Attempting to Save Money By Switching Cellular Carriers

As someone who tries to be thrifty, I routinely look at recurring charges and see how I can save some money. I’ve been using AT&T for cellular service for many years on various plans with various discounts. Last year I added a teacher appreciation discount (my wife is a teacher) and brought the rate down a little. I’ve been eyeing other carriers and MVNOs for awhile and gave Visible a try as they supported the Apple Watch and there were only a handful of MVNOs that supported the watch. That test didn’t go so well at the time as my phone was unusable when I went to Costco. They have since changed offerings and I would be tempted to try again.

This week, AT&T sent email saying that if I didn’t switch my AutoPay to use a debit card or bank account, they would charge me $5/line ($20 total) which got me thinking about switching again. My credit card rewards pays me 2.5% so on a $132 bill gives me about $3 per month which effectively increases what I pay. I decided to revisit carriers and discovered today that Consumer Cellular started supported the Apple Watch. I saw it on Apple’s website and then called them to verify. What I didn’t realize until later that they only support the latest versions of the Apple Watch (Series 8, SE 2, and Ultra) and not my 3 year old Apple Watch Series 6.

I was so excited about potentially saving $50 per month ($600 per year) that I ported my number over, added the eSIM and went through the process to get setup. There were a few hiccups as I entered the wrong PIN for the port (you have to request a time limited one from your carrier) and I had to call Consumer Cellular. Each time I called, I was connected to a rep quickly and was able to easily communicate with the US based support. Each person seemed empowered to actually handle my issues. After a little bit, I was up and running on my phone. I tested out mobile hotspot and discovered that I had been assigned an AT&T eSIM giving me basically the same coverage as I already had. Unfortunately things started going down hill when I tried to activate my watch. I called again and finally realized that they didn’t support my watch; I immediately asked for a port out PIN as I don’t want to give up my Watch for running (I don’t like being tethered to my phone).

I went to AT&T’s site and started the process to add my phone back to the account (my wife’s phone is the primary one on AT&T and I hadn’t ported it out as I wanted to make sure everything worked well before subjected her to a switch). After I put in the order (it says I’ll have to pay a $35 activation fee which I hope isn’t correct), I received an email that I had to call to finish the port. So I called and explained the situation and spoke with an outsourced rep. The rep wasn’t able to help; I went through this a number of times as well as the online chat.

After I think 4 hours of getting hung up on, transferred, having to explain the situation over and over, going through phone tree hell, and receiving strange error messages on the website, I finally called again and was connected to a very nice US based woman who was sympathetic and understanding. She asked why I went with Consumer Cellular and I told her; she asked about coverage and I said it was identical to AT&T which kind of surprised her, I think. She was very patient and did everything she could do and unfortunately had to transfer me to another department and I ended up “outsourced” again. None of the outsourced reps seemed sincere about helping me and read from their scripts. I have trouble understanding accents and that made the experience even worse.

Throughout this ordeal, I was about ready to just forget the phone number that I’ve had for over 25 years as I was so frustrated with AT&T. While I created my own mess, dealing with AT&T makes my blood boil. Eventually I was able to get my phone reactivated, but am still stuck with no cellular on my watch. That’s a problem for another day.

I wasn’t planning on getting a new Apple Watch this year as my Series 6 works fine. However, after this experience with AT&T, I am definitely getting the next watch so that I can jump ship and goto Consumer Cellular. Not only will it save me money (about enough in one year to pay for the watch), I won’t have to deal with AT&T’s archaic website, outsourced support, and high rates.

I can’t wait to say “good riddance” to AT&T.

6 Replies to “Attempting to Save Money By Switching Cellular Carriers”

  1. T-mobile recently added the requirement of using a debit or bank account to continue getting the autopay discount. Really lame.

    1. My brief interaction with them was extremely positive and now I’m just counting down the days for the next Apple Watch to be released and then I’ll switch over! Their unlimited offering (50 GB before being slowed down) that includes hotspot really can’t be beat as far as I can tell. I am really looking forward to switching.

  2. I had a similar — but better — experience switching away from Verizon to T-Mo to save money a few years ago. Through a combo of mis-info from T-Mo, them making “hard” credit report checks, and a few other issues, we abandoned the switch…. My wife got stuck in limbo briefly. Verizon had a special department called “regrets” or something. They were super nice, super competent, and fixed everything.

    Some years ago I was at a cybersecurity talk by a former DOD official, who was then a senior person at FCC. He said based on the security of the cellcos there were only two that knew what they were doing. Later in a smaller group he made clear (without explicitly saying) that he meant Verizon and ATT. The history of T-Mo’s data security bubbling security seems to back this up: two breaches just in 2023, 6 other incidents since 2019, and another major breach that caught us because we started to transfer service… YMMV.

  3. There is a happy ending to this saga. After reading Consumer Cellular’s FAQ that says they support the Apple Watch Series 4 and later, I decided to give them another try. I called them to re-establish service (couldn’t do it online) and within 45 minutes I was all setup with both my phone and watch (would have been less time, but I didn’t notice a text confirmation from AT&T on my port out and attempted to call them).

    Today I switched my wife over and completely cancelled my AT&T account.

    So far I’ve only had positive experiences with all the Consumer Cellular rep. I was not so lucky with AT&T and dealing with the broken system (it refused my passcode numerous times despite resetting it) made me want to cry and pull out my hair.

    I’ll try to post a follow up in a few weeks.

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