Now that the holiday season is upon us, primetime television is full of festive ads telling you which phone carrier has the best deals.

It can be difficult to see through all the hype and temporary promises. None of them tell the truth, or at least not the whole truth. There are always fees left out, or circumstances that they don’t cover.

That said, there are still plenty of plans with great prices that could be right for you, but simply cannot compete with the outlandish commercials major carriers throw at you.

So which wireless company really offers the most cost-efficient plan for you? It all depends on what you need.

Here’s an outline of some of the plans out there, to help you find which one fits your needs best.

(These prices do not include the cost of buying a phone. The charts all include unlimited talk & text, unless specified otherwise).

Sprint (Best Overall Plan)

Sprint rightfully boasts about their low-cost plans, but for anyone living in rural areas or areas where cell-phone coverage is already spotty, Sprint is lacking.

If coverage isn’t a concern, Sprint offers the best deals. Their Unlimited Plan is particularly tempting at $60 for one line with unlimited talk, text, and data.

Here’s some of Sprint’s other plans:

Lines Data Total Cost (including line price if applicable)
1 1GB 3GB 6GB $40 $50 $65
2 6GB 12GB 24GB $85 $100 $120
3 6GB 12GB 24GB $105 $120 $140
4 6GB 12GB 24GB $125 $140 $160

Verizon (Good Family Plans)

Verizon’s single plans are on the expensive side compared to most, but they offer decent family plans.

Verizon doesn’t offer an unlimited plan, saying no one really needs unlimited data, but their 12GB plus 2GB per line plan for a family of four is just $160—still a good deal.

Coverage wise, Verizon out performs pretty much everyone (besides maybe AT&T). I’ve lived in a variety of places in very rural New England and have been able to make calls, send texts, and access data without a problem.

Here are Verizon’s other plan options:

Lines Data   Total Cost (including line price if applicable)  
1 2GB 4GB 8GB + 2GB/line 12GB + 2GB/line $40 $70 $90 $100
2 2GB 4GB 8GB + 2GB/line 12GB + 2GB/line $60 $90 $110 $120
3 2GB 4GB 8GB + 2GB/line 12GB + 2GB/line $80 $110 $130 $140
4 2GB 4GB 8GB + 2GB/line 12GB + 2GB/line $100 $130 $150 $160

AT&T

Unless you have or want Direct TV, who partners with AT&T, their wireless-only plans are very expensive.

AT&T charges more than most for their range of data plans, with one line at 1GB being $50. You could get unlimited plans from Metro PCS or TPO Mobile for just $10 more a month.

In case you were wondering about AT&Ts plans, here they are:

Lines Data   Total Cost (including line price if applicable)  
1 1GB 2GB 5GB 10GB $50 $60 $80 $100
2 1GB 2GB 5GB 10GB $70 $80 $100 $120
3 1GB 2GB 5GB 10GB $90 $100 $120 $140
4 1GB 2GB 5GB 10GB $110 $120 $140 $16

T-Mobile One

T-Mobile’s new universal plan gets different reviews depending on who you talk to. T-Mobile now only offers their one unlimited plan, but the jury’s out on whether it’s actually unlimited.

The catch with the unlimited plan seems to be that if you’re a user who go over 26GB of data (that’s an awful lot when you think about it, but it is supposed to be unlimited) your speed drops dramatically.

If you watch a lot of videos on your phone and like good quality, you have to pay an additional $25 a month, bringing your total from $70 to $95.

Here’s T-Mobile One’s plan for every line:

Lines Price of Line Data Total Cost
1 No additional cost Unlimited $70
2 $50 Unlimited $120
3 $50 (2nd line) + $20 (3rd line) Unlimited $140
4 $50 (2nd line) + $20 x 2 (3rd /4th lines) Unlimited $160

U.S. Cellular

U.S. Cellular has the most outdated plans of all. They charge too much without offering as much as their competitors.

Their one bragging right is their coverage. Their “middle of anywhere” slogan holds true, but at what cost?

Why would someone choose U.S. Cellular?

They do have a business plan—unusual among carriers—that gives businesses, or individuals who have multiple devices, a good deal. They offer an extraordinary amount of data in these plans (up to 200GB), but they require a two-year contract to get the lowest price on monthly device fees.

U.S. Cellular does have good initial discounts, such as their switch-and-get-half-off-your-new-smartphone deal. Their plans with long-term contracts, however, more than cancel out the benefits of these initial deals.

Here’s the pricing of U.S. Cellular’s plans:

Lines Data   Total Price (including line price)  
1 1GB 2GB $60 $75
2 2GB 4GB 8GB 16GB $70 $85 $100 $120
3 2GB 4GB 8GB 16GB $90 $105 $120 $140
4 2GB 4GB 8GB 16GB $110 $125 $140 $160

Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile offers two “data-lovers” plans for single line users—5GB for $35 and 10GB for $45 with the ability to add another GB for $5 or 2GB for $10.

This sounds great, right?

Well, there’s a catch. Virgin Mobile’s catch isn’t in their prices, but their coverage. They run through the Sprint network, so you’re not able to get that high speed data in a lot of areas.

They also do not allow you to bring your own phone. You must buy a Virgin Mobile device to use the SIM card.

Total wireless offers the most bang for your buck. While they have a small selection of plans to choose from, their individual plans and family plans—all with unlimited talk & text—come with a generous amount of data for a fair price, and their coverage is better than most pay-as-you-go plans.

Lines Data Total Price
1 Unlimited talk & text only 5GB 25 35
2 8GB 60
3 12GB 85
4 15GB 100

TPO Mobile offers a large range of data plans at a very low cost, even slashing the price in half on plans under $50 for the first month of service. For single line plans, TPO is definitely the most cost-efficient.

However, their coverage is spotty, with rural areas losing out on coverage.

Lines Data           Total Cost (this does not include 1 st month half off)          
1 500MB (unlimited text, 1000 min) 1GB 2GB 3GB 5GB Unlimited 16 21 25 35 50 54.99

Boost Mobile (best unlimited plan)

Boost Mobile allows access to low-cost unlimited plans ($50 for one line), without a contract or monthly activity fees. A family of four gets the unlimited plan for $140 a month. They also offer 2GB individual ($35) and family plans ($60-$120).

But, as a Sprint plan, coverage can be an issue for some.

Twigby

Twigby is a good single plan for someone looking for something very basic. Maybe you’re looking for a backup phone, or you simply don’t use your phone as much as the rest of us (good for you!).

With a basic or smartphone, you can choose plans based on minutes starting at $9 for 200 minutes and going up to unlimited minutes for $25.

After choosing your minutes you can add data to your smartphone, which starts at $3 for 150MB and goes up to 2GB for $23. Unlimited texting is automatic with any plan.

One drawback of Twigby is their coverage, again through the Sprint network.

Straight Talk

Straight Talk offers individuals plans with 100MB (this plan only has 1500 minutes), 5GB, and 10GB of data for $30, $45, and $55 dollars.

Their simpler plans can be better for someone looking for a straight forward, pay-as-you-go phone.

Cricket Wireless (Great Family Plan)

Cricket Wireless is on par with Straight Talk, offering a variety of plans for pay-as-you-go users. They offer family deals that can save you up to $100 a month if you have five lines.

Cricket uniquely offers each member of the family their own data rather than shared data (i.e. a family of four who uses the 2.5GB of data plan, EACH get 2.5GB of data)

Their coverage is similar to Straight Talk as well, covering most places throughout the U.S. with large gaps on the West Coast.

Lines Data       Total Cost (line price and discount included)      
1 1GB 2.5GB 8GB 10GB 30 $40 ($35 w/ auto-fill) $50 ($45 w/ auto-fill) $60 (55 w/ auto-fill)
2 1GB 2.5GB 8GB 10GB 50 70 90 110
3 1GB 2.5GB 8GB 10GB 60 90 120 150
4 1GB 2.5GB 8GB 10GB 60 100 140 180

Consumer Cellular (best mix-and-match plan)

Consumer Cellular can offer a lot of different people a lot of different types of plans. This is by far the best mix-and-match plan out there.

For example, if you’re like me, and never talk on the phone, you don’t have to pay for the unlimited minutes most plans offer you. I could start at the $10 pay-as-you-use-them plan for minutes and instead opt for unlimited texting and a little more data.

H2O

H2O Wireless offers individual plans of 2-7GB of data. Their family plans also only offer up to 7GB of data, which is on the low end when it comes to multiple line plans.

Coverage under H2O is good, with gaps in Nevada, Arizona, and Maine.

Lines Data       Total Price          
1 2GB 4GB 6GB 7GB 30 40 50 60
2 2GB 4GB 6GB 7GB 50 70 90 110
3 2GB 4GB 6GB 7GB 70 100 130 160
4 2GB 4GB 6GB 7GB 90 130 170 210

Metro PCS

Metro PCS offers a mix-and-match program that allows two to four people to all have different plans but still get the family plan discount.

Their individual prices are standard prices, with their unlimited price for one line being on par with Verizon’s $60 a month.

Lines Data       Total Price (assuming all lines choose the same plan)      
1 1GB 3GB 8GB Unlimited 30 40 50 60
2 1GB 3GB 8GB Unlimited 55 75 95 115
3 1GB 3GB 8GB Unlimited 80 110 140 170
4 1GB 3GB 8GB Unlimited 105 145 185 225

If you’re not an iPhone user, but instead prefer Samsung or other smartphones, Republic Wireless is for you.

With unlimited talk and text on all their plans, you can choose your data limit starting at just 1GB for $20 all the way up to 10GB at $90 a month.

Republic doesn’t offer family plans due to their affordability—everyone can just have their own plan.

Republic Wireless has fairly good coverage. The Northwest is the only part of the U.S. that is limited.

Whether you spend a good amount of time looking at your phone, or you are more of a casual phone user, FreedomPop has plans for both.

For the more casual phone user, FreedomPop can offer you a plan that is free! At no charge to you, you can get 200 minutes for talk, 500 texts, and 500MB of data.

Comparing FreedomPop’s most popular plan of unlimited text, talk, & 2GB of data, at the cost of $24.99 (after the free one-month trial!), to a selection of big-name phone carriers, FreedomPop can really help you save on your phone plan.

With this amount of savings, you may be thinking that FreedomPop might have spotty coverage or charge an exorbitant amount to purchase a new phone—there must be a catch, right? Not the case.

FreedomPop gets their coverage through Sprint, so anywhere a Sprint phone works, FreedomPop will work. And compared to Verizon, FreedomPop works just as well in inconsistent coverage areas.

In addition, FreedomPop offers you a great savings on phone purchases. The Moto E 2nd Gen LTE Android phone is just $29.99 compared to the hundreds you could spend on a phone elsewhere.

Summary

It’s best to do your research before choosing a wireless plan. There are so many plans out there (and at low prices!) that can work better than the few large carriers.

Pay-as-you-go plans allow to switch your plan to fit your needs at any time without having to pay to end a contract. Contract plans can help you get a cheaper phone if you need one.

Read more:

  • How To Save Money On International Cell Phone Use
  • You Know You Don’t Need A New Phone, So Why Are You Buying One Anyway?