Keith's TracFone Review

Looking for a TracFone review before taking the plunge? Then keep reading to learn about...

My Experience with TracFone

After researching all of the cell phone offers I chose TracFone as my wireless provider. Here are the main reasons why:

  • no activation fees
  • no contracts
  • no monthly bills
  • no deposits
  • no hidden costs
  • no credit checks
  • minutes never expire with an active account
  • easy to keep account active and to add minutes
  • pay as you go
  • nationwide provider - works just about anywhere in the U.S. where there is wireless coverage
  • NO Surprises!
TracFone has the largest digital coverage area in the U.S. Digital includes:
  • free voice mail
  • free caller id
  • free call waiting
  • nationwide long distance with no additional charge

I don't know about you, but it seems to me that there's almost too many choices for cell phone service these days:

  • Should I sign a contract, or go with a prepaid plan?
  • Is it really worth it to pay $30 or $40 per month for a plan with unlimited night and weekend minutes?
  • What is my local calling area, and how much does roaming cost?
  • How often will I even need roaming service?
  • How many minutes will I really use?
  • If I use too many anytime minutes, then I have to pay extra.
  • If don't use enough of my anytime minutes, then my cost per minute is very high.
  • Somebody please HELP!!

Those were just some of the thoughts going through my head once I decided that I needed a cell phone. After studying advertisements, brochures, and websites until my eyes were blurry, I finally decided that the TracFone wireless was right for me.

Is TracFone right for you? Only you can answer that, but here is my real-life experience with TracFone in the hope that it helps you to make an informed and confident decision.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Cell Phone

The first thing I had to decide was how many wireless minutes would I really need. I wasn't particularly looking for a cell phone to use to chit chat with friends for hours on end, but rather I just wanted something to use for emergencies and for the occasional, "I'm at the store now, what was it you wanted me to get again?"

With that in mind, I started studying the various wireless plans. What I found was that for the standard plan where you sign a 1-year or 2-year contract, the cost per minute gets pretty darn high if you don't use very many minutes.

Even the cheapest contract plans cost around $15 or $20 per month, which is rather steep if you are only planning on using 15 or 20 minutes per month!

That's why I decided on going with a prepaid service. But which one? Almost all of the wireless providers offer some sort of prepaid plan, so I was back into research mode again. But at least I had a bit more focus now.

How Do Prepaid Plans Work?

The way prepaid plans work is that you buy the phone, activate it with your wireless provider, and then pay to put minutes or "units" on your account.

When you use the phone, minutes are subtracted from your account. As with all cell phones, it doesn't matter whether you called them or they called you, minutes are deducted whenever you use the phone.  When you run low on minutes, you pay to put more minutes on your account. It's as easy as that - or is it?

As usual, the devil is in the details. For instance, with some prepaid wireless plans, your minutes are only good for a limited time, usually 30 to 90 days. If you don't use them before they expire, they are simply subtracted from your account anyway.

I didn't know for sure how much I would be using the phone, and I didn't want to waste money paying for minutes that are just going to expire, so I quickly scratched those plans off my list.

I also discovered that some prepaid cell phones only work in your local calling area. With these plans, if you are outside of your local area, your phone just simply will not connect and you can't make or receive calls.

Since I occasionally travel outside of my local area, and it sure would be nice to still be able to use my cell phone, it was an easy decision to eliminate those plans from my list.

In fact, the two issues above are the main reasons why I finally decided that TracFone was right for me.

How Does TracFone Work?

TracFone doesn't actually own any cell phone towers, they simply lease air time from the local cellular providers.  Then who sends you a bill?

That's the best part:  nobody sends you a bill!  Like all prepaid plans, you buy your air time up front and then only use the air time as you need it.

With TracFone, your minutes never expire as long as you keep your account active. Aha, but how do you keep your phone active, you ask? Well, there are several easy options.

The first option is to just add more minutes to your account. Whenever you buy a standard 60, 120, or 200 "unit" airtime card, your phone will automatically be extended another 90 days, and as of March, 2007 there is no limit to how long you can extend your due date (it used to be 120 days). If you buy the 30 "unit" card, you due date will be extended 45 days.

By the way, it's super simple to know to how many minutes you have left and when your activation due date is because it's displayed right on the screen on your phone.

You don't have to call any special numbers or punch in a certain code, it's just right there on the screen on the phone whenever the phone is on.  Easy!

Anyway, like I mentioned above, another option for keeping your phone active is to buy a special 400 "unit" card that adds 400 airtime "units" to your account and extends your activation due date for 365 days, again with no maximum as to how far you can extend your due date (it used to be 730 days).

This "one year" card currently costs about $99, which comes out to around $8 per month for nationwide cell phone coverage with 400 "units" of talk time. Now that's a pretty good deal, if you ask me!

What's this "units" business? It simply refers to the fact that with the older standar rate TracFones, when you make a call from your local calling area, the phone deducts one unit per minute.

On the other hand, if you make a call from outside of your local area, you are charged 2 units per minute. That can get pretty expensive, but at least the phone will work if you need to make a quick call.

The nice thing about the newer single-rate TracFones is that you never have to pay the 2 units per minutes. Your calls will always cost 1 unit per minute no matter where you are. Any new TracFone you buy these days will be a single-rate phone, because I don't see the older standard-rate phones for sale new anymore.

Now, let's say you have quite a few minutes built up, and you don't want to mess with buying more minutes to keep your phone active. TracFone has a special autopay plan where you can simply pay $8 per month to keep your phone active without adding new minutes.

What if you forget to activate your phone before the due date? Well, there's good news and bad news.

First, the bad news: If you let your phone expire, then you will lose your current phone number and will be assigned a new phone number when you reactivate your phone.

The good news is that as long as you reactivate your phone within 60 days from when it expired, you still keep all of your unused minutes from the old phone number!

That way you don't lose all of the minutes that you have already paid for just because you missed your due date by one day.

Also, if you're really worried about forgetting to keep your phone active, TracFone has a special deactivation protection plan. If you sign up for this optional plan and you miss your activation due date, they will simply charge you $8 and extend your due date by another month.

Where to Buy a TracFone

So, how do you get one of these slick little TracFones for yourself? While the best prices on airtime cards can be found elsewhere, the best deals on the phones themselves can be usually be found on the TracFone website.

They are always running some kind of special deal to get the phone plus extra minutes at a discounted price. This is definitely the way to go if you want the best deal and don't mind waiting a few days for your phone to arrive. Click here to learn where to find the best deals on TracFone phones.

If you're really really in a hurry to get your phone, you can just go buy one at a local retailer. With over 60,000 retail locations selling the TracFone in the U.S., there's sure to be one close to you. You can see a list of retailers on the TracFone website.

Since I was really in a hurry to get my TracFone, I bought it at a local Staples store. Yes, I could have had a better deal from the TracFone website, but that's the price I had to pay for waiting until the last minute!

I decided to get the Nokia 5180i phone simply because it was the cheapest, and I wasn't planning on using it as an every day phone. It worked well for me, although I now own a slick little TracFone Nokia 2600 color-screen phone, which I really like. My wife now owns a Motorola V170 flip phone, which is OK, but has a shorter battery life than the Nokia 2600

How to Get Started With Your New TracFone

The first thing I did after buying the phone was to get the battery charged up and to read over the user's guide that came in the package.

Once the battery was charged, it was time to activate the phone, which was easy. I simply followed the step-by-step instructions on the TracFone website, and the whole process only took about 10 minutes.

Once I had the phone activated with TracFone, I had to wait for it to be activated with the local wireless provider. Remember, TracFone doesn't own the cell towers, they simply lease time on the towers from the local providers.

The user's guide says that it can take up to 24 hours for the phone to be activated by the local provider, but I was able to use my phone less than 1 hour after activating it with TracFone.

Your wait time may be longer or shorter depending on what part of the country you are in and which wireless provider covers your local area.

Also, the user's guide states that you might have to enter a 4-digit pin code whenever you want to make a call as a protection against fraud, but here in southwest Missouri, I don't have to enter any pin code.

I just enter the phone number like normal and press send, and my phone works just like any other cell phone. Also I was assigned a local cell phone number, so it's not long-distance to call my phone from within my local area.

But before you activate your phone, you'll want to read my page on how to get some free minutes when activating.

Click here to learn how to get free minutes when activating your TracFone. Since I have digital coverage and a digital phone, my TracFone service also comes with free voice mail, free caller ID, free call waiting, and nationwide long distance.

Remember, though, that you ARE charged airtime if you use your TracFone to check your voicemail, so it's best to check it using your home phone like I talk about below.

Also, while it doesn't cost you any extra to make a long distance call, the minutes you talk will still be charged against your airtime.

Anyway, the TracFone's caller ID, call waiting, and long distance all just work without you having to do anything special, but you do have to make some extra effort to set up your voice mail. The process is pretty simple, though, and there are step-by-step instructions on the TracFone website to guide you through the process.

I did have to use up about 5 minutes of airtime to get the voice mail all set up, however, so those 20 free minutes I got at activation sure came in handy.

Speaking of using up airtime minutes, a unit is not deducted if the call lasts less than 15 seconds from the time you hit "send". If the timer on the screen of the phone gets to 15 seconds, a unit is deducted whether or not anyone ever picked up the call on the other end. So if no one is answering, hang up at 14 seconds and call them again! This little trick worked with all the older standard-rate phones, but may not work with the newer single-rate phones.

Here's another trick to try that will help you conserve some of those precious airtime minutes: Use your regular home phone to setup and check your voicemail! I did not know of this trick when I bought my phone, so I had to use up airtime minutes setting up my voicemail.

What you can do, however, is just dial your new cell phone number from your home phone and press # to access the voice mail system without using up any of your airtime minutes. It helps if you have your phone turned off so that you don't have to wait for it to ring and ring to get to the voicemail. Give it a try! (Unfortunately, this trick may not work if you have one of the new "single-rate" phones.)

TracFone Complaints

Probably the biggest complaint I have seen or heard about TracFone is dealing with their customer service. From what I can tell, they will fix any legitimate problems that people have, but they can be slow about it at times.

If you are having a problem with your phone, then I highly suggest that you click here to learn more about how to deal with TracFone's customer service. You can get good service from them if you know how to do it!

My Real Life Experience with TracFone

OK, so how has the TracFone service worked for me in real life? The quick answer is: Great!

The reason I was in a hurry to get my phone and to get it activated was that I was going to an air show in St. Louis that coming weekend with my girlfriend (now wife!) and her family.

Since I knew we were going to be doing separate activities during the day, I wanted to be able to call them on their cell phone to coordinate a meeting place at the end of the air show.

St. Louis is not in my local calling area, so I did get charged 2 units per minute for the airtime, but I kept the call short, and the phone worked flawlessly. (Note that when I go to St. Louis now with my single-rate Nokia 2600 TracFone, I only get charged 1 unit per minute.)

After our wedding, Amy and I took our TracFone with us on our honeymoon to Mackinac Island, which is at the northern tip of the lower peninsula of Michigan. I thought that we might have trouble getting reception there, but the signal was quite strong when I called my parents to let them know that we had arrived safely.

Situations such as this are exactly why I wanted the TracFone, and it has been a great little phone. I only pay for the minutes as I use them, and I'm not locked in to any long-term contract with high monthly fees.

I control how much I spend every month, not the cell phone company, and I have had no surprises with TracFone. It works as advertised. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The TracFone is perfect for me, but is it perfect for you? That depends on your situation, of course, but in general the TracFone service is great for people who want the security of a cell phone for occasional use without being locked into long contracts.

Another situation where the TracFone works well is when you want to have no surprises on a cell phone bill. This is particularly true for parents who are buying a cell phone for a teenager in high school or college.

I hope I have answered many of your questions about the service, but you can click on the link below to find ways to learn even more about the TracFone service.

Click here to learn where to find more TracFone reviews.

God Bless, and Have a Great Day!!

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"As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!"
Joshua 24:15