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The best cheap cell phone plans: Slash your monthly bill with one of these MVNOs

When choosing a wireless carrier, most Americans just go with ATT, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon. But the reluctance to look beyond the big four, to an alternative carrier, could be costing you serious money.

An array of lesser-known carriers in the U.S. use the same networks as the big companies yet offer heavy discounts on your monthly bill—with no contracts. These mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) piggyback on the major carriers’ networks and provide almost identical service.

The discounts are pretty steep: Light users can pay as little as $5 per month—or even less, if you don’t need a recurring monthly plan. Plans with unlimited data are as low as $50 per month for a single line, and as low as $25 per month, per line for a group plan with four lines.

The field of choices expands every year, too. So many MVNOs currently exist that when we went digging for those with the best plans, we found 12 alternative carriers well-worth a look, plus two bonus options. And don’t worry—it doesn’t matter if it’s ATT, Verizon, T-Mobile, or Sprint towers that best serve your area. All four networks are all represented in our list, so there’s something for everyone.

Best MVNOs for cheap cell phone plans and cheap data

Cricket Wireless

cricketwirelessCricket Wireless
  • Carrier: ATT
  • BYOD: Yes
  • Cost: $25 and up
  • LTE: Yes
  • Tethering allowed: Yes, with feature add-on

As MetroPCS is to T-Mobile, Cricket Wireless is to ATT. This subsidiary has a wide variety of plans that starts at $25 for unlimited talk and text but no data. Add an extra $5 and you get 2GB of data. Cricket also offers tethering if you have an unlimited monthly plan and pay the extra $10 per month for the Mobile Hotspot feature. All data usage is capped at a speed of 8Mbps.

One distinguishing feature of Cricket’s plans is its discounts for autopay and for multiple lines. Autopay nets a $5 credit per month, while group discounts start at $10 for the first line and then jumps to $20 per line for the third through fifth persons on the plan. Autopay and group discounts cannot be combined.

Cricket supports BYOD and also offers a variety of phones for sale but no financing. It does offer discounted prices on lower-tier smartphones, however, if you transfer your number from another carrier. (Restrictions apply.)

Cricket also offers restricted domestic roaming, and international roaming in Mexico and Canada. The latter is available only if you have the $55-per-month plan or greater.

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