The hunt for the best cable deals can be equivalent to looking for a needle in the haystack. As Time Magazine reports in their Money section, cable bills are rising at nearly four times the rate of inflation. If you, like most people, are looking for a way to reduce the hit to your wallet when it comes to getting your favorite channels, you'll need some tips on getting the lowest rate.
Fortunately, we've got you covered with our comprehensive guide on how to get the best cable deals. After all, you're probably here because you want to take the edge off your bank account.
Inside this guide, you'll find some ideas on how to tame the cable bill monster while not sacrificing what you really want in terms of content. You'll find information on not only what you should be considering when on the hunt for that amazing cable deal but also on bundling cable TV and internet service, tips, the future of cable TV, and more.
Table of Contents
Key Considerations When Looking for a Great Cable Deal
Cable television has come a long way in the past few decades. Television viewing choices have exploded - from just 28 channels in 1980 to an average of 189 in American homes today. Yet, as you well know, there are only so many hours in the day and certainly not enough to watch that many channels.
In fact, consumer viewing analytics company, Nielsen, reported in 2014 that we actually watch, on average, just 17 of those 189 channels. The fact is that most people subscribe to a wide array of channels because they want specific choices which aren't included in lower tier cable packages.
Although there are some things that just can't be avoided - as of yet anyway (for example if you want a specific channel like ESPN you may have to take a whole bunch of channels you don't really want) - there are some things you can do to get the best cable deals. Topics I'll go over in this guide include:
- Steps you can take to get the best price on your cable package.
- Examples of rates from major cable companies.
- How to avoid sticker shock at the end of your promotional pricing period.
- What's coming next - and what's here now - in the world of cable plans.
The high price of cable can be extremely frustrating. NBC News reports that the average cable bill in the United States is around $99. It's certainly easiest to just pay the bill without question, however, you can save quite a bit by paying attention and not resigning yourself to whatever the cable company chooses to charge you.
Don't Forget the Extra Charges
As you're sifting through all of the introductory cable prices which enjoy prominent placement on providers' websites, remember that rate is not representative of what you'll actually end up paying. There are all kinds of extra fees and service charges that find their way onto your bill.
Regulatory fees, equipment fees for your set-top box and other gear, your state and local taxes, a Regional Sports Fee - there's no shortage of charges on top of your actual service. Work these into your budget, because they can add up to a hefty additional $20 a month or more.
Not to mention, you may face early termination fees (prices are subject to change), depending on the provider. Of course, no one wants to deal with early termination fees, which can be as high as hundreds of dollars. In that case, you should see if the service provider has a money-back guarantee. For instance, the service provider Charter Communication has a 30-day money back guarantee.
Who Has the Best Deals
Following are some examples of the cable plans currently offered by two major providers. Keep in mind that cable packages change frequently so you'll want to check with the provider for the most current promotions. In addition, I've found that prices can vary from location to location.
Charter Cable Deals
In May of 2016, Charter acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. For now, the company's television services under all brands - i.e. Time Warner Cable and Bright House - are being sold as Spectrum TV. Some of the Charter TV packages currently available include:
- TV Select: 125 channels, free HD, live streaming service through the Spectrum app - $59.99 for 12 months (regular price $64.99)
- TV Select + internet: All of the above plus internet with 60Mbps download speed and free modem - $89.98 for 12 months (retail $118.98 when purchased together)
- Triple Play Select: All of the above plus Spectrum Voice (landline phone service) - $89.87 for 12 months
One of the great things about the internet and cable deals through Charter cable TV is that there are no data caps. In addition, free HD service and free modem rental during the promotional period are fairly unusual among cable plans.
Related: Charter Cable TV Packages & Deals
Comcast Cable Deals
- Digital Starter: 140 channels, NFL Network, Streampix movies, Xfinity TV app - $49.99 for 12 months (with paperless billing and autopay)
- X1 Starter Double Play: All of the above plus X1 DVR service and internet up to 75Mbps download - $89.99 for 24 months
Comcast cable TV is a bit less expensive than compared to competitor prices, however, many Comcast TV packages require a two-year agreement so it's important to take that commitment into consideration. Also be aware that Comcast does not include any of its equipment rental service charges in its promotional pricing, so be sure you know what you're going to pay for your set-top box, modem, and/or DVR.
In this guide, I'll give you some ideas on how to tame the cable bill monster while not sacrificing what you really want in terms of content.
Tips & Advice
You can hardly read anything about the cable industry these days without hearing all about cord cutters. Typically Millennials, cord cutters are those opting against cable TV in favor of internet-based content like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
But for all the hype that seems to be all over the media, data collected by Leichtman Research Group reveals that most Americans are, in fact, traditionalists. The firm found that 83% of households still subscribe to cable television.
Collect information from a number of sources - paper fliers, the providers' websites, online consumer forums, and customer service representatives - before making a final decision...
If you're in that majority of people who can't quite let pay TV go, you no doubt want to know how to minimize the hit to your wallet. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to get a better bargain on your cable service.
Be a Cord Shaver
Not ready to cut the cord all together? Take time to assess whether or not you actually watch most of the channels to which you are subscribed. The best cable deals are typically the lower tier packages - and make no mistake, shaving some channels off of your subscription can give you some big savings.
For example, Comcast's Digital Economy package is a whopping $30 cheaper (at the time of this writing) than their next tier up. The Economy plan gives you your favorites like CNN, Food Network, Disney, and a slew of music stations, minus the painful price tag.
Granted, cord shaving can prove to be a challenge for sports fans, as popular sports networks like ESPN are typically only included in the upper - translation: more expensive - tiers. The industry is responding (albeit slowly) to consumer demand in this regard, however, and I'll talk more about that in a bit.
However, do note that there are live TV streaming options now, who are vying for the cord cutter's attention. Live TV streaming is far more affordable compared to cable, beginning at just $20 a month (looking at you, Sling TV) depending on the service. There are several live streaming TV providers now: PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, DIRECTV NOW, YouTube TV, Hulu Live, and more.
Unfortunately, there are two issues with live TV streaming: while the competitor prices are low, you won't receive as many channels as you could with cable TV. You will have your sports channels, but at the same time, you won't have hundreds upon hundreds of channels at your fingertips. What's the second issue? Why provider packages and networks are subject to change often.
Personally, I've used PlayStation Vue for several months, and over those months, the streaming service dropped Viacom channels. I'm a fan of Comedy Central and similar channels, so when the networks were dropped, I felt that PlayStation Vue was no longer worth the $40 price tag. Despite the nifty perks such as free DVR service, I cut PlayStation Vue altogether and instead adopted the combo of Netflix and HBO GO. Do note that if you want a streaming service, you'll need high internet speeds. Some services may require 5Mbps as far as internet speeds go, but others may demand higher, especially if you want 4K streaming.
You can always choose broadcast TV as well, which is mostly free. There are, however, only five major English-language broadcast TV networks in the US: FOX, CBS, NBC, The CW, and ABC.
In other words, you may be better off with a cable TV provider like U-Verse TV and Verizon FiOS. Verizon FiOS, while expensive, still packs plenty of TV programming, and U-Verse TV is also worth your penny, especially when you bundle services together like high-speed internet access.
Do Thorough Due Diligence
You know all of those glossy inserts you get in the mail, advertising special rates on cable plans? Hang onto those even if you don't plan on ordering from that particular provider. They may come in handy when it's time to negotiate your deal.
In other words, don't just go for the first dirt-cheap offer you see - advertising can be deceiving. Collect information from a number of sources - paper fliers, the providers' websites, online consumer forums, and customer service representatives - before making a final decision...
...which brings me to the next important step in making sure you get one of the best cable deals:
- Have all of your research on the best cable plans and prices on hand before you call.
- Don't stop at the first customer service rep you speak to - call back again and see what kind of deal the next person offers you.
- Use the online chat function to find out whether that rep can give you an even better deal (they're often willing to go lower because they aren't always direct employees of the company).
I personally wish I had done that very thing several years ago when I called to negotiate my cable rate. I pointed out to the phone rep that I had been a loyal customer for better than 10 years and I was willing to leave if they couldn't adjust my rate. The response? "Ok." I ended up switching providers, but if I'd spoken to someone else I might have been able to stick with the same company. It takes a little extra effort and time for you to explore every option, however, it could end up saving you some hassle.
Take Advantage of Bundling
Another great way to get the best cable deals is to get all of your communications services in one place. For example, many of cable providers offer high-speed internet access and TV bundles at a discounted rate in the form of double play or triple play bundles. For instance, you could bundle Comcast XFINITY internet and cable, or you can tack on XFINITY Voice to create a Comcast triple play bundle consisting of Comcast XFINITY Voice, XFINITY internet, and XFINITY TV.
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, so it's important to calculate the costs of each service when purchased separately to make sure you're actually saving money by going with a bundle. Overall, however, cable and high-speed internet service deals tend to be more of a bargain when ordered together as a package.
After the Honeymoon
Have you ever taken advantage of a great deal on cable only to find that a year or two later your bill suddenly shoots up - sometimes by as much as double? Once your promotional period ends, retail pricing usually takes over. You don't have to accept this expensive fate, however. There are some things you can do to continue getting the best cable deals.
- Get ahead of the ball. The FCC requires cable companies to notify you of rate changes at least 30 days in advance. Don't take any chances on missing this notification, though. The minute you sign up for a promotional rate, record the date - either in writing or in your smartphone's calendar - so that you know exactly when your pricing will expire.
- Be proactive. Before your rate expires, call your cable provider and ask to speak to the customer retention department. Politely explain that you'd like to talk about what cable deals they can offer you, because you may not be able to afford your service once the retail rate kicks in. Don't be afraid to push the envelope (again, politeness is key). If you can get the rep to give you a good price, ask if they can extend that offer out another six months or a year. It's not unusual for the cable providers to offer perks like free premium channels for a limited time in order to keep you as a customer. You never know unless you ask.
- Be prepared to follow through. If you're going to play the "I'll have to switch providers" card, be ready to actually do it. Yes, it's a pain, but you can get a new introductory offer from a different provider (assuming there's more than one cable company that serves your area). Sometimes cable providers just won't budge, and in that case, you should be prepared to move on.
With a little finesse and some time and effort, you can prevent the rude awakening that can come once that attractive price isn't so attractive anymore.
The Future of Cable Deals
Consumers have long hoped for options that would allow them to get the channels they want without having to pay for those they don't. Even the best cable deals typically require you to purchase a package that includes networks you'll never watch. That well-established model may be changing, and in my humble opinion, it's a change that's long overdue.
For years, cable customers have been asking for an option that lets them pick the channels they want to pay for.
The Skinny Bundle
It's a term that's taking the world of pay television by storm, and it's no wonder. For years, cable customers have been asking for an option that lets them pick the channels they want to pay for. While a la carte isn't quite here yet, the skinny bundle takes a significant step in that direction.
One of the top satellite TV providers, Dish Network, is proving to be a skinny bundle pioneer. Dish Network TV packages now include a custom option called the Flex Pack. The concept and pricing structure are simple:
- Start with a base of 50 popular channels for $40 - These include CNN, Cartoon Network, TLC, Food Network, HGTV, and more.
- Choose a free set of channels from the themed packs - local, news, kids, sports, even outdoors.
- Pay $4 - $10 each for any additional themed packs you want.
The satellite TV package is that simple. And it's shaking up the industry. Dish isn't the only one. One of Verizon Fios TV's packages is customizable, although it's a bit steeper than Dish, at $65 plus $6 each theme pack.
Related: Buyer's Guide to Streaming Devices
Closing the Gap
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for those who might otherwise be tempted to become cord cutters has been the lack of options for live news and sports coverage. Skinny bundles overcome this challenge in an innovative and affordable way, without forcing consumers to adopt an all-streaming strategy. This is significant because streaming not only eats up data like Pac-Man gobbling power pellets, but it also requires purchasing a hefty number of services just to get a reasonable variety of sporting events. True
This is significant because streaming not only eats up data like Pac-Man gobbling power pellets, but it also requires purchasing a hefty number of services just to get a reasonable variety of sporting events. True cheap cable TV may seem like a fantasy, but the good news is that cable providers are starting to come up with better solutions to consumers' needs and wants.
Finding the best cable deals really just requires that you do some research and pay attention to the details. Know what you're getting for the cost, and know exactly how long you'll be getting those rates.
Always read the fine print, and never be afraid to negotiate. If you're not sure what's available in your area, use our convenient tool to find cable TV providers by ZIP code.
An alternative way to way to television is to watch programming from your computer. There are dozens of different places on the web for content--and some of them are free! Check out our guide to learn how to watch TV online.