We're just saying that people who travel frequently usually hit metropolitan areas, and T-Mobile's coverage in those areas isn't exactly the best. Their plans are decent, but we're talking about people who travel frequently, and without a coverage map that includes major cities, the service won't work out as well as others.
(read the review) If you've seen Net10's coverage map, you've seen Tracfone's, too. They work off the same network, just provide a different kind of service. And yeah, you can use Tracfone's pay-as-you-go service to your advantage, as they have a gamut of options. However, if it's simplicity you seek, you might want to try another service. As we said, pay-as-you-go probably isn't optimal for a domestic traveler. But if you want a challenge, see what you can do with Tracfone. You can definitely manipulate it to your advantage.
(read the review) US Cellular has an enormous coverage area. You might not be able to purchase and activate the service everywhere, but wherever you're traveling you'll be able to use it. They also have a flurry of plans to choose from, almost all of which have free incoming calls and unlimited nights and weekends. So if you live in one of their home calling areas and you travel a lot, we would definitely recommend US Cellular.
(read the review) This is along the same lines as Locus, where the coverage is borrowed from a variety of other networks. However, unlike the hybrid networks like STi, you can only use one at a time, which pretty much negates any advantages offered by using multiple networks.
(read the review) We all know about Verizon's national coverage area. They say it's the best in the nation — though AT&T and Alltel have something to say about that. Anywho, you know you're getting good coverage, so let's move to plans. Truth be told, we're not too fond of their pay-as-you-go service. Anything with a $1 per day access fee rubs us the wrong way. Their EasyPay plans are very limited in options, but those that do exist mimic that of AT&T, Alltel, etc. If you like the plans, you'll like the coverage.
(read the review) Sprint coverage means nationwide coverage, and that's what Virgin has. We're no fans of their per-minute plans, but their monthly plans might serve you well. Everything from $35 up has a ton of night and weekend minutes, and we particularly like the $60 plan that gives you 600 anytime minutes and unlimited nights and weekends.
(read the review) So their coverage map appears not to be working. Too bad for Xtreme — a missed opportunity.