How Breaking Up (with AT&T) Will Make Our International Travel So Much Easier

All good things (or not so good things) eventually must come to an end. We’ve been in a rocky, long term relationship with AT&T ever since getting the 1st generation iPhone, with which we have been on the “grandfathered, no longer available” iPhone unlimited data plan since Day One. We’ve always upgraded to the brand new iPhone when it was released, because it was an iPhone with the bigger GBs and the WiFi (like the person in this very filthy, NSFW video).

It’s been a long time since AT&T was the only game in town for iPhone owners and they’ve also recently changed their policy and no longer subsidize iPhone purchases (they’ll let you finance the full cost over 2 years with monthly payments, though. Big whoop). So for the first time ever, we held off getting the new iPhone last year and waited to see what options we had. When we got a letter from AT&T telling us they were going to raise the price for the lifetime unlimited data starting in March, that was the last straw. Included in that announcement was the disclaimer that we could cancel our contract, penalty free, within 60 days of the new charge showing up on our bill.  Bingo! Time to go shopping for phone plans.

IPhones
iPhone, iPhone, iPhone, iPhone, iPhone, iPhone, iPhone, iPhone, iPhone!

In looking at all the other providers that offer iPhone coverage, I’m currently the most interested in T-Mobile. I know they have the most competitive plan for people who travel internationally with their T-Moble One plan, and that’s important to us. I’ve been keeping tabs on One Mile at a Time, whose author recently posted about his changing from AT&T to T-Mobile. I’ve also heard very good things about Project Fi  from Google but that would require us to switch to the Pixel phone, and that’s not happening.

Looking more into the T-Mobile One plan, the cost for unlimited calls, texts and data in the U.S. for two phones would be $100. We currently pay about $165 for two lines on AT&T after the corporate discount I get from my job. Seeing the price difference, I called AT&T to find out when I could leave my contract. The rep was very nice but didn’t understand what I was asking. She did tell me my plan was obsolete and I could change to an unlimited plan that AT&T offers.  When I asked her the price, she said I could get both lines for $155 and use my phone as a hotspot. Um, no thanks.

Making the change to T-Mobile will be a big transition for us. Even more important than the $65/month price difference, it will totally transform the way we travel internationally. Up until now, we’ve had to extensively plan our travels overseas to make sure we’d have internet coverage. Back in the day, circa 2009 or so, that included buying a totally overpriced international data plan from AT&T. For 1 month of the international plan, we’d have to pay over $100 and even for all that, we got very little data (we could only use one phone and had just enough data to load a Google map if we were horribly lost or to upload a picture or two to Facebook. Forget about browsing or downloading emails).

More recently, when we traveled to Australia in 2014, I purchased a SIM for our old, unlocked iPhones at the airport when we landed. This allowed us to have several GB of data usage while we were there. When we traveled on to Japan during that same trip, I had to arrange to have a data SIM and a hotspot delivered to our hotel so we could have internet (you can’t get a SIM for phone in Japan unless you live there). We then had to send it back from the airport before we left, in the prepaid envelope that was supplied.

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 9.38.54 PM
We’ve always been so happy that the SIMs or data plan worked and we could use our our phones overseas!

Even in 2016, for our trip to London and Salzburg, I had to buy a SIM card from eBay from Three, a UK phone company, and then purchase the time online through a third party before we left. Figuring all this out took plenty of time, as well as the help from other travelers on the FlyerTalk boards. Luckily, this SIM also included roaming in Austria, so I could use the same card for our whole trip.

Switching to T-Mobile will be such a game changer for us:

With the T-Mobile ONE™ plan, you can enjoy unlimited data and texting in 140+ countries and destinations—all at no extra cost.

So this means we can travel to any of the 140 countries included on the plan and just turn on our phone when we land. The data is only 3G but that’s still enough to load a Google map, download email or get information on which train we are supposed to get on. The time and worry saved in arranging to have internet when we land is priceless, moreso when you’re suffering jet lag and all you want to do is go to sleep.

We’re still working out the logistics since T-Mobile is no longer offering the trade in program on iPhones. We’ll have to see if we can unlock our phone early or wait until later on in the year, when our contract ends, to switch. Good thing we don’t have any international travel planned for this year.

Have you or someone you know used a T-Mobile One phone overseas? How good is the data coverage?

(UPDATE! It’s about 6 months later. After many discussions with AT&T [so many of their customer service people are clueless], we did wind up unlocking our phones and going with T-Mobile. AT&T charged us a penalty for breaking our contract but T-Mobile reimbursed us for what the penalty was. We love paying $65 less per month for cell service and can hardly wait to use our phones the next time we go overseas!)

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