AT&T's iPhone 12 offer includes free phones for those who upgrade

There are also plenty of promotions for Android shoppers.

Eli Blumenthal Senior Editor
Eli Blumenthal is a senior editor at CNET with a particular focus on covering the latest in the ever-changing worlds of telecom, streaming and sports. He previously worked as a technology reporter at USA Today.
Expertise 5G | Mobile networks | Wireless carriers | Phones | Tablets | Streaming devices | Streaming platforms | Mobile | Console gaming
Eli Blumenthal
3 min read

When it comes to the new iPhones, AT&T is getting aggressive with its offers. 

Angela Lang/CNET

When it comes to the iPhone 12, AT&T is getting aggressive to both court new customers and keep existing ones locked in to its network. On Tuesday, the day of the latest Apple event, the nation's third-largest wireless provider announced new deals tied to Apple's latest device that enable both new and current customers to get the new iPhone for free. 

To get the deal, new and existing customers will need to buy the device on an AT&T 30-month installment plan, subscribe to a recent AT&T Unlimited plan and trade in an iPhone 8 or later (or any device that AT&T values at $95 or more) in "working condition." AT&T's recent unlimited plans -- called Unlimited Starter, Extra and Elite -- are required to access the carrier's 5G network, with those on older plans capped at 4G LTE

Preorders for the iPhone 12 start on Oct.16, with the devices going on sale on Oct. 23. 

Those with older phones that have at least $35 in trade-in value, like 2015's iPhone 6S , can get $350 off the price of a new phone with the discount similarly dished out through monthly bill credits over a 30-month period. You can check your phone's trade-in value on AT&T's website

Read: Our first impressions of the iPhone 12, 12 Mini, 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max 

As with prior promotions, the "free" iPhone isn't fully free, but will instead in essence be discounted by monthly bill credits that AT&T will give back on your bill for the 30-month installment plan. Taxes are not included and both new and existing users will need to pay $30 "activation" fees when activating a new line or upgrading.  

"Requiring loyal customers to switch carriers to get the best deals is a pain point in the industry, so we are making it easier for everyone to enjoy our fast, reliable, secure nationwide 5G," David Christopher, executive vice president and general manager of AT&T Mobility, said in a statement. "With our unprecedented offer, all AT&T customers -- both new and existing -- can enjoy great deals on 5G smartphones starting as low as $0."

Deals to get people to switch providers are nothing new, but offers that reward loyal customers for staying are rare from larger providers like AT&T and Verizon . T-Mobile , which for years was the No. 3 carrier in the US before passing AT&T this summer, frequently offered discounts to both new and existing users to entice upgrades. 

Aggressive deals like this are even rarer at the launch of hotly anticipated new devices like the latest iPhones. Installment plans, however, are a good way to keep people tied to a network and push them toward newer plans. If you switch carriers before the 30 months are up, the discounts stop and the remaining balance owed becomes due (though currently most carriers will pay off any installment fees owed when you switch). 

Deals for Android users, too

While the iPhone promotion is the headline-grabbing deal, AT&T is also offering aggressive promotions starting on Wednesday, Oct. 14, to those who prefer an Android upgrade. 

New and existing users can save up to $700 on a host of Android phones when buying on a 30-month installment plan and trading in a phone worth $95 or more. For Samsung, that includes the Galaxy Note 20 5G, Note 20 Ultra 5G, S20 FE 5G, S20 Plus 5G, S20 Ultra 5G, Z Flip 5G and Z Fold 2 5G. It also includes LG's V60 ThinQ 5G and the new Motorola Razr 5G foldable phone

Other phones with heavy discounts include the LG Velvet 5G, Samsung Galaxy A71 5G and A51 5G, Motorola One 5G , and  Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL . The Galaxy A11 and LG K40 are available for free on a 30-month installment with no trade-in required. 

As with the iPhone deal, taxes are still due on the purchase of a new device, and there are $30 activation fees.