Get a TruConnect MiFi hot spot for $74
The real deal, though, is the pay-as-you-go data plan, which is ideal for travelers who only occasionally need service.
Recently I plunked down at a Starbucks with plans to work for a couple hours while my son was up the street at a birthday party. Just one problem: their Wi-Fi was down.
Without Internet, it's downright impossible for me to work. That's why I always pack a mobile hot spot, which I can use in a pinch when there's no Wi-Fi available.
Of course, I don't want to pay $50 per month for two years for a service I use only occasionally. Enter TruConnect, a company that offers no-contract service and pay-as-you-go rates.
The hardware normally costs $99, but here's a Cheapskate exclusive: the TruConnect MiFi for $74 when you use coupon code CNET2012 at checkout. Shipping adds around $6.
Like similar products that bear the MiFi name (this one is fairly popular and made by Novatel Wireless), TruConnect's pocket-size gizmo lets you connect up to five devices to its secure, self-contained Wi-Fi network. Service is provided via Sprint's 3G network, here promising download speeds of up to 1.4Mbps.
TruConnect doesn't require any kind of contract, though it does charge $4.99 per month to keep your account active. From there you pay 3.9 cents per megabyte of data used -- meaning this is not the service for you if you're looking to stream Netflix. But for everyday stuff like e-mail and Web browsing, you should be able to operate for a lot less than what you'd pay, say, Verizon (which charges a minimum of $50 per month).
According to a TruConnect rep, its users consume an average of 300MB per month, which works out to just under $12.
Of course, because the meter's running, you'll want to make sure to temporarily disable automatic updates, cloud backup services, and other tools that might suck up excessive data in the background. That's the hassle side of using a device like this -- but I think it's a pretty minor one.
Once you get your MiFi and sign up for service, TruConnect gives you a $10 credit. (Update: Just to clarify, you start by prepaying for $10' worth of service. My apologies for the confusing language.) After you blow through that (either with your monthly fee or data consumption), you credit card will automatically get charged a "top-up" fee of $10, $20, or $30 (meaning you're effectively buying blocks of data in advance). But this credit rolls over, so you're not throwing away money if you don't use the MiFi for, say, an entire month.
For someone like me, who travels infrequently and needs a mobile hot spot only here and there, the TruConnect is perfect. And when I'm saving $25 on the hardware, so much the better.
By the way, this coupon code is good through this Friday, July 6.