With the potential of some of us getting a new phone around the holidays, some will also be looking at our older phones as a backup, often tossed in the glove compartment of the car. For that 2nd phone we have listed a number of choices that have a very cheap yearly cost, some of which are GSM models. These include T-Mobile Prepaid, 7-Eleven Speak Out (GSM version) and AT&T GoPhone. However, we tripped over an important 'gotcha' for using GSM phones for a backup.
If for some reason you don't keep the phone activated through at least the cheapest service available, the "SIM" in the phone eventually "dies". It cannot be used after a certain period of inactivity. This can be from 2 to 12 months after the minutes expire. Fortunately, all of the wireless companies will mail you a new SIM, but this doesn't help if you need your backup today. I dug out an older GSM phone to activate for my son who needed it for just a couple days, only to find that I could not add minutes to it because it was too long since the SIM was last used. I did activate an old Verizon phone with Page Plus almost immediately, which saved the day, but not as cheaply as I had hoped.
So if you're not just moving your SIM from your old GSM phone to a new one this holiday, and want the old one for a backup, don't forget to keep it activated. There are several cheap GSM alternatives, listed above, or on our Switch to Prepaid page.