I'll start by saying yes, this is a moderately whiny complaint blog. But if it helps one other person, then it's worth it.

T-Mobile has a great $30 pre-pay plan - unlimited text, unlimited data, 100 minutes talk. For our usage, this plan is perfect and pretty darn cheap. Sure, the "unlimited" data means that overage happens at a lower speed, but we've never come close to that limit.

Because this plan is such a good fit for people who don't use their phones as phones much, this is a great plan. However as far as I can figure out, T-Mobile doesn't want anyone to actually use this plan. It's easy, when you know the tricks, but forget trying to get T-Mobile to help you get this plan. Their customer support can't get you this plan (and will even go so far as to not tell the truth, insisting that you have to buy a new phone at Walmart). With the information in this post, you'll learn how to activate this plan and save a ton of money.

I've been a generally happy T-Mobile customer for a 8 years now, and I've had up to 4 lines on the account, though for the last 2 years we've had 2 pre-pay and 1 post-pay. The sole post-pay has been my Android phone, with the 2 pre-pay being feature phones used by other members of the family. You'd think that being a good customer in good standing for a long time would matter, but alas, in today's business world, it doesn't - they really just don't care.

In the last 9 months or so I've gone through a spree of updating my Android phone from a Samsung Galaxy 1, then a Samsung Galaxy 2, and now a Nexus 4. I've had a 2 year contract (which just expired), but swapped the phones around under the contract without even notifying T-Mobile. I bought the Galaxy 2 off a coworker, and the Nexus 4 straight from Google, so T-Mobile wasn't involved in the purchase of any device aside from the Galaxy 1 that I used when I started my 2 year contract.

I had to do some hacking to cut the regular SIM card down to microSIM for the Nexus 4, but that turned out to be really easy with some guidance from a coworker who had already done the same thing. Seriously, it's really easy to make a microSIM. Don't pay T-Mobile $50 for a replacement SIM, just grab some scissors and do it for free. You've got nothing to lose, and if you screw it up (but you won't, it's easy), then you can still pay T-Mobile for a replacement SIM. Don't buy a SIM cutter, don't buy a cutting pattern, just find someone with another microSIM so you get the outline right, cut it a bit big, and trim to size. If I can do it, you can do it.

When I bought the Galaxy 2, I sold my Galaxy 1 to a friend of mine. But when I bought the Nexus 4, I gave my wife the Galaxy 2 as an upgrade to her feature phone. The $30 pre-pay plan was appealing, so I bought a SIM card for $1 from the T-Mobile online store. It came a few days later, I activated it under a new number, with no problem, then called T-Mobile's horrible offshore pre-pay customer service to cancel her old number and transfer this number to the new number. This is really important: Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to activate the plan or SIM via T-Mobile customer service. They cannot and will not help you. You need to buy a SIM online and activate it online, then only call customer service to port your number afterwards.

Fast forward a few weeks until my 2-year post-pay contract is up. I wanted to switch my phone to the same $30 pre-pay plan. I know the plan works, because my wife has been using it for a few weeks, but unlike her plan where we were converting pre-pay to pre-pay, I was converting post-pay to pre-pay. Cancelling post-pay requires a conversation with customer service, but I thought it would be easy - and it is, now that I know the secret, but boy did I go about it the wrong way (by trying to go about it the right way)!

My initial plan was to call up post-pay and cancel. Then I would buy a pre-pay SIM for $1 from the online store, activate it, and just like with the Galaxy 2, be set and done with this. Sounds simple, right?

So I called up post-pay customer service and told them I wanted to cancel. I get an amazingly awesome CSR (customer service rep), who first tells me he can get my current $79 plan for $55. This is a decent discount, but $55 is obviously more than $30, so I told him what I planned to do - that I was going to cancel, and just reactivate with a pre-pay SIM. He agreed with me that requiring customers to cancel just to activate pre-pay was silly, and he said he could override pre-pay and give me the $30 plan I wanted. Pretty awesome, right?! So, the guy sets me up and says I'll get an SMS within 24 hours, and that I'll need to then go activate with that code to switch to pre-pay.

I can't say enough good things about this post-pay CSR who helped me. Unlike every pre-pay CSR, and most other post-pay CSRs, he really wanted to help me - and understood that ultimately the end state would be the plan I wanted, so T-Mobile might as well make it easy on everyone involved and just do it.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way - pre-pay denied the account conversion. Of course they couldn't be bothered to actually call me, or notify me - instead they just blocked the conversion silently. Two days later I called, as I hadn't received the SMS to activate the new plan. This is where things got ugly. Post-pay wouldn't help me, and transferred me to pre-pay. Pre-pay told me that I couldn't get this plan and that it was only available if you bought a new phone from Walmart (This is obviously untrue, and a total lie on T-Mobile's part, as I had activated this exact same plan previously with the Galaxy 2!). I got really angry with the pre-pay CSR, who just started to give me a bunch of run-around. Asking me for account and SIM card numbers (which I never needed before), and finally just refusing to help me, even when provided with this information as well as the confirmation reference from my call two days previous. I asked, several times, to just transfer me to someone who could help me, but she basically refused. I was really surprised, customer service isn't the way it used to be, that's for sure. Sure, I was getting pretty angry at this point, but only because she wouldn't listen to me when I knew that I was right.

It was at this point that I remembered I had ordered a second SIM card when I bought the $1 SIM for activating the Galaxy 2 for my wife! I totally forgot about this - since they are only $1, I bought two just in case I needed another pre-pay SIM for some reason in the future.

Thirty minutes later, it was all done - I did the conversion from post-pay to a pre-pay plan that T-Mobile says there's no way you can get. And here's how you do it:

  1. Wait until you contract is nearly up. Don't blame me if you screw this part up and have contract cancellation fees!
  2. Go to the T-Mobile online store and order a new pre-pay SIM card for your phone for $1 plus shipping.
  3. Wait a few days for the SIM card to arrive.
  4. Activate the SIM card online, and choose the $30 plan with unlimited text, unlimited data, 100 minutes talk. And do not, under any circumstance, call T-Mobile customer support as part of the activation! Don't forget to port your old number over at the appropriate place in the process (and if you can't do it at the time of activation, you can always do that bit later, as we did for my wife's phone).
  5. Cancel your old plan.

That's all there is to it - that's how you do the impossible, to get the plan that T-Mobile says you cannot have.