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Tag: International Travel with iPhone

How to Pay Less and Get More Out of Your Cell Phone Plan

Do you feel you’re paying too much for your monthly smartphone usage for what you’re getting? Maybe it’s time to more closely review your plan…

Here are two clues you’re probably spending too much on your mobile bill… Either you haven’t chosen a fresh deal lately. Or you just opted into a shiny-new plan, and then you inexplicably get more perks for free.
(Like… how often does that happen?)

Here’s a cautionary tale where I tripped over both scenarios…

Data Limits are a Drag
For years, I’ve been holding for dear life onto my legacy unlimited wireless plan from AT&T. Not that I use all that much data…

I do stream the occasional video while I’m commuting on the train to
New York City.
(Netflix/Amazon Prime Video)

But I’m not risking the integrity of the entire wireless network!

I just like the idea of not having to worry about data limits. And when unlimited plans went out of vogue some years back, I clutched to mine even tighter.

Time zipped by, and I thought I still had the deal of the century.

Unlimited Data Plans are Back
But a funny thing happened. I recently spotted some advertising from the competition about new unlimited plans. Huh!
(What’s old is apparently new again.)

Then I realized my legacy plan was no longer such an unbeatable deal…

International Day Pass
I stumbled upon this unsettling realization when I temporarily upgraded my iPhone’s plan to help it operate overseas during my family’s vacation to Barcelona.

In preparation for a lot of Gaudi and a little Cava in Spain, I called 611 on my iPhone to contact customer service and find out about my international-use options.

I quickly realized the best move was to add AT&T’s “International Day Pass” plan to my account for just ten bucks a day. This offering gives you free calling and texting and mirrors the same data plan as you have at home.

For me, that’s a far better deal that AT&T’s older “Passport Gold” plan, which costs a whopping $120/month, plus 35 cents/minute calling, plus a paltry 800 MB for the month. And then 15 cents per MB of overage.

So I thought I had the perfect solution…

AT&T Unlimited Plus Wireless Plan
But then the operator told me my existing unlimited data wireless plan was “too old” to ‘accept’ the International Day Pass feature.


She explained I would have to upgrade to one of AT&T’s newer plans.

I defiantly proclaimed that I wasn’t willing to give up my cherished unlimited data flow.

But then she said the oddest thing…
“What about upgrading to one of our new unlimited data plans that will work with the International Day Pass feature?”


“Yes, we just started offering them.”

“It’s really unlimited data… like my legacy plan?”


“No catches?”

“No, sir.”


“And our new AT&T Unlimited Plus wireless plan is forty dollars less expensive per month than your old plan.”

“It’s cheaper?”

“And that’s with the wireless hot spot feature.”

“I get the hot spot option too for my iPhone?”
(That’s always an à la carte add on.)

“Yes, sir.”

Still in consumer shock, I finally agreed to let my legacy plan go and entered the less expensive present of wireless phone plans.

But the story doesn’t end there…

Hello HBO Streaming!
A week later, while on vacation in sunny Barcelona, I received a text from AT&T telling me I would also be receiving HBO streaming for free, because I had so wisely joined the new Unlimited Plus club.
(The text didn’t really affirm my consumer prowess… but it’s how I felt.)

Clearly, I had bought into a higher-level tier plan. Deep down, I knew I didn’t really need to take the full boat. But I was paying less per month than I had been. So it still felt like a really good deal.
(Plus, I’ve been meaning to catch up on some HBO programming.)

I’d say you can confidently place me in the column of happy AT&T customers!

Your Old Deal Stinks
The moral of the story is you just need to pay attention when it comes to using consumer tech.
(Buying at a good price is often just the beginning of the journey.)

Is your wireless plan really the latest and greatest?
(Yesterday’s deal never lasts forever, even if the monthly costs do!)

Yes… sometimes it makes sense to hold onto a feature that gets discontinued… but usually the rule of thumb is both tech and tech usage get less expensive over time.

There’s always a better deal waiting around the corner…

So go find it!

The Price of Staying Connected

Warning. This is not a drill. My iPhone will no longer function as a cell phone after crossing the Andes. Wi-Fi is my only lifeline to home. And it’s all my fault.

In my last post, you may recall I was preparing to fly to Chile for a work project. My plan was to dumb down my iPhone and only rely on its Wi-Fi capability and use both Apple’s FaceTime and Skype to stay connected with my life in the northern hemisphere.
This is my story…

Not in Kansas Anymore
My Delta 767 has just touched down in Santiago.
Two hours late.
It’s the back-up plane. And what happened to my aircraft?
It had equipment problems and was pulled out of service.
The cause?
Its entertainment system wasn’t working.

I had scheduled my first meeting in Santiago with a two and a half buffer of flex time for me to chill out after I was to arrive at my hotel.
Unpack. Take a shower. Maybe go the bar and try a Pisco Sour.

But not anymore. It’s going to be tight. Really tight.

As I wait in line at customs, I turn on my iPhone, prepared to begin my little experiment. And suddenly it hits me.

I feel a shiver as the adrenaline shoots through my body. I’ve forgotten to forward my normal cell phone number to my new Skype Online Number.
D’oh!! It was the last thing I was supposed to do.

So now I have a choice. Either leave my cell phone number behind for the week, or open up my device’s defense bubble and try to forward my cell phone number in an unfriendly roaming jungle.

Yes, I know I could live without knowing if anyone actually called my cell phone number while I was away, but I had worked so hard to put my plan in place.
I just had to know how it was all going to work.

It’s like building a rocket ship.
If you don’t go anywhere in it, what’s the point?

Cut to ninety minutes later.

I walk into my hotel room. That meeting is now twenty-five minutes away, and I haven’t showered in thirty hours after two flights totaling eleven hours.

Pop Quiz: What do you do? What do you do?!
Yeah, I forget common sense and instead pull out my iPhone to make the fix in search of truth.

I go to Airplane Mode and flick it off.
I feel like I’ve activated Skynet.

My phone immediately receives a Chilean carrier signal.

It’s a text warning me about international charges. It’s like they were waiting for me.
I’m not sure how this is possible as I still have data functionality turned off.

No time to think. Must continue. Fast.

I go to the call forwarding section of Settings and turn Call Forwarding on.
My Skype Online Number is right there, still populating the field from my earlier testing.
I nervously flick it on.

The phone starts thinking…thinking…. Done.
There it is!

Another text. This one offers my phone a billion texts for a million pesos…or something.

OMG. My phone is under attack! The unknown text costs.!!

Everything starts to move in slow motion.
Must get phone back into Airplane Mode.

Five seconds later, I get the blast doors closed again.

Now what?

It’s twenty-one minutes till my meeting.

Twenty-two minutes later I’m in the lobby.
Showered, shaved, and wearing fresh clothes.
I only got fours hours of sleep on the plane, but the fact that I am connected makes all the difference. I’m ready for the job.

Wi-Fi or Bust
And how did my wireless-less communications strategy perform?

First off, I’ve got to say I did feel a little impaired not having access to my full communications arsenal. I felt like I had gone back in time to 2005.

But with a little planning… the way things used to work, it wasn’t all that bad.

My wife and I set up a video chat in the morning and evening every day with our toddler.

Apple’s FaceTime worked perfectly on the hotel’s Wi-Fi network. Our toddler successfully negotiated time with my wife to share the chatting with me, an impressive new skill. (It’s all part of the sharing thing we’re teaching him.) I’m not sure that he understood why my face was in the screen, but he did say once “When going?”
Which I think reveals he understood that I was far away.
His use of ‘going’ probably meant ‘coming back.’. Very cool stuff.

I tried Skype video calling a couple times, but it didn’t seem to work. My wife never answered.

Where Skype really came in handy though was just making normal outbound calls.
As long as I was on the hotel’s Wi-Fi network, I was set.
And I was able to check my Skype Credit balance to confirm that in fact, my U.S./Canada calling plan covered these calls for free. All for that $2.99/month plan.
It wasn’t too good to be true after all. And I even received inbound calls on Skype.

Pièce de Résistance
Remember my call-forwarding hi-stress maneuver?
Yup. That worked too!
I received a critical voicemail that my work briefcase that was in repair was ready for pick up.
(Yes, the world is now safe again for another day.)
Hey, the point is, my little communications scheme worked like a charm.

Time to Pay the Piper
…Except for the lingering fact that I did have to turn on the wireless function the one time, totally against plan.
Deep down, I knew there would be damages.

As my airplane touched down on American soil in Atlanta on my way back to New York, I immediately released my caged iPhone and reactivated the wireless. It roared back to full functionality as if it never left.

My plane had arrived early, and we couldn’t deplane until U.S. Customs opened at 5:30am. (Good detail to remember when you’re flying on a red-eye.)

We had ten minutes to hang out. So I dialed 611 to talk to the AT&T operator and find out how successful my iPhone lock down had been.
Did I cleverly circumvent the traditional international calling payment structure or had I just rung up $300 in roaming fees?

The operator asked if I had set up an international plan.
No, I said with some small, lingering guilt.

There was a long silence as she looked up my account.
Yes, she confirmed. There was indeed a charge.

My heartbeat started to go up.
She wasn’t saying how much.

“For what?” I asked.

“Text messaging,” she replied calmly.

“How much?”

“Twenty-five cents.”

“Can you repeat that?”

“One international text message for twenty-five cents.”

Hmm. Must have been one of those marketing texts when I opened up the floodgates for the thirty seconds.

“Twenty-five cents? Okay. I can handle that….”

I know.
It’s kind of like being a baseball pitcher and missing a no hitter in the ninth inning.
But if being a parent of a toddler has taught me anything, an almost perfectly executed plan is something to really cheer about!

“Kirk to Enterprise”
I glowed with my little success, as I sat on my next plane headed to New York. Suddenly, I experienced a bonus jolt of mini joy as the rest of the passengers boarded.

I had previously forgotten that Skype video can work on 3G (4G) if the signal is strong enough. And now that my phone was back to normal, I called the ‘fam’ and did a Skype video chat right on the plane.

I felt I was back in time in the ‘60’s in the middle of a science fiction movie about the 1990’s.

There was my boy looking around the plane as I described everything to him.

His face filled the screen.
“Ooooh,” he cried out.

Twenty-five cents?

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