Here's the secret to giving a new phone as a gift

Buying an upgrade or a new line of service can be tricky around the holidays. Don't worry, we have your back.

Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
2 min read
Sarah Tew/CNET

Whether you have a kid who is finally of the age you deem it appropriate he or she has a phone, or your spouse is overdue for an upgrade, the holidays make for a good occasion to get a new phone. But instead of activating the phone right away, potentially revealing your intentions, there's a way to keep a phone under the tree without anyone knowing. 

So, what's the secret? 

Ask to 'future date' the activation

When you visit a retail store for your respective carrier, ask the representative to future date the activation for the day before (or day of) your gift exchange. Doing so will leave the phone inactive until your preferred date, and has the added benefit of not billing you for the number of days you have the phone wrapped up in a box.

Additionally, if you're giving a phone as an upgrade gift to someone, the person's current phone will continue working until activation takes place -- leaving him or her none the wiser to the fact there's a shiny new phone sitting under the tree.

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Each carrier works a bit differently, so we reached out to each of the major carrier's in the US for some details. Here's what to keep in mind for each one:


T-Mobile will future date activations for upgrades and new lines of service up to 30 days. Because the line isn't activated when you leave the store, you can't sign up for an Equipment Installment Plan or Jump On Demand at that time. Instead, you'll need to wait for the line to activate before you can sign up for either payment program.

If you have multiple lines on your account, you can always sign up for a payment program using one of the current lines and have the phone put on the new line.


Sprint will future date activations for new lines of service or upgrades. Billing for service will not start until the date of activation, but payment plans for the device will begin immediately.


AT&T will future date activations up to 30 days for new lines of service or upgrades. AT&T Next Installment payments begin on activation date for new lines of service, or purchase date for upgrades. 


For new lines of service, Verizon will future date activations by seven days. For existing lines of service where a device is upgraded, the carrier will future date the activation without any sort of time restriction. Charges as part of the device payment program will appear on the next bill.