Only a short time ago, you only really had a choice between the big four carriers: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile. However, the last few years have seen the rise of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) who operate on major carrier networks but after some serious discounts on monthly phone bills. Their main claim is that since they don’t have to pay for or maintain cell phone towers, they can provide cheaper service to customers.
Straight Talk and Cricket Wireless are two of the leading MVNOs in the US. Both have a range of plans that can meet any budget.
In this budget carrier showdown, we’ll take a look at Straight Talk vs. Cricket Wireless to help you determine if one of these options is a good fit for you.
Before We Begin: Both are MVNOS
Since both are MVNOs, they have similar advantages and disadvantages compared to traditional major network alternatives. Both companies offer no-contract, prepaid plans. Both also generally have the performance and coverage of the network they use.
On the downside, both companies have issues like reduced data speeds, data caps, or other drawbacks. So which is the right choice for you? Take a look at this guide to find out.
About Straight Talk
Straight Talk Wireless is currently America’s largest budget carrier, with about 25 million customers. Among MVNOs, they’re unique in that they use AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon towers and not just one or two networks exclusively.
TracFone is Straight Talk’s parent company. They created the brand primarily to target data-hungry individual users on a $35-55 monthly budget.
You won’t find Straight Talk in any stores besides Walmart, which has an exclusive retail agreement with the company. However, you can purchase both phones and cellular service directly from Straight Talk via their website or by phone.
Straight Talk Pros
- Excellent coverage on all major cell networks
- Competitive speeds even with big four carriers
- A large number of compatible phones
- Large selection of Android and iPhones with promo discounts
- Cheap activation $.99
- Good international options (with an added fee)
Straight Talk Cons
- Only three primary plans
- No family plans
- No data-free music streaming feature
- Below average customer service
- Hotspot only available on $55 plan
Cricket was once the fifth-largest provider in the US. It still has an extensive network across many states, including Arizona, Texas, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and several others. AT&T purchased Cricket in 2013 and now operates it as a prepaid budget option.
Cricket uses AT&T’s networks, so it generally has excellent service across the country. However, Cricket has an imposed speed cap of 8 Mbps on most of its plans, so it may not be the best option for serious streamers.
Overall, Cricket’s strength is the variety of plans its offers in the $25-60 per month per line range before discounts. It’s an excellent option for people looking for multi-line discounts as well.
- Uses AT&T National Coverage (which is better than Sprint)
- Bring your own phone and a large number of compatible options
- Great savings on family plans
- Unlimited international texting to 38 countries with higher-tier plans
- No online activation fee
- Good selection of budget smartphones
- Unlimited LTE is more expensive than competitors
- Have to select the highest plan for mobile hotspot
- No free music streaming feature
- Poor customer service
Unlimited Isn’t Really Unlimited
Don’t be tricked by either carrier’s “unlimited data plans.” Look closely, and you’ll see that most of their plans provide a certain allotment of data at 4G LTE speeds, followed by a reduction in 2G speeds. Trust us; you won’t be able to get much done at those speeds.
However, both Straight Talk and Cricket do offer truly unlimited plans will discuss in more detail later.
Straight Talk Plans
Straight Talk has three primary plans from $35-$45 per month:
- 3 GB: $35 per month ($34 with Auto-refill)
- 25 GB: $45 per month ($44 with Auto-refill)
- Unlimited: $55 per month ($50/month for three months with Auto-refill)
Straight Talk customers’ speeds (along with Cricket Wireless) are deprioritized behind direct customers on the network they are using during congestion. For example, if you are using Verizon’s network, these customers will get priority during busy times.
Winner: Straight’s Talk $45 25 GB plan is the best value for individual lines between the two carriers.
Straight Talk does not offer family plans, but now has a 2-line, unlimited plan for $90 a month.
Cricket has a variety of plans. We’ll focus on the main ones they offer:
- 2GB: $30
- 5GB: $40
- Unlimited BYOD: $40 (limited time only)
- Cricket Core (Unlimited): $55
- Cricket More (Unlimited + 15GB mobile hotspot): $60
*The Cricket Core Plan offers data speeds at a max of 3Mbps while Cricket More provides unlimited data access on 4G LTE speeds (although the network may slow due to congestion, regardless of data usage). Only the Cricket More plan offers a personal hotspot for users.
Straight Talk vs. Cricket: Family Plans
Straight Talk doesn’t offer any family plans. However, they now provide a 2-line, unlimited plan for $90, which is a savings of $20 on their single-line plans.
Cricket has a variety of family plans for 2-5 lines ranging from $80-125. These plans are a part of the Cricket Core Plan with:
- Unlimited calls and messages
- Unlimited data at 3 Mbps speeds
- Unlimited Video Streaming at 480P
Cricket also has fixed-rate data plans from $70-$130 per month at 5 GB per line at 8 Mbps speeds.
When it comes to multi-line plans, Cricket is the clear winner.
Straight Talk vs. Cricket: Coverage and Performance
As mentioned, Cricket uses AT&T’s network. It generally has excellent coverage, but you may suffer from performance issues because of speed caps.
Straight Talk’s coverage and performance are a little more complicated. Straight Talk can operate on any of the major carrier networks. You do this by selecting your phone’s compatibility. For example, if you’re bringing a Sprint phone to Straight Talk, you choose a SIM card designed to run on Sprint.
If you purchase a phone from Straight Talk, it will use a GSM network, either T-Mobile or AT&T.
The difference between Straight Talk and Cricket, however, is that Straight Talk doesn’t have speed caps.
And you can choose the network that has the best coverage for the area you live in. So if Verizon is better by you, you can go with it instead of relying on AT&T. This combination gives it a clear advantage over Cricket Wireless.
Winner: Straight Talk
Straight Talk vs. Cricket Wireless: Bring Your Own Phone
Both carriers have brought your own phone compatibility. You can easily check on either site to see if your phone will work on their network or not. Then you can purchase a SIM card, load up money, and select the best plan for you.
Straight Talk vs. Cricket Wireless: Phone Selection
You can also purchase phones directly from both Straight Talk and Cricket Wireless. You can find the latest flagship phones on their sites, but both are known for their collection of budget smartphones under $300. Straight Talk has a huge selection, so if you’re looking for more options to go with them.
Both companies also do offer phone leasing options. Unlike leasing through a major carrier or direct from Apple, you can expect to pay added interest, particularly if you opt for a 24-month lease plan.
If you can pay the phone off in less than a year, Straight Talk won’t actually charge you any interest. Cricket has a “Progressive Leasing” program that can be really expensive. If you don’t pay within 90 days, you could end up paying nearly double for your iPhone.
When it comes to phone selection and leasing, you’re better off going with Straight Talk or looking for an affordable option from a national carrier.
Winner: Straight Talk
Straight Talk vs Cricket Wireless: Customer Service
With any budget carrier, set your expectations too low when it comes to customer service. Both aren’t great in this race to the bottom. But somehow, Cricket manages to have worse customer service than Cricket.
Regardless of which you choose, be prepared to solve issues on your own and not receive much help from customer service. Hopefully, you won’t need to contact them at all.
Here are the toll-free numbers for both services:
- Cricket Wireless: 1-800-274-2538
- Straight Talk: 1-877-430-2355
Winner: Straight Talk (barely)
Straight Talk vs. Cricket: Rewards and Perks
Both Straight Talk and Cricket have rewards programs. Most of these are discounts for using features like auto-pay, paying bills on time, signing up friends, etc.
Both often do have promotions for free phones (don’t expect a flagship) if you select a qualifying rate and commit for at least three months.
If you’re making the switch, check to see the latest offers to see the better fit for you.
Straight Talk vs. Cricket: Final Thoughts
So which should you choose between Cricket and Straight Talk? Overall, individual users will be better off going with Straight Talk, particularly the $45, 25 GB plan.
On the other, for people looking for multi-line deals, it’s hard to beat Cricket Wireless. Cricket has few competitors in the realm of solid budget family plans.
To see more carrier breakdowns, visit the Buyback Boss Blog. We’ e reviewed budget rials like MetroPCS vs. Boost. Or check out this head to head of Sprint vs. MetroPCS. The winner may surprise you. Find out everything you need to choose the best carrier for you on the Buyback Boss Blog.