Being in my position, I get asked a lot of questions about plans, pricing, insurance and well, any workarounds or loopholes I may know of that can help friends and family save a buck or two. More often than not, the questions are coming from upset customers looking to defect from their current wireless provider for various reasons: a high monthly bill, an outrageous overage charge that they feel isn't their fault, spotty coverage or a multitude of excuses that would otherwise be considered nitpicking.
The idea is that if they distance themselves from their current provider, they will also get away from whatever misfortune they have experienced. I've been around the block and have experience with every major US carrier (even some regional carriers) and I'm here to say that the answer to whatever problems you may have with your provider, throwing in the towel and jumping ship isn't always the answer. I have quite a few friends who have made the jump, signed a two-year agreement and found that they regret every minute of it. Here are just a few reasons why:
Whatever your reason for being upset and wanting to switch carriers, you have to consider the fees and other things that starting up and ending a service will bring. More than likely, you signed a two-year contract when you bought your phone. Depending on carrier and when you signed it, that fee could be up to $375 per line. Even if this early termination fee (ETF) is prorated $10 each month and you decide to leave at the twelve month point, you would still owe at least $255 per line. If getting away from your carrier is worth $500 or $700, then maybe you should leave. It sounds like there may be more tension and angst than its worth.
If the end of your contract is nearing, you're in the clear and free to do what you want. But at this point, switching to another carrier may also be more difficult than it's worth for a couple different reasons: if your credit is not up to snuff, you may face more fees with a per line deposit (I've seen up to $1,200 in my retail history); you could lose the number you have been using for years (if porting it over is not offered); and a non-refundable per line activation fee is usually issued.
One of the perks of being a long-time customer is grandfathered plans. While working in wireless sales, I remember a couple that had a plan with Alltel from the mid 90s and were able to keep said plan through the Verizon takeover – I can't remember the monthly price, but they were getting around 1,200 minutes and unlimited texts for two lines for roughly $40 per month. That's unheard of now, with postpaid providers at least.
This perk, as carriers migrate away from unlimited data, will certainly play its part in keeping a lot of current customers right where they are. Data is increasingly important in our lives and unlimited plans are gold. I remind a lot of the people who ask me about plans and switching carriers of their current rate and data plans before they quickly end the conversation and any thought of leaving their carrier. Consider what you will be losing; it may make you think twice about switching.
Plans are pretty much black and white, fees are expected and picking out and learning a new phone is fun. But signing up for a new service and learning that you do not have great coverage at home is as frustrating as it gets in the mobile industry. This is where most of my dissatisfaction has come from when switching carriers.
For our convenience, wireless providers have fitted their websites with coverage maps that clearly plot where you should get service with them. Sure, it's easy to remember to check for coverage at home or maybe even work when perusing the maps. But would you even consider looking up spots that you like to vacate to, a friend's house, a family member's place or other places you frequent? Probably not. If you're pleased with your current coverage, I recommend trying every other possible option before defecting. Chances are, you will have gripes with coverage at some point or another when you switch.
The good thing about switching carriers is that you do not necessarily have to end service with one before you start with another. Many people do not know this and will go through all the hoops of cutting off service with one carrier (and paying any ETFs) before opening an account with someone else. After doing this, porting is no longer an option (you will lose your number) and there will be no going back to exactly the way it was before.
Things will go much more smoothly for you if you open an account with the company you are looking to go with (I recommend one line, despite how many lines you plan to open) before closing the other account. Each person that you plan on adding a line for should carry that phone with them for a day or two to test the coverage in the various areas they normally visit in a day. If all goes well, you are happy with the coverage, rate plans and phone selection, you can proceed to port existing numbers over and transition from the other account. If anything does not meet your requirements, however, you have a return period (usually 14 days). Take the phone back and cancel the new account. The only damage done will be the non-refundable activation fee from that one line … and maybe a restocking fee from the retailer.
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when moving from one provider to another. You risk losing some important things like a phone number that everyone already has programmed into their brains or address books and possibly a no-longer-existing, cheap plan with perks or benefits you cannot find anymore. Understand that I am not saying you will not be happier with another carrier. In fact, I encourage you to try new things and test new waters. Just be sure to exercise all other options before taking the plunge and losing everything. Oh, don't forget to give prepaid a chance, too. You may be surprised at what they have to offer.
You can thank me later.
Image via iSmashPhone