Using my Japan Softbank iPhone 7 Plus while traveling in the U.S. – America Houdai

At the end of March I will be making a two week visit to the U.S. for my mother’s 90th birthday. My mother and sister live in Boston.

Since I have an unlocked iPhone 7 Plus I thought of doing what I usually do – get an AT&T GoPhone SIM card and get a U.S. temporary account and phone number. They have plans for $45 per month which seem fairly reasonable, for unlimited talk and text within the U.S. and 4 GB of data at high speed, after which your speed is throttled.

But I ran into some problems, and it was starting to get expensive. For example, the GoPhone plans don’t allow tethering. I was surprised by that. So in order for me to do work on my computer I would need a separate mobile hotspot – more money for a new device, plus pretty expensive data plans with restrictive data limit caps. It was getting costly. I was looking at $45 for the GoPhone plan plus $119 for a mobile hotspot device + $75 or so for a hotspot data plan. All for a two week visit.

I had decided to go with AT&T anyway, because I do every year, but this morning got a notice that my online order had been canceled by AT&T because they “could not confirm my identity.” I don’t know why, since I have U.S. credit cards that match my U.S. address and have been using AT&T every year. But whatever…

While looking for an alternative a Facebook friend told me about Softbank’s “America Houdai” service. I happen to use Softbank for my carrier in Japan. The word “houdai” means “all you can.” For example, if a restaurant is “tabe houdai” (like the Sizzler salad bar) it is all you can eat. Some bars have happy hours which are “nomi houdai” – all you can drink. The Softbank America Houdai plan turns out to be quite a good plan:

  • There is no extra fee for using it. You just change certain settings on your iPhone to make sure you stay connected to the Sprint network in the U.S. because Softbank happens to own Sprint.
  • You get unlimited talk and text with calls made within the U.S. and also calls made to and from Japan. So people in Japan can continue to call me as usual.
  • The plan includes tethering. And currently there is no data cap. That’s unlimited 4G/LTE data for my iPhone and my computer.

The only drawback is that you don’t get a U.S. phone number. So when you make a call in the U.S., it looks to the person receiving the call like you are calling from Japan. And if they call or text you back at your Japan number, they end up making an international phone call. But for people calling me I can just tell them to use my Skype-in number, which is a Boston number, and avoid that problem.

It sounds like a good deal. No extra cost, unlimited talk and text, and unlimited data during my trip.

I think perhaps the AT&T network is better than the Sprint network. So I’ll report again how good the reception and speeds turn out to be. But it’s definitely worth trying if you are a Softbank person visiting the U.S. and have an eligible contract.

Arrived in St. Louis

I safely got to St. Louis. I’m in my friend’s basement “presidential suite” now. I’ll write more about trip and what’s going on later, but now the most important thing. The Mon and Monta Cam is working! Here are some stills of them right now!

mcam4 mcam3 mcam2 mcam1

American Airlines and sneaky processing charge

While I generally like American Airlines (@AmericanAir) and have been using them for years for my overseas trips, I thought this was on the sneaky side.

I needed an extra 11,000 miles to top off my balance for a trip next month to the U.S., so I don’t want to cancel the transaction or request a refund. In other words, they have me exactly where they want me.

But I do think American Airline’s mile purchase page is rather sneaky.

First they coax me with emails about a time-limited sale. On the sale page, the price quoted for the extra miles I needed was $275.82. And when I select 11,000 miles I got a “You just saved $48!” message and feel good about that and I proceed to purchase.

Then – wham – I am slammed with two charges – a tax for $20.69 and a $30 “processing charge.” Taxes are taxes. But why the $30 processing charge? Who charges $30 to process a credit card and buy something? I think that is pretty sneaky.

I wrote to American Airlines to complain and got this non-answer answer in reply:

“Thank you for contacting Customer Relations.

I’m sorry you were disappointed to learn you were still charged the processing fee. The fee is required in order to process the transaction, meaning regardless the price to obtain those additional miles, it will still be charged.

I’m glad we could save you the $48 on the extra miles and we look forward to welcoming you aboard again soon.”
I’m looking forward to seeing friends and family, but I can’t describe how much I loathe international travel. And I wish some agency or consumer group would look into this kind of practice.