I’ve spent the past year singing the praises of Google’s Project Fi, especially for international usage. But now AT&T is dragging its feet into the 21st century, and finally offers a relatively inexpensive International Day Pass.
This is important to me because I travel a lot, and international phone usage—especially for data—has always been prohibitively expensive. But it’s getting better. Finally.
Not as good as Project Fi, of course. As I noted in my Google Project Fi Review, international use is seamless: You just take your phone to a new country and use it, and all your usage goes against your normal plan. (The one exception is phone calls, which are an additional 20 percent per minute for the most part.)
This is a sweet deal, and I’ve now had three international trips—to Toronto, Paris, and Amsterdam/Haarlem—to prove it. On that Paris trip, using AT&T’s normal international pricing would have cost me about $1050, but on Project Fi, the cost for the same usage came to about $70. (Verizon would have been even worse: $1765.) In The Netherlands, my total cost was about $20 for one week. I mean, seriously.
The big wireless carriers—AT&T and Verizon here in the U.S.—are slow moving, but they respond eventually. (And of course, it’s not just Project Fi nipping at their heels: T-Mobile in 2016 offered incredible promotional pricing on international data usage that may or may not be indefinite.)
So Verizon in late 2015 began offering a TravelPass plan for international travelers that costs $10 per day and provides you with normal access to your phone, texting, and data plans. (It’s only $2 per day in Mexico and Canada.) As noted in my Paris trip overview, it’s still not as cheap as Project Fi—not even close, really—but much better than in the past.
AT&T, ever the laggard, has just copied the Verizon TravelPass plan with a new International Day Pass of its own. Like the Verizon plan, it costs an additional $10 per day and lets you use your existing phone, texting, and data plans. As with that Verizon plan, it cannot touch Project Fi, but it is much less expensive than AT&T’s normal international plans.
Calculating the proof of this is tedious, but let’s say I use my existing 3 GB AT&T plan in Europe for two weeks and never exceed that limit. On AT&T, this would cost me $140 over my normal monthly bill. On Project Fi, this would cost me $20 over my normal monthly bill plus whatever phone calls I make. (Typically just a few dollars worth.)
Is seven times the cost a good deal? Actually, yes. $210 for two weeks of normal phone usage internationally is a great deal, and easy to justify. You get to use your real phone number and, in my case, the phone I actually want to use. (Fi is limited to certain Android models only.) Is it a good deal, financially, compared to Project Fi? No, of course not.
Still, lower prices are always good, as are options.