How to decide if Virgin's $1 mobile plan is right for you

Virgin just removed the biggest caveat, but let's see if this seemingly unbeatable deal really is.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
4 min read
Watch this: Virgin Mobile's crazy $1-a-year iPhone plan comes with a vacation

OK, who else did a double take this morning?

I had to be sure I was reading the headline correctly: Virgin Mobile is offering a full year of unlimited phone service for $1, and now you can bring your own iPhone. Whoa, did someone leave off a couple zeroes?

Nope. It's real. Putting its own spin on Sprint's free year of service (which is still available), Richard Branson 's Sprint-based carrier is offering a seemingly too-good-to-be-true plan of its own. One year, one dollar. After that: regular rates.

Is this the right option for you? Let's take a look at the pros and cons.

Buy an iPhone -- or bring your own!


Virgin carries all the current iPhone models -- at least one of them at a discount.

Virgin Mobile

When Virgin first introduced this deal last month, there was one huge requirement to join the "Inner Circle": You had to buy a new iPhone from an Apple Store or Virgin's site, then transfer your existing number.

As of yesterday, however, you now have the option of bringing your own iPhone -- assuming it's an unlocked, compatible model (meaning iPhone 5S or later).

You still need a number you can transfer, and the deal still isn't available for Android phones.

If you're in the market for a new iPhone, Virgin's lineup includes all current-generation models, from the iPhone SE (which starts at $280) to the iPhone 7 Plus (from $770). Although most prices line up with Apple's, the SE is the standout bargain: Apple charges $399 for the 32GB model, though it has the advantage of being unlocked. If you buy from Virgin, it'll be locked.

Second, read the fine print

As with Sprint's deal, the $1 plan isn't really just $1: You'll be on the hook for taxes and fees each month. Granted, these won't amount to more than a few dollars, meaning you still come out way ahead compared with a traditional plan.

Surprisingly, Virgin pulls no punches when it comes to its unlimited plan: You get unlimited calls and text messages, and up to 23GB of 4G LTE data per month -- way more than most people consume. And there are no consumption limits at all on Virgin's "mobile-optimized video, gaming and music," though video tops out at 480-pixel resolution, music at 500 kilobytes per second and streaming cloud gaming at 2 megabytes per second. These are common caps and very easy to live with on a phone.

After the first year, your rate will return to normal: $50 per month with AutoPay enabled. Because Virgin requires no contract, you can go elsewhere if you choose -- but you may have to jump through some hoops to get your iPhone unlocked.

Third, do the math

Because we're talking about dirt-cheap service, let's look at the aforementioned iPhone SE as it compares with some other options. Boost Mobile, another Sprint MVNO, currently has that model on sale for $160, for example. You can get a service plan for as little as $35 per month, which works out to $420 per year.

Needless to say, Virgin still wins by a mile. Your total out-of-pocket is $580, and that's for a lesser plan -- 3GB of LTE data compared with 23GB.

And to put this another way, whatever iPhone you buy, you're essentially getting a year of free service. Period. Assuming you were paying, say, $50 per month before that, it's a $600 savings.

Fourth, enjoy the perks

To sweeten the deal even further, Virgin is offering some extras that make T-Mobile Tuesdays look like chump-change. For example, how about a free flight to the UK? Buy one round-trip ticket there on Virgin Atlantic and you'll pay just taxes and fees for a companion ticket.


Membership has its privileges, or something -- Virgin's Inner Circle does offer pretty nice perks.

Virgin Mobile

Similarly, if you book two nights in a Virgin hotel, you'll score a third night for free. You can also get 15 bottles of vino from Virgin Wines for $60 -- a purchase that would normally cost at least $230. Other perks includes discounts on airfare and an upcoming Virgin Sport event in San Francisco.

So, is it a good deal?

Heck, yes, it's a good deal! Especially now that you don't have to buy a new iPhone to get it. But the big consideration remains Virgin's backbone: Sprint is widely regarded as the US cellular network with the worst coverage. And although the company recently unveiled the Magic Box, a free signal booster for the home, it's not likely to be available for Virgin customers.

Best bet: Talk to friends and family members who use the service and see what their experience has been. (Likewise, check the comments section here. I suspect lots of readers will have opinions to share.)

Maybe you'll get lucky and find that coverage and reliability are awesome in your area. Or maybe you'll be willing to accept less-than-stellar network performance knowing that it's costing you almost nothing to be on that network.

Your thoughts?

Editors' note: This article was originally published on June 21, 2017, and has since been updated.