Personal Finance

Back To School Cell Phone Deals

7-Eleven SpeakOut Wireless is one of the best pay as you go deals available in Canada. You pay $100 + tax and it is 20 cents a minute and 4 cents a text message incoming and outgoing. The airtime expires in 365 days. Here is the catch: they charge you 79 cent a month for 911 fees. The number of regular minutes that you have is slight lower than officially advertised. Here is how you would calculate the effective minutes: (125 – 12*.99)/.25 = 452 minutes a year. So it is slightly less than advertised 500 minutes a year. SpeakOut Wireless has one of the cheaper Canadian and US long distance rate of 16 cents a minute for this plan.

SpeakOut Wireless’ definition of long distance is different than other Canadian wireless carriers. If you are outside of your local calling area, all outgoing and incoming calls are considered long distance. However, SpeakOut Wireless’ local calling area is much larger than most Canadian wireless carriers. All numbers covered with the same area code is considered in the same local calling area. The entire southern Ontario with the area code of 519, 226, 416, 647, 905, and 289 is considered as one local calling area. SpeakOut Wireless’ local calling area and long distance policies are superior to its competitors in most cases. The local calling chart is available here.  Canadian area code map can be found here.

7-Eleven SpeakOut Wireless’ Back to School promotion is 50% off any SpeakOut Wireless phone. 7-Eleven SpeakOut Wireless recently released the Nokia 5130 XpressMusic for $139.99. With the 50% discount, Nokia 5130 XpressMusic would cost $70, a decent deal for a mp3 phone with a basic camera. Rogers sells the same phone for $99.99. The bad part is that 7-Eleven SpeakOut Wireless’ Nokia 5130 XpressMusic is locked, which means you cannot use this phone in US, Europe, or Asia with a local SIM card. It might be eventually possible to unlock this phone in the future. An unlocked Nokia 5130 XpressMusic in Hong Kong costs $164.99 CAD (1180 HKD). So the Nokia 5130 XpressMusic seems to be competitively priced from 7-Eleven SpeakOut Wireless.

The first year cost of this solution is ($100 + 70$) * 1.13 = $192.10 (5% GST, 8% PST)

Medium Usage without Contract

Virgin Mobile Canada has a monthly prepaid plan that is pretty good with no contract. You pay $20 a month for 200 minutes and 10% bonus credit with automatic topup by credit card.  So basically it is 10 cents a minute with an extra credit for add-ons.  Prepaid monthly plans come with call display, voicemail, minutes tracker, and no contracts.

Virgin Mobile’s Back to School promotion is a $50 dollar activation credit for Prepaid Phones. The activation credit can be used for the add-ons in combination with 10% bonus top up credit. There are some basic mp3 phones from Virgin Mobile like Samsung R610 for $79.99, Samsung Link for $99.99, and LG Rumour2 for $129.99.

In the first year, there should be a total of $74 of additional credit on the account from $50 activation credit and $2 a month top up bonus credit. Additional credit on Virgin Mobile prepaid account can be used for add-ons. Add-ons can be found here.

The biggest downside to Virgin Mobile prepaid is that 30 cents a minute is charged for Canadian and US long distance.

The first year cost of this solution with the purchase of Samsung R610 is ($79.99 +$20*12)*1.13 = $361.59. (5% GST, 8% PST).

Medium to Heavy Usage with Contract

If you need a regular monthly plan that is more comprehensive, you should get a 2 year or 3 contract with one of the big names. When searching for a plan and a phone, ask if any promotional or epp plan is available. It is usually around $45 a month after add-ons and taxes.  After a year or a year and half, you can call customer retention department and ask for a retention or loyalty plan, which offers two to three times the value of a regular plan at a slightly lower price for $30 to $35 including tax.

Bell, Rogers, and Telus have released their back to school student plans. Even though, these plans are better than retail plans, they are not as good as the retention plans or some epp plans.

$25 Plan Comparison

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$35 Plan Comparison

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$50 Smartphone Comparison

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These student plans are very expensive and are not ideal unless the cost of a part of the plan can be waived. One way of saving money on retail plan is to only get the Call Display without Voicemail. Fido, Koodo, Virgin Mobile and Solo Mobile are slightly more competitively priced if some of the features listed above are not needed.

Some basic examples:

The annual cost of a $30 retention plan is $30*12*1.13 = $406.80.

The annual cost of a $55 smartphone retention plan is $55*12*1.13 = $745.80.

The annual cost of a $40 retail plan is $40*12*1.13 = $542.40.

The annual cost of a $75 smartphone retail plan is $75*12*1.13 = $1017.

These costs are estimations and do not include the subsidized cost of a phone or contract break up fees. In conclusion, cell phone contracts can be very expensive, but if landline fees (approximately $25 a month) can be saved, the real cost of cell phone portability is not as high as it seems. Cell phones plan need to be customized to the individual’s needs and circumstances. Last, but not not least, you should always ask if there are any promotions since the salespeople are instructed not to tell their customers about some of the special promotions unless asked.

Going Over the Border to the US

US roaming minutes from Canadian providers can be really expensive. Customer retention departments at Bell and Telus have been known to give out some decent US roaming solutions. Rogers and Fido do have some US roaming plans and there is a possibility that customer service or retentions can give a discount off the retail price.

Tmobile pay as you go is the best in the US if more minutes are needed. Tmobile uses GSM so it is compatible with unlocked GSM phones by using a Tmobile SIM card. Unfortunately, Rogers and Fido lock most of their phones. For Tmobile pay as you go, the airtime is $100 US + tax upfront and there are 1000 minutes a year. This is equivalent to $8.34 US + tax a month for 83 minutes a month. Your usage is very flexible and instead of minutes, you can use it on text messages. In the US, pay as you go does not charge long distance on top of regular minutes. So feel free to call from one state to another. The only limitation with Tmobile pay as you go is the  $0.60 a minute to call from US to Canada.

Phone Cards

The most popular and reliable phone card in Canada is CiCi. There are no connecting fees and customer service can be reached if needed. It comes in denominations as low as $5. It expires in 6 months.

The phone card I use is called Link Calling Card. It comes in $5 and $10 denominations. The exact cost per minute is not specified and customer service cannot be reached from personal experience. However, I find that Link Calling Card provides at least twice as many minutes as a CiCi card if not more in some cases. Link Calling Card expires in 8 weeks. For people who use their phone cards often, I recommend trying $5 Link Calling Card if possible. Link Calling Card is available at many convenience stores.


The Canadian cell phone costs are higher than most developed countries. 7 Eleven SpeakOut Wireless is a decent solution for people with light usage and Virgin Mobile Monthly Prepaid is a decent solution for people with medium usage. Retention plans are the ultimate goal for people with high usage or data needs. Find the plan that fits your needs and read the contract carefully before signing anything.

64 replies on “Back To School Cell Phone Deals”

Very interesting post! I actually might grab the 7-Eleven SpeakOut Wireless (for my very occasional use, $200 / year might be reasonable especially considering it also has a camera and music). Thanks for researching this and writing it up!

It’s kind of disgusting that a “$25 / month” plan adds up to $50 / month once all the hidden fees are added in…

It?s kind of disgusting that a ?$25 / month? plan adds up to $50 / month once all the hidden fees are added in?

Kind of like airline tickets. 🙂

Wasn’t there legislation against airline carriers about advertised flight prices?

I have 2 family members on the 7-eleven pay as you go. This is probably the best deal out there right now.

Petro Canada mobility also deserves mention for low usage folks.

They sell unlocked Nokia phones, so they can be used anywhere. The $100 air time expires in 1 year as well.

Mr Cheap: You are right that the first year cost is about $200, but you can add as little as $25 + tax in the following years to keep the airtime that you have already paid for.

Brian: 7-Eleven SpeakOut Wireless is good light users. People like me who does not have a home phone need a retention plan to meet high usage needs.

nobleea: Petro Canada’s phones are unlocked according howardforum, but no one is able to confirm that. 7-Eleven’ Nokia XpressMusic 5130 is newer, fancier, and cheaper ($70 vs $79) than Petro Canada’s Nokia 3555. 7-Eleven’s effective rate is 20 cent per minute vs Petro Canada’s 25 cent per minute. 7-Eleven’s effective rates for text messages and 9-11 fees are 4 cents each and 79 cents a month respectively vs Petro Canada’s 5 cents each and 99 cents a month. 7-Eleven’s ultra large local calling area is superior than Petro Canada’s traditional local and long distance definitions in most cases. 7-Eleven charges 16 cent a minute for long distance, while Petro Canada charges 20 cent a minute for long distance. I am unable to recommend Petro Canada, since 7-Eleven is slight cheaper in most cases. Petro Canada raised their prices this year I believe, so 7-Eleven is the cheaper choice.

If you are interested in Petro Canada pay as you go, someone on howard forum recommended Rogers pay as you go, since Rogers pay as you go charges 25 cents a minute for the first 5 minutes each day and 15 cents afterward. Rogers pay as you go has unlimited incoming calls from other Rogers pay as you go customers. This can be a good deal for a family members. Rogers pay as you go charges 50 cent a month for 911 fees. The bad part about Rogers pay as you go is that Rogers charges everytime your voicemail is used, whether a call is not picked up or you are accessing your voicemail. People who use Rogers pay as you go should deactivate the voicemail service. With Rogers pay as you go, you need to purchase $3 a month 30 text messaging package or else all incoming text messages are charged at 15 cents each. Rogers long distance rate is 30 cent minute so that is a minus.

If you are comfortable about paying 25 cent a minute, Telus is a good option. You pay $10 + tax a month automatically through your credit card, so that would be $120 + tax a year. The good part about Telus is that after a year or a year and half, you are allowed to get a retention plan from Telus and use your unused airtime toward a nice phone. Retention plans cost $30 to $35 dollars a month and meet the needs of most people, who need to talk quite a bit on the phone. Telus will be getting their HSPA (3G GSM) network in 2010, so global phone compatibility will no longer be an issue by that time.

For most people, I think 7-Eleven is the best for light usage.

I used to have horrible, and I mean horrible surprises whenever I got my bills at the end of the month for AT&T. Now that I’ve switched to Net10’s prepaid cell phones, I am absolutely in love. I broke my contract from AT&T once I found out about Net10’s great deals. I’m saving so much money and I’m so happy that now I don’t have to worry about any contracts that tie me down.

Anita: My post was on Canadian cell phone usage. AT&T also has retention plans. If Net10 works for you, good for you. I am a heavy user so a retention plan is the way to go.

I’m sending my kids to school this week. They are entering 8th grade and 6th grade. I just bought them each a brand new TracFone from WalMart for 10 dollars. It has many features including texting and long distance calls. They love it because it is a camera phone and is “cool” so they can show them off. I love it because I buy a card for 20 dollars and they’re good for 60 minutes worth of talking and the service is available for 90 days. On top of that great deal, I do NOT have to pay activation fees, cancellation fees, or overage fees.

Anita: A basic phone for $10 is a really good price for kids. However, 60 minutes for $20 is definitely on the expensive side. It is 33 cents a minute. You probably should buy Tracphone minutes on their website, since you get more.

Look at the phone that you bought and whether it comes with double minutes for life promotion. If the phone doesn’t have double minutes for life promotion, call in and argue for it. I think that your family deserves $20 for 120 minutes, which is 16 cents a minute and comparable to its competitors.

Ben: The video is a bit extreme and the message isn’t for everyone. A lot of people need cell phone contracts, because monthly plans give more minutes and contracts are used to subsidize a phone.

Net10 offers ten cents a minute, which is really great. However, let say that I need 300 daytime minutes and 700 evening and weekend minutes for a total of 1000 minutes, T-mobile has a 29.99 USD monthly plan for that. If I went with Net10, I would be paying 100 USD a month. There is the other side of the spectrum, where someone only uses 100 minute a month and pay 60 USD for a monthly plan. Do the calculation and figure out which kind of solution is the best for you.

Mr. Cheap: Glad to hear that.

Anyone that need a 7 eleven SpeakOut Wireless referral can leave a comment on this blog.

Totally confused. Never had a cellphone, on the 711 site, it says the vouchers are good for 356 days, but then says its 90 days, what?? Now, can I buy a $100 voucher and have it be good for the full year, even if I never add to it? Do these cellphone providers take university level courses in how to confuse the public?

hagbard: I’m not sure what the 90 days is for, but the $100 voucher is for 365 days (maybe the 90 days is for a lower value increment). My understanding (I’ve bought it) is that it’s good for a full year, without me having to pay anything else (as long as I don’t talk very much)

hagbard: I can confirm that $100 voucher is good for 365 days from personal experience. I think the confusion is that you need to redeem your airtime within 90 days of purchase. Once you buy the voucher, you need to redeem it within 90 days. If you buy Nokia Xpress 5130 with $100 of airtime, you need to add $100 airtime to your number within 90 days of purchase. Once you add $100 airtime to your number, it will lasts for 365 days.

Another issue is that 7 eleven SpeakOut Wireless can deactivate your number if you did not use your account for 120 days, but the airtime will still be there and the phone can be reactivated by calling 7 eleven SpeakOut Wireless.

Do you need a referral code? It gives free $10 of airtime for both parties. More info is available here: . Leave a message here and I will email you the referral code.

I have to buy 200 hours of airtime in the year? Having read the site, I though I paid for $10o of airtime up front, and as long as I add to it before the end of the year ($20 or more) I’m fine. No?

As for the referral code, can I use it instore?

hargbard: I do not know where your “200 hours of airtime in the year” comes from. 200 hours = 12000 minutes = 2400 dollars @ 20 cents a minute. You do not need to spend $2400 a year for 7-Eleven SpeakOut Wireless.

The first year cost is ($100 + 70$) * 1.13 = $192.10 (5% GST, 8% PST)

You will get a basic mp3 camera phone Nokia Xpressmusic 5130 and $100 of airtime. The phone comes with a $5 credit and the referral code gives you a $10 credit. The number of minutes in a year would be 452 minutes for $100 airtime and 60 minutes from the additional $15 of credit.

You call into SpeakOut Wireless customer service from your phone by pressing *611. You give customer service your referral code. More info is available here: .

Mike: Of course @ 7-11. Need a referral code?

I thought 711 only sold large pops and beef jerky. 🙂

The one near where I work was sold out of the 5130 so I’ll try a different one later.

Henry – can you email your referral code to me? Do you want me to put the code into the post? It might get you a few extra minutes.

I think I’ll have to do a post on this deal – it’s quite good.

Mike: The referral codes are unique and can only be used once. 7-11 allows each referee to get 3 referral codes a month and each referral code expires in 15 days.

Anyone who needs a referral code can leave a comment in this blog. A referral code will be sent to you either by Mike, Henry, or Mr Cheap.

7-11 SpeakOut Wireless is a perfect pay as you go for people use a landline as their main phone.

Oh, I meant $200 of vouchers. Referring to your comment “you need to add $100 airtime to your number within 90 days of purchase”. That’s $100 upfront and an additional $100 within 90 days. Not a good deal. I won’t use the original $100 in a year.

So, I’m asking, can I buy the $100 voucher and the phone and not buy any more vouchers over the year? And yes, I’d like the referral.

Hagbard – you only buy $100 worth of minutes – that’s it.

When you buy the phone you also buy the $100 worth of minutes in order to get 50% off the phone. Within 90 days you must call to activate those minutes (you don’t buy more of them). Once the minutes are activated they last for 365 days unless you buy more minutes. If more minutes are purchased then the expiry date for all your outstanding minutes is 365 days from the top-up date.

hagbard: Go back to the store. Your unit is not complete without a charger. I sent the referral code. I highly recommend paying extra for Nokia XpressMusic 5130.

Hi, it does have a charger, just not a car charger. Was it supposed to include that as well? I choice the cheapest they had because if I end up using it alot, I’ll buy a nice unlocked Roger’s compatible phone.

Did everything to activate and it didn’t. Called and they said they had a backlog of activations and to wait at least an hour. Decided to plug it in and charge it up, there’s no indication that its doing anything. Don’t these things usually light up or flash or something when their charging?

hagbard: I don’t believe any of the models have a car charger unfortunately.

My experience with Nokia 1208 is that the screen light up when charging. Have you tried a different socket in the wall?

All of 7-11 SpeakOut Wireless phones are compatible with Rogers network and Rogers SIM card. Basicly 7-11 SpeakOut Wireless phones are locked to Rogers network. So you can use Nokia XpressMusic 5130 with Rogers if needed. Due to the way it is locked, 7-11 SpeakOut Wireless phones cannot be used with Fido SIM cards. For $40 extras, you get a basic camera, mp3 player, and bluetooth with the Nokia XpressMusic 5130. It is a good deal and I am sure you will not regret it. Mr Cheap got Nokia XpressMusic 5130 and he thinks it is pretty good.

You can buy a car charger from cell phone booths, the Source, or Futureshop. They retail for $40 at the Source and Futureshop, but you can get them at the cell phone booths for around $20. Regular prices are a bit high and you should wait for a sale or something.

To summarize my last comment, 7-11 SpeakOut phones are Roger’s compatible.

They only had two models in my local store, this one and the flip phone. The next nearest 711 is 40km from here.

I tried moving it to another socket, when I plugged it back in, it again lite up briefly then went out. My wife said hit a button, betting it would light up again, it did. I guess this phone is so basic it doesn’t do anything to let you know when its charging. They told me I have 30 days to return the phone, I’m guessing I can take it to Windsor and buy another and swap the sim card? Is it really worth it, I don’t care about MP3 players or any of that, just want a working phone for the car. How about the flip phone they sell (2760 @ $45)?

Just got your last message. Could I take the phone back and get a Roger’s phone activated instead?

What I mean by Roger’s compatible is that you can buy a Roger’s SIM card and use the SIM card in 7-11 SpeakOut phone. You can also buy a Roger’s phone and use 7-11 Eleven SIM card in it as well.

Nokia 5130 has a better camera and more memory and is a much newer model. I would ask if your local 7-11 is getting more Nokia 5130 or phones in general. My local 7-11 @ KW are getting phones every week and most of them are Nokia 5130. Hopefully, you don’t need to go to somewhere very far away to get Nokia 5130. I think you are right in that if you are going to exchange the phone at your local 7-11, you need to keep your original SIM card with your $100 airtime. 7-11 SpeakOut Wireless tracks account by SIM card not personal information, since 7-11 SpeakOut Wireless does not require any personal information.

Just realized, I never got to the point of adding the $100 voucher. If I return the phone, have them exchange it for another wonder if they’d still give me the 1/2 off the next phone? Really, if I can get this crappy phone to work for a year, and find having a cellphone useful, I’ll get something like the Nokia E71 (unlocked from Newegg), put the sim in that and toss this phone in the trash.

All the same, if I do swap the phone out, I’m going to make sure its all working before I leave the store.

hagbard: Bring your airtime voucher and all your receipts when you exchange the phone and you should be able to get 50% off Nokia 5130. I believe the cashier has the power to reduce to the price by 50%. If the cashier is unable to do it, ask to speak with the manager. I am sure the manager can do it.

If you are interested in E71, you need to know that E71 does not have a very good camera for its price range. If you will be investing a lot of money in unlocked phone, you need to do a lot of research. Many phones have minor flaws and many phones cost as much as a laptop (It is because laptop prices dropped a lot). If you really need a smartphone, you need to look into signing a contract with the big 3 due to the subsidized price of the phone and a more comprehension plan. After a year, you get access to retention department and you can get really good deals there. I will write about retentions in my next post.

If you have a landline right and your landline is your main phone, I am pretty sure that 7-11 SpeakOut Wireless will work for you. Since I do not have a landline, I have a contract with Rogers.

What makes the 5130 a better phone? Seems to have more gadgets but I can’t find any practical differences. Will it work better as a phone?

hagbard: 5130 comes with an usb port and an usb cable to connect to the computer. 5130 has a larger screen with a higher resolution. 5130 has a faster processor and memory to support the new gadgets. 3.5mm audio jack can output sound to a lot of interfaces if you have the right connectors. The quality of its build is higher, because the phone is designed for the lower midend market vs lowend market. A good mp3 player is easily $50 to $100 and that is included in 5130. microSD card allows u upgrade your memory to 2Gb based on official support and you can use 5130 as an USB stick as necessary. 5130 is a quad band phone so when you go to Europe or Asia, you probably can pay $10 to have someone else to unlock the phone to use it there.

You cannot comparee 5130 to smartphones. Rogers sell 5130 for $99.99, so $70 is a good deal. 5130 is a low cost phone that is jack of all trades, but the master of none.

The trick with cell phone batteries is that you need to use your cellphone until it dies. Recharge battery to full. Repeat this twice. After this cycling process, your battery will start working at maximum capacity. Battery will get worn out after a year or two and that is normal.

I’m probably a pain at this point, but I decided to put some tunes on the phone, and can’t find any info on how to do that in the manual. Moreover, its already full of music (some sort of Asian pop-rap). Hoping I didn’t get stuck with someone’s return.

hagbard: It comes with some music called Guitar Rock Tour.

I actually have gotten Nokia 5130 myself yet, but this is what you can try and the procedures may not be precise. Connect the USB cable from the phone to the PC. A folder should pop up on the PC if connection has been setup correctly. You should be able to drag some mp3 from your computer into that folder. Once mp3 have been transferred to your phone, disconnect through removing USB connection on computer screen and then physically removing the connector. You should be able to see your new music in your phone at this point.

I did receive $10 referral credit on my part. Thanks.

My computer (Win7) didn’t recognize the phone at first, downloaded software from Nokia and now it seems to see it. There’s something called Nokia PC Suite that I guess is supposed to make the transfer easier, but whenever I click on any options, it wants to download more software.

As for the music, I don’t see anything like Guitar Rock Tour, but Black Wang, Caren Hope, Eddie Silverton, etc…quite a lot of it. Maybe this is the Rock Tour, but seems pretty hip-hop to me. 😉

Thanks again!

Hey I’m so glad I found this site, is very helpful 🙂

I have few questions here hoping that you can help me with:
1. Will the 7-11 SIM card work on my Samsung SGH-P310?

2. I saw the Speak out handset grid from the 7-11 website are the non-Nokia ones at the bottom available to buy in 7-11 also? And do I get the half price deal on those if I buy $100 voucher?

3. Does all of the Nokia ones have alarm clock feature?

Thank you! 🙂

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