One of the smaller cellular providers, with 3.5-million customers, Consumer Cellular distinguishes itself from the competition through some neat pricing options including no contracts, interest-free phone payments and no overage fees. There’s even a five per cent discount for AARP members.
The network is a virtual one, piggybacking on both AT&T and T-Mobile’s networks to expand coverage. While pricing is good, there’s a more limited choice of phone plans than with the big providers, and you get a relatively small choice of handset, too.
Technology also slightly lags behind the best, too, with Consumer Cellular offering 4G LTE devices at the moment with only a promise to bring 5G in the future. As such, the main benefit of the service is its decent standard pricing and flexible contracts, which will more likely be of interest to the older generation. Those looking for the latest technology and speeds, or those that need unlimited accounts will be better off looking elsewhere in our best cell phone provider guide.
Consumer Cellular review: Plans
- Prices from $15 a month
- Top end is $60 a month
One of the main attractions of Consumer Cellular is that there are no monthly contracts to deal with. Instead, you start by choosing your base-level contract and you can move up or down through the tiers each month, giving a huge amount of flexibility.
It used to be fairly tricky to spec out a plan but Consumer Cellular has since streamlined its buying options. It starts with a single line, which is included with all plans, although you can add a second line for an additional $15 a month (you need to phone if you want more than one line).
Next, you have to select a talk plan, which starts with 250 minutes for $15 a month, but you can also choose unlimited minutes for $20 a month. At this point, you don’t have to buy any data, so you could get by with a bill as small as $15 a month plus taxes; however, if you don’t buy data, you don’t get any text messages, so voice-only plans are only useful if the phone’s a way to keep in touch with someone or for emergencies.
If you want data, then you need to add a Connect Plan. Consumer Cellular is one of the few companies still to offer an entry-level data limit, beginning at $5 for 500MB. That’s not a lot of data, but it’s enough for very light use and, as all Connect Plans give you unlimited text messages, it’s a small amount to pay to keep in touch. If you need more data, there are 3GB, 10GB, 15GB and 25GB options, ranging from $10 a month up to $40 a month. There’s currently no option for unlimited data.
You also miss out on some features and technology that the bigger networks have. At the moment that means that you can’t get a 5G plan, even if you have a suitable handset. There’s also no support for Apple’s Visual Voicemail.
Consumer Cellular will bump you up to the next tier if you exceed your data limit, so you can get extra data without being charged expensive per-MB fees. It sounds good in theory but this price bump can mean higher-than-expected bills. Upgrades continue to the next month, although you can request to downgrade at the end of a billing month.
Consumer Cellular review: International calling
- Per-minute and per MB costs
- No travel passes
There are no add-ons to make international calls, although Consumer Cellular has a detailed breakdown of call costs: just select the country that you want to call from the list and you can see the per-minute rate.
If you go travelling, you can enable international roaming. Costs are typically $0.30 per talk minute and $0.10 per text message. Watch out for data charges, as at $0.25 per MB of data you’ll end up paying $250 per GB. Some countries are more expensive, so it’s worth calling Consumer Cellular before you go to check out the rate you’ll pay.
Bills are initially capped at $100, which helps prevent bill shock from massive roaming charges, but the truth is that if you travel a lot or need to make many international calls, you’ll find better deals elsewhere.
Consumer Cellular review: Cell phone options
- Interest-free payment options
- Latest iPhones but more limited Android options
While you can bring an unlocked phone to your account, Consumer Cellular also has a range of handsets that you can buy. Payment options include EasyPay, which lets you pay a small one-off payment followed by interest-free payments (typically for around two years). While Consumer Cellular has the full range of Apple phones, the Android range is far limited, particularly for flagship phones: there’s no option to buy the Samsung Galaxy S20, for example.
Consumer Cellular review: Coverage and speed performance
- Powerful combination of AT&T and T-mobile
- No throttling
Using both AT&T and T-Mobile, Consumer Cellular’s coverage is excellent. We ranked T-Mobile top of the pile for coverage and, while AT&T came fourth, it still has excellent coverage. Tom’s Guide places AT&T second in the performance stakes, with T-Mobile sitting just behind in third. Speedtest.net puts AT&T first, with T-Mobile in second. That’s all very positive news for Consumer Cellular, then, so you should benefit from the coverage and speed of both networks all of the US.
According to RootMetrics, which performs tests both in big metropolitan areas, as well as rural areas, shows that while Verizon is the runaway leader, the combination of AT&T and T-Mobile in second and third demonstrates that you should get decent coverage in cities and away from them.
Consumer Cellular doesn’t throttle data connections when your data limit is reached, bumping your plan up to the next level. The one exception is for the 25GB plan: exceeding this will see speeds drop, although you can call the cell provider to find out about paying for more high-speed data.
Consumer Cellular review: What users say
- A+ BBB rating
- Poor user reviews
Consumer Cellular scores a powerful A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (opens in new tab), although user reviews of the service are far less positive, with just over a one-star rating on BBB, and a 1.5-star rating on Trustpilot.
For those that like the service, price is the main attractor, with people getting decent savings by moving away from one of the big four networks. Those that complained talked about poor customer service and long hold times, and continued billing after a plan had been cancelled. There were also complaints about automatically being moved up a payment tier when download limits were reached.
Consumer Cellular review: Verdict
The generally poor Consumer Cellular reviews would suggest that this is service to avoid, but the truth comes down to how you use your cell phone. If you have low data and voice usage, and restrict your cellular usage, it’s possible to make some decent savings with this cell phone provider. Without contracts, the option to move up or down tiers to suit can make this service very flexible.
If you exceed limits or plan to travel a lot, then Consumer Cellular doesn’t do so well, and you’re better looking off elsewhere. For seniors, there are good offers for unlimited data plans from Sprint and T-Mobile that may suit you more.
If you get the right combination, Consumer Cellular may suit your needs but check the competition before you buy to see how much you’ll really save and remember that you’ll only get the lowest cost if you keep your cell phone usage to a minimum.
If you're undecided on the handset you want, check out our best smartphone guide, while we also rank the best prepaid cell phone plans. Take a look at our cell phone coverage map of the US to find out who has the best network in America.