For those of you who don’t use a cell phone very often, or simply for emergencies, the prepaid wireless option that some providers offer can be the most cost effective solution.  There really isn’t one provider that will suit everyone as they both market their products towards a specific group of people.  Some plans offer perks like cheaper long distance, unlimited data, longer expiry times on refills, or cheap after hours minutes.

I’m currently on a contract plan with one of the bigger providers in Canada, but I’m looking to go move into the “pay as you go” route as my cell phone usage as gone way down.

The biggest perks of prepaid cell phone access are:

  • Unused minutes roll over to the next month
  • No monthly system access fee charge (except for bell).
  • Voice mail and Caller ID are usually included

One thing that really bugs me about cell phone contracts is the damn $6.95/month system access fee gouge that they conveniently tack onto the monthly bill.  I believe that there is a lawsuit pending on this fee and whether or not it’s legitimate.

As a low cell phone minute user, I did a little digging around for the best pre paid wireless provider in Canada. From my research, here are the specs of some of the more popular “pay as you go” providers:

Company $/Min LD$/Min Refill / Expiry (days) Text out Text in Free Incoming VM SAF? Auto Top Up?
7/11 $0.20 $0.30 $25/365, $50/365, $75/365, $100/365 $0.05 $0.05 Yes No No, Store only
Bell $0.30 $0.40 ? ? ? ? $3.95 ?
PC Mobile $0.20 $0.25 $25/60, $15/30 $0.15 Free Yes No Yes
Petro Canada $0.20 $0.10 $20/180, $50/180, $75/180, $100/365 $0.05 $0.05 Yes No No, Store only
Rogers $0.40 $0.30 Minimum top ups /month $0.15 Free No No Yes
Telus $0.25 $0.30 $10/30, $25/60, $50/60 $0.15 Free Yes No Yes
Virgin Mobile $0.30 $0.25 $100/365, $50/120, $25/90, $15/45 $0.15 Free Yes No Yes

There is quite a bit of selection, but each company has their good and bad points.

  • 7/11 and Petro Canada both have great / min rates and long expiry dates on thier top ups.  The down side being that the top ups are only available in store.  The convenience factor is an important factor to me, and considering that we don’t have any 7/11’s in NL, it’s out of the picture for me.  These companies offer the best “Emergency” cell phone as you can purchase one top up and it’ll be good for a year.
  • PC Mobile and Telus are similar and seem promising as they both have a decent / minute rate, fair pricing on the other features and convenient automatic credit card top ups.  The only down side with those guys their longest expiry is 60 days.  Also note that Telus has a better phone selection than PC Mobile.
  • Rogers is a little more on the expensive side of things with extra charges for incoming voice mail.  For example, if someone leaves you a 2 minute voice mail, Rogers will charge you 4 minutes.  2 for the person leaving the message and 2 more for listening to it.  Rogers does though have nicer phones along with perhaps the most competitive / min rates if you pre-pay at least $20 / month.
  • Virgin Mobile has higher than average / min calling rate but they come through with their long 365 day expiry on their $100 top up cards.

If you are in the market for a prepaid phone, the choices out there can be overwhelming.  Best thing to do is to write a list of what you “need” from a phone and select the corresponding company that suits your purposes for the best price.

Are you on prepaid wireless?  I would like to hear from your experiences with your respective companies.

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8 years ago

Petro Canada plans can be topped up….time purchased online

Phil Chips
12 years ago

I use Telus, as long as we automatically renew monthly the minutes carry forward forever. We pay $10/m automatically and the unused minutes roll forever. The downside, we cannot use the Telus prepaid in the U.S..

12 years ago

Kathryn/Lisa: that’s not correct – the 7-11 “speakout” wireless uses the same network as Rogers, not Bell. It’s Virgin Mobile that uses the Bell network.

In either case, the signal strength will be the exact same as for the “big name” network.

12 years ago

Lisa: They use the same signal as Bell. Basically it’s the same coverage as Bell which is pretty similar to Rogers coverage. It depends on where you’re camping. I had coverage at the entrance to Algonquin but not on site.

12 years ago

The 7-11 plan looks great to me, but I am worried about signal. I want to be able to use this phone when I go camping, so do you know who’s towers/satalites they read from? Do they get there signal from one of the bigger name companies like bell, telus or rogers?

12 years ago

@Chuckie: I doubt that they’ll increase the expiry any time soon – the trend has been the opposite.

The good news is that if you lose the phone you don’t “lose” the $100 – one phone call is all it takes to have the phone disabled, and you can switch the balance over to a new phone. Buy a replacement handset, and you’re back in business.

12 years ago

Any idea if Virgin is going to increase the expiry on their sub-100 cards? I don’t want to bu a $100 card in case I lose my phone I also lose an additional $100 but the 30 day (or is it 45) expiry on their lowest card is ridiculous. 180 days would be nice.

6 Ways to Lower Your Phone Bill | Million Dollar Journey
12 years ago

[…] We seriously considered dropping the landline but with 4 people in the house and only two cell phones, we decided to keep the landline for now. If you have great cell plans and you have as many cell phones as adults or teens in the house, you may want to consider dropping the land line altogether.  For some, prepaid cell phone plans may be more cost effective, see the MDJ prepaid cell phone plan review here. […]

cindy thompson
12 years ago

WARNING – Roger’s pay go custumer service is hell. I’m paying 40 cents a minute and I am charged from the moment I hit send.

Was at 3 stores. 3 different answers. Called costomer service. Closed on weekends for pay go customers. So tried the online help. Found life person who was polite but told me to call a no. that just transfered me to the closed phone line.

Ms Raymond
13 years ago

I just call 7/11 speakout, they don’t do unlimited incoming,But i am looking for a calling card only with unlimited incoming in the USA.If someone can help me on this one that would be great.