Should You Save Yourself for Virgin's $1 Plan for a Year?

Virgin Mobile wants to be the go-to carrier for iPhone users. And it's dangling unlimited data to convince you to switch wireless services.

Credit: Virgin Mobile

(Image credit: Virgin Mobile)

Through July 31, you can sign up for a year's worth of unlimited data through Virgin's wireless service and pay just $1 for the privilege. After that year is up, you'll pay $50 a month for unlimited talk, text and data through Virgin.

To qualify for the deal, you've got to buy a phone from Virgin and transfer your existing phone number over to the carrier. And you won't be able to buy just any phone: Virgin is limiting its selection to just iPhones, with choices ranging from the iPhone 6 all the way up to the current iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

Virgin charges the same amount as Apple for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus as well as the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. You can get a 32GB iPhone SE for $279 through Virgin, which is a $120 discount from what Apple charges. The iPhone 6 is available through Virgin starting at $319.

MORE: The Best and Worst Phone Carriers: Where Virgin Ranks

Virgin's $1 unlimited data offer comes with a few catches. That negligible cost doesn't include taxes, which you'll have to pay for the next year. You'll also need to enroll in autopay with the carrier. And if you go over 23GB of data for the month, Virgin reserves the right to throttle your speeds. (That's a typical practice for unlimited plans, though the limit at which the throttling kicks in varies from carrier to carrier.)

There's another limit to Virgin's unlimited offer. It includes 800 domestic roaming minutes and 100MB of domestic roaming data. Go over either of these limits, and the fine print of Virgin's offer says the carrier could terminate your service.

Virgin's old unlimited plan used to place restrictions on streaming. You could only stream video at 480p resolution, while music and game streams were limited to 500 Kbps and 2 Mbps, respectively. It's unclear if those restrictions apply to this new $50 unlimited plan; we've asked Virgin to clarify.

Only having to pay $1 for the next year of data will save you a lot of money, but what about when Virgin's $50-a-month rate kicks in? That pricing matches unlimited options from both MetroPCS and Boost. (Both those carriers limit video streaming to 480p, though you can get HD streaming at MetroPCS by paying an extra $10 a month.)

Both MetroPCS and Boost offer discounted rates if you add multiple lines to your unlimited plan as well. Unlimited data costs $55 a month at Cricket once you factor in a $5 autopay discount, but that carrier restricts data speeds to 8 Mbps.

Virgin is looking to draw customers in other ways. Sign up for the unlimited plan, which Virgin dubs Inner Circle, and you're eligible for perks from other Virgin businesses. These include discounts on Virgin wines, a third night free when you stay two nights at a Virgin hotel and — most impressively — a companion ticket for just taxes and fees when you buy a round-trip flight to the UK on Virgin Atlantic. You'll need to enroll before Sept. 30 to qualify, though.

Of course, casting your wireless lot with Virgin means relying on the Sprint 4G network. The good news is that when we tested LTE speeds, Virgin's were just as fast as those of its parent company Sprint. (In some cases, in fact, they were fractionally faster.) The bad news is that Sprint's LTE network is the slowest of the four major carriers, and that T-Mobile-owned MetroPCS outperforms Virgin by some margin.

Virgin's newfound emphasis on unlimited data seemingly does away with its tiered data plans. That's a shame, as its old 5GB, $35 monthly plan was one of the best values among prepaid carriers. We're trying to confirm with Virgin that this option has been eighty-sixed in favor of unlimited data.

Virgin is following in the footsteps of parent company Sprint, which is running a free-unlimited-data-for-a-year promotion through the end of June. As with Sprint's offer, you can save a lot of money with Virgin, provided you can live with the network's limitations and you're in the market for an iPhone right now.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.