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Have you ever wondered what makes a VPN price tag so unreasonable or affordable? How can there be such variability between so many different services?
In this article, we’ll try to cover the different pricing strategies of VPN service providers, the pros and cons of each, and what to look out for when choosing one for yourself. Whether you’re searching for a cheap VPN, a privacy-focused one, or a well-rounded option, there’s no lack of options.
So strap in as we try to demystify the software that makes us secure while browsing online.
Best VPN pricing and feature comparison
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VPN price – what are you paying for exactly?
You shouldn’t be surprised that everything has a price tag. VPN services are no exceptions. You can find VPNs ranging in price from $1/month to $20/month. And even though the web is swarming with hundreds of free VPN apps, you’ll soon discover that they all come with a price as well.
Why are VPNs so expensive?
When thinking about the price of a VPN, it’s important to remember that these services operate on a vast scale. It’s much more complicated than just routing your connection through a remote server.
First off, developers need to make dedicated apps for various devices and operating systems. Naturally, most VPNs have apps for the most widely used systems, such as Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux. But that barely scratches the surface of the many uses of a VPN. Many people want VPNs for their smart TVs, media streaming devices, routers, and more.
After that comes the actual server network. Most people would agree that more extensive coverage is better. But that comes with added maintenance and monitoring costs, whether the VPN service is renting those servers or doing everything in-house.
When something inevitably goes wrong, you want good customer support options to assist you. Unsurprisingly, that costs a lot of money as well, especially if you want 24/7 support.
Finally, once the backbone of a VPN is there, it needs to be sold to customers. That requires a marketing team to ensure that customers are aware of the VPN. Some may say that this is optional and a good VPN sells itself, but word of mouth can only get you so far.
But of course, that’s not the end of either. As a VPN grows more prominent, it needs more teams for specific purposes. For example, you’d want a team of lawyers to make sense of the legal landscape, financial teams to secure a broader range of payment options, testers to ensure that all the features work as intended.
The bottom line is that most VPNs have a good reason to be pricey. It’s just that it only becomes apparent when you take a look under the hood.
The price of free VPNs
Of course, in the case of free VPNs, that price is not measured in money. In general, it could include costs like:
- A flood of third-party pop-up ads on your device
- Connection and online activity logging
- The sale of your personal information to third parties
- Slow connection speeds
- A tiny selection of servers
- Unreasonably limited bandwidth
Naturally, that doesn’t mean that you can’t trust every free VPN on the market. You simply need some due diligence and research on the origins of a VPN provider. Some of the most trustworthy free VPN services are just free plans of premium services. Meanwhile, if a program promises to be 100% free but you can barely find any information about the app developers, that’s a red flag. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Can a cheap and secure VPN even exist
The expression “you get what you pay for” exists for a good reason. But does it apply in the VPN realm?
Well, VPNs are technology-dependent, which means that you can afford higher quality equipment with a bigger budget. Plus, you can hire more experienced cybersecurity professionals to ensure that the software is free of flaws.
However, not everyone wants a VPN that can do everything imaginable. Some users just want to hide their IP and encrypt their internet traffic. Then you’d like a focused yet cheap VPN that’s more about quality over quantity. In that case, focusing all your efforts on a few key features is not as expensive as being an all-in-one package.
For example, VyprVPN has a small server fleet of around 700 servers, but all of them are physical and owned by the company, ensuring peak performance and confidentiality. Plus, it has a third-party audit to prove it.
Meanwhile, Private Internet Access has over 36700 servers worldwide, one of the most impressive fleets on the market. However, many of them are rented, and they’re not all physically located in their respective countries. And when the network is so huge, it’s not surprising that there’s no third-party audit.
The point is that these two companies have different priorities, yet both are relatively cheap. Buyers should keep this in mind when choosing a VPN for themselves. It’s possible to have an affordable but secure and laser-focused VPN for specific purposes. Similarly, a premium VPN doesn’t inflate its price without good reason. It could be working tirelessly to maintain a massive network of servers, patching various security flaws, updating its apps for a wide range of devices, and much more.
Once you’ve thought about what kind of VPN you’re looking for, you can start browsing by specific pricing plans. In general, you can categorize VPNs into three subscription types:
- Premium free trial
- Paid or Premium
Unsurprisingly, there’s no monetary cost included with free VPNs. Although, it’s worth reiterating that free VPNs have other expenses and potential drawbacks. Those would consist of data and bandwidth caps, limited server coverage, poor performance, and even personal data collection. Ensure that your VPN choice is the right fit for your use case and that the company behind it is legitimate.
Premium free trial
When a VPN has no free version, it may have a premium free trial option. Of course, many VPNs have no free trial, while others may be tricky to claim. For example, NordVPN has a 7-day free trial, but you can only claim it on Android devices on the Google Play Store. However, once obtained, it can be used freely on other devices as well.
In any case, if you can choose to have a free trial, you’ll likely have to provide your payment details. Naturally, the VPN won’t charge you for the trial period. However, you need to be very careful about this. While certain reliable VPN providers will probably notify you a few days before the deadline, some may not do so.
Guess what happens if you forget to cancel your subscription in time. Yes, the worst-case scenario is the VPN charging you for an annual plan. That’s around $70-$90 off your bank account. Alternatively, you’d pay for a monthly plan, which is usually about $10. Still, your free trial could end up with a VPN price tag on it.
Always read the fine print when signing up for a premium free trial. Why would a VPN cost you when you just want a free trial?
Paid or Premium VPN pricing
Premium VPN providers come in a wide variety of pricing plans. The most popular plans are the following:
- 1-month: $7-$13
- 3-month: $5-$12/month
- 6-month: $4-$11/month
- 1-year: $3-$10/month
- 2-year: $3-$9/month
- 3-year: $3/month
Naturally, you may find a bit cheaper or pricier VPNs as well. Nevertheless, these are the average VPN prices we’ve seen so far.
Occasionally, you’ll find 5-year plans or lifetime subscriptions as well. However, we wouldn’t advise you to settle with those. No provider can guarantee what the future will bring for IT and cybersecurity. We believe that it’s safer to go for a 1, 2, or 3-year subscription.
In fact, it’s mostly these pricing plans that may offer the best VPN price for you. Sometimes you can save up to 60-70% or more if you go for a more extended plan.
There could also be extra optional features that may increase your VPN price in the end. Some VPNs offer more device licenses, more server locations, or dedicated IP addresses for some extra money. Others may simply include these in their default pricing plans.
One thing to look out for is a new trend towards increasing your subscription price after the first payment. The logic being that the initial cost is just a one-time promotion, after which you are moved to the “real” pricing plan.
VPN special deals
If you’re lucky and your timing is right, you can reduce your monthly VPN cost to an even more reasonable amount by finding special deals online. Although it’s possible that a provider makes a strategic move and comes out with a massive discount on a random day, most sales are specifically timed.
What better way to offer a special deal than linking it to a national holiday or an event? That’s why it’s worth browsing with your eyes wide open around the following:
- Black Friday
- Cyber Monday
- New Year
- Valentine’s day
Of course, there are considerable differences in discounts and VPN prices, even if it’s a special deal. You may find VPNs from as little as $1.15/m with an 89% save, for example. In contrast, other top-notch players may only drop 50% of their usual VPN price.
VPN price discounts – coupons
Another way to lower your subscription cost is to get a VPN coupon code and apply it when purchasing the subscription. How much does a VPN cost with a coupon code?
First off, beware of fake VPN coupon websites. These may infect your device or simply display misleading and potentially harmful pop-ups and banner ads.
If you want the real deal, you have two choices. First, you can find lots of affiliated VPN review websites that offer coupons for many VPNs. These coupons can save you from 15% to 80% off the original VPN price. Second, sometimes the official VPN websites also share coupon codes.
So, before you hastily hit the buy button, it’s worth snooping around for a discounted VPN price.
The most important thing you need to know about payment methods is the difference between anonymous and not-so-privacy-friendly options. Unfortunately, most VPNs usually support only the latter. However, there are more and more VPN services that allow you to pay anonymously. It’s a privacy tool, after all, isn’t it? We wonder why not all providers are ready to include anonymous payment in their repertoire.
The primary VPN payment methods include:
- Credit or debit cards (American Express, Visa, and MasterCard)
Many VPN providers only have these two basic options. Others give you further payment methods, though these are still not anonymous:
- Wire transfer
- Paymentwall (Alipay, Webmoney, iDeal, UnionPay, Qiwi, etc.)
Fortunately, some take your privacy seriously and thus provide an extra layer of anonymity:
- Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dash, Emercoin, and Byteball
- Gift cards and prepaid cards
Please bear in mind that choosing an anonymous payment option may have an unfortunate consequence regarding your potential refund claim. The refund policy or the purchase page small print should include information about this. Long story short, you may not be eligible for a refund if you use a cryptocurrency, a gift card, or a prepaid card.
How much does a VPN cost when you can ask for a refund? Well, nothing. The good news is that most VPN providers offer a money-back guarantee. However, as usual, you can’t always take it for granted, as we just mentioned.
Not all VPN services come with a free version or a free premium trial. Therefore, many users try to count on the money-back guarantee to test their chosen VPN app. If they aren’t satisfied, they can always ask for a refund. Or, can they?
The thing is, refunds can be tricky. First of all, you need to know how many days you have to claim it without the VPN costing you a thing. Providers can grant you different time frames for the money-back guarantee. So, you’d better make sure you get it right.
Furthermore, some providers do not offer a no-questions-asked policy. They’ll try to sweeten the deal or provide solutions to your problem that the VPN could not solve. If you’re sure that the VPN is not for you, you have to persist and not get swayed by the customer support agent.
Most VPNs will offer 3, 7, 14, 30, 31, 32, or 45 days for a refund. But, and it is a big but, this may not be the only condition to be eligible at all. Therefore, we advise you to read the legal documents carefully to find out about the refund policy.
A reliable service will probably have a “no questions asked” and “full money-back” guarantee. It’s promoted chiefly on the website, too, so that you know right away what to expect.
Be more cautious with those who have further limitations and conditions apart from the time frame, though. Don’t take the “30-day money-back guarantee” promotions on the website for granted. You need to read the refund policy carefully.
Some VPNs, for example, have bandwidth usage limitations. But you may also not be eligible for a refund from the provider if you bought your VPN from a third-party vendor or paid with a cryptocurrency or a gift card.
Not being aware of these conditions or forgetting the deadline will undoubtedly increase your VPN cost.
How much is a VPN in 2021?
Well, based on the VPN pricing trends of 2021, we can only offer you general statements. Some VPNs will probably try to keep their prices unless the market dictates otherwise. Some will undoubtedly decrease their VPN price, and some may even increase their pricing plans a bit.
One thing’s for sure, however: if you’re lucky or thorough, you may get your desired VPN at a discounted special price. That means being anonymous and protected online for about $2-$3 per month – the price of a mini coffee frappuccino.
Do you think that drinking less coffee is worth the online protection? Let us know by leaving a comment!
How much should I pay for a VPN?
A worthwhile VPN will cost you anywhere between $3 to $5 per month, or around $60 per year.
Is it worth getting a free VPN?
Getting a free VPN is not worth the risk. They could be collecting and selling your data. Plus, their performance is usually abysmal.
Is having a VPN worth it?
Yes, a VPN is a tool worth having. You can even use it to save some money. For example, some online stores offer different prices depending on where you are located. Additionally, you can use it to unlock more content on services you already have, such as Netflix.
Is it legal to use a VPN?
Yes, using a VPN is perfectly legal. They are a standard security practice in many companies. However, it’s not legal to use a VPN to hide various illegal activities.
Disclaimer: Affiliate links help us produce good content. Learn more.
Ethan is a security researcher and digital privacy advocate. He spends his time unraveling various anonymity and security tools, plus contributing to open-source projects. Otherwise, he keeps a low profile by hiking or cycling around the countryside.