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So you’ve finally reached a breaking point with your mobile carrier. Maybe they increased prices on you… again. Perhaps you saw a sweet advertised deal with a competitor that looked too good to pass up. Or maybe you just hate the customer service you’ve been getting and you’re finally fed up. Whatever the reason, switching mobile carriers can still be a hassle at best and a nightmare at worst.
If you’re looking to change carriers, there are a few things you need to consider. Don’t take advertising messages too literally, since they can often be deceiving. Instead, check out the factors you should be paying attention to.
1. Price and plans
At the end of the day, you need to know exactly what your monthly will be. So take stock of your usage – every major carrier should be able to tell you your average usage of minutes, texts, and data for the past few months. Armed with this data, you can look for a plan that truly fits your usage patterns. Mobile carriers like to advertise their biggest plans (especially for data allotments), but if your usage shows you never go above a certain amount of data, there’s no need to lock in on a massive plan.
The key is to find a plan you’ll never go over on. That said, get clear on what additional charges, overage charges, or service fees you’ll need to pay.
Bluntly: the phone has to work in the places you will be. Thankfully, this isn’t much of a problem anymore, since mobile coverage is growing rapidly. However, with the rise of new providers like Freedom Mobile or geographically-based carriers like Videotron in Quebec, coverage is an important question.
Some carriers even have plans with “home” and “away” zone allotments, so if you travel or move cities a lot, you’ll want to confirm what’s covered and what’s not.
Even for the occasional traveller, roaming charges can get expensive. In general, roaming charges come in one of two forms: a daily charge to ‘extend’ your plan overseas, so you can use your phone as normal, or a roaming ‘package’ with a certain allotment of minutes, texts, or data.
Depending on how often you use your phone while travelling, a popular option is the ‘extension’ plans where you pay a daily fee to use your phone like normal. However, these can get pricey – up to $12 or more per day on top of your regular monthly fee – so know what you’re getting into before you end up with a $200 phone bill for your next vacation.
4. Customer Support
If something goes wrong, you want to know the company can actually help you. This is especially important if you got a device from them on a contract or tab, since you may have a warranty for any damages or issues.
The key here is to find out how they do support: Texts? Phone calls? In-store? Online chat? Other options? The more you know about how you can reach out to them (and the more reviews you can find on the quality of support), the better.
Reputation isn’t about being “cool” per se. Instead, it’s about figuring out if the company is easy to work with. Are the employees friendly? Is support actually helpful? Is it easy to find their stores or online presence? Are prices transparent?
Looking at reputation can go a long way in picking a phone plan because the carrier will be your provider for as long as you subscribe. If they have a great reputation for being respectful and helpful towards customers, you’ll likely have a much more pleasant experience. A cheap plan on a crappy carrier could turn out to not be worth the savings. Similarly, an expensive plan with a crappy carrier could end up lacking in the premium experience you expected.
Much like joining a private club, some carriers offer member-style perks to subscribers such as discounts, exclusive access to events, and more. While usually not a determining factor for choosing a carrier, this can become lucrative. If, for example, a member perk is a decent discount at a store you currently shop at, the savings could end up being worth a significant portion of your bill.
This fits more into the “financial lifestyle” category, looking to see if the price of the plan can be offset by savings or prestige in other areas of your life.
You don’t need to be a lawyer (or hire one), but always take a look at the fine print and ask questions. Similar to asking what you will ultimately pay every month, “service fees” included, you need to know what you’re actually getting when the advertisement says “free” or “discounted.”
The mobile market is intense, with new competition pushing legacy companies to get a little more competitive. Further, because lifetime values are so high, mobile companies make a lot of claims about discounts and other enticements to get you to buy. As a consumer, this is fantastic – you get a lot of savings. Just take the time to understand what you’re truly getting and what you’ll be locked into. You don’t want to end up spending more for less when you’re searching for a new carrier for precisely the opposite reason.