It happens every year: Apple unveils a new iPhone and big carriers like T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T shortly after roll out their big trade-in offers, all in a bid to get you to switch. A few hours after the iPhone 15 debuted, the carriers followed with several big offers, touting a $1,000 towards Apple’s flagship smartphone.
Verizon has the most generous terms, offering you $1,000 off of your iPhone 15 if you trade in any iPhone in any condition – it doesn’t even have to work. AT&T’s offer will cover up to $1,000 for a free iPhone with an “eligible trade in.” T-Mobile has a similar deal.
There’s a reason why these deals are coming in now. The debut of a new iPhone means millions of people are looking to upgrade, which is a good time to comparison shop across different carriers. Each carrier is angling to lure in new customers or, at the very least, keep their existing base from leaving.
But these new offers aren’t as generous as old “free iPhone” promotions of the past. You have to be mindful that to be eligible for the biggest offers, you’ll have to sign up for one of the carrier’s newer plans. Oftentimes, those new plans are more costly, or come without the kind of perks these companies used to bundle with their service.
For instance, T-Mobile’s $1,000 offer requires you to sign up for a Go5G Plus or Go5G Next plan. Go5G Plus is a relatively new plan that costs $90 a month (with Auto Pay discount) while Go5G Next, which gives you a new phone every year, costs $100 a month.
Verizon, likewise, is requiring you to move to one of its new Unlimited plans. While they aren’t necessarily more expensive, customers with older plans like Play More or Get More with perks like the Disney bundle (which will remain even after Disney’s price hike) will have to give up those freebies with the new plans, which require you to pay $10 for each new perk.
Customers who have older grandfathered plans with much lower rates are largely excluded, or are offered far less generous trade-in values for their old phones. T-Mobile who sign up for the lower end Go5G plan qualify for $350 off, while even Magenta Max and Magenta Plus customers, which were once the top-tier plans, only get $650 off. Older plans qualify for $200 off of a new iPhone, just a fraction of its marquee promotion.
Another aspect to keep in mind is just how much value you’ll actually get for that old phone. Unless you’re going with Verizon, you can’t assume that you’ll receive the full $1,000 value. For instance, AT&T’s list includes more recent phones like the iPhone 14 lineup from last year, and the iPhone 13 family from before, but only includes the iPhone 12 Pro Max from that generation.
It makes sense that these older phones will fetch a smaller price, and for folks upgrading within the last two years, it’s not that big of a deal. But if you’ve hung on to your phone for any longer, you’ll want to note the lower value in your calculations.
It’s also important to note that the offer will come in the form of bill credits over a span of 24 to 36 months (depending on your plan). Even if the iPhone is “free” or $1,000 cheaper, you’ll have to pay taxes on the full device upfront. And if you’re looking to get the top-tier iPhone 15 Pro Max, you’ll have to cover the difference yourself.
That’s how Boost Mobile’s “free iPhone 15” promotion, which it teased on Tuesday, is structured. The aggressive promotion also includes the promise of annual upgrades.
As with old service contracts, if you leave a carrier before the device installments end, you’ll need to cover the rest of the cost of the device.
It’s important to note that these promotions aren’t bad. For anyone willing to sign up for a carriers’ latest plan, even if it costs a bit more, the trade-in offers are generous relative to sites that buy back your old phones. Folks who want to upgrade their iPhone every year will want to seriously consider some of these plans.
But it pays to take a close look at what each carrier offers and if that new iPhone 15 is worth the change in your plan. It’s also worth looking at whether you’re better off trading in that phone with a carrier or selling it yourself on a site like eBay, which would give you the biggest bang for your buck.
That way, you could conceivably just buy the iPhone from Apple outright and avoid getting into the minutia of carrier deals.