Switching Cell Phone Companies — TracFone to Virgin Mobile

The other day I finally switched my cell phone company from TracFone to Virgin Mobile.

TracFone was an okay and fairly inexpensive company, and for the most part it met my expectations.  It took me a little while to active my phone when I switched to them from AT&T this past summer, but I believe the main cause was user error.  After that little issue the (very) cheap phone worked when I needed it to.

But times have changed and I felt that it was finally time to join the rest of the world and get a better cell phone and service provider.  My main focus was looking for an inexpensive plan that offered unlimited text/data/web.  As you can probably guess, the answer was Virgin Mobile.

Samsung Intercept cell phone

And my new toy?  It’s the Samsung Intercept.  :-)

Switching from TracFone to Virgin Mobile took a little bit longer than I expected.  I’m not talking about the stuff that happens in the background, but rather calling Virgin Mobile and trying to set up a new account that would have my old cell phone number.

Right off the bat I wasn’t pleased with Virgin Mobile because I had to make a phone call to set up my new account.  I’ve switched cell phone companies a few times in the past, all while porting my phone number, and I’ve always been able to complete an online form and get everything to work.  But to do this seemingly simple process, Virgin Mobile requires that you call their customer service representatives and give your information over the phone.

So what’s it like calling customer service?

First of all, be ready to speak to voice recognition software as you go through a few menu options over the phone.  You’ll ultimately be placed in a line queue before finally speaking to a live person.  For my first phone call I only waited about five minutes on hold, while my second call to customer service had me on hold for nearly fifteen minutes.  Not a big deal.

Both of my phone calls involved speaking to customer service representatives with foreign accents.  This alone made the conversation difficult as the workers had a little bit of a hard time speaking and understanding the English language.  And this was with me speaking clearly in a standard Midwestern accent — not a Southern accent or anything else.  Just plain and simple English.

After carefully spelling out everything in my new Virgin Mobile account and telling the worker about porting my number from TracFone, the worker informed me that the process would not work until I gave him a TracFone account number.  The account number was news to me as I was never given one in my TracFone welcome e-mail, and as far as I could see there wasn’t one visible when I logged into my online TracFone account.  Logging into TracFone always involved my e-mail address & password, and not any sort of account number.

I found what I believed to be an account number, but the Virgin Mobile worker was not about to accept it.  I was actually lectured by this guy about the importance of CALLING TracFone and knowing the number for a fact.  If I were to submit the incorrect account number, my new Virgin Mobile account would not work and I wouldn’t know about it for up to three to five days.  I’d have to re-submit the information and try again.  Oh, the horror!  This guy was acting like doing so was the end of the world.

I *nearly* hung up on the worker as he went into another tirade about the importance of calling TracFone (this was after I already agreed to do it), and I picked up the phone to give TracFone a call.  After waiting on hold for about ten minutes I spoke with a friendly TracFone customer service representative who also spoke with a foreign accent.  Great.  It took about ten minutes of talking to the worker to finally get her to understand what I needed to know.

The answer was very simple.

With TracFone, your account number is the phone’s 15-digit serial number.  Coincidentally, that was the number that I found on my TracFone account screen that I was about to tell the Virgin Mobile worker.  My gamble would have worked.

NOTE TO TRACFONE CUSTOMERS — IF YOU’RE SWITCHING TO ANOTHER CELL PHONE COMPANY AND WANT TO KEEP YOUR CURRENT PHONE NUMBER, THE PHONE’S SERIAL NUMBER IS YOUR ACCOUNT NUMBER WITH THE COMPANY!  EACH PHONE WITH TRACFONE IS BASICALLY A DIFFERENT ACCOUNT.

This has been confirmed on other websites.  Use that number and the porting process should work just fine.

Apart from not labeling the account number on the TracFone account screen, it’s still a pretty decent company if you just need basic cell phone service.  My phone had the free “double minutes” plan, and it was easy to find coupon codes to add even more bonus minutes onto the phone.  I would take a 60 minute card, activate it online with a bonus code, and end up putting like 150 minutes onto my phone.  For a person who just talked on the phone every once in a while, this was one of the cheapest ways of having a cell phone without being in a contract or paying monthly fees.  Just don’t ever let the end of service date expire, or you’ll lose your phone number!

TracFone is not a perfect or high-end company, but for needing just basic cell phone service it worked great.

Anyway, after spending too much time confirming my TracFone account number, I had to call Virgin Mobile again and finish setting up my new account.  This time I spoke to a friendlier worker (with a different accent than my previous phone call) and finished setting up my new account.  There was a brief stumbling block when I had to punch in a code on my new phone (didn’t know it had to be in “phone” mode; the worker just wanted me to start pushing buttons right away which didn’t exactly work as desired).  I finally figured out how to do what she wanted, and at that point it was a waiting game to see if the whole switching and activating would actually work as desired.

I’m pleased to report that everything worked great AND in a significantly shorter amount of time as estimated.  Instead of possibly taking 24-48 hours, the process was finished in about two hours.  All of a sudden I was receiving e-mail messages yesterday evening welcoming me to Virgin Mobile and telling me that it was time to select my phone plan and get started.  Hooray!

Wait, it's *how* much sooner?  A lot?

Wait, it's *how* much sooner? A lot?

The only minor issue is that apart from an embarrassing grammar error committed by Virgin Mobile in the welcome letter (How hard is it to proofread official company statements?), the company’s website was extremely slow last night.  I’ll assume that this was because I had a brand new account and things weren’t quite functioning properly in the system as it was warned in the welcome message pictured above.  My TracFone cell phone was inoperable since the switch was made, but I couldn’t submit an online payment to get my Virgin Mobile phone fully operational.

The options were to either wait for a few hours and not have any cell phone service, or make yet another call to customer service and submit a payment over the phone.

I waited.  It was late at night by this point and I had to run some errands in the morning, so it wasn’t until this afternoon that I was able to log into the site and finally submit my payment.  Again, it was an inconvenience but not a big deal.

So far the phone has been working great!  Today has been a learning day as I played around with the phone and tested out a few of the cool new gadgets.

As you can probably guess, this was my first time using one of the more advanced (standard in today’s market) cell phones.  What’s awesome technology to me is as outdated to other people as the concept of cavemen making spears.  And I don’t mind it one bit.  :-)

This new phone is awesome and I can’t wait to learn more about it.  This is going to be fun!