What is an early upgrade at AT&T?

I’m a little perplexed by AT&T’s press release on early upgrade policy.  The reason I’m perplexed is because early upgrades aren’t really a part of upgrade policy.  If you’re trying to do an upgrade on the website and you’re not eligible, there is no option to select “early upgrade.”  A manager is able to offer them in situations where a customer needs a phone but other options aren’t available.

So if it’s an exception that can be made that’s not available in general, why is AT&T putting out press releases that they’re raising prices for early upgrades?  This creates a couple of problems.  Firstly it’s going to confuse people.  Secondly it’s going to draw all kinds of flames from confused customers who don’t like to see the words “price increase” in any article about their cell phone service.

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So what exactly is an early upgrade?

An early upgrade is something that may be offered to you if you need a phone and don’t have other options available.  You have to be at least 6 months into your most recent contract.  If the problem with your phone is covered by warranty or you have insurance, it’s less likely that an early upgrade would be offered.  There is a price differential between regular upgrade pricing and the pricing on an “early upgrade.”  If you’re buying a smartphone, take the listed price and add $250, that’s the early upgrade price.  If you’re buying a standard phone or a messaging phone take the listed upgrade price and add $85.  Missing from the press release is the option to buy refurbished, for which there is no price differential.  An early upgrade for a refurbished phone can only be completed over the phone.

As an example let’s take the blackberry torch.  No commitment pricing is $399.  Upgrade pricing is $49.  Early upgrade pricing would then be $49 + $250 = $299.  In other words you would still get a $100 discount versus buying the phone outright.  Doing this type of an upgrade will renew your contract, but if you’ve only completed 7 months of it starting over isn’t that much of an extension.

What’s changed recently?

The extra cost for the early upgrades used to be lower.  In fact there was a time when it used to be a lot lower.  This most recent price increase was a $10 increase for nonsmartphones and a $50 increase for smartphones.  What has increased along with the price?  Subsidies.  There was a time when the early upgrade charge was only $75.  At that time you could get the cheapest blackberry for $275 after a $100 mail in rebate on an early upgrade.

Regarding iphone

Early upgrades for iphones are a regular part of upgrade policy; they don’t have to be done at a corporate location and don’t require an over-ride.  Early iphone upgrades were also impacted by this change in exactly the same way.  They are now upgrade pricing plus $250.  You become eligible at 6 months, unless your contract is an early upgrade contract, then you have to wait a year to be able to do another early upgrade.

Wrap Up

This is not a change that I think is worth getting really bent out of shape about.  A vast majority of customers have never and will never do an early upgrade.  There are many people who don’t take it when it’s offered to them.  Even if the pricing of an early upgrade isn’t super appealing it’s nice to know that at least something is offered if you’re without a phone.

On another note, maybe this announcement is a preview of coming attractions.  Maybe early upgrades will become a regular part of upgrade policy like they have been for the iphone.  With all eligibility dates going to 20 months as of April, it seems at least plausible that early upgrades could become regular policy.  As AT&T continues to make adjustments after the loss of iphone exclusivity, we’ll have to see if this is a change that may be in the near future.

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