Marriott / Starwood Hotels Merger: Status Match, New Points Transfer Options

mr_spg2Marriott completed its acquisition of Starwood Hotels last week, and has already started the merging process for their loyalty rewards programs. Both programs will essentially be run separately for a while, but you can now match status and exchange points. The new name is Marriott International, although a full merger will not be completed until sometime in 2018. Here’s a quick summary of your options:

Manually link your Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and Marriott Rewards (MR) accounts at this Starwood page or this Marriott page. They will not be linked automatically. You can only link one MR account to one SPG account (and vice versa), so you’ll need to merge any duplicate accounts first.

If you are an elite member of one program, your status will be matched in the other program. SPG Preferred Plus = Marriott Silver. SPG Gold = Marriott Gold. SPG Platinum = Marriott Platinum.

You can transfer points both ways with no fees. 3 Marriott points = 1 SPG point. You can transfer up to the full balance of your account in increments of 1,000 points into the linked account. Ex. 1,000 Marriott points = 333 SPG points. 1,000 SPG points = 3,000 SPG points. Transfers should be instantaneous.

Points transfer and expirations. Transferring into Starwood will help extend your Starwood points expiration, but transferring into Marriott will not help your Marriott points expiration. If your Marriott points are really going to expire soon, just move them all over to Starwood? Taken directly from their Frequently Asked Questions:

If I transfer points from my Rewards account to SPG, does it count as activity against points expiration?
Transfers don’t count as a qualifying activity in the Rewards program, so transferring points won’t keep your points balance from expiring.

If I transfer points from my SPG account to Rewards, does it count as activity against points expiration?
SPG Starpoints don’t expire as long as your account remains active. Linking and transfers count as activity.

Possible new transfer options. You can now mix and match the various external partners to get improved or previously-impossible transfer options, including:

  • 60,000 Marriott points = 20,000 SPG points = 25,000 American, Hawaiian, Delta, or Alaska Airlines miles.
  • 18,667 Starwood points = 56,000 Marriott points = 25,000 United Airlines miles.
  • 90,000 Starwood points = 270,000 Marriott points = 120,000 Southwest points and 7 nights in a Marriott category 1-5 hotel. Why is this handy? Earning 110,000 Southwest Airlines points in one year will get you the Southwest Airlines Companion pass which lets you choose a friend to fly with you for free – for this year and the next! – your paid or points-redemption tickets. (If you want to do this, do it quickly, as this option may end prematurely…)

Credit card considerations. Given the 3:1 ratio, Chase Marriott card now has bigger relative sign-up bonus, but SPG American Express has earns more rewards on all everyday purchases.

  • Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Card can get you 80,000 + 7,500 Marriott points if you meet the purchase hurdle. 87,500 Marriott points = 29,166 Starwood points.
  • Starwood Preferred American Express can get you 25,000 Starwood points if you meet the purchase hurdle. You’ll also get 1 Starwood point per dollar spent = 3 Marriott points per dollar spent on all purchases.

Amazon Prints Promotional Codes: 50 Free 4×6 Photo Prints

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Amazon now does photo printing with Amazon Prints, starting at 9 cents each for 4×6 prints. Bound photobooks start at $19.99 for 8×11 with 20 pages included, then $1 for every 2 additional pages. Free standard shipping on all orders currently, with free expedited shipping on $15+ orders. Amazon’s list prices are cheaper than Shutterfly, although Shutterfly constantly offers coupon codes (and stacking of codes).

You will need either Amazon Prime or Amazon Drive, both of which cost money unless you are on a free trial. Amazon Prime users get free unlimited photo storage included in their $99 annual membership (30-day free trial), while Amazon Drive costs $59.99 a year for unlimited storage (3-month free trial). There is no longer a free tier.

Their current promotion is 50 free 4×6 prints with free standard shipping with the promo code BABY50FREEPRINTS.

I doubt Amazon is passionate about being in the photo printing business, but this a smart tactic to get all your data and photos on their cloud. If you store all your precious photos with Amazon, you’ll keep renewing your Prime membership to keep them from being deleted. In case you haven’t noticed… Amazon really, really wants you to get Prime.

I’m surprised Google hasn’t done the same thing, given they also offer unlimited free photo storage.

Ooma Hub Upgrade Offer: Discounted Telo + No Monthly Taxes and Fees

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I replaced my landline with Ooma VoIP home phone service over 6 years ago and and haven’t had a monthly bill since. This ended up being one of those deals where early adoption was rewarded. First there was no monthly fees, then it was about $1 a month, then about $3 a month. Today, buyers of the newest Ooma Telo are subject to the upfront equipment cost plus monthly taxes and fees of roughly $4.23 a month (varies by location). I’ve resisted upgrading to Telo as it would have forced me to give up my grandfathered monthly fee waiver.

If you are also a grandfathered Ooma Hub owner, you should check your e-mail for the following message titled “Important Service Update for Ooma Hub Owners”. (Thanks to the readers who asked me about this offer, as I would have probably deleted the e-mail.)

As a valued Ooma Hub owner and one of our earliest customers, we’d like to thank you for your support over the years.

As you may know, we discontinued technical enhancements and customer support for the first generation Ooma Hub product over three years ago. Recently, we made several network infrastructure upgrades for our Ooma Telo product, which unfortunately could cause Hub users to experience reduced service reliability due to the firmware limitations of the Hub.

As one of our earliest customers, we’d like to offer a special opportunity to upgrade to our latest Ooma Telo device for just $79.99 with free shipping. Plus, we’ll continue to waive the taxes and fees for the lifetime of your Telo device!1

When you upgrade to the Ooma Telo, you’ll enjoy better reliability and voice quality with PureVoice. Ooma Telo also supports HD Voice, integration with Amazon Echo, additional connectivity options like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and support for our whole family of accessories such as the Linx and HD2 Handset.

Okay, so $80 will get you a new Ooma Telo box and continued no monthly fees for the lifetime of the new box. Is it worth the upgrade? Some considerations…

Pros

  • My Ooma Hub is now 6 years old, and the fee waiver is only for the lifetime of the device. This offer would get a a new device and thus a new “lifetime”, which ideally would extend my fee waiver.
  • The Telo-exclusive features may interest you (better voice quality, Amazon Echo and Nest integration, Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, Linx and HD2 accessories). Some folks seem to love their Amazon Echo, and using a wireless Bluetooth headset may offer valuable convenience.

Cons

  • It costs 80 bucks.
  • The warning of “reduced service reliability” is rather vague. I’m still satisfied with the current voice quality, although I am not a heavy user.
  • Is it possible that my old Ooma unit is more reliable than the new Telo? Or am I just pushing my luck? Running for over 6.5 years x 24/7 is pretty great. I have a Macbook from 2006 that still runs fine.
  • Telo Basic users have to pay extra for certain services that are included for free with Ooma Core/Hub including caller ID name (not just number) and e-mail alerts of new voicemails. It is unclear if this upgrade will cause us to lose these free features.

Bottom line. If you are a heavy Ooma user, it may be worth taking advantage of this offer to “future-proof” yourself for perhaps another 5 years or more. If like me you are a light Ooma user thanks to unlimited cellular minutes and/or robo-calling politicians, then a potential loss would not be as severe. The original Ooma Hub advertised “free monthly home phone service for life” (of the equipment), so I suppose I’ll see how long that ends up being.

Join Fairmont Hotels President’s Club, Get 1,000 Free Aeroplan Miles

Here’s an offer for 1,000 free Air Canada Aeroplan miles if you sign up for the Fairmont Hotels President’s Club loyalty program and use the enrollment code FED16 (embedded in link). Be sure to enter your Aeroplan number (join free here) under the expandable section labeled “FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMS (OPTIONAL)” and select that plan as your earnings preference. You must join by November 15, 2016. Found via FFB.

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These bonus miles can be handy as Air Canada requires activity every 12 months to prevent Aeroplan miles expiration. The basic free tier of Fairmont’s loyalty program still gets your free room Wi-FI during your hotel stay.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard Review: 50,000 Points = $500 Limited-Time Bonus

BarclayCard Arrival World MasterCard

Limited-time bonus bump, updated review. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus(TM) World Elite MasterCard® is a travel rewards card that has opened up to new applications again, now with a limited-time sign-up bonus worth at least $500 and the annual fee is waived the first year. Here are the card highlights:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days – that’s enough to redeem for a $500 travel statement credit
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Redeem for travel or cash back statement credits, gift cards and merchandise.  Redemption values vary.
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • Chip technology, so paying for your purchases is more secure at chip-card terminals in the U.S. and abroad
  • Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months for each Balance Transfer made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, currently 16.24% or 20.24% or 23.244%, depending on your creditworthiness.  Please note, there is a fee for balance transfers
  • Complimentary online FICO® Credit Score
  • $89 annual fee waived for the first year

Rewards program details. With this card, you earn 2 miles per $1 spent on all purchases. There are no special categories. These miles (easier to think of them as points, really) are then redeemable towards travel booked from any merchant or retailer classified as Airlines, Travel Agencies & Tour Operators, Hotels, Motels & Resorts, Cruise Lines, Passenger Railways and Car Rental Agencies. That means you have the flexibility to redeem towards any airline purchase to any destination with no seat restrictions and no blackout dates.

So basically you just visit Delta.com or Expedia.com or Hilton.com and go buy a ticket with this credit card. You don’t need to use any specific portal. Let’s say you buy an airplane ticket for $250. Then, you visit your Barclaycard account website and you’ll offset your purchase. You’ll redeem 25,000 “miles” and see a $250 statement credit on your statement. (Accruing those 25,000 miles would have taken $12,500 in accumulated purchases, if not part of sign-up bonus or other incentive.) I’ve done this multiple times, and it always went smoothly with no issues.

Travel statement credit redemptions start at 10,000 miles for $100 toward a qualifying travel purchase of $100 or more made within the last 120 days. For example, you could use 10,000 points for a $100 credit towards a $200 plane ticket, if you wished.

On top of that, the card gives you a 5% miles rebate when you redeem for any travel. (The rebate was once 10% but has since been reduced.) So if you redeemed 50,000 miles, you would get 2,500 back in your account after about a week. Although this adds a layer of complexity, you can calculate that technically getting $500 of value out of 47,500 miles at 2X miles/$ spent works out to 2.11% cash back towards any travel.

Everything else (cash credits, gift cards, merchandise) offers a worse redemption ratio. Don’t bother. If you were going to bother, you shouldn’t get this card.

Comparison with alternatives. 2X miles is nice and the rebate adds a bit extra. However, this card also has an $89 annual fee that is waived for the first year. So for the first year you’re good, but the competition offers multiple cards earning close to 2% cash back with no annual fee at all. I’ll list them again below; see the card-specific reviews for details.

Doing the math, you would have to put over $80,000 in purchases on this card annually in order to get the 0.11% advantage to offset the $89 annual fee (after the 1st-year waiver). That’s a big number. Now, Barclaycard did offer me a second fee-free year when I called in to cancel the card a couple years back (your results may vary). This bought me enough time to spend all my miles. A backup option is to downgrade the card to the no annual fee version after a year. Barclays does offer instant approval; if you don’t get it call their credit analyst line at 1-866-408-4064.

Bottom line. Solid sign-up bonus. Flexible travel rewards card. Annual fee too high after the first year. Long-time readers know that I want to see a $500 net value over the first year before I try out a new credit card. Given the limited-time 50,000 miles/points is worth $500 on any travel purchase and the annual fee is waived during the first year, this card satisfies that hurdle. 2X miles on all purchases is also quite competitive. However, past the first year of ownership, I do not like the idea of eventually paying an $89 annual fee with a theoretical max of 2.11% back when I can get 2% back with no annual fee from other cards.

Free 1,000 Virgin America Points for Newsletter Sign-Up

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Updated. Now twice the points for twice the newsletters…

Get 500 free Elevate points when you sign up for the new Virgin America Hotels e-mail newsletter.

* Offer valid until September 30th, 2016. Only one email address is allowed and only one set of 500 points will be awarded per Elevate account number. Bonus reward points earned in this offer do not qualify towards Elevate Gold or Elevate Silver status. Please allow 10 days for your points to post from the promotion end date.

Get another 500 free Elevate points when you sign up for the new Virgin America Sports e-mail newsletter.

* Offer valid until September 30th, 2016. Only one email address is allowed and only one set of 500 points will be awarded per Elevate account number. Bonus reward points earned in this offer do not qualify towards Elevate Gold or Elevate Silver status. Please allow 10 days for your points to post from the promotion end date.

You’ll also extend the expiration of your points balance. Virgin America points expire after 18 months of inactivity. Virgin America is also merging with Alaska Airlines, so these should eventually become Alaska miles.

5% Cash Back Credit Cards: Rotating Categories Update 2016

Activation for 4rd quarter is now open! Do it now before you forget.

The credit cards below offer a hefty 5% cash back on certain categories that rotate each quarter. It takes a little extra attention, but I also rack up over a hundred dollars in additional rewards per year without changing my spending habits. None of these have an annual fee, so it costs me nothing to keep them all around. New cardmembers may also get an initial sign-up bonus.

Side tip: You can load up on gift cards to get the 5% back now but spend the gift cards later.

Chase Freedom VisaChase Freedom® – $150 Bonus 

From October 1st through December 31st, 2016 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Wholesale Clubs including Costco, BJ’s, and Sam’s Club
  • Department Stores including but not limited to JCPenney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack, Sears
  • Drug stores including Walgreens, CVS, Duane Read, and Rite Aid

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Enroll each quarter at ChaseBonus.com. As long as you activate by the end of the quarter the rewards are retroactive. All other purchases earn 1% back, with no tiers or expiration of rewards. Currently, the Chase Freedom® card is offering $150 bonus cash back if you sign up and make just $500 in purchases in your first three months and a $25 Bonus after you add your first authorized user and make a purchase within this same 3-month period. No annual fee.

Discover it 14 ImageDiscover it® Card

From October 1st through December 31st, 2016 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories:

  • Amazon.com
  • Sam’s Club
  • Department Stores

discoverq4_2016

Enroll after logging into your online account (look on the right-hand side). 5% rewards won’t apply until after you activate your rewards, so it is best to activate now before you forget. New applicants can get their earned Cash Back doubled at the end of the first year.

Citi Dividend Platinum Select Visa CardCiti® Dividend Platinum Select® Visa® Card (Existing cardholders only) From July 1st through September 30th, 2016 you can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in the following categories: (calendar):

  • Best Buy
  • Department Stores

This a grandfathered card that is no longer available to new applicants. Log into your online account or call 1-800-231-0891 to activate the rewards each quarter (starts upon activation, not retroactive). The total cash back limit is $300 earned per calendar year.

U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card. What makes this card unique is that you get to choose the two 5% cash back categories every quarter, out of a preset selection of niche categories like “Fast Food” or “Sporting Goods Stores”. You also get to choose a single 2% cash back category from a preset selection of broader categories like “Gas Stations” or “Grocery Stores”. 1% cash back on everything else. No limit on total cash back earned.

As you’ll see below, getting 2% is not that special, so this card is best if you spend significantly in the available niche categories. Also, you must remember to choose your categories each quarter! If you do not choose your categories, all purchases revert to only earning 1% cash back for that quarter.

Finally, get a better “Everything Else” card! Don’t settle for the “1% on everything else” that these cards offer. The following cards currently have the ability to offer cash back rewards as high as 2% or even greater. Please read my card-specific reviews for details.

“Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer. This site may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program.”  

“The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.”

Museum Day: Free Tickets Nationwide On Saturday, September 24, 2016

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Update: Available again. Museum Day Live! is an annual event hosted by Smithsonian magazine in which participating museums across the country open their doors to anyone presenting a Museum Day Ticket for free. This is in following the spirit of Smithsonian Museums, which offer free admission every day.

Registration is now open for Saturday, September 24, 2016. Find participating museums here. Request your ticket here. One ticket per valid email address. Each ticket provides general admission for ticketholder plus one guest. You must pick the specific museum during the ticket request process, and then download a PDF to print out as your ticket.

There are some cool museums around us that now cost $25 for adults and $10 for children, so this can be a significant savings depending on the size of your family. (Two adults can register, and that would allow four total people. Kids can also get their own tickets in case you bring along more people.)

Don’t forget to add the event to your calendar! I’ve probably forgotten about this half the times that I’ve registered.

Also see: Bank of America’s Museums on Us Program.

Uber and Android Pay: 50% Off 10 Rides (Up to $5 Each Ride)

uberpayUber and Android Pay are running a promotion offering 50% off 10 rides (up to $5 per ride) now through 10/15. No promo code required. The instructions they provide are pretty straightforward:

  • Download and set up Android Pay on the Play store
  • Open your Uber app
  • Add Android Pay as a payment option in the Uber app
  • Make sure to select Android Pay in the confirmation screen when requesting a ride and you will get 50% off 10 rides* (up to $5 per ride) now through 10/15
  • No need to apply any additional codes

* Supplies limited. Offer good for 10 rides. 50% off up to $5.00 off a trip requested using the Uber App and Android Pay. Only one offer per Uber account. Offer expires October 15th, 2016, or earlier at Uber’s sole discretion. No cash value. Valid in the US only.

Not a bad deal for regular Uber users. Thanks to reader Tom for the heads up.

Related: Through March 2017, Capital One and Uber also have a partnership that gets you every 10th Uber ride free up to $15 with the Capital One Quicksilver credit card (review).

Bonus Delta SkyMiles for Washington State Residents

If you are a resident of the state of Washington state and age 18+ (as indicated by your Skymiles account info), you can visit SeaHawks.com/12status and receive the following perks from Delta Airlines:

  • 1,200 bonus miles for new Skymiles members that join via link.
  • 500 bonus miles for every 12,000 sign-ups.
  • 1 bonus mile for each passing yard at Seahawk home games.
  • 1,200 bonus miles if the fans at CenturyLink Field on the Dec. 15 game against Los Angeles create enough noise to cause five (5) false start penalties against the visiting team.
  • Priority boarding when departing out of SeaTac Airport on Delta.

Looks like Delta just wants you to like them, as you don’t actually need to buy anything to be eligible.

Citibank $400 Checking Account Bonus

citi400Citibank has a $400 bonus offer for new checking account customers. Here are the highlights:

  • To qualify for a $400 cash bonus, open a new consumer checking account in The Citibank Account Package by 10/31/16.
  • Within 30 days from the date you opened your new checking account, deposit $15,000 or more in new-to-Citibank funds into your new checking account or new or existing Citibank Savings Plus account.
  • A minimum balance of $15,000 is required to be maintained in the new checking account or new or existing Citibank Savings Plus Account, for 30 consecutive calendar days following the date you made your qualifying deposit.
  • The cash bonus will be credited to your new checking account within 90 calendar days from the date when you completed all offer requirements.
  • To be eligible for this offer, you must not currently have a Consumer checking account with Citibank or have been a signer on or owner of a Citibank consumer checking account within the last 60 days.
  • Limit of one of each offer per customer and one offer per account.

Here are details for The Citibank Account Package:

  • $25 monthly service fee waived if you have $10,000 in combined average monthly balances.
  • Interest rate is a tiny 0.01% APY.
  • Free withdrawals from all Citibanks ATMs.
  • Citibank will waive their $2.50 fee for using non-Citibank ATMs, if combined average monthly balances in eligible linked accounts are met. However, you may still be charged a fee by the ATM owner itself.
  • No early account closure fee.

Let’s see… To start, you must not have had a Citibank consumer checking account within the last 60 days. Next, you’ll need to bring in $15,000 of money from a non-Citibank account, and keep it there for 30 days. You’ll need to keep $10,000 in your account to avoid the $25 monthly service fee. You’ll need to keep the account open for up to another 90 days (up to 120 days total) until the $400 bonus arrives.

It is not clear if you need to keep you account at the “Citibank Account” package level past the first 30 days. To be safe, you may want to keep it at that level ($10,000 minimum balance) until the bonus shows up. After that, you may downgrade to their Basic or Access levels with much lower minimum balance requirements, or you may choose to eventually close out the account after that if it doesn’t work for you.

Worth the effort? If you had $15,000 sitting in a 1% APY savings account, you’d earn $50 of interest over 4 months. So you could view this as $350 in extra interest over 4 months. Alternatively, if you earn $400 of interest on a $15,000 balance over 120 days (also ~4 months), that works out to roughly a 8% annualized interest rate. If you take out $5,000 after 30 days and keep $10,000 in there, your effective interest rate will be even higher, closer to 10% annualized interest rate for those 4 months. If the bonus arrives earlier, you could do better. At these assumed balance levels, you will avoid all monthly account fees. Note that the $400 will be reported on a 1099-INT form. Thus your interest is taxable as ordinary income, but any monthly fees you pay are not tax-deductible.

RingPlus: Basic, Free Cellular Phone Service Plans (Now With a Catch)

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Updated September 2016. Ringplus has updated their Terms of Service, effective 9/6/2016, that greatly expands their ability to terminate your service at their discretion. In particular, please note the following new terms:

20. If your talk, text or data usage exceeds your total voice, text or data usage for any prior billing cycle in the immediately prior 6 months by 50%, RingPlus may, in its sole discretion and with notice, expire, suspend, terminate or downgrade your Service. You may appeal such decisions to the Ethical Committee in the RingPlus Social forum at https://social.ringplus.net. In cases involving expiration of accounts, you will be given 7 days to port-out to preserve your phone number.

22. If your talk, text or data usage exceeds the average use of talk, text or data by all RingPlus Members, RingPlus may, in its sole discretion and with notice, expire, suspend, terminate or downgrade your Service. You may appeal such decisions to the Ethical Committee in the RingPlus Social forum at https://social.ringplus.net. In cases involving expiration of accounts, you will be given 7 days to port-out to preserve your phone number.

I get it. Some RingPlus users are gobbling up many gigabytes of free data each month and are costing them big bucks. However, these news rules are like allowing the government a webcam in your house “to catch the bad guys”. Customers should not have to give R+ such wide-ranging powers in order to get rid of a few abusers. For example, T-Mobile simply throttles their unlimited data once you exceed the usage of 97% of users (~27 GB per month). The new terms are so broad that they constitute the ability to terminate their most unprofitable customers at any time, without notice, even after they may have already committed upfront deposits.

It may be unlikely they will enforce these rules to the extent allowable, but it is still scary and unnecessary that they have added the capability (and just promise not to use it). Let me repeat: I would not rely up RingPlus service for serious needs. Have a backup plan. Enjoy it while it lasts, but don’t commit big bucks upfront. It’s cheap, and it may go on for months or even another year. However, I do expect more restrictions to come over time, as their growth slows and they start needing to make a profit. If you are attached to your phone number, be ready to port out in 7 days.

March 2016 update. It has been six months and I have been enjoying my free cell phone service from RingPlus with no hassles or unexpected charges. I still don’t use it for my primary business/personal line, but at this point I’d be comfortable using it as a kids’ or grandparents’ low-usage line. It’s tough to beat $0 a month (not even taxes!). Some quick points for prospective new customers:

  • They are still rolling out new plans all the time. As of today, a new member can still get 1000 minutes, 1000 texts, and 1000 mb of data for $0 a month ongoing with a one-time $25 upfront balance top-up. I still have my initial $10 top-up sitting in my account. Be sure to read the rules.
  • Starting April 17th, you can no longer buy a new prepaid phone and activate it on RingPlus. Up until now, you could for example buy a $50 Moto E meant for Boost Mobile but activate it on RingPlus instead with no problems (assuming it was brand new and had never been activated on Boost Mobile). The Moto E is a very decent phone for fifty bucks. But starting April 17th, Sprint won’t allow this anymore. The good news is that if you activate before that date, Sprint has agreed not to retroactively kick phones out. If interested, get yours before the deadline! Details here.
  • You can still buy eligible used, off-contract Sprint phones. Be sure to verify eligibility with this BYOD checker. Right now, you can get a used Sprint Samsung S4 for about $100 or a used Sprint Apple iPhone 5 for about $130 on Swappa.com.
  • In general, the customer service is spread quite thin, so you should be willing to navigate their forums for some self-directed help.

Original post:

RingPlus is a Sprint MVNO that offers cheap cellular phone plans, starting at… $0. You can bring over an off-contract Sprint phone (check eligibility) or you can buy one from them (slightly more expensive that on secondary market). They make money partially from ads – ads play whenever you call someone instead of the normal ringing. When your friend picks up, the ad stops immediately. You also pay for any overages past your free allotment. There are no contracts and no activation fees.

Recently, Ringplus has been aggressively courting new customers with limited-time plans. RingPlus free plans are usually only open a for a limited window, and then it closes for a while. But recently, their plans have been getting more generous, with special super-generous plans available for a few hours only. These have very little notice, but it’s worth checking their site daily if you are very interested. For example, I was able to jump on a plan with 1000 min, 1000 text, and 1000 mb every month for free. The fine print states that I must keep a non-zero balance, otherwise I will be charged a $10 top-up that will apply to any future overages.

Here are all their current plans and details on promo plans. Be sure to read the whole page for the rules for each specific plan. If you miss one round, be on the lookout for future phases. The most important thing is to find an eligible phone and activate it during the window. It can be an ancient flip phone from Virgin Mobile (Sprint MVNO). Later, you can swap the phone out for 99 cents and keep the free plan.

You will need a credit card on file, although some of their plans don’t even require a credit card (but come with much fewer free minutes). No additional activation fee. Not even additional taxes are due on the zero plans (taxes are due on top-ups). Here’s a screenshot of their current plans, but again they change daily.

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Here’s a screenshot of my dashboard that tracks your usage:

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Are there any catches?

  • You have to sign up for their free plans during certain availability windows. That means you’ll need the ESN of an eligible off-contract Sprint phone waiting around, ready to go. If you’re like me, you have to resort to asking all your friends if they have any old Sprint phones you can have.
  • In the past, RingPlus has discontinued their free plans without much notice if they can’t line up enough advertisers in your calling area. That would be annoying, especially if you invested good money into a Sprint phone. Have a backup plan.
  • Honestly, I don’t know if giving away this much free talk and data is a viable business model. They are definitely trying to grow customer base and sacrifice short-term profitability. Again, know that they may cease operations with little or no notice. Plan ahead as to how you would quickly port your number to another cheap service.
  • If your phone is not eligible, then they may de-activate your plan in the future, even if you manage to activate it initially.
  • You must maintain activity on your plan. If you don’t make a call every 60 days (may differ by plan), they will de-activate your account and you’ll have to pay a fee to re-activate.
  • If you do sign up and decide to link your credit card, know that overages cost 2 cents per text, minute, or MB. MMS picture messages are at an additional cost (4 cents each). Roaming is available, but those overages are much more expensive. I would disable roaming completely on your phone to avoid such surcharges.
  • In case you were wondering, this is not a VoIP-only service like FreedomPop as normal calls use the Sprint voice network. However, free WiFi calling is an option so you can save your minutes.

Bottom line. You could save a lot of money on RingPlus free/cheap plans if you are willing to devote some sweat equity into figuring it all out. I currently use them for my non-critical, light-usage phone lines without issue. However, I would NOT be surprised if they discontinued or change the rules of their plans very quickly, maybe even without any notice. Enjoy it while it lasts, but have a backup plan.