Why I was an AT&T wireless customer…for 72 hours.
For the last 7-8 years, I have been a loyal Virgin Mobile customer. I liked the prepaid pricing plan, the customer service, I didn’t want a large monthly bill or overage charges. Everything was perfect. Well, almost everything.
The phones sucked. Completely. While everyone around me had the latest, greatest phones from Nokia and Motorola, I was stuck with cheap, archaic-looking models with limited features and horrible battery life. So, a few weeks ago my wife and I started looking around and decided on prepaid GoPhone, from AT&T/Cingular wireless.
We chose AT&T because they’ve been around forever. My wife had tried Amp’d Mobile last year for a few months, but when they went under she came back to Virgin. She didn’t want to switch unless it was a big name with big staying power. And they don’t come much bigger than AT&T.
I found us some great “refurbished” phones at att.com. I say “refurbished” because they looked brand new to me, and I suspect they were (a great article for another time) Probably just a slightly older model or maybe a display model. I used the website to complete the deal and filled out the form to carry over our current numbers.
"You talkin' to me? Not for long, I'll transfer you...again."
The problems begin.
I spent a grand total of 6 hours on phone calls trying to complete the number transfer, also known as porting. I was passed from one department to another. One annoying feature of AT&T customer service that immediately became apparent is that GoPhone customers are treated like second-class citizens. It was impossible to get straight through to a GoPhone rep, I often had to punch or say my phone number 3-4 times before I got to anyone, and on three occasions the phone went dead on me. Nice.
Unlike any other company I have ever dealt with, AT&T requires your prepaid account number to complete the porting process. Do you know what your prepaid account number is? Doubtful, it’s usually something you have to call and ask for because you never need to know it. You buy it from the store, you top up with cards, as far as you are concerned your account number is your phone number. Not so.
So, after doing a whole bunch more calling, I got the info and completed the port. End of story? Not quite. When my wife had left that morning, she had $10 in credit on the phone. She called me a few hours later, it was almost gone. “$10 in a few hours, what have you been doing?” I said. It turns out that unlike Virgin Mobile, AT&T charges you 25 cents/minute per call for everything. That means not just regular calls, but calls to check your messages, your balance, anything. 25 cents comes out the first second you make a connection, which didn’t surprise me. If you receive a call, 25 cents/minute also applies. Again, not so shocking. Then I found out that a call to 411 for 30 seconds had cost over $2.30! Ouch. We burned up a further $30 between us in the span of 3 days, although I was double-billed and I'm disputing one $15 charge. We also discovered that, unlike Virgin, your money expires. $15 lasts only 30 days, regardless of how much you use.
I know, I know. I should have read all that small print, so that’s my fault completely. I just couldn’t believe how expensive this no-contract phone was. So, we decided to bite the bullet and get a contract plan with T-Mobile, which came with great free phones and the most minutes around for the price.
But then we needed to carry over our numbers from AT&T. Now, guess how easy it is to get your prepaid account number from AT&T? Well, when you realize that the only reason you need an account number from a GoPhone is to switch to another cell phone carrier, you quickly understand that the process is not simple. In fact, I spent an enormous amount of time on the phone, again, before finally being transferred to an office in India (big surprise). And the whole time, I was questioned about why I was leaving.
Is there a moral to this story. Most definitely it’s READ EVERY PIECE OF SMALL PRINT YOU CAN. If I had done so, I’d probably have saved myself almost a full day on the phone and at least $30 in airtime that lasted less than an hour. Also, if you do go prepaid, use it sparingly and it makes all kinds of sense. But use it more often than that and you’re eating up money. From what I can understand, Virgin is still way ahead of everyone else in the prepaid arena, apart from the crappy phones.
So, my apologies to Virgin. You’ve always been great and I’m sorry I had to leave you (update your phones and I'll be back). And to AT&T, I’m saying nothing. I’ve quickly discovered that talking to AT&T can be a costly affair.
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