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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I use Rogers pay as you go.Get a $100.00 card good for 1 year,can be rolled over and they have a plan that is 25 cents for the first 5 minutes,then 15 cents after that.The only thing I find is if you don’t use your cell phone a lot ,towards the end you better start calling

Thx for the chart, I didn’t know that Petro Canada were selling prepaid plan. Do you have to get your cell phone with them as well?

I’m using Virgin Mobile, and typically buy a $100 card once a year or so (usually about every 10 months), making my per-month cost about $10. I’m definitely no chatterbox on the cell phone.

The one thing that’s amazed me about Virgin Mobile is their customer service. Any time that I’ve needed to call them, I’ve reached a helpful, knowledgeable, live human being within one minute of dialing. Try doing that with any other phone company.

Virgin phones connect via the Bell network, so the coverage will be identical to Bell’s. Likewise, if the coverage for Bell where you live isn’t good, Virgin Mobile wouldn’t be a good choice.

One frugal tip regarding prepaid cell phones: Keep an eye on eBay. I had to replace my handset a while back, and was able to get a next-to-new phone for $22.00 (retail on that phone at the time was $79). Just make sure that the phone you’re buying is set up for the network you want to join.

Thanks for the chart and insight.

My plan comes up in a few months and I’m looking to just use my cell phone as my landline. Is it moronic to look into going pay as you go for a home phone? Most of my “talking” is done electronically online so I will not need many mins at all.

As well in Canada we can now keep are phone right?

I’m looking for a cellphone for my wife right now, for occasional / emergency use, and have narrowed it down to the 7-11 speakout phone. Having cards that don’t expire for 365 days is a big plus. We have a 7-11 5 minutes away, so topping up won’t be a big hassle. Has anyone tried the speakout phones?

Who offers the unlimited incoming minutes?

Trying to do research now for when I switch to this in a few months.

This might be off topic but what are some of the “tricks” that cell phone companies can increase the bill on you with prepaid plans? Or is this just the stuff they do for contracts.

We use Virgin Mobile, but 7/11 and Petro-Canada seem to have much longer expiry periods. I didn’t know there are two new players in the wireless area, so thanks for the heads up. And I’m going to do some more research.

Great post.
I am also looking into getting a cell plan as a landline. I’m not really familiar with what’s ‘good’ as far as cell plans go, but I’ve been looking at Fido’s unlimited incoming plans , which don’t seem too bad. The monthly packages range from $25 to $65 and their evenings start at 7pm. (they do have a system access fee of $6.95 though, and texting, call display, voice messaging, etc are extra)

Has anyone dealt with Fido?

Is it possible to negotatiate better deals with cell companies?

Like you FT, I hate this made up ‘fee’ for system access. $6.95 – whats that for? when pay as you go doesnt seem to charge it why does everyone else?

So I went with VM and I have nothing but good things to say about them.

– Easy to top up (direct debit or credit)
– Text paks to reduce cost of texting to 5c a text and free incoming
– Nice selection of handsets
– Great customer service
– Fairly long expiry of credit (always choose the $25 topup)
– Good network (very few areas i go that i have no reception)

Didnt know 7/11 and petro canada did mobile phone plans, but they look good value.

What network are 7/11 and petro canada on?

My contract with telus was up last year and i am jsut going month to month. This article is timely as I was considering moving to pay as you go. It seems the ‘bare’ minimum for a contract these days is about $50 a month. Looking at the rates, you could get a lot of minutes for that price.

As for the question about negotiating deals with cell phone co’s, yes I hear it is quite easy. When your contract is up or close to it, they’ll call you. Tell them you’re thinking of switching and they’ll offer you something. Net new subscribers is the biggest metric for them.

FYI, Telus has an Insiders plan right now which is 17$/mo + SAF for unlimited evenings and weekends (6pm-7am), voice mail, and caller id, plus some minutes. Only for new subscribers though.

great article… I do have a few questions

1) what network is the 7-11 phone on?

2) can you use this phone in the USA (and what are the costs associated with using it there?)

3) how do you know if you are running out of minutes?

4) and please confirm…. if I buy a phone, and set it up, and never use it for 10 minutes a YEAR, the cost would be the cost of the phone and about $25/year?

I really hate how they run the cell phone business in Canada. Its a joke really.

High fees and bad service!

I’m sorry I’m having a hard time concentrating. NL doesn’t have any 7/11s??? I don’t understand. Where do you buy your Super Big Gulps from (I might have to go for a refill since I spit a bunch out in shock when I read this post)?

Before you go prepaid – thought I’d share my experiences getting a great postpaid plan (ie. contract). If you’re on a contract and it’s due to expire, you usually get a call from your provider offering you some ‘deal’ to extend your contract. At this point, you offer to think about it, but they will leave you a contact number to call when you make up your mind. A few days later, you call them back and make up a story (ok, slightly unethical, but in the end, they’re still profiting off of you otherwise they won’t agree to this).

What story do you make up? Pick a big employer in the area, and say you work for them and that they have a corporate plan for their employees WITH A DIFFERENT PROVIDER that gives them:

xxx daytime minutes
yyy evening minutes
zzz features
for qqq price

You need to make it a plausible offer, so it’s best to do some google searches to find the best corporate plans people have actually been able to get in the real world. When you tell your provider about this deal, they may hmm and hum about it, but if you threaten to leave unless they match the deal, they *will* meet it (as long as you’re not unreasonable, ie. giving them details of a corporate plan that already exists, this is a good sanity check).

I did this with Bell Mobility in Ontario and got, for 2 phones (mine and my wife’s):
– A credit of $200 towards a new phone, plus credit of $150 towards a new phone for my wife
– 100 daytime minutes (shared between the 2 phones)
– unlimited evenings and weekends
– extended unlimited evenings/weekend (between 6pm and 8am)
– unlimited calling between the two phones
– 20 free calls to a ‘touch base’ phone number (typically your home land line)
– free long distance within canada on the weekends
– free call display on both phones
– no system access fee (this is one they can easily waive if you haggle)

Total = $48/month – for two phones! Only adder is GST.

So it’s possible to get quite a good deal. My sister got a deal for $22 including SAF for 100 daytime + unlim evenings/weekends and call display included through Rogers (plus credit towards a new phone if she desired), so it’s not just Bell either.

Hope that helps – it takes a bit of work but it can be done! The worst part of prepaid plans is that it’s tough to roam with them if you need to have a phone on vacation, but with a postpaid plan it’s never an issue (just buy a calling card to save on charges).

I don’t have much to add other than I use Telus’ pre-paid and I really like it. As Noblea said, you need to buy quite a few minutes (every month) to spend as much as a contract.

I don’t use my phone much and even though I only buy $10 per month I’ve accumulated 7 hours…


Through Fido Im currently paying $20/month + $6.95 SAF.
This was on a new contract that included a free $200 phone.

The plan includes:

250 daytime minutes (billed by the second)
Unlimited evenings and weekends
Unlimited Fido to Fido

OK, the wife and I went with the 7/11 pre-paid plan and it was excellent. It’s on the Roger’s network, so you get great access. You have to drop $100 on the phone up-front, but it runs on a sim-card so it’s reusable.

The minutes don’t just last 365 days, they last 365 days from the last refill. If you buy the $100 minutes they were (as of this summer) the best non-contract rate that you could find. We used the phone for long-distance calls (Winnipeg to Edmonton) and it was so cheap I’m not even sure that we were charged for the LD. We talked for over an hour, which would have been $18 at 30 cents/minute but it wasn’t anywhere near that. So I’m actually wondering about the summary above.

I’m in the US for the next “little while”, but we’ll be back in Canada several times in the next year and we’re planning to keep the phone around just b/c it’s so handy.

If you’re not a tech-nerd (like FT and his Sony camera-phone) or a hip student with money to burn, then I think that 7/11 is the best deal around. It’s perfect for the crowd that wants the cell phone convenience but doesn’t justify the $30+ / month that’s normally associated with a plan. If you still have a land-line at home, then this is probably the right setup.

All of the major providers give horrible rates on their “pay-as-you-go” b/c they want you to “upgrade” to contracted accounts. 7/11 doesn’t have this issue, they don’t care about contracts, so they do the best job at delivering non-contract accounts. Unless of course you don’t have a 7/11 anywhere in your province (but that just sounds nuts :) )

You should open a NL 7/11. I can hardly wait to visit and have a Jigg’s Dinner Taquito with my Super Big Gulp.

Another great post, thanks FT.

Got a question for you though. Do you know of ANY pre-paid or other phone services that offer TEXT ONLY packages or options?

I’ve been stuck in Bell contract hell for years and my contract finally comes up in a few months (yay!!!!!!) and I plan to drop Bell and never use them again. Also, I now have a crackberry for work and as such don’t have a need for a cellphone outside of texting, as work frowns on texting because they know you can use berry messenger to talk to office contacts for free.

So if I can manage to find someone that offers some kind of TEXTING/Data only service, without a contract, at a decent rate, I would be very happy. Suggestions, anyone?

MunEconomist: for a cell phone to replace a land line I HIGHLY recommend Telus. You can get a package for 250 min/mth (prime minuntes) and unlimited calling after 5pm for about $35/mth tax included. I just purchased one for my wife. Works out great..9 – 5 she is at work near a land line and after 5pm she can yak her heart away. Not sure if this would be as cheap as a pre-paid package in your case.

my 2 cents :)

Thanks for the advice Steve.

Does this have an exit surcharge to get out of this agrement then I think this will do me very well.

[…] When did Petro Canada start selling mobile phones? Million Dollar Journey ferrets out the existence of two more players in the pre-paid cell phone business. […]

I rarely use my cell phone, but my wife is a “heavy user.” I’ve considered moving to a minimal monthly plan for her and going to pay-as-you-go for my own phone. Thanks for providing some cost analysis.

I’m on the 7-11 speakout prepaid. So far, no issues, and I’ve been satisfied with the service. You just gotta wait and they do these promos every so often where they offer the phone free when you purchase $100 worth of airtime, good for 365 days.

Fido seems to be pretty reasonable….you can sign up for unlimited incoming calls for $1 a day and then get a cheap pay as you go card….most of my calls are incoming so this should work well for me….

Fido uses the Rogers network….plus there network is GSM which uses SIM cards which are great. You can get a SIM card in the US put it in your FIDO phone and use an American pay as you go card while in the US (though your number would be different) and you can do the same thing if you travel to Europe…just put in a European SIM card and away you go with a local European number….

Plus I hate being locked into anything….Pay as you go is the way to go….


Take a look at my plan, that has to be better than paying $1 per day.

The deal im on came with a 2 year contract, not too bad. Once you are done you are laughing.

did you recently sign up for this? I can’t seem to find it anywhere…

I got the plan through customer rentention. I believe calling Rogers customer retention are can also get you a similar package.

Just call and ask to quit (apparently this can even be done while under contract) and when they ask why, tell them your friend has a way better deal. Then let the negotiations begin.

I’ve been using 7/11 since September and it’s been working great for me. I don’t really use my cell phone, maybe 20 minutes/month. 7/11 have had a deal, every 3-4 months it seems, that if you buy the 100 card, you get a free phone (their most basic model, or they give you a credit on their more expensive models). When I got this deal, the phone came with 5 dollars of credit upon activation, so I waited to use up my 5 dollars, then added the $100 which gave me a couple of more months before the minutes expire. Now everytime I top up, my remaining minutes will roll over and be extended by another year. Great deal for an infrequent mobile user like myself.

I also don’t text, so I’m not worried about incoming text message price.

I tried virgin before 7/11, but their per minute costs kept increasing and the expiry on the minutes kept decreasing.

Before that I had bell and I too became tired of SAF. My minute use per month is lower than the cost of the SAF.

I guess I am at a disadvantage then if i’m starting fresh. I currently use pay-as-you-go with solo mobile. But thanks for the reply!

My family have both a Petro Canada phone and a Telus prepaid plan phone and have the following comments.

For petro Canada, it has good air time rate and long expiry date. You will be charged air time when someone leave you a voice mail and when you listen to it. You cannot check the voice mail using a land line. However, you can call customer service to ask them disable the voice mail. I have to do it as I got a lot of voice mails from someone I don’t know and it costed me airtime. I guess the phone number assigned to me was used by someone before.

Telus prepaid plan is good too. There is no charge when someone leave you a voice mail and you can check your voice mails using a land line without using any air time. If you have accumulated a lot of money in your prepaid plan, you can also use it for road side assistance and I think it costs about $40 a year.

My husband and I recently made the switch from Bell to Virgin Mobile. He is a heavy user (business) while I use my phone “recreationally” (usually under 200 minutes.)

The plan we chose (and have found to be great value) is the Virgin Mobile $10/month. Your $10/month gets you get voicemail, caller ID, call waiting etc (all included), NO system access fee, NO contract to sign, NO activation fee, great customer service (it’s quite unconventional), and a $0.10/minute rate all the time, anytime.

This plan functions a lot like a pre-paid…they take $10/month from my credit card to cover my plan, and then you purchase your minutes separately (either on cards or on auto-top-up) so you never run out.

What we like the most is that if we use 200 minutes, our charge that month works out to $30, not the $45-50 that it always ended up on the bell plan.

The other thing we really liked is that there is no contract, so we can track our monthly usage (especially my husbands) and if we find another plan out there that will work better we are only out the cost of the phone (they start at $49), as opposed to having to wait out the contract.

It might not work for everyone, but so far we have been more than happy and recommend it to anyone!


You should probably add “Hidden fees” to your table :-) Soem of them charge you for 911 access (at least 7-11), while some are not (Virgin).

Thanks for the info.

[…] Prepaid Wireless Plan Comparison […]

Does anyone know if these prepaid services (7/11 or Virgin) bill by the minite or by the second? for example if you where to make a call that lasted 35 sec, would you be charged a full minute? Thx

Virgin bills by the minute.

[…] Prepaid Wireless Plan Comparison by Million Dollar […]

[…] Prepaid Wireless Plan Comparison by Million Dollar […]

Thanks for the very concise comparison. I’m curious though.. how do MTS and Sasktel compare if they were to be included alongside the companies in your chart?

A big reason for me to sign up with Virgin is the fact that it simply isn’t one of the “big” telcos in Canada. I’ve consistently found that when I get a service from the “little guy” provider, I get better service and a better product than with the larger players.

Virgin is the first company that I’ve seen to effectively blend their prepaid offering with something that resembles a post-paid plan. Their biggest weakness, IMHO, is the limited selection of handsets.

[…] mentioned before that I don't use a lot of my minutes on the cell phone (see my prepaid wireless comparison post).  Regardless of this, I would feel naked without my cell phone.  It's almost […]

check this out… called Fido and said I need to disconnect because others are offering better deals, this is what they offered me:

$15 + taxes (no SAF) for 250 anytime minutes (per month).
Free VM, CD
no contract

If I take a 2 yr contract… any phone for free or $100 rebate :-)

Thanks FT for a great article.


JN: What you’re describing isn’t a prepaid plan, though – it’s a post-paid plan, albeit one without a contract.

A word of warning,

I hooked up with Virgin (through a 7/11 of all things) due to it having the cheapest phone on the shelf, an LG. The over-the-counter salesman told me that the phone had a sim card I could switch out. Unfortunately, I was misled. Virgin operates off of a CDMA network (as does Bell, etc.)and are not sim card compatible. So my preferred phone (one I was using on the Rogers network) is useless.

Make sure that if you wish to switch phones easily, go with a network that operates on SIM and not CDMA.

On the plus side, Virgin’s service people were quite helpful… except that I unintentionally agreed on a $40.00 per month plan when asking for pre-paid service. When asking to switch it back, I was informed that the computers lock the initial data in for a month. Still better than the close to $80 per month I was paying with Rogers, but not thrilling.