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Ever since Tracfone started selling their prepaid services at our local Wal Mart, which was ages ago, we’ve been quite fascinated with the service. It was our first exposure to prepaid, and although at the time we had no idea how it worked, we thought it a novel concept. At that point, your phone choices were either AT&T or Verizon — T-Mobile and Sprint had the worst reception possible in our area, causing many of our friends’ phones an ill fate.
A thought occurred to us then, and we’ve never really been able to answer it: Why refill cards? Why not just have a website and/or phone number where you can enter in your account information and get more minutes? To us, calling cards were made to be stored in your wallet and used at a pay phone. They weren’t used to add minutes to your account, only to be discarded afterwards.
Since we’ve been with Prepaid Reviews, though, we’ve started to see the light. Well, maybe not the way Tracfone intended us to see it, but we’ve come to a realization nonetheless.
Tracfone offers a variety of calling cards at different denominations. As you increase the denomination of a card, the lower the per-minute rate. So, for instance, purchasing a $10 card might get you 33 cents per minute, while buying a $20 card might bring that down to 20 cents per minute. The denomination also determines when the minutes will expire. A $10 card might be good for 15 days, but a $20 card might be good for a month. All in all, the refill card you buy should be in direct relation to how many minutes you use per month.
On top of that, they have a double minutes card, which for $40 does exactly what it advertises: double the minutes of any card you buy for the life of your Tracfone membership. Once you hit a certain threshold of minutes usage, purchasing a double minutes card should be a no-brainer.
Even further, they have yearly cards, which cut out the minute expiration factor. They’re good for one year, and can really optimize your minutes, depending on how frequently you use your phone. The good thing with Tracfone is that when you buy a new airtime card, it adds that card’s minute expiration to your existing amount. For example, if you have a 365-day card that has been used in 165 days, you still have 200 days of service left. If you buy a 200-minute card, which has 90 days of service, you will now have 290 days to use those 200 minutes.
That’s the entire point of what follows: using your minutes to the max. We’ll show you how to spend the least amount of money to get the most minutes out of your Tracfone.
50 minutes and under per month: Emergency users
One reason people use prepaid, and Tracfone specifically, is that they want a cell phone in case of emergency. While you want a low number of minutes on your phone, you also have to keep minute expiration in mind. What good is a $10 card if it expires in a week?
Thankfully, Tracfone has a value plan catered to this type of user. For $10 per month, you get 50 minutes. Perfect, huh?
Total Cost: $120 for the year, or $10 per month.
150 minutes per month
We’re going to scale up by 100-minute increments here. Using 150 minutes per month adds up to 1,800 per year, so you’re immediately better off buying the doubles minutes for life card. In fact, if you use more than 70 minutes per month, this should be the first thing you purchase when you get a Tracfone.
After the initial card, you should buy four 200-minute cards, which will extend your service to 365 days. Why not the 400-minute? Because with your double minutes, it makes no sense. Remember, your service is now good for a year, so you don’t have to worry about minute expiration. Then go nab yourself a 120-minute card, which will take you through the rest of the year and give you some wiggle room.
Total Cost: $240 for the year, or $20 per month.
250 minutes per month
So you immediately have your double minutes card in hand. Now it’s time to load up on the 200-minute cards. If you use 250 minutes per month, that’s 3,000 per year, so let’s start to do the math. That’s seven 200-minute cards, with 200 minutes remaining. As we discussed in the previous example, a 120-minute card (doubled, of course) will cover that and give you a little wiggle room.
Total Cost: $360 for the year, or $30 per month.
350 minutes per month
In the interest of brevity, we’ll just go over the basics from here on out. You’re using 4,200 per year. That’s ten 200-minute cards, plus your 120-minute one. See the pattern developing here?
Total Cost: $480 for the year, or $40 per month.
450 minutes per month
Total for the year: 5,400. That’s 13 200-minute cards, plus a 120.
Total Cost: $600 for the year, or $50 per month.
The basic idea is to figure out how many minutes you use per month, and then factor that into a yearly scheme. Then divide that total yearly number by 400, and you’ll get the number of 200-minute (doubled) cards you’ll need. Take the number behind the decimal point and multiply it by 400 — that’s the number of remaining minutes you need. You can then buy 120-minute or 60-minute cards to fill out the rest of the year. Or you can just buy another 200-minute card and give yourself even more wiggle room.
Tracfone offers two cards that might seem attractive: their 800 minutes plus double-minutes and 365 days of service card, and their 400 minutes and 365 days of service card. However, these cards will end up costing you more in the long run.
Just to quickly demonstrate what we’re talking about, let’s look at the 400-minute card. It costs $100, and it can be doubled to be 800 minutes for $100. But when you look down and see the 200-minute card, you wonder how Tracfone gets away with it. For $40, you can get 200 minutes, or 400 if you double it. That means you pay $80 for 400 or 800 minutes. Uh, last time we checked, $80 was less than $100.
The same principle applies for the 800 minutes plus double minutes and 365 days of service card. If you buy the regular double minutes card, it’s $50. Then add on two 200-minute cards, which when doubled add up to 800 minutes. That’s $130, as opposed to the $140 you pay for the 800-minute card. The only disadvantage is that the service lasts for a year; if you’re using more than 70 minutes per month, but fewer than 130, that card could work for you. Otherwise, it’s a waste. Remember, four 200-minute cards gives you a year of service time.
So, Tracfone customers, have you been swindled by the company yet? Do you feed off their 400-minute and 800-minute cards, thinking they’re a value? Hopefully after reading this, you’ll start using those cost-friendly 200-minute cards and double-minute cards. After all, we’d hate to send a telecom more money than we have to.