In my most recent post, I described the process we went through switching our mobile phones from AT&T to T-Mobile. This post is a followup with how the service has been performing for us, both in the US and on our recent trip to Spain. I also take a look at the first bill we received as I wasn’t certain exactly how much the new service was going to cost us going forward. Fortunately, it looks like we’ll be saving a lot of money compared to our old plan!
T-Mobile Abroad in Germany, Spain, and Gibraltar
The primary reason we recently switched over to T-Mobile was for the amazing perk of free international data and texting. We got a chance to test this feature out on our recent trip around Spain and the connection was great!
For our honeymoon, we simply kept our phones in airplane mode the whole time and were only able to really use it when we found ourselves with wi-fi connection.
Note: This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you want to disconnect and just relax on your trip!
This most recent trip was the complete opposite and we only had to keep it in airplane mode while actually on airplanes, and didn’t have to worry about crazy roaming charges. As soon as we landed in Frankfurt, Germany for a layover and switched out of airplane mode, our phones found the local network almost immediately and we received a nice informational text from T-Mobile letting us know that we were good to go for data and texting.
The same thing happened in Spain after landing in Barcelona, and the connection held up great whenever we wanted to look something up outside of wifi. I was really impressed with the speed of the free international data, the informational text says 2G but I would say data was loading much faster than that on average. It’s not quite as fast as the LTE data back home and I wouldn’t plan on streaming any video (music would be iffy), but it felt quick when looking up local restaurants or attractions via google.
You Don’t Need a Data Connection for Navigation
One thing we try to do before traveling is using the “Download” feature in the Google Maps app to load all of the GPS and basic location information for an entire city to our phones. After downloading the area to your phone, you don’t need a connection of any kind in order to look up directions to and from anywhere in that area. As GPS doesn’t require data or anything else, you can even use the map and look up directions in airplane mode!
We’ve done this in the past on other trips and it worked great when we needed to get around without wifi or a data connection. Even on this trip to Spain, I decided to download the map for Barcelona anyway in case the data didn’t work as expected.
Even though the data did end up working fine, navigation was WAY faster than it would have been if I didn’t download the map. I know this because Becky didn’t download the same area on her phone and when we went to look up directions at the same time, mine loaded almost instantly while hers had to buffer and load some information before displaying.
Google Maps is fantastic if you’re able to use it while traveling, especially in bigger cities with a good public transportation system. In both Barcelona and Madrid, it was a piece of cake to navigate around the city utilizing the cheap metro system to get to our next destination. Without the assist from maps, it would have been quite an adventure both finding the closest station, figuring out which line to get on, which direction to go, and then walking from our stop to the actual place we were going. Maybe this takes some of the fun out of travel for a few of you, but I’ll happily take the reduced stress of having something help me navigate around unfamiliar territory.
Of Course, T-Mobile Can’t Cover You Everywhere
As part of our trip to the southern part of Spain, we did a day trip over to Gibraltar which is actually British territory. For whatever reason, T-Mobile doesn’t have a relationship with the mobile carrier(s) in the small territory (although I’m pretty sure it works in the UK proper) and we weren’t able to use any data or texting while there. A great feature is that we got an information text once we drove across the border letting us know that we weren’t covered in the area.
Unlike my fear of AT&T charging us a ton of money if we ever took our phones out of airplane mode while abroad, I didn’t have to worry at all with T-Mobile. After setting up our new phone plan and logging into our online account, I made sure to go through the various options on our plan and turned on the feature to “Block charge international roaming”. To quote the page, “This will prevent the selected line from incurring any international data roaming charges that can be incurred in countries not included in your plan.”
Be sure not to block all international roaming, because then you won’t be able to use the free texting and data in most places!
By keeping our phones active even though we weren’t able to use any data or texting in Gibraltar, we were able to find out immediately once we got back into range of a Spanish carrier and were able to get right back online. We were actually able to use data again while waiting in the long car queue to get through border security, even though we weren’t technically back in Spain yet.
How We’re Paying Less Than $80 for 2 Unlimited Lines
In my recent post describing the process of switching, I wasn’t certain how much we would be paying for the service overall. I knew it would be $100 in the worst case as that was the promotion we signed up for, but a couple other unknowns meant that it could possibly be cheaper.
First was the “Insider Hook-Up” deal that the nice sales rep in the T-Mobile store hooked us up with as part of a friends and family type of deal. This should save us 20% on our plans going forward, but I wasn’t certain whether or not that would stack with the “2 lines for $100” promotion and how.
Second was the “Kickback” deal that allows you to save $10 per line that uses less than 2 GB of data during the billing cycle. Once again, it wasn’t clear how this would stack (or not stack) with the other promotional offer and the Insider deal.
Well the first bill is in and it was even better than expected! Not only did the full 20% come off of the $100 plan for both phones to make the monthly service bill $80, but we got 2 “Kickback Adjustments” reducing the bill by another $20.
That makes the total out the door price for our first month of service is only $60! Way better than the ~$96 we were paying AT&T per month for non-unlimited service that heavily restricted international use if it allowed it at all.
Going forward, we probably won’t get the Kickback adjustment every month because we’ll occasionally go over 2 GB of data, but the most we’ll be paying any given month is $80. In months where our data usage stays low, the bill will get as low as $60! On average, I would guess we’ll be paying about $72 per month, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
NOTE: One thing I did which probably helped get us the $20 Kickback on the first bill (despite not having a previous month of usage) was to go online the same day we switched over our service and enable the Kickback feature. It’s not enabled by default, but I haven’t found a single downside to enabling it, even if you do plan to go over 2 GB every single month. By doing this on the first day of switching over (before the first bill is cut), it appears we got a free $20! Be sure to do the same if you decide to switch to T-Mobile.
Service at Home and Extra Perks
We’ve spent about equal time between Spain and Seattle since switching over our phones to T-Mobile and the coverage has been great everywhere we’ve tried it so far. We haven’t gone on any road trips outside of major cities in the US, but everything in and around Seattle has worked great. Can’t really say anything more than that unless we run into problems at some point, but so far so good.
An additional perk of switching to T-Mobile is their weekly “T-Mobile Tuesdays” promotions that offer free food, cheap movies, gas discounts, and other random freebies every Tuesday. After downloading their app, I “won” a completely free pizza from Papa Johns which we ordered online a couple days later. While they don’t have great pizza, it’s hard to complain when you carry it out the door for $0!
This past Tuesday had free Guac and Chips from Chipotle and the promotions have certainly been interesting enough these first few weeks that I’ll be checking the app every Tuesday to see what is offered.
It’s certainly not reason enough to switch carriers, but does offer another nice perk on top of their service.
Anything else you guys want to know about our T-Mobile experience? I just wish we would have switched sooner!