AARP Eye Center
Some folks are willing to splurge on a smartphone that costs $1,000 or more. Others seek a budget model at a fraction of the price. You may be somewhere in between.
Whichever profile fits your reality, you’ll want the best bang for the buck in choosing a wireless plan. The major U.S. wireless providers — AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless — offer discounted plans that target older consumers, albeit with different benefits, rates and restrictions.
Competition has long been ferocious among the group, which has shrunk to a trio in recent years. And consumers benefit from lower rates, at least some of the time.
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With T-Mobile’s purchase of Sprint, UScellular is now the fourth largest carrier. It does not offer plans with age-related discounts, and plans are not available in all areas.
Questions to ask when choosing a plan
Picking any cellular plan is confusing, and the same goes for those squarely aimed at mature customers. Among the questions you should ask:
• Can I access 5G, or fifth generation, networks that the carriers have been crowing about in their marketing if my phone is capable? Is it the fastest flavor of 5G?
• Do plans include unlimited data, talk and text?
• Is an internet hotspot feature available to share a connection with other devices?
• Am I covered abroad?
Tests in one state lead to legal squabble
As you would expect, age requirements are associated with such plans. But in a few instances, where you live matters, too.
AT&T’s and Verizon’s test runs of “senior” discount plans require account holders to be Florida residents, prompting T-Mobile to go on a marketing attack. Its “banned seniors” website claimed that more than 9 in 10 older adults in the U.S. can’t get a wireless discount from T-Mobile’s rivals because they don’t live in the Sunshine State.
T-Mobile’s solution? (1) Move to Florida. (2) Get a virtual mailbox in Florida. (3) Switch to T-Mobile.
AT&T cried foul and countered with a lawsuit alleging that T-Mobile’s advertising claims are “literally false.” As evidence, AT&T pointed to wireless discounts it offers AARP members in all 50 states. The case is pending. (Verizon has remained quiet publicly.)
Family plans could lower your bill
The so-called senior discounts aren’t the only ways to save money. As you look at wireless plans, consider how many lines you need.
Carriers typically market lower per-line rates for four lines when all you may require is a single line, which costs more. Compare the cost of wireless plans aimed at older folks against regular family plans, says consumer tech analyst Avi Greengart of Techsponential in New Jersey.
“Typically, the initial line is the most expensive part of the plan,” he says, no matter which of the four largest companies you choose. “So it usually costs less if you join with the rest of your family even without a special senior discount.”