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More Cellular Back Door Secrets & Short Cuts
Great ideas you won't get from your wireless carrier


Almost every carrier has plans they don't advertise. Most of them are cheaper plans that include fewer features than their regular plans. In most cases, the only way to find out about these plans is to press a Customer Service agent for more information. Some plans only 'appear' when you threaten to leave the carrier, although these plans are not supposed to be considered "retention" plans, but that's what they are. Some plans have discounts for customers who belong to certain groups and aren't really "plans", and these discounts need to be applied to your account. If you don't want to threaten to cancel, ask if there are offers "to keep me as a customer." This doesn't work if your carrier doesn't have live customer service.


Although this is now less of a problem, one of the most common self-inflicted wounds is running out of minutes or Data before you run out of month. In many cases the carriers will be able to spot you some extra to help you get through the tough times. As with any call to Customer Service, you might need to press the issue. Don't use additional "force", just use multiple pleas. You might use the terms, "what can I do?" instead of "what can you do?" The agent needs to look at your records to see if you've been naughty or nice. Don't expect to be given anything if you're always asking. Quite often the request for extra minutes or data for this month goes down a little easier when you ask for a more expensive plan for next month. Some carriers will change your plan retroactively, and some will now do it without a contract extension. Often you can change back if your circumstances change again. Some carriers offer "no-overage" features.

If your carrier doesn't have "Customer Service,"  you can change plans on their web site which may involve a higher monthly charge, but usually not a penalty or overage fee.

There are several possibilities why you can't make a voice call, and it often happens when you need it most!  Here's what you might experience and what to do about it:
    Visit our page: "Text Messaging Gets Through When Others Don't"

    This usually happens when your phone can access the cell tower, but there are no connections available from there.  You can bypass the cell site and enable "Wi-Fi Calling" on your phone.  If your phone uses VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) or data channels for calls, you can also make calls by switching to Wi-Fi Calling.  If you're already using Wi-Fi Calling, the reverse may be true, turn off Wi-Fi Calling (or Wi-Fi entirely) and use cellular.

    Your phone can't access a usable cell site.  First try another location, go outside, get higher or more out in the open.   Still no signal?  Send a Text, even to 911. Even if the phone finds a signal for only a few seconds, your message could be sent.
    Even if no bars are showing, you can make a call to 911 if there is any cellular network available, even if your phone has no SIM! Your phone might need to be forced to another network. Look in your menu for "Choose networks" or similar to see if another network is available, including Wi-Fi.

    How dire is your situation?  Your phone could be used as a signal mirror. The smooth surface of your screen can reflect sunlight which could get someone's attention.  At night, you can use your phone's flash light.  Do you know how to send "SOS" in Morse Code (The International Distress Signal)? Use your hand to send the dots and the longer dashes.

You're on vacation and want to check your Voice Mail, but it won't work. Most likely, your wireless phone was programmed with a special code to call Voice Mail such as "*VM" or holding the "1" button. If you're roaming outside your network's service area, the network you are using may not recognize that command.  Instead, just call your own wireless number, followed by a "*" or "#" to access your own features.More If you're out of the country, an additional dialing sequence is required. Most phones will add the sequence for you by adding a "+" before the voice mail access number.

Most likely, none of your phone book entries will work outside the US without adding the proper Long Distance sequence. This can be prevented by adding "+1" before every entry in your phone book.  "1" is the country code for all North American phone numbers.  If you already have all your numbers entered, you only need to change the ones that you might be calling from outside the country.  At least add a "+1 [your 10-digit phone number]" to access your Voice Mail.  Most phones let you enter a "+" by holding the "0" (zero) button. You may also be able to check your carrier's web site or customer service for instructions on what to do if you travel off their network or out of the country.

▶  Look for more wireless roaming tips at The Roaming Zone.


Where were you when you realized you left your phone on the kitchen counter?  Most likely you had driven about 5 miles in your car.  Do you really want to go back, tripling your distance?  The solution is a 'Glove Box phone'.  This is your cheapest phone with the cheapest plan.  You get peace of mind for very few bucks.  There are several low-cost ways to outfit your glove box:
    In most cases you can activate your old phone with a prepaid plan. There are also options with some prepaid carriers to include a Free or low-cost phone just for signing up for service.  However, since we're looking at dirt-cheap plans, you may want to search for a leftover phone from a friend.

    Yes, you could use that phone for Free, check our Free wireless options, but you'll have a bit more confidence with a small plan.  Talk and Text plans start as low as $5 per month.  You might find a old Pay-as-you-go plan for a little as $10 per year. If cost is not important, you can add the Glove Box Phone as another member of your 'family' plan, lowering the plan cost per phone.

    You need to use a fairly recent phone.  3G, and non-LTE phones are being phased out. You can use one for the short term, but what happens when you need it the day after they deactivate the old network?

    You need it charged.  After a few months of forgetting about it, the day you need it the battery is dead.  The easy way to prevent this is to also throw in a cheap mobile charger

    You need to refill the plan.  With the lowest-cost plans you'll need to add some money to it and that may need to be done by a certain date.  Look for a plan that allows 'auto-refill', or plans with refills once or twice a year.  Put the date in your daytimer, or better yet, on your regular phone's calendar.  Feel free to renew your plan early when you think of it.  Refilling early ensures you keep your old minutes.

When you have a communications problem, like during a hurricane, getting "All Circuits Busy", not enough 'bars' on your phone and the like, consider sending a Text Message. It works when trying to contact any other wireless subscriber and all you need is their phone number. This is your backup for when there is a power outage, you're in a bad coverage area, or you're at a convention and everybody else is using their phone.

This is a great way to communicate when severe weather cuts you off. Your phone will 'hold' the message until it can receive a clear signal, then sends it. Some phones hold the message longer than others, so check periodically to see if the message needs to be re-sent. It is also an inexpensive way to communicate internationally as Text is billed at rates much lower than voice calls, sometimes Free. Additionally, you should become aware of how other callers can send a Text Message to you, in case the emergency is at their end. Be aware that phone numbers from text messages may be different than numbers shown on a voice call especially if the caller uses a VoIP or VoLTE (data) circuit. Make sure you're Texting a wireless number and not a landline.

In many areas of the US, you can send a Text to 911 to get serious help. If you can't call, try to Text. Don't test it to find out, call your nearest dispatch center on a non-emergency number and ask if and where Text to 911 works, before you need it.


Don't assume you always save with a "Family" plan. Consider separate plans for each user to get more features, or pay less, for each. Also, you might be paying more for "unlimited" features, like Data and Text, when an "a la carte" or fixed amount plan could save you substantial fees. Sit down with 6 months of your bills, or lacking that, look at how you used your phone over the last few months and compare your charges to your usage. The major carriers offer an analysis of your usage on their "my account" pages. There could be better "bundles" and features available now than when you first signed up.

On the other hand, you can also add "family" members to your plan to lower the cost per member. Not every member of a Family plan needs to be a blood relative and does not need to live in the same house...or even the same city.  If you want 5G, make sure your phone can access 5G and that your carrier actually offers 5G in your neighborhood. Just because they claim 5G in your town doesn't mean it's available at your specific location.

If you're not sure you're paying the best price, consult the 
Cheaper Wireless page. There are a number of ways to get your wireless for less including
Prepaid, changing plans, changing carriers and more.

More Wireless Secrets and Short Cuts