Family Plan Face-Off: What’s the Best Deal?

Family_Plan_Lead

The family who shares a carrier stays together? Perhaps. If you’re looking to keep your loved ones connected under one bill, family plans are a great option. Every major carrier allows you to pay for monthly bundles of data and talk time, saving you money and time in the process. For example, the cost of four separate AT&T accounts with 2GB of data each adds up to about $220, while a four-member family plan costs $160 for 10GB of shared data.

But these family plans evolve so quickly that it can be tough to keep up. AT&T recently slashed prices on its shared plans, while Sprint introduced the “Framily Plan,” which allows up to 10 friends and family members to enjoy family-style benefits with separate bills. But which of these plans is the best value? We put AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon head-to-head and calculated each carrier’s cost for a four-member family plan with roughly 2.5GB of data per phone.

Comparison Chart: Family Plan for 4 with ~10GB of total data*

  att_thumb sprint_thumb tmo_thumb verizon_thumb
         
Total Cost
(4 lines, ~10GB**)
$160/month $200/month $140/month $260/month
Cost Per Line $15 $40 $60 for first line,
$40 for second,
$20 for third and
fourth lines
$40
Data Cost
(~10GB)
$100 $40 ($10 per
every 3GB
per line)
Included in line cost $100
Unlimited Talk & Text Yes Yes Yes Yes
 
*Does not include taxes, fees and device payments
**Sprint offers 12GB 


MORE: Top 10 Smartphones

Overall Value

While AT&T advertises its recently reduced family prices as the best available, a four-member, 2.5GB family plan on T-Mobile costs $140 per month, which is $20 less than AT&T’s $160 plan. The same number of users would run you $200 a month on Sprint’s Framily plan, while you’d be paying $260 for a similar package on Verizon.

Plan Size and Flexibility

T-Mobile might have the cheapest four-member family plan at face value, but each carrier’s family plan has its own benefits worth checking out before you make the plunge. For example, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint all support up to 10 lines on a plan, while T-Mobile customers are limited to five.

Flexibility is also important to consider, as your family members might eventually want to break away and pay their own phone bill. Sprint’s Framily plan is one of the best options for addressing this issue, as your service agreement is month-to-month and you can have separate bills sent to users within the same plan. T-Mobile’s Simple Choice Plan also comes without an annual service contract.

MORE: 10 Smartphones with the Longest Battery Life

AT&T’s Mobile Share plan supports devices purchased contract-free via AT&T Next, as well as those with a traditional two-year commitment (in other words, in subsidized smartphone deals). Verizon’s Share Everything plan requires a contract, but you can make alterations to your plan throughout its duration.

Plan-by-Plan Breakdown

If you’re looking to take away or add members to a family plan, you’ll need some more details. Here’s how the plans break down.

AT&T

att_sfAT&T’s Mobile Share plan is among the most affordable family plans, starting at $20 a month for 300MB of shared data and $25 for each device. Note that there are very few families for which 300MB of data will work, unless you plan on using few apps and very little content when you’re not on Wi-Fi.

If you opt for the $100 monthly plan with 10GB of data, each device drops to $15. To be eligible for Mobile Share, you must sign up for AT&T Next (the carrier’s early-upgrade program), bring an existing smartphone or buy a new device at full value. If you prefer to pay a lower subsidized price for your phone up front, you might want to look at what T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint have to offer for families. However, if you don’t mind buying a new phone up front or signing up for Next, AT&T’s Mobile Share has some of the lowest prices per line across all carriers.

Lines: Up to 10
Price: $130 per month for two lines, $15 for each additional line
Data: 10GB (included in price)
Unlimited Talk and Text: Yes

MORE: 5 Best AT&T Smartphones

Sprint

sprint_sfSprint’s Framily plan is built to be as nonrestrictive as possible, supporting up to 10 users and providing the option for separate bills. Lines start at $55 for one device and shrink down to $25 per line when you have at least seven users on a plan. The cost of a line includes 1GB of data, and you can add 3GB to each line for an extra $10 per line or get unlimited data for $20 .

Because the price of each individual line goes down as you add more members, the reverse will happen if you need to drop anyone from your Framily. This makes Sprint’s plan ideal for larger groups, as you’ll need at least seven callers to get the best price per line. As with T-Mobile’s family plans, you can pick up a phone with no money down as part of a Framily.

Lines: Up to 10
Price: $55 for one line, $50 per line for two lines, $45 each for three lines, $40 each for four lines, $35 each for five lines, $30 each for six lines, $25 each for seven to 10 lines
Data: 1GB free, $10 per line for 3GB, $20 per line for unlimited
Unlimited Talk and Text: Yes

MORE: 5 Best Sprint Smartphones

T-Mobile

t-mobile_sfUnlike AT&T, T-Mobile allows you to assign specific data limits to each phone on its Simple Choice family plan . Each line starts at $50 per month with 500MB of data, with bigger packages carrying 2.5GB for $60 and unlimited data for $70. While T-Mobile offers some of the lowest prices on family plans, it’s worth noting that the carrier only supports up to five lines, while Sprint, AT&T and Verizon allow up to 10 per plan.

T-Mobile is a good fit for the commitment-weary family, as the Simple Choice plan is a month-to-month agreement with no early-termination fees. And if your young ones spend more time on Facebook than your data plan allows, T-Mobile will simply slow your data speed down to 2G or 3G, rather than charging you overage fees.

Lines: Up to five
Price: $50/$60/$70 for line one (depending on data plan), $30 for line two , $10 for each additional line
Data: $50 for 500MB, $60 for 2.5GB, $70 for unlimited (prices apply to primary phone line)
Unlimited Talk and Text: Yes

MORE: 5 Best T-Mobile Smartphones

Verizon Wireless

verizon_sfVerizon Wireless’ Share Everything plan starts at $50 per month for 1GB of shared data and $40 for each line. 2GB of shared data will run you $60 per month, and every additional 2GB you add to your plan will cost another $10.

Verizon’s plan is ideal for parents, as you can set monthly data allowances and texting curfews for your children . These allowances don’t affect your plan, and are simply designed to keep your little ones from spending all night on the web. You can use the My Verizon hub to make changes to your data plan without affecting your contract term. Share Everything supports several no-money-down phones like the Droid Mini and Galaxy SIII Mini, and you can utilize the Verizon Edge early-upgrade plan as part of a family.

Lines: Up to 10
Price: $40 per month per line
Data: Starts at $40 per month for 500MB, goes up $10 for every 2GB of data
Unlimited Talk and Text: Yes

MORE: 5 Best Verizon Smartphones

Bottom Line

In terms of sheer value and flexibility, T-Mobile’s family plan is the most enticing of the bunch. There’s no annual commitment; you can set data limits for individual lines; and a four-person, 10GB plan costs less on T-Mobile than on its competing carriers.

AT&T’s Mobile Share prices are alluring, but you’ll have to be willing to buy a new phone up front or sign up for AT&T Next to take advantage of them. Sprint’s Framily plan has the potential to help you save big, but it’s built specifically for an extra-large group of callers who want to split a bill. Verizon’s Share Everything plan came out to be the most expensive when we calculated our four-person plan, though parents will appreciate the service’s custom data limits and texting curfews.

AUTHOR BIO
Michael Andronico
Michael Andronico
A devout gamer and tech enthusiast, Mike Andronico joined the Laptop team in July 2013. With a B.A. in Journalism from Purchase College and experience at GameNGuide, Examiner and 2D-X, Mike tackles everything from iPhone rumors to in-depth hardware reviews.
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  1. Loren Says:

    What matters most is coverage. If you can not use the service, why pay a penny. I switched to at&t and have coverage and price which are both very good. Your results may vary, but for me, on the Central Coast of California, at&t gets it right. Sorry, cheaper comes at a big price in when you have no data available for your smartphone. Don’t be fooled by ads.

  2. jrr Says:

    We already have 3 members in our framily with sprint. Join our framily.

    Save some cash. Dont start your own family until you check out ours.

     

    3 members.  Next person is $40 a month.  Then its $35, 30, then 25.

     

    P00282844Ht

     

  3. Jeff H. Says:

    I think this article, and articles like it, are improved by including sample costs for phones. The graph above suggests that Verizon’s plan is nearly double the cost of AT&T’s. But that difference is significantly different if you sign up for AT&T Next and have no contract. The detailed write-up does include that point, but the takeaway from the graph misses that crucial piece of information.

  4. Steph Says:

    With AT&T plans – you do not have to have Next or pay full retail. You can bring your own device as well.

  5. Derek Says:

    My framily plan ID# is B00690276kM that would be capital B zero zero 69 zero 276 lower case k and capital M (they are case sensative) I have 9 spaces available

  6. Steve Mauldin Says:

    Straight talk, accurate and well organised.

  7. Connie Says:

    ATT is good for existing phones. When you buy a new one, instead of charging $15 per month access fee, they charge you $40 per month. They say this is to recoup some of the phone costs. Over 2 years, this adds up to $960. I say bring your own phone and pay $15.

  8. Wendy Says:

    AT&T up to 10 lines is not true for family NEXT plan. If you call AT&T, like I did, to add on 2 additional lines you have to open up another plan or pay $40/phone/month. It’s still around $300/month for 6 people.

  9. nerd guy Says:

    Actually, these numbers are a bit misleading, the att pricing is for monthly contract, and if you are on that, you pay monthly for the phone. . That needs to be included in the price to compare, otherwise each line is 40$.. I know because I just switched from sprint to att THINKING att got much cheaper. I have 4 lines, bill for sprint with taxes is 217, bill with att is 270.. and that’s with only 6gb data. . Sprint was unlimited. I use data a lot but mostly connected to wifi. I’m happy with att though. .way better signal, hence the higher price I guess, it’s worth it to me though

  10. Hansa Says:

    How is TMobile’s signal strength? Also would this carrier be best if traveling to Europe? I would be looking for 2-3 people on the plan.

  11. javaguy Says:

    Who the heck needs 10GB/month? we find our heavy surfing is on wifi- our ATT coverage is not good enough to get us to 10GB of downloads/month, we use more like 1GB. T-mobile and Sprint win out at lower data usage rates… weird that you’d do this analysis and not include that (common) scenario, do you work for ATT?

  12. Christopher Says:

    Why isn’t there a “printer-friendly” option for your website???

  13. Dan Says:

    I have been talking with T-Mobile all day today and the 4-Line for 140$ does not exist says their sales reps. Either it is expired or the information is inaccurate.

  14. Jeff Says:

    Dan,
    Go to T-Mobile’s site, go to the family plans page, select 4 lines, and switch each line to 3GB data (Note: I believe this tier was 2.5GB at the time the article was written). At least for me it comes out to $140.

  15. kb Says:

    Come join my Family plan
    L00956958tn
    Capitol L zero zero nine five six nine five eight lower case t lower case n
    Last four digits of my number is 8438

  16. magnet Says:

    Just bought T-mobile 1GB (per line) for 4 lines. Only cost me $100. I switched from ATT.

  17. Jack Says:

    The problem with all those promotions is that they expires and price might go up.(They count on that so you forget)

    I am calling my service provider (AT&T) every year or so once my promotion ends and request to lower the price mentioning I will move to different provider! – They usually lower my price for few more month or come up with new promotion for year!
    Usually I forget to renew myself but by using Remindme2save.com it keeps sending me reminders when promotion going to expire and I renew:)

  18. Sidney Says:

    ATT Mobile Share lets you include laptops and tablets along with phones. Do the other plans?

  19. John Smith Says:

    I’ve been using Tmobile’s family plan with 1GB per month, unlimited data for over a year. $100 per month. $50 for first line, $30 for second, $10 for each additional. Can’t beat this yet.

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