There are both benefits and drawbacks to local, regional, and national calling plans for your cell phone. Here is an explanation of the similarities and differences, as well as benefits comparisons that could save you money and/or improve service.
Three primary types of area calling plans
There are three primary types of cell phone calling plans that directly relate to geography. Most top wireless carriers offer the following area coverages:
Local area calling plans
These plans allow you to call your local area - as typically defined by the landline companies – without charge. Calls that are usually considered long distance, including in-state long distance, normally incur extra charges with this type of plan.
Regional area calling plans
Regional plans define an area within which you will incur no long distance charges even if they normally apply in a landline environment. For example, you might have the option to choose a plan that covers the six New England states as part of your "home" area.
National calling plans
These options permit you call throughout the U.S. without any long distance charges. Some national plans may restrict you to the "continental United States," which means there is a surcharge for calls to Alaska and Hawaii.
Other national plans may not differentiate and allow calls to the U.S. and even Puerto Rico without surcharge.
Basic differences between area calling plans
When you compare calling plans, you will see a price difference, as you would expect, with your choices. Cell phone carriers will build in a cost factor for potential regional and national calling usage since they may still incur costs for your long distance usage.
Do not confuse these wide area calling plans with roaming situations and potential charges. Not many years ago, you would typically pay long distance charges for calls outside your local coverage area when you called from your home area.
If you were from New York and traveling in Florida, you might also incur roaming charges when you accessed the towers of another cell phone company.
You could even be charged for roaming in Florida, but not charged for long distance when calling a local exchange in New York. Even though you were 1,500 miles away, your local number was calling another local number. But you were still often roaming.
In recent years, roaming has become less important – and less costly as a result. Many national cell phone carriers now have towers everywhere in the U.S. and, in poor coverage areas, have reciprocal agreements with other carriers with more accessible towers.
Questions to ask before you select a new area calling plan
Before you select new cell phone service or consider a change in your calling plan, you should ask some questions of yourself and your carrier. Here are some questions to consider:
Could you save money using local plans?
Where do you call most often? Are you a true local person? If you seldom call around the U.S., a local calling plan might save you considerable money each month.
Are most of your friends and family within a region?
Are the majproty of your family and friends within a region defined by one or more cell phone carriers? Analyze the regional plans offered in your geographical area and compare these boundaries to your primary calling circle.
You might determine that local plans might become expensive, but regional plans may save you money in the long-term. Understand that wireless carriers might define their regions differently so do not assume that finding a regional plan from one carrier will be identical to all other regional plans.
Do you often call family and friends in other parts of the U.S.?
National plans are probably the best option for you if you call people around the country. You will not have to worry about extra long distance charges until or unless you place calls outside of the U.S. National plans treat all calls as if they were local calls.
If you have unlimited night and weekend calls in your plan, you can literally chat for hours every day without incurring even a reduction in monthly minutes.
National plans appear to be the most popular in recent years, but sometimes you may be paying too much by selecting this type of plan. Asking the right questions might result in the opportunity to reduce your monthly wireless carriers' charges.
For example, make the following assumptions:
- All but two calls per week or month are local area calls, and
- The other two are to your mother and sister in another part of the U.S., and
- These calls usually are five minutes or less.
In this example you might save money by having a local calling plan and paying the small long distance charges for these few short calls. Don't forget, you'll save money every month by having the right calling plan for you.
Recommended resource: Cell phone plan finder