As U.S. cell phone carriers' roaming deals get better, it's easier to just head overseas without worrying about getting a local SIM card.
That goes double for business travelers, who may want to keep their U.S. phone numbers so people can contact them. And it goes triple for people with T-Mobile's Simple Global plan, which offers low-cost roaming in 140 countries and territories.
Connected TravelerA really unusual app, Travelling Connect, lets you reap frequent-flier miles and hotel points for making calls while you're abroad. It's simple to use and it works (to some extent) with all four major U.S. carriers, although the countries and programs it supports are pretty limited. Still, it's free miles.
Travelling Connect works with American Airlines AAdvantage miles and the hotel points schemes from Hilton, Intercontinental, and Marriott, as well as a bunch of foreign miles programs U.S. travelers are unlikely to focus on.
The app isn't new, but I haven't seen many people writing about it. That's probably because its 25 countries don't involve any of the prime tourist zones that most Americans go to—there's no Canada or Mexico, and almost nowhere in Europe. Travelling Connect says it's working on getting more Caribbean and Latin American partners, but didn't say anything about Europe.
The service covers Hong Kong, Japan, India, and South Korea, as well as Colombia, Turkey, Dubai, and Thailand, so there are some places you might go. To use it, download the app and sign up with your frequent-flier or hotel-points account. Then, when you're in your destination country, use your phone's "Mobile Networks" setting to manually force your phone onto Travelling Connect's partner network.
That's the one down side: normally, your roaming phone will latch onto whatever network in a destination is strongest. If you want those sweet, sweet miles, you need to use one specific carrier in each country.
That could be a problem for some U.S.-based travelers. While Travelling Connect says it has about 10,000 U.S.-based customers (a little less than 5 percent of its total), Sprint tells me that if you're using its Sprint Open World or Global Roaming plans, you may be stuck with one specific roaming partner in each country and be unable to switch, so you'll have to get lucky.
T-Mobile's Simple Global roaming may be more flexible. While the company didn't confirm this, when I've traveled to Spain, Germany, and South Korea with Simple Global, I've been able to switch between roaming carriers by hand. AT&T and Verizon also generally let you switch between roaming partners.
If you can successfully switch to a Travelling Connect partner, you'll then get miles either for minutes of voice calling, megabytes of data usage, or SMS messages sent. Realistically, finding countries where data becomes miles is the best way to maximize this app. If you use a 300MB AT&T data pass in Colombia, for instance, you can reap 600 AA miles. That isn't bad, especially if you're the kind of mile-hound who's also pulling various credit-card and online-shopping-mall tricks. See below for a breakdown of how the earnings come out in some relatively popular destinations.
Travelling Connect can be used with any mobile platform, the company says. While it has dedicated iOS and Android apps, people on Windows Phone or BlackBerry can sign up on Travelling Connect's website and still get miles if they use the appropriate networks.