Best AT&T Plans: What's Right for You?

If you haven't looked at AT&T in a while, you may not recognize what the carrier has done with its plans. Those variable access fees that depended on the size of your plan? It's all one flat fee now. The overage charges AT&T would assess when you used to much data? They're gone too. And now AT&T is even pushing you toward an unlimited data plan — two of them, actually — after years of trying to do away with unlimited data.

We've looked over AT&T's current offerings and have recommendations for the best plans for families and individuals. AT&T's GoPhone prepaid plans have also undergone some changes, providing you with even more options.

Best Family Plan

Finding the best AT&T plan comes down to a question of how much data you need each month. Assuming you plan to use a lot — and you don't want any restrictions on streaming video quality — your best choice is AT&T's Unlimited Plus plan. It costs a family of four $185 each month. (To break it down even further, that's $90 for the first line, $55 for the second, and $20 for each line after that.) You'll need to enroll in autopay for that price.

That gives AT&T the most expensive unlimited option among the four major carriers. But you do get 10GB of hotspot data and the ability to stream video at HD resolution. AT&T also throws in the ability to stream HBO with its Unlimited Plus plan (though that's now part of AT&T's cheaper unlimited offering, too). Note that AT&T reserves the right to throttle your speed should you use more than 22GB of data in a given billing period. Should you use DirecTV, the Unlimited Plus plan is more appealing, as you'll get a $25 monthly bill credit either on the DirecTV satellite service or DirecTV Now streaming service.

Other Options: AT&T does offer a less expensive unlimited data plan — $155 a month for a family of four — but the Unlimited Choice plan has plenty of gotchas. For one thing, there's no hotspot data, and you're restricted to standard definition video when streaming. The real limitation though is that AT&T will restrict your Internet speeds to 3Mbps — the only carrier to cap data speeds right off the bat. At least AT&T recently added a DirecTV Now bill credit to its Unlimited Choice Plan. As of September, Unlimited Choice subscribers also get free access to HBO streaming.

MORE: Compare AT&T's Unlimited Plans to Other Carriers

Given the restrictions on data speed, though, you're almost better off with one of AT&T's tiered data plans, especially if you don't really need unlimited data. AT&T continues to offer a 10GB plan, in which families draw from the same pool of data. The plan costs $80 a month, plus $20 per line in access fees, so a family of four plays $160. That's $5 more than AT&T's current unlimited plan, but without the onerous restriction on data speeds.

Best Unlimited Plan for Families

At the risk of repeating ourselves, we'll say it again: The Unlimited Plus plan is a much better option if you want true unlimited data, even if the Unlimited Choice plan would save a family of four $30 each month. The fact that Unlimited Plus customers get uncapped data speeds and HD video streaming more than makes up for the extra cost, though budget crunched families who don't care about fast data may find the Unlimited choice Plan to their liking, especially now that HBO streaming is part of the mix.

Best Individual Unlimited Plan

AT&T's unlimited options are the same for individuals. Assuming you want a truly unlimited experience, the $90-a-month Unlimited Plus plan (with autopay) is your best option, as it features HD video streaming, free HBO and 10GB of hotspot data. You can also get a $25 monthly discount on DirecTV, whether that's via the satellite TV service or the streaming service. Bundling DirecTV satellite service with Unlimited Plus will run you $115 a month, while Unlimited Plus with DirecTV Now streaming costs $100 a month.

The Unlimited Choice Plan is significantly cheaper at $60 a month, but it restricts your speed to 3 Mbps. You can also only watch standard definition video, and you don't get any hotspot data. You now get HBO streaming as part of this less expensive plan, though, and you can bundle DirecTV Now streaming with your wireless plan for an extra $10 a month, bringing your monthly bill to $70.

Best Individual Plan

Figuring that the average smartphone user requires around 3GB of data each month, AT&T's best plan for individuals is its 3GB plan. You'll pay $60 a month for that 3GB offering — $40 for the plan itself, plus a $20 access fee.

Other Options: Perhaps you want more headroom than 3GB has to offer. A 6GB plan will cost you $80 a month, access fees included, though at that point, you're getting pretty close to the cost of AT&T's Unlimited Plus plan. If you don’t require a lot of data, then AT&T's 1GB plan will only set you back $50.

The good news is that AT&T has stopped charging overages; instead it throttles your traffic down to 128 Kbps once you go over your data cap. What’s more, the carrier also allows you to roll over unused data from one month to the next.

MORE: How AT&T's Individual Plans Compare

Best Prepaid Plan

AT&T's prepaid plans give you an opportunity to go contract-free, and thanks to some recent increases to data size, they compare very nicely to what you'll find at dedicated prepaid carriers like MetroPCS and Cricket Wireless (which is an AT&T subsidiary). AT&T's best prepaid option provides 6GB of LTE data for $45 a month. Sign up for auto-pay, and you can save yourself $5 each month, bringing your bill down to $40.

A new 1GB plan lets you get service at $35 a month, with autopay enrollment knocking $5 off your monthly bill. For both the 1GB and 6GB GoPhone plans, you roll over unused data to the next month as well.

MORE: Who Has the Best Prepaid Plan?

If you want a lot of data, AT&T also offers its prepaid customers a $60-a-month unlimited plan. (That assumes you're enrolling in autopay; otherwise, you'll pay $65.) There are some catches, though, similar to the Unlimited Choice plan available to postpaid customers. In addition to unlimited data speeds getting capped at 3 Mbps, if you use more than 22GB of data in a given month, AT&T could slow you down even further. You'll also be limited to 480p resolution when streaming video, so forget about watching Netflix in HD.AT&T's prepaid plans can be appealing if you need to add extra lines, as the carrier offers multi-line discounts that escalate as you add more people. After the first line, AT&T will knock $5 off the second prepaid line, $10 off the third and $15 off the fourth. And you can deduct an additional $5 off each line for enrolling in autopay. Add all those discounts together, and a family could get four lines each with 6GB of data for $130 a month. Even better, you can mix and match lines — an unlimited line here, a 1GB line there — if different members of your family have different data needs.

What You Need to Know About AT&T

Before you pick an AT&T plan, here are a few more things to know about the wireless carrier.

* AT&T really wants you to bundle your phone and TV service: How serious is AT&T about getting you to use both it wireless service and its TV offerings?Look up AT&T's unlimited data plans, and you'll be greeted by a pitch to get DirecTV or DirecTV Now on top of your wireless service.

To entice you to sign up for either the satellite-based DirecTV or the streaming DirecTV Now, AT&T offers bundling discounts. Unlimited Choice customers can pay $70 a month for their phone and streaming TV service ($60 for the wireless plan and $10 for DirecTV Now). For Unlimited Plus customers, that same bundle costs $100 a month. Be warned that we haven't been too impressed with DirecTV Now when we've tested it multiple times.

MORE: DirecTV Now vs. PlayStation Vue vs. Sling TV: Face-Off

Add DirecTV to your Unlimited Plus subscription and you'll pay $115 a month; you'll also need to sign a two-year agreement for your DirecTV service.

* AT&T's network is solid: When we tested 4G network speeds, AT&T had the second fastest average download time after Verizon. T-Mobile had a comparable download speed and faster upload speed in our tests, but AT&T performed well overall. Third-party testing firm RootMetrics is more enthusiastic, listing AT&T's network as a formidable rival to Verizon's in its latest semiannual report on wireless network performance. OpenSignal, however, contends that the push for unlimited data plans is affecting AT&T's performance.

* You can roll over unused data. AT&T offers rollover data for all its tiered plans, including its prepaid offerings. However, you only get to keep that data an extra month before it disappears. So if you've only used 12GB of your 15GB plan in a given month, that unused 3GB rolls over, but it disappears at the end of the month. (Verizon, which also added data rollover in 2016, works the same way.)

* Larger data plans have international appeal. Both of AT&T's new unlimited plans cover voice, data and text when you're in Canada or Mexico. That's also true of tiered data plans that are 10GB or higher. As for trips overseas, AT&T's $10-a-day International Day Pass comes with unlimited talk and text, plus data governed by your plan.

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