How to Avoid Racking Up a Big Cell Phone Bill on Vacation

Picture this scenario: You’ve just returned from your vacation, happy to be home. While sifting through your mail, you find your cell-phone bill. The grand tally is enough to snap you out of your jet lag as you gape at the extra zero. “But I barely used my phone!”

Welcome to the phenomenon known as “Bill Shock”, a condition affecting 1 in 6 cell-phone users that renders innocent cell-phone users speechless when they open their monthly billing statement. No-contract wireless provider Consumer Cellular CEO John Marick offers five ways to avoid bill shock while traveling, so you can focus on R&R —not your ballooning bill.

Check your usage… Some cell-phone companies, such as Consumer Cellular, offer usage alerts, that notify you before you reach your minutes. If your provider doesn’t offer this service, you’ll need to get into the habit of checking your balance routinely to ensure you don’t get hit by a large bill.

Roam when you want to… Roaming charges aren’t just for exotic international destinations—if you travel to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean, your phone may automatically roam and you’ll rack up a big bill quickly (often up to several dollars a minute). How do you know when you’re roaming? Your cell-phone screen will indicate it, so make a point of checking this when you’re out of the U.S., and adjust your plan accordingly if you travel frequently out of the 50 states.

When in doubt, turn it off… Even when you’re not making calls while traveling out of the U.S., keep in mind that it’s not just talking that racks up charges; your phone still may be downloading emails and texts all on its own (and in some cases you’ll even be charged for an inbound call if you don’t answer it); turn it on only when you’re checking messages or making a call.

Get a six-month check-up
… After you’ve been with your wireless provider for six months or so and built up a cell-phone usage history, give your carrier a call and have them run a rate-plan analysis for you–having the right plan for your particular needs is the best first step toward avoiding bill shock. But that’s not all: Ask them about their policies for changing plans in case of an emergency, as a good provider will be flexible with you to accommodate your changing needs—even altering your plan retroactively to avoid getting hit with a big bill—without charging penalties or fees.

Don’t lose all hope… Get hit by an enormous bill? Don’t panic—that bill isn’t necessarily set in stone. Your wireless provider may be able to work out a deal with you to reduce the cost. Take the initiative and find out if the provider will work with you on the charges.