Attention Verizon Wireless customers considering upgrading to an iPhone 4: Read the fine print. That heavily promoted $200 upgrade deal you've probably seen from Verizon doesn't apply to everyone. To hear most sites tell it, you can pick up an entry-level 16GB Verizon iPhone for just $200. It'll run you $300 if you want the extra 16GB, but hey, $200! That's not so bad. These things sell for $650 and $750 without the discount. Who'd actually pay that?
Anyone who's already a short-term Verizon customer, that's who. Like me! In fact I'm not even eligible for the $100 discount the company offers users every 20 months (a discount it's phasing out). I signed up with Verizon last April. My wife and I grabbed the family plan and a couple of cheap LG clamshells. We'd considered AT&T iPhones, but I'd heard the rumors about a Verizon iPhone coming in 2011. My wife's family lives on a farm in the Midwest with no AT&T data service and questionable voice coverage. Verizon voice and data, on the other hand, work fine. We decided to stick with Verizon and wait.
Until last night, that is, when I received one of those portentous e-mails: "iPhone 4. Verizon. It begins tomorrow. 02.03.11." Racing through the online pre-order procedure after it activated in the wee hours this morning (3am ET, thanks a lot Verizon!) I smacked into the following screen:
Full retail price? $650 for the 16GB iPhone 4? That's what it looked like, and sure enough, my Verizon online account page said I wasn't eligible for an upgrade until January 2012. Just to be sure, I gave Verizon a call.
"That's right Mr. Peckham, you'll have to pay full retail price if you want an iPhone 4," said the Verizon rep half an hour later (Verizon customer service is swamped today, no surprise). "We're not able to offer any other discounts, and you're not eligible for a phone upgrade at this time."
"Okay, but what if I cancel my existing contract?" I said, probing a different angle. "What if I just pay the termination fee and sign up again?"
"You could do that," said the rep. "It would cost you $135 to cancel today [Note: This fee varies based on how far along you are in your contract]. You could cancel, pay the $135 fee, then sign up again and get the 16GB iPhone 4 you want for $200."
Me: "So you're telling me that if I'm willing to lose my number and pay an activation fee, it's a lot cheaper if I want the 16GB iPhone 4 to cancel my contract and set up a new one?"
Verizon: "That's correct."
There you have it. Cancel your contract, pay the $135 termination fee, pay the $35 one-time new contract activation fee, and you can nab a 16GB iPhone 4 from Verizon for much less than you would pay by simply upgrading within your contract.
And there's more. It turns out you might not have to lose your Verizon number. Not if you port it to Google Voice (before canceling, of course). The cost to do so: $20. My port's pending as I type this.
As I understand it, it's possible to port from Google Voice back to Verizon as well, but even if that turns out not to be the case (or too much of a headache to bother) I can always forward calls from Google Voice to whatever my new Verizon number turns out to be, once I sign back up.
Let's review the math. For $650, I keep my number and get a Verizon iPhone 4 without the extra steps.
Or I cancel my Verizon contract for $135, lose the number (or pay Google Voice $20 to port it for safekeeping), set up a new contract for $35, pay $200 for the 16GB iPhone 4, all for $370--a savings of $280.
I might have to wait a little longer for my iPhone 4, since new contracts aren't allowed until February 9 (next Wednesday). But hey, it's $280. Hardly chump change. For that, I'd wait a lot more than a week.