My AT&T Upgrade Eligibility Changed?!?

Your phone is on its last leg, but that’s okay because your upgrade eligibility date is today.  You know because you just checked last month.  You go down to the store to pick up that new phone you’ve had your eye on, but when you get there something has changed.  The store rep advises you that you’re not eligible for another two months.

“There must be some mistake, I just checked last month and I’m eligible as of today.”

What happened?


The Old Upgrade Advantage Program (Before 4/11)


AT&T’s upgrade policy is described in their media as the “AT&T Upgrade Advantage Program.”  The program has gone through an overhaul recently.  Prior to April upgrade eligibility used to vary based on the cost of a line, after April the favoritism for higher priced lines disappeared.

This was old system:

If a line cost

Eligible after Completing

Less than$ 69.99

20 Months

$69.99 to $99.98

18 Months

$99.99 and over

12 months


If you’re last upgrade was before the change in April, you’re still grandfathered under this system.  As of this writing, that would represent a large majority of customers. 

So how do eligibility dates fluctuate under this system?  The cost of a line is averaged; if something happened which brought down your cost, eligibility would change. 

For example, if someone was on the old unlimited talk plan for $99.99 and switched to the new unlimited talk plan for $69.99, their average would drop and their upgrade date would automatically change from 12 months to 18 months.

The change can work both ways, if you have a $9.99 add-a-line and you add unlimited texting a for $20 and the $45 smartphone tethering plan the eligibility would eventually change from 20 months to 18 months.  (Once your average reached the next tier, not instantly)

I’ve seen this cause a few bad customer experiences over the years, understandably, if you’re banking on a certain date.  If this program were continuing, I think the solution would be to make it a very visible policy. 

Plan and feature changes are not the only things that can affect your dates under the grandfathered system.  The average is based on payments, not your plan.  Thus credits can bring down your average and push a date back.  Likewise if you take a trip to Europe and use some expensive roaming features it can push your date up even if your plan doesn’t put you into one of the higher categories by itself.

The New Upgrade Advantage Program (4/11 or Later)


No one is eligible for upgrade as of yet for the new upgrade program.  If you upgraded in April or later your earliest upgrade date will be 20 months no matter what your line costs.

This ends most fluctuation of upgrade dates.  However another upgrade policy change from around the same time frame can still push back your upgrade.

Upgrade Policy Changes That Affect All Customers


AT&T has begun factoring payment history into upgrade dates.  The policies are actually rather slack, but can still impact some customers.  If you have had over three suspensions for nonpayment in the last six months your upgrade date will be pushed back.  The new date will be whenever one or more of the suspensions drop off so you’ve only had two in the last 6 months.

Mind you that these are not late payments.  AT&T does not typically shut off service the day after the grace period on an unpaid bill.  For most accounts this does not happen until you have two months past due.

This affects only a minority of accounts.  Having your service shut off every other month is not typical for most customers.

When I say the policies are slack, you could for example, pay late every single month and have your service shut offer every third month and still not have your eligibility affected.

Isn’t that a breach of contract… or something?


If you have read my article explaining what wireless contracts are all about you already know the answer is no.

Upgrade policy isn’t written into the contract.  Your carrier is not legally obligated to give you subsidized pricing on a phone.

What Should I Do?


If your date has changed, understandably, it can be frustrating.  You can try speaking to a store manager of calling customer service to see if options are available.  This doesn’t guarantee you’ll get an upgrade but it doesn’t hurt to ask.  Policies are followed as a general rule, but there can be some discretion depending on a person’s situation, account history and tenure.