Friday, September 05, 2008

GoPhones For Hurricane Gustav

One interesting story to come out of the Hurricane Gustav disaster preparations was that AT&T was handing out more than 2,000 of their GoPhones pre-loaded with $15 worth of airtime to gulf state residents forced to evacuate to safer areas. This generous gesture may have a lot more people wondering what a GoPhone is and if they should go get their own for emergency use.

The AT&T GoPhone is not so much a particular telephone style as it is a complete service option. GoPhone is what's called pre-paid cellular service. A normal cell phone plan requires you to sign a long term contract and pay a fixed amount every month even if you only use a few minutes of airtime. Some plans let you roll over your minutes to the next month, but most don't. The new month starts and the minutes clock starts over. Plus, there's no real accommodation for people who are very light duty users, those who's usage varies greatly from month to month, or anyone who just wants a low cost cellular plan for emergencies only.

It's those non-typical calling patterns where GoPhone service excels. There is no contract to sign, no nosy credit check and no deposit required. What you do is buy a phone specially set up for GoPhone service and then buy your airtime in advance. If you guess wrong and buy too little time, you just buy more when you need it.

How do you buy this time? There are three ways. You can refill your minutes anytime 24/7 online, over the phone, or by purchasing prepaid minutes cards. You'll find the cards at many retailers, so you can just waltz in and plunk down cash for a new minutes card whenever you need one. They come in denominations from $15 to $100. The expiration period varies with the cost of the card. The $15 cards expire in 30 days but the $100 cards last a whole year.

Let's say you just want an emergency phone that you'll keep in the car or on your person just in case you need it. A good strategy is to buy a GoPhone and a $100 minutes card. While you pony-up $100 for the card, you don't have to worry about reloading for a full year. The cost amortized over 12 months amounts to a little over $8 a month. Know any cell phone providers who are going to give you a cellular service plan for around $8 a month? Ha! The usual "small" plans are more like $39.99 a month.

What are the hottest cell phone deals available right now, including free cell phones? Use the Cell Phone Plan Finder to check out the top phones and associated wireless service plans.

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