atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#2648: TracFone follies

Well, "follies" isn't exactly right, because it's not a bad thing, but I don't really understand it.


I've had a TracFone continuously since November of 2002. I originally bought it because I was driving the Fiero long-distance for the first time, and I was worried about breakdowns. Armed with my then-girlfriend's AAA card (she'd put me on her account) and this cellphone, I was safe from being stranded somewhere on I-80, at least for longer than a couple of hours.

But it was (and still is) a really cheap way to have a cell phone, particularly for someone like me, who rarely calls anyone on the damn thing, and who only wants/needs a basic phone for making and taking calls. Instead of paying $200 for the phone and $YEECH! per month for service, I now own a $30 phone which costs me about $7 per month in airtime cards. You have to add an airtime card every so often for the phone to remain in service, so every 90 days I buy a 60-minute-90-day airtime card for $21 (with tax) and that takes care of it. Airtime rolls over every month (you've already paid for it, after all) and the minutes don't expire, so if you don't use your phone very often, they do add up.

...and because you can transfer minutes to a new phone when you upgrade, I've accumulated eighteen hours' worth of airtime.

The thing is, it's because TracFone keeps handing out free airtime like candy. I always wait until a few days before my current airtime card is set to expire, so I get two or three nag e-mails from them before I buy a new airtime card.

Like today: I finally decided I'd better do this before I forget it again and I hit their web site to add airtime to my phone. Log in, select the card I want, type in a few details, bing, and I get a message on my phone that approximates this: "90 days, 60 minutes, and 60 bonus minutes added!"

...I didn't enter a promo code or anything, so where did the bonus minutes come from? It's been like this the last several times I've added airtime, and it doesn't seem to matter if I buy an actual physical airtime card at a store, or just do the on-line way (which is, let's face it, a ton easier anyway).

This is how TracFone makes its money, after all: by selling airtime. 60 minutes for $20 works out to around $0.33 per minute; by the standards of most cell plans that's actually pretty expensive. But 120 minutes for $20 is $0.16 per minute (more or less) and they're basically cutting their income in half.

For the amount I use my phone, though, it'd be stupid of me to worry about the per-minute cost. I'd have to pay 2-3-4-5 times as much per month to reduce my per-minute cost, and I wouldn't be making any more calls on the thing than I am now.

And I have eighteen hours of talk time anyway.

...but why do they keep giving me bonus airtime? It's not like I'm complaining; I just like to know why the magic airtime fairy keeps visiting me.

It's really nice, though, the way they've got things set up. It used to be that you'd have to go to the web and enter the code from the card, and then press buttons on the phone; now you buy the airtime card on-line with your credit card and zam their system automatically programs the added airtime into the phone for you.

Though I do kind of miss the "code accepted" screen from the old way. You punch in this sequence of 16 or 20 numbers and get this nice little frisson of validation from the phone when you do it right. That's probably why I was so bad about adding airtime back then; when you run out of service days, you lose your number, and it takes more code-punching to program the new phone number in. More validation! Yay! ...and I got pretty good at predicting what my new number would be from reading the code, because the phone number was unencrypted. "Hey, my new number's going to be an 847 area code!"

Well--I got this job tryout thing in Rantoul, and I bet I'll be using the phone a bit while I'm down there. Maybe that'll give me a chance to whack back that accumulated airtime a bit.

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