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Pay-As-You-Go Faceoff: Alltel vs. AT&T

Our No. 1 goal here at Prepaid Reviews is to arm you with information necessary to make a decision on your cell phone carrier. A while back, we ran a series of columns called We Help You Decide, in which we profiled various phone users and how each of our featured providers matched up with each one. That’s still a viable source of information, but now we’re taking a step further. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to pit pay-as-you-go plans head to head to see which ones come out ahead. This is strictly for per-minute or per-day plans. The monthly rate plans will duke it out later. Up this week, Alltel vs. AT&T.

Is it fair to use Alltel’s pay-per-day plan as a comparison here? After all, it is a pay-as-you-go — it just bundles your entire day into a flat rate, plus excess charges. In that case, it’s 75 cents per day for two of the following four features (and 25 cents each if you want more): unlimited mobile-to-mobile, unlimited favorite number calling, unlimited text messaging, unlimited nights and weekends. And then you have calls at 10 cents per minute. Sweet, huh?

Yes, you can get calls for 10 cents per minute with AT&T. You just have to pay a one dollar per day access fee. Now, it does give you unlimited mobile-to-mobile minutes, which are far more valuable than Alltel’s mobile-to-mobile minutes, since AT&T crushes Alltel in subscriber numbers.

However, Alltel’s pay-per-day plan lays down the Hammer of Thor on AT&T otherwise. You can scrap the mobile-to-mobile minutes and take the other three options for the same per-day rate as AT&T charges you for just mobile-to-mobile. After that, call rates are the same. Except with Alltel, you won’t be paying for your night and weekend calls, whereas with AT&T you’ll run up your bill doing so. Unless, that is, you want to pay another $20 per month for 3,000 night and weekend minutes. But really, that’s just a $10 discount.

You’ll also be hit with text messaging charges with AT&T, a feature known to slowly inflate a cell phone bill. While Alltellers can text whoever they want, whenever they want with their plan, AT&T customers will be paying 15 cents per text message, both incoming and outgoing. No, you did not read that wrong. A hundred text messages with Alltel’s pay-per-day: zero dollars. A hundred text messages with AT&T’s pay-as-you-go: $15. This puts Alltel’s plan completely out of AT&T’s league.

So let’s break it down before getting into the other aspects, because if voice and text prices are that discrepant, the other features shouldn’t matter. We’ll stick with the base of 100 text messages per month, though that’s on the low end nowadays.

Say you use 400 minutes per month. That’s $40 per month with AT&T, and less than that with Alltel, since you have unlimited nights and weekends and favorite number calling. So we’ll say, being generous, that you’d spend $25 with Alltel. On top of that, you use 100 text messages. Alltel: free. AT&T: $15.

End result
Alltel: $55 ($25 in voice fees, $30 access fee)
AT&T: $85 ($40 in voice fees, $30 access fee, $15 in text messaging)

Of course, many people will call shenanigans on us, saying that a more accurate comparison would be for Alltel’s per-minute plan, lest we bring AT&T’s monthly plans into the fold (once again, that’s for another day). Okay. We can live with that.

Alltel’s per-minute plan is 15 cents per minute, so while you’re not getting as good a rate as AT&T, you’re not paying a dollar a day for the privilege of accessing their network. Text messages, though are a full five cents cheaper than AT&T. So let’s go back to our model of 400 minutes per month and 100 text messages. That would add up to $60 in voice charges, plus $10 in text messaging. That still leaves it $15 shy of AT&T’s deal.

Truth is, you’d have to use over 600 minutes per month in order for the AT&T and Alltel plans to even out — and that doesn’t even suppose any more than 100 text messages. Remember, for every text message you send, you’re favoring Alltel, since their rates are lower.

We’ll now take the time to call shenanigans on the people who called shenanigans on us. We think that our initial comparison of AT&T’s $1 per day plan and Alltel’s pay-per-day plan is apt. Why? Because AT&T offers you a pay-as-you-go plan without an access fee as well, and it costs 25 cents per minute. Yes, that’s 10 cents more than Alltel per voice minute, and still 5 cents more per text message. We don’t need to run any comparisons to show you that Alltel clearly wins here.

By that model, you can then compare the $1 per day AT&T plan with the Alltel per-day plan. They’re very similar; you just get a ton more features for paying the access charge with Alltel. So are we ready to declare Alltel the unequivocal winner of this Pay-As-You-Go Faceoff?

Almost. We just wanted to mention that picture messaging is the same on both networks, at 25 cents per message. Their mobile web plans are similar: between $5 and $20 per month, with similar features at each price point. Once AT&T launches MediaFlo sometime in 2008, they may win on that front. But for now, it’s a virtual tie. They offer comparable handsets, too.

The only advantage we see AT&T having is coverage. They have better coverage in more places, plain and simple. You also can’t activate an Alltel phone in many regions of the country, including the densely populated Northeast. Really, that’s the only thing between Alltel and a unanimous victory.

The verdict: It’s still Alltel. If you have beef with anything we’ve said in this pieces, check out the Alltel review and the AT&T review to see where we’re coming from. Then leave us a comment and let us know your take on this faceoff.