I’m still trying to absorb the last week we’ve been in Pagosa Springs. I’ve started a blog post a few times, but am struggling with how to encapsulate the experience. It’s been a great one. But I’m not ready to share what I’ve learned since arriving last Wednesday. I’ll do that shortly.
In the meantime, I thought I’d share some information about my recent phone service upgrade. This will probably benefit the vagabonds and travelers that stop by the blog … we’re the ones who typically rely on our phone for internet connectivity. If you live in one place, you probably have a broadband connection with unlimited data. That’s not the case for us travelers.
From October 2015 until I made the switch last February, my data usage was increasing substantially. I was posting more video and still photos to the blog and to Facebook. Plus, we were in the tent a lot more because of bad weather and with nothing else to do, I was watching more Amazon Prime videos … and you probably know how data-intensive video is. My phone bill was exceeding $400 on a regular basis. Something had to give.
I’ll bet I spent at least 80 solid hours of research (spaced out over several weeks) trying to find a solution. There are several services that advertise “unlimited data”, but it’s really false advertising. Either your data speeds are throttled to the point of unusability or there’s an actual limit in the small print that allows the company to suspend your service if you go over some usage point. In every case I investigated, I was already using more data than the small print limit.
I found a solution almost by happenstance … about 10 pages deep into a Google search for “unlimited data phone service”. It was a link to a website for the Mobile Internet Aficionados group. They’re geared towards other folks like me who are living full time on the road (although I’m sure most of them are in big RVs).
Remember those old Verizon lines that offered “true unlimited data”? They’ve long since gone away – Verizon no longer offers them, but they continue to honor the ones that are still in service. Not only that, the contracts on those old plans allowed for an “Assumption of Liability” (AOL) … the owners were free to transfer their lines to others. Based on that, there’s a pretty active secondary market for these unlimited data plans.
You can find these “AOL” plans being offered for sale … and rent … on eBay. I looked today – the offer prices range from $650 up to $2,000 to buy one. They’re around $200/month to rent, but you should know – Verizon is doing everything they can to tighten up / eliminate these unlimited plans. They’ve added on some wait restrictions before transferring, they’ve upped the price, etc. Renting the plan means you’re at risk of losing the plan downstream if it’s not “yours”.
MIA recommends a couple of vendors who offer a discount to MIA members. They also guarantee the transfer. Not only that, they will take care of every step of the transfer. They’ll find the seller. They’ll coordinate all the paperwork with Verizon and be on the phone with you during the transfer, after which you get a chip to put in your phone.
So, I joined MIA for $59/year (as an aside, their monthly bulletin has some pretty good info on hardware, apps and other stuff to optimize your mobile internet functionality). I contacted a guy named Jason, one of those recommended vendors. He lists AOL plans on eBay for $2,000, but discounts it to $995 for MIA members. I was willing to pay a premium for the guarantee and the hand holding through the entire process.
Jason was pretty cool, but a little scattered. I don’t know if there was some alignment of the planets or something, but I think he was suddenly inundated with a lot of business and was having trouble handling the extra business. At the same time, Verizon was announcing that changes to the AOL plans were imminent. As it turns out, I was able to purchase a line a couple of days before the changes were made (which would have delayed things by upwards of 60 days more).
Anyhow, here’s what I bought:
- The Verizon line. It came with a 702 area code – some guy in Las Vegas was the original owner. I paid $995 to acquire it.
- Instead of adding the chip to my phone, I bought a personal wifi device – Verizon calls it “Mifi”. It can connect to upwards of 18 devices. Plus, it allowed me to keep my current phone number, which is still associated with the phone. The 702 line is associated with the Mifi box. Cost – $200. I could have picked one up for less on eBay, but decided to just pay full price and get it through Jason. I figure the additional dollars paid for the hand holding. I am so NOT a phone / hardware guy.
Here’s where the benefit comes in – I’m now paying about $69/month for the unlimited data plan, including taxes and fees. I’m also paying $25/month for my cell phone. I dropped all data from the phone: I can connect it to the Mifi device to send photos and such. (And since the Mifi box is portable … about the size of a pack of cigarettes … I can leave it on in the car in case I stop to take a photo and upload it to Facebook or something).
So, I’m now paying $94/month for what had been averaging about $410 over the previous 4 months. That’s a savings of $316 a month! That $1,250 I spent for the line, the Mifi box and the MIA subscription will be fully recovered with my May phone bill, and I’ll wind up saving over $2,700 over the first year of use!
Not only that, I’ve been able to enjoy watching a few more movies and TV shows at night in the Nutshell. I can watch baseball. More Youtube videos. Whatever. Last month, I used over 125 GB of data. In the past, I had to restrict my usage. Not anymore.
So that’s it. You need to calculate what your own usage is to see if this works for you. But if you’re like me – traveling around the country full time while bumping up against data usage limits – I’d highly recommend you join MIA and seriously consider buying one of these AOL plans.
Feel free to send me a message (the form is on the About page) if you’d like any more information beyond what’s included here.
(P.S. – after all of this, it’s kind of funny. I’m spending a few nights camping at The Last Resort, the campsite I used when I was in the area last summer. I have no Verizon coverage here. Zero bars of service. No phone. No Mifi device. I’m connecting via the camp Wifi service. Nothing’s foolproof.) :o)