It’s been a long time since you could only get an iPhone directly from Apple or from AT&T. Today, it’s offered by all major carriers and big retailers, and many of them want to entice you to buy with them by offering special deals. Of course, you can always buy from Apple directly, either in-store or online.
If you haven’t yet put in your order for an iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Pro, here’s a summary of some of the deals and promotions offered by different retailers to help you make up your mind. For each, we’ll tell you about any current special deals, when you should consider buying there, and when you shouldn’t.
Buying direct from Apple is one of the few ways to buy an unlocked, SIM-free iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Pro, and it’s the go-to place to join the iPhone Upgrade Program. Apple will let you trade in your old iPhone (in good condition) as credit toward a new purchase, too.
This year, Apple is partnering with AT&T and Verizon to offer discounts on the iPhone 12 mini (which isn’t avaiable until November) and iPhone 12. Instead of paying $729/$829 you get a $30 discount if you buy a phone activated on AT&T or Verizon.
Both AT&T and Verizon have discounted trade-in plans that you can purchase through Apple (you will trade your phone in directly to the carrier, not Apple). With AT&T, you can get the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 mini for $0 a month over 30 months if you trade in at least an iPhone 8 in good condition.
On Verizon, you’ll pay or $11.95 a month for the iPhone 12 mini or $14.95 a month for the iPhone 12 over 24 months with the trade-in of an iPhone X or newer.
For the iPhone 12 Pro, AT&T’s trade-in deal will cost you $6.64 per month for 30 months, while Verizon will be $23.29 for 24 months, again with the same trade-in requirements. For the iPhone 12 Pro Max (available in November) those rates go up to $13.30 and $27.45, respectively.
Note that these deals require you to be on a monthly payment plan with AT&T or Verizon and to subscribe to an eligible Unlimited data plan. You’ll get the cost of your phone reduced in monthly bill credits.
Read more about these requirements here.
Why you should buy here
This is the first time in a long time you can get carrier trade-in deals when buying direct from Apple. This may have something to do with promoting carriers that want to push the iPhone 12 to get customers on their 5G networks, and it may have something to do with COVID-19 precautions making in-store shopping less common.
As usual, those carrier deals come with a lot of caveats and lock-ins, but they can definitely get you into an iPhone 12 with little to no up-front cost.
When buying directly from Apple with an Apple Card, you get 3 percent cash back. What’s more, Apple will now let you pay for a new iPhone with your Apple Card in 24 monthly installments, interest-free.
If you always want the latest iPhone every year, the iPhone Upgrade Program is a pretty good deal. You pay off your iPhone in 24 monthly installments, but can swap it in for a new iPhone after 12 months (thus renewing the 24-month contract). You get Apple Care+ included, too.
It’s also one of the few places you can get your iPhone 12 or 12 Pro SIM-free and unlocked.
Why you shouldn’t buy here
If you plan to switch carriers or open a new line, buying directly from the carrier can be a better bargain—many carriers offer nice incentives to switch over. From time to time, carriers may offer deals (“buy one get one free” or other rebates), though those usually require some sort of long-term commitment. The best carrier deals tend to be for new line activations and transfers, though.
Apple offers trade-in value for your old iPhone, but it’s often not as much as a carrier (with the caveat that carriers want to lock you into a long-term payment plan).
The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro do not appear to be available from Amazon as of this writing.
Why you should buy here
Amazon rarely has deals on the latest iPhone models, but it can be a good place to score a deal on an older certified refurbished model.
Why you shouldn’t buy here
You’re almost never buying directly from Amazon, but rather through a reseller. And most of the iPhones you’ll find on Amazon are certified refurbished, which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not the place to go if you’re looking for a brand new model.
AT&T is offering an iPhone 12 for free, where “free” means up to $800 in bill credits when you trade in an old phone and finance the new one over 30 months. You can get a more expensive iPhone 12 (a Pro, or more storage) and reduce the cost by $800 this way, too.
There are gotchas, of course. You’ll need to:
- Purchase an eligible smartphone on a qualifying installment agreement, including taxes on full retail price (up front) and $30 activation/upgrade fee.
- Add a new line of service or upgrade an existing line.
- Activate postpaid unlimited wireless service (min. $75 per month for new unlimited customers before discounts).
- Trade-in an eligible Smartphone in good working condition with a minimum trade-in value of $95 for $800 credit ($35 for $350 credit) within 30 days of activation.
If you meet all those conditions, you get an iPhone 12 “free” because they’ll give you bill credits enough to cover the monthly installments for it. If you want more storage or an iPhone 12 Pro, you get up to $800 worth of bill credits.