What Is the Best Family Plan?
If you want a cellphone plan for multiple lines, the best choice for families comes from T-Mobile. Unlike other carriers that make people draw from the same shared pool of data, T-Mobile gives each person in a family plan their own pool of data. The carrier also offers generous data allotments and discounts as you add more lines, currently offering a $120 family plan for four lines and 10GB of data each.Based on our extensive analysis, Verizon’s family plan is a compelling alternative, on the strength of that carrier’s superior network. Verizon’s family plans are reasonably priced, as its 12GB shared data plan costs $160 per month, 12GB shared data plan, but you’ll be required to pay access fees for each phone on the plan.
How We Picked the Best Family Plan: To compare carriers, we assembled plans for a family of four. You can opt for family plans for as few as two lines and as many as 10 with the major carriers. In addition to price, we also considered the reach and performance of a carrier’s network, including our own 4G network testing.
Top Family Plan: T-Mobile
Best Plan: 10GB plan, $140
Who Should Get T-Mobile:Families who don’t want to share data
T-Mobile is our choice for the best family plan, thanks to its individual data pools, lack of access charges and frequent discounts for higher-data plans.
Typically, T-Mobile charges $50 a month for the first line of a family plan and $30 for the second line; any additional lines cost $10 a month each. A basic family plan includes 2GB of data for each line. You can also opt for 6GB (an extra $15 a month), 10GB ($30) or unlimited data ($45) for each line in the plan.
That would mean a family of four that opts for 10GB of data on each line would normally expect to pay $220 a month. Factor in T-Mobile’s discounts and current promotions, though, and the monthly price drops to $140. That’s a tremendous amount of data, especially since T-Mobile’s Data Stash program adds any unused data to next month’s allotment. Even if you go over your allotted data, T-Mobile simply throttles you down to 2G speeds, instead of charging you extra.
T-Mobile also offers attractive pricing if you only need two lines of data. Starting April 8, a two-line family plan with each person getting 6GB of data to call their own costs $80 a month. That's $30 off the normal monthly pricing.
Families with heavy data needs should also check out the pricing on T-Mobile’s unlimited plans. Usually, a four-line unlimited plan would cost $280 a month, but current promotions lower that cost to $220.
Best Alternative: Verizon
Best Plan:12GB shared data plan, $160 (includes 8GB bonus data)
Who Should Get Verizon: Families who want the best network coverage and flexible data options
The reach of Verizon’s network makes it a compelling alternative to T-Mobile, particularly if you live in an area where Verizon outperforms its rival. Plus, Verizon’s attractive pricing makes it a compelling option for families.
Verizon subscribers share data from one pool. That makes the carrier’s 12GB, $80 monthly plan the most compelling for families of four. (A two-line family could likely get by with Verizon’s 6GB, $60 monthly plan.) Verizon sweetens the deal by adding 2GB per month for each phone on its $80 monthly plan, so a family of four would actually share 20GB.
You need to factor in Verizon’s access fees, though — $20 for each phone on a plan. The $80 in access fees would bring a family of four’s monthly bill to $160 for 20GB of shared data.
High-data users could consider the 18GB, $100-a-month Verizon plan, which also adds in a bonus 2GB of data. Factor in access fees, and a family of four would pay $180 a month for 26GB of data.
Unlimited Data Option: Sprint
Best Plan: Unlimited data plan, $150
Who Should Get Sprint: Families with high-data needs who can live with lesser coverage
Based on our testing, Sprint’s network performance lags behind that of its rivals. However, Sprint tries to makes its service more compelling with some aggressive pricing for families.
Sprint’s best current family plan offers unlimited data for $150 a month, the same price that T-Mobile currently charges. Sprint also waives its $20-per-phone monthly access fees on its unlimited plan, making it the most compelling choice for families even if you don’t need unlimited data. A more modest 12GB shared data plan only costs $60 a month, but factor in that $20-per-phone charge, and a family of four pays just $10 less for 12GB of data than it would for unlimited data.
Other Options: AT&T
Best Plan:15GB shared data plan, $160
Who Should Get AT&T: Families that can take advantage of DirecTV bundles
Unless you live in an area with stellar AT&T coverage or you also subscribe to AT&T’s DirecTV satellite TV service, there are few compelling reasons to consider AT&T’s family plans.
As with Verizon’s family plans, you share one pool of data with AT&T. But AT&T’s range of plans isn’t as flexible as Verizon’s: Low data users can opt for either 2GB ($30 a month) or 5GB ($50), while higher-data options start at 15GB ($100). That’s a big gap if you only anticipate using between 6 and 10GB of data.
AT&T further complicates things by varying the size of the access fee you have to pay for each device. Families with 5GB of data or less pay $25 a month per phone, while 15GB plans or more pay $15. (That’s if you buy your phone outright or on an installment plan; get a subsidized phone under a two-year agreement, and you’ll pay $40 per month in access fees. Don’t do that.)
Factor in access fees, and a family of four would pay $160 a month for a 15GB shared data plan. A 5GB plan would cost $150 for that same family. Obviously, the 15GB option is the more attractive one, even if it doesn’t measure up to other carriers.
AT&T does offer an unlimited plan for wireless customers who also subscribe to either DirecTV or U-Verse for their TV service. The first line of this unlimited plan costs $100, with additional lines costing $40 each. However, AT&T currently credits the price of a fourth line on your bill, meaning a family of four could get unlimited data for $180 a month, access fees included, if AT&T provides their TV service, too.