T-Mobile and Verizon also specify that you must enable automatic payments on your account to get the advertised pricing for their plans, while Sprint requires that you use paperless billing. If you’re fond of mailing back a check each month, look elsewhere.
Whether these mostly-unlimited options work for you depends not on how much data you use, but on how you use it.
If you regularly use your phone as a hotspot, AT&T is out of the question while T-Mobile and Verizon clearly beat Sprint. If, however, mobile video dominates your data use and you watch on larger-screen devices, T-Mobile and Verizon’s support for HD streaming and AT&T letting you turn off Stream Saver may count in their favor.
Some of these plans include bonus features that may help tip the decision for you. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, for example, include free roaming in Canada and Mexico. T-Mo also sweeps taxes and fees into its unlimited plan’s advertised price, unlike the other three carriers.
What about the old, unlimited-data plans AT&T and Verizon yanked off their sites a few years ago?
In Verizon’s case, you should almost certainly drop it: That old plan’s combined price for unlimited data, 450 voice minutes and only 250 text messages — tethering excluded — now stands at $95 after a $20 increase imposed on those grandfathered subscribers.
At AT&T, stand pat. The old unlimited-data option, combined with 400 minutes of calling and 200 texts, will cost $85 after a $5 price hike next month. Both old and new unlimited deals block tethering.
Either way, check your bill to see just how much data you use — the answer might mean the limited plans at AT&T, Sprint and Verizon suit you better. (Note that VzW’s listed prices for 2 GB, 4 GB and 8 GB plans exclude a $20 per month line-access charge factored into its $80 advertised unlimited-data rate.) Buying more data than you use, subject to conditions you’re more likely to notice, is not bandwidth management but an unprofitable form of psychological self-care.
Disclosure: Verizon is in the process of buying Yahoo Finance’s parent company, Yahoo.