Boost Mobile Considered Harmful

I accidentally left my mobile phone at a friend’s a while ago, and I needed temporary phone service until I could get it back. Since I use Google Voice, forwarding calls to another number is easy. I thought a prepaid mobile phone would be an ideal solution. I’d use it for a few days, then when I got my phone back I could just stop using it and the unused balance would stick around until I needed it. I had an old Android phone from Sprint lying around, so rather than get a new prepaid phone I decided to activate it with Boost Mobile, Sprint’s prepaid division. That seemed like an especially good idea since I already had the phone and CDMA doesn’t need a SIM card, so I could sign up on the web without needing to go anywhere or get anything shipped to me.

I signed up on Boost’s web site and set out to activate my phone. Upon entering its MEID (in decimal; the hex form is apparently invalid in Boost-land) I was told I’d have to pay a $10 fee for having the audacity to re-use an old phone. “That’s stupid”, I thought, “but I really need this so I guess it’s OK.” Moving on to plan selection, It turned out that my Android phone couldn’t be activated on a usage-based plan. I could only choose between $3/day or $55/month for their Android plan. That should have been a clue that this wasn’t going to work out, but I charged ahead with the $3/day plan. I would just have to deactivate it once I got my phone back. The marketing-speak in the plan description certainly intimated that was possible. Eventually I got the phone to connect to the new network and everything seemed fine.

Once everything was working I set up Auto-ReBoost, Boost’s automatic payment service. The way the marketing copy explained it, they would bill my credit card and add $20 to my account whenever my balance reached $0. As it turns out the threshold is $5, not $0, but if that was somewhere in the fine print I didn’t notice it until the first time it activated. Since then it activated again a couple days ago. For ten days of service I’ve paid Boost $30 at $3/day, a $10 fee, and $20 in unused account balance. That totals out to $60, or 70% of my monthly Sprint bill for about a third as much time with inferior service. As I waited to get my phone back I could see the charges starting to pile up, but I was mostly OK with it. After all, it was my fault for forgetting my phone and I would be able to save the unused balance for later, right?

Well, it turns out that no, I can’t. See, Boost doesn’t support deactivation. At all. There’s no way to cancel your service. It just keeps using your prepaid balance until it runs out. If you don’t add more within a few months then (and only then) the account gets canceled. That system, which isn’t explained at all in their marketing materials, means that there’s no way for me to do anything useful with that unused $20. It’ll just get eaten up, $3 at a time, for service I won’t use. I guess that’ll teach me to read the fine print.