The best cell phone plans in 2024

The best cell phone plans in 2024
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phone in hand against colorful gradient: best cell phone plans
Verizon’s Unlimited Plus and T-Mobile’s Essentials are two of the best cell phone plans you can use.

The best cell phone plans offer enough data for your needs. Beyond that, a plan can also include perks and features that are relevant to you, whether it’s a discount for a streaming service, a discounted separate plan for a connected device, or international features. But remember, an ideal plan becomes useless if the carrier that offers it doesn’t cover your area well. 

After carefully researching and considering the best cell phone plans from major carriers and budget providers, we’ve concluded that Verizon’s Unlimited Plus plan is the best overall. It offers the most data with the best overall coverage at an unmatched value, especially with more lines on the plan. The best budget option among major carriers is T-Mobile’s Essentials plan, which includes a generous amount of premium data for a lower monthly bill that will mean big savings in the long term.

Our top picks for the best cell phone plans

Best overall plan: Verizon Unlimited Plus – See at Verizon

Best budget plan: T-Mobile Essentials – See at T-Mobile

Best true budget plan: Mint Mobile plans – See at Mint Mobile

Best international plan: Verizon Unlimited Ultimate – See at Verizon

Best overall plan

Verizon’s Unlimited Plus plan offers the best balance of data and coverage for the vast majority of people. It costs $80/month for a single line, but the monthly cost per line is less with every additional line, up to five lines.

With the Unlimited Plus plan from Verizon, you get unlimited premium data, so your data speeds won’t slow down after you’ve used a certain amount of data or when the network is congested. It also includes Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network, which runs on the super fast mmWave and C-band spectrums. Verizon also offers a 50% discount for a single connected device plan, whether a connected smartwatch or tablet.

On top of core wireless services, Verizon’s Unlimited Plus plan includes discounts on various other services. Among them, you can save $9/month on the Disney streaming bundle, which includes Disney Plus, Hulu, and ESPN Plus, or save $7/month on Netflix and Max. Check out Verizon’s website for other perks to pick from. 

As for international use, the Unlimited Plus plan gets you unlimited talk and text and 2GB of daily high-speed data (before it’s slowed to 3G speeds) in Mexico and Canada. It also allows unlimited talk and text from the US to Mexico and Canada and unlimited text to over 200 countries. 

Verizon says video streaming quality on the Unlimited Ultimate plan is limited to 720p, but their fine print says 4K quality is available in 5G Ultra Wideband areas when you activate the 4K streaming option through the My Verizon app or with Verizon’s customer service. It also says 1080p resolution can be activated in standard 5G and 4G areas. 

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No other carrier offers as much for the price, and importantly, Verizon generally has the best-mixed coverage between rural and urban areas.

Verizon Fios internet users who also use Verizon Wireless will also get a discount on their internet service, so it’s an especially good choice for Verizon Fios customers.

Best budget plan

When it comes to more affordable plans, you forfeit unlimited premium data, and your data speeds will be substantially affected after reaching a certain limit. We hesitate to use the word “budget” here, as this plan could also apply to people who simply don’t use their phones away from a WiFi connection very often and don’t need to spend much on a plan that offers more data.

Among the three major carriers, T-Mobile’s Essentials plan easily offers the best deal in the more affordable category thanks to its generous 50GB of premium data. That means T-Mobile won’t slow down your data speeds until you’ve used 50GB of data, even when the network is busy. Meanwhile, AT&T and Verizon don’t offer any premium data in their equivalent plans that are less expensive.

T-Mobile’s Essentials plan starts at $60/month for a single line, with the price per line reducing with every line, up to four lines. If you can manage four or five lines in a plan, $25/month for T-Mobile’s Essentials plan is an absolute steal.

T-Mobile’s Essentials plan includes access to the carrier’s full and extensive 5G network, including its Ultra Capacity 5G network (mmWave and C-band) and its Extended Range 5G (Sub-6). Despite the inclusion, it’s worth noting that data speeds for Essentials customers may be slower overall than other customers on more premium plans, even before the 50GB data limit. Still, data speeds should be fast enough for pretty much anything you do on your phone, including video streaming and calling. 

T-Mobile offers unlimited mobile hotspot functionality on its Essentials plan, but only at 3G speeds. It limits you to basic tasks, like emailing, that don’t involve video streaming or even loading photos. If you’re looking for at least some flexibility to use your phone as a mobile hotspot, AT&T’s Unlimited Starter plan will be the better option with 3GB of mobile hotspot at faster speeds, which can better serve you for light use or in an emergency. 

Finally, T-Mobile offers some international perks with its Essentials plan. You get unlimited texting, $0.25/minute calls in 215+ countries, and unlimited international texting from home. In Canada and Mexico, Essentials offers unlimited talk and text, but up to 128Kbps data speeds, which is so slow you may even struggle with an email. T-Mobile Travel is also included.

Best true budget plan

A “true budget” cell phone plan typically comes from a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), which delivers data and connectivity to your phone by piggybacking off a major carrier’s network. Plans from these providers offer data at significantly lower monthly costs than major carrier offerings. 

Overall, Mint Mobile has the best “true budget” options, with prepaid plans starting at $15/month for a range of monthly data, from 5GB to “unlimited” data (40GB). Mint Mobile’s plans offer incredible value, especially if you know how much data you typically use monthly and can pick a plan with limited data. We recommend starting with Mint Mobile’s new customer promotion, which gives you a discounted rate equivalent to a 12-month plan on any of its three-month plans. 

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As we detail in our Mint Mobile review, one of the best things about Mint is its user-friendly app and web-based platform, where you can manage your plan and check how much data you’ve used for a given month. The overall experience is simpler than major carriers, as it’s not as congested with extensive fine print, conditions, features, or perks that you may not want. 

Mint is an MVNO that runs off of T-Mobile’s network. As such, Mint has the same coverage as T-Mobile, which is excellent in cities, many suburbs, and along many highways but can become limited the further away from populated areas you go. Check Mint Mobile’s coverage map to ensure Mint Mobile covers your area.

It’s also worth noting that Mint Mobile doesn’t include premium data on any of its plans, which means data speeds can be reduced when T-Mobile’s network is congested.

For other alternatives that offer excellent value relative to the big three major carriers, check out our guide to the best cheap cell phone plans.

Best international plan

Without adding a separate international add-on plan, Verizon’s Unlimited Ultimate plan offers the most overall for those who often travel abroad, make calls abroad from the US, or both. It just edges above T-Mobile’s Go5G Next and Plus plans. Most AT&T plans don’t include international features and require additional $10/day plans for some of the same international features included in Verizon’s and T-Mobile’s plans.

Most major carriers, except AT&T, support unlimited talk, text, and a set amount of data while traveling in 210-plus countries in their plans. Verizon’s Unlimited Ultimate plan offers more monthly data (10GB) than T-Mobile (5GB). AT&T only supports 20 Latin American countries if you don’t add a supplemental international plan. 

Verizon’s Unlimited Ultimate plans also include 300 minutes/month of calling time from the US to a country of choice from a list of 140 countries. Verizon charges a country-specific rate for all other countries. AT&T and T-Mobile charge a country-specific rate when calling any country from the US and don’t have the free 300-minute calling option on Verizon’s plan.

All major carriers support unlimited calling and texting to Mexico and Canada from the US. If you’re in Mexico or Canada, AT&T’s plans actually offer the most with unlimited talk, text, and the same amount of data as your domestic US plan. Verizon and T-Mobile also offer unlimited talk and text in Mexico and Canada, but Verizon has a 2GB/day data limit, and T-Mobile has a 15GB/month data limit.

If you rarely or just occasionally travel or communicate internationally and don’t need pricey plans that include international features, you could simply add an international add-on plan to a more affordable plan. These usually range from $5 to $10 per day, which seems pricey in the short term, but they’re likely cheaper in the long run, at least for those who don’t need international features as often.

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What to look for in a cell phone plan
galaxy s20 ultra 5g
Look for how much “premium data” is included in a plan so you don’t get caught out with slow data speeds.

The perfect plan doesn’t make sense if the carrier has poor network coverage in your area. First, you might narrow down your options by figuring out which carrier has good coverage wherever you frequent and use your phone the most. One way to do so is by asking neighbors and locals, either in person or on social media, like Nextdoor.

After you’ve figured out which carriers have the network coverage you need, the core plan features to look for is sufficient data for a worry-free experience when doing anything on your phone that uses data, especially when it comes to scrolling through data-heavy social media apps, video streaming, or video calling. 

We like plans that offer you the most “premium data” with no data limits before a carrier slows down your speeds. We also like plans where your data isn’t affected when a carrier’s network is congested. That way, you can do whatever you want on your phone without thinking about the time of day, like rush hours.

After that, it’s a question of your monthly budget. Pricier plans offer unlimited premium data, but if your budget doesn’t allow it, you may have to settle for a plan with limited premium data. One way to reduce your monthly bill is to join a plan with friends and family, as the monthly cost per line gets lower as more people are on a plan.  

The following plan features are more subjective.

If you’re often working on your laptop away from a familiar or secure WiFi connection and use your phone as a mobile hotspot, you’ll want a plan that offers as much mobile hotspot data as you need. If it’s an incredibly important feature for you, it could dictate which plan you get.

If you’re often traveling or communicating with friends and family abroad, you’ll want to consider a plan’s international features. Alternatively, carriers offer international add-on plans at an extra cost on top of your usual monthly bill. You can apply these as you need. 

Perks are nice add-ons that could tip you toward a specific carrier, as long as that carrier has good coverage in your area. Things like discounts on streaming service bundles, your home internet service, or discounts on separate plans for data-connected smartwatches or tablets could make the difference. 

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