An illustration of people walking through the city with cell phones.
Illustration: JOSEPH CARRINGTON

If you're looking to save hundreds of dollars a year on your cell phone plan, consider shifting to an MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator.

They provide low-cost service by purchasing minutes and data from AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon, thereby saving on the operation costs tied to owning a cellular network.

Consumer Reports members are big fans of MVNOs. In CR's 2019 survey, customers of Consumer Cellular and Ting gave the companies high praise—including top marks for customer support—in our cell service provider ratings.

But not everyone is eager to part with an AT&T or Verizon. And that's okay. If you follow the tips below, you can hold onto your service and still trim a healthy sum from your monthly bill.

More on Cell Phones

Choose a New Plan
Carriers regularly update their offerings. Go to the website of your cell service provider to compare current plans and find out whether one of them might be a better, less expensive fit.

Go Automatic
All of the major players offer discounts of $5 to $10 per month (or more, depending on the number of phone lines) if you enroll in automated payments and paperless billing. It’s a simple way to potentially save $100 or more per year.

Review the Fees
You could be paying for things you don’t want or need. For instance, the $10 per month you were happy to pay to insure your phone when it was new might not make sense when it’s more than 2 years old. (Learn about CR's efforts to end costly hidden fees and demand honest pricing through our What the Fee?! campaign.)

Bank on Freebies
Major carriers have expanded their unlimited plans to include free trials and subscriptions. AT&T offers HBO Max, Sprint offers Amazon Prime, T-Mobile offers Netflix and Gogo in-flight WiFi service, and Verizon offers Apple Music and Disney+. If you can take advantage of these perks, even for a limited time, they can save you $10 to $15 per month.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the September 2020 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.