Karma Drifts Away from Refuel

Karma Go

There’s a certain inevitable truth of this modern age that states for any product or service you enjoy, at some point the company providing it will pivot in a way that makes that product or service less enjoyable. It’s happened to me with both Wunderlist and Astra. And even Evernote, as much as I still like it, isn’t quite as useful to me as it once was. Most recently, however, such a change has come to the Karma Go portable wi-fi hotspot.

Drift: A Quiet Launch

Back in March, Karma quietly launched Drift, a new data plan that, according to the company, is “ideal for occasional use.” Drift launched so quietly, in fact, that the Karma blog, which is where the company has always announced its new plans and offerings, has no mention of it.

I was aware of Drift because, as a long-time Karma user, I often get promotional emails from the company. On March 23, I received one such email extolling the virtues of Drift, a lightweight plan that costs users $3 per month and $10 per GB. Drift, which seems to be designed to compete with Google Fi, is simpler and cheaper than the multi-tiered Pulse plan offering users a set amount of data (1 GB, 5 GB, 10 GB, or 20 GB) each month.

Karma's two plans: Drift and Pulse
Karma’s two monthly data plans.

I’ve always been happy with my Refuel plan, which has been Karma’s pay-as-you-go service. The data costs $15 per GB, which is a little on the high side these days, but it doesn’t come with a monthly fee and the data never expires. Plus, Karma frequently holds sales where data prices are offered up to 40% off.

But I was curious about how Drift stacked up to Refuel, so I clicked over to the Karma site and logged on. Interestingly enough, there was no mention of Refuel anywhere on the site. So I did what any curious user of technology would do—I sent a tweet to @yourKarma asking if they were eliminating the Refuel plan. I never heard back.

Refuel Runs Out of Gas

Then on May 12, I received another email from Karma telling me that they hadn’t offered Refuel to new users for the past six months and my favored Refuel plan was now a legacy product. If I wanted to continue to use it, I had to grandfather my account by June 1. If I chose to do this, I would still be able to buy data on the Refuel plan at $15 per GB, only I’d be charged a $2.95 “Grandfather account fee.” For my needs, this made Refuel a rather less useful plan than it used to be. But I had a large store of data so I decided to grandfather myself in—even though I wasn’t thrilled about paying $3 a month to use the data I’d already paid for.

RGP (Refuel Grandfather Program)

Karma says they’re going to continually offer data at discounted prices to those of us who have opted into keeping their Refuel plan, a program they’re calling the Refuel Grandfather Program (RGP). In fact, in an email received May 24 that offered a 40% discount to new RGP members, Karma referred to this plan as the most cost-effective Refuel program they’ve ever offered. Even taking that claim into consideration, I suspect that once I use the data left in my Refuel plan, I’ll be switching to Drift.

Karma Refuel Grandfather Plan (RGP)

I understand why Karma is making this change. Now that many mobile phone plans are including some form of unlimited data, a wi-fi hotspot isn’t quite the essential piece of gear it used to be. Personally, I’m using mine a lot less than I used to. If other Refuel users out there are in the same situation, that has to be cutting into Karma’s cash flow. These changes to their data plans ensure that each Karma account will earn the company at least a little money each month.

Even with this change in data offerings, I’m still a fan of the Karma Go. Although it’s now somewhat less convenient for me than it has been, the device still provides a steady stream of reasonably fast wi-fi at a competitive price. And with their premium services enabled, the Karma Go becomes a viable in-home alternative to cable or DSL.

If you’re interested in owning one for yourself, this Karma Go referral link will save you $10.


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