TracFone offers some unusual features for a prepaid service -- like international long distance to over 80 countries at the same cost as a local call, and a network that blankets nearly the entire U.S. In customer surveys, TracFone receives high scores for network coverage, pricing, plan options and low-cost phones. However, there are complaints about customer service.
Inexpensive and with a family plan. Reviewers praise TracFone's inexpensive monthly plans. There are three individual monthly plans, all of which include talk, text, web and email. The cheapest plan is $10 per month for 50 minutes, up to 200 minutes for $30. TracFone is one of the few prepaid carriers that offers a family plan. The first phone in the family plan costs $10 per month for 50 minutes; additional phones are each $6 per month for 40 minutes. Pay As You Go plans start at $10 for 30 minutes (with a 30-day expiration) and go up to 1,500 minutes (Est. $200), valid for a year. A $20 Double Minutes option doubles minutes for all future purchases. Unused minutes are rolled over to the new expiration date if you top off your account (add minutes to your account before they expire). A Service Protection plan (Est. $6) adds a grace period of 30 days even if you fail to top off. Data is available as a separate add-on to voice plans, and starts at $10 for 300 MB. TracFone is an especially attractive option for those who frequently place international calls, as they don't cost any extra -- as long as the country you are calling is on TracFone's list (which numbers over 80 countries) and the call is to a landline rather than a cell phone (though cell phone calls are included for a handful of the most popular calling destinations, including Mexico, Canada, India, Russia and more).
Nationwide coverage. TracFone is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) that buys network access at wholesale from the four national carriers and resells it to provide service. As such, it has a vast national network that reaches most areas of the U.S., though performance in specific locales can vary. That said, TracFone does fairly well in large national surveys. Contributors to Viewpoints.com rank TracFone highly for call quality and coverage.
Mixed reviews. Although some users are very happy with TracFone, others report poor customer service. Contributors to Viewpoints.com assign TracFone low ratings in this area, citing problems that include phones not working and replacements not working either, being repeatedly assigned the wrong area code and generally bad customer service.
Covers the basics well. Those looking for advanced smartphones will need to look somewhere else. A handful of Android-phones are offered, but these are strictly entry-level devices. Things are somewhat better if all you want is a basic-feature phone, as TracFone offers a wider assortment of those than most carriers at somewhat attractive prices -- even free if you don't mind a refurbished unit. Reviewers at PrepaidReviews.com praise the simple, low-cost phones, while others complain about the poor selection. You can also activate your own phone on TracFone's network, as long as it's a supported device.
TracFone is one of eight prepaid wireless service providers ranked in this latest report at ConsumerReports.org, based on feedback from more than 58,000 cell phone users.
Review: Cell Phones and Services, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, September 2013
2. J.D. Power & Associates
This J.D. Power and Associates study focuses on pay-as-you-go wireless plans. Over 5,000 wireless subscribers rate their wireless purchase experiences made by phone calls to sales representatives, visits to retail stores or online. With 2 out of 5 stars,TracFone ties for the last spot along with Cricket, Net10 and Straight Talk Wireless.
Review: 2013 Wireless Purchase Experience Non-Contract Study, Editors of J.D. Power and Associates, Aug. 15, 2013
3. J.D. Power and Associates
In the 2013 J.D. Power Customer Care survey of over 3,000 non-contract cell phone users, TracFone is rated in third place, but quite a few points behind MetroPCS and Virgin Mobile.
Review: 2013 U.S. Wireless Customer Care Non-Contract Performance Study, Editors of J.D. Power and Associates, Feb. 6, 2013
The editors of TopTenReviews.com place TracFone 13th out of 14 services in their evaluation of prepaid cell phone services for 2014. Negatives include lack of unlimited plans and that TracFone's per minute plans are costly compared to that of competitors.
Review: TracFone, Editors of TopTenReviews.com, Not Dated
Editors at PrepaidReviews.com give TracFone a 4-star rating (out of 5), praising its simple, low-cost phones and carryover minutes. Over 1,200 customer reviews, however, give TracFone a disappointing overall rating of only 2 stars, with many citing problems with customer service.
Review: TracFone Prepaid Cell Phone Plans, Editors of and Contributors to PrepaidReviews.com, Not Dated
6. Savvy Senior
TracFone is one of three prepaid cell phone providers that offer inexpensive plans suitable for seniors recommended in this brief article.
Review: Best Cell Phone Options for Seldom Calling Seniors, Jim Miller, Not Dated
Users rate most major wireless carriers, both prepaid and contract, at Viewpoints.com. TracFone receives a respectable 73 percent rating from more than 245 reviewers. Call quality and coverage are well liked, though not its customer service. Still, the overall mark is high enough to put TracFone in second place here.
Review: The Best Cell Phone Providers: Cell Phone Provider Reviews & Ratings, Contributors to Viewpoints.com, As of December 2013