How to Get a Cheaper iPhone 4 With the Help of a Friend or Family Member

Cheap iPhone 4

If you are like me and many other AT&T iPhone customers, you have logged on to to find out how much a new iPhone 4 will cost you, and you have been startled by the exorbitant price tag. Apple ads say the iPhone 4 starts at $200/$300, but the fine print reveals that this discount price applies only to new AT&T contracts.

If you’re like me, your heart stopped as an unanticipated $700 price tag forced you to reconsider your iPhone 4 purchase. Well don’t get discouraged just yet. There is still hope for getting a cheaper iPhone 4, if you’re willing to ask a friend or family member for a favor.

Read on to find out how to save $200 on an iPhone 4 with the help of a close friend or family member:

Disclaimer: This story is for entertainment purposes only. I encourage everyone to abide by all the terms and conditions of their AT&T contracts. This article is not to be construed as counsel or advice. Attempt any of the following at your own risk.

First, let me outline some of Apple and AT&T’s iPhone rules and regulations.

Apple’s rules for iPhone 4 sales in the US:

  • As most of you know, iPhone remains exclusive to AT&T as of this writing. That means you are not officially allowed to use another carrier on your iPhone. Note: It is not against the law to use another carrier. You can do so by jailbreaking then unlocking your iPhone, but be aware it will void your warranty.
  • If you purchase an iPhone at your local Apple Store, you must activate it (i.e. link it with an AT&T account via iTunes) in the store at the time of purchase.
  • If you are on a family plan, the primary account holder must go to the Apple Store to purchase iPhones for any of the other family members on the account.
  • If you purchase an iPhone online, it must be shipped to the address of the primary account holder.

AT&T’s rules for iPhone 4 sales:

  • AT&T will subsidize the cost of an iPhone 4 and offer it to new contract signers at $200 for the 16gb model or $300 for the 32gb model.
  • AT&T offers “early upgrade” eligibility to certain users, meaning they can get a reduced price on a new iPhone 4. Early upgrade eligibility is determined by several factors in addition to your contract length, according to ZDNet’s guide to iPhone upgrade policies:
    AT&T takes into account your spending level, whether you are a good customer who pays his bill on time, and how far you are into your contract to determine whether you can upgrade early. AT&T has said that it will allow existing iPhone customers who are eligible for an upgrade between June 7 and the end of this year to get the best pricing for the iPhone 4 with a two-year term commitment.
  • Upon purchasing the iPhone 4, you must select a data plan for your account. All iPhone customers must have a data plan.

As you can see, Apple and AT&T make it considerably difficult and nearly impossible for people to buy iPhones that are not linked to your own AT&T account. But there are ways to get around this.

How to Get a Cheaper iPhone 4

Imagine this scenario:

You have a friend or family member who is one of those “non-tech” people that is perfectly content with a modest cell phone with basic functionality. In my case, this person could be my mother. She has a basic camera phone that she is happy to continue using with her AT&T account, which has always served her well.

If you have a spouse, family member, or close friend who fits this description, they may be able to help you get a $200 discount on the iPhone 4, assuming you are in the position to pay $600/$700 with your own AT&T account.

Now imagine my mother has early upgrade eligibility and is allowed to purchase the iPhone for $400/$500 instead of $600/$700. I send her a $427 (with taxes) check for a 16gb iPhone 4, she purchases the iPhone and links it to her phone number, mails it to me and I place my SIM card in and activate it with my phone number.

As a result, I get an iPhone 4 for $200 cheaper, and she goes back to her old cell phone.

A couple of caveats:

  1. She has added a $15 data plan to her account, which she doesn’t actually need. To remove the data plan, we will call AT&T and simply tell them she has switched back to her old phone and no longer has any need for the data plan.
  2. This may prevent her from getting an AT&T-subsidized cell phone in the near future.

Does This Work?

Yes. Although the thought never occurred to me in previous years, my friend recommended I do this after learning about it from one of his friends who works at AT&T. Many people are on family plans, so it is easy to do this “bait and switch” with a family member who does not care to get a fancy phone. Even if you are not on a family plan, this should still work. My friend has successfully reduced his iPhone price with this method a couple of times already.

Is This Allowed?

To the best of my knowledge, the above strategy is not illegal, though it may technically go against your AT&T contract (who knows? did you actually read the whole thing?). According to ZDnet’s iPhone upgrade guide, this is a tricky issue:

Let’s say that I have an iPhone 3GS. I’m not eligible for an upgrade, but my husband who is on my family plan and has an LG flip phone is eligible for an upgrade. Can I use his upgrade to get a new iPhone 4 for $199 or $299 for myself?
This is tricky. Technically, the answer is no. The upgrade is only for the subscriber whose contract is expiring. But a way to get around this is to “replace” the old LG phone with the iPhone 4. Then you can switch the phone numbers and continue to use the LG phone and reduce the service on that line.

Source: Demistifying AT&T’s iPhone upgrade policies (FAQ)

Who Should You Ask for the Favor?

It takes a generous person to do this for you, and that’s why I recommend only asking people who are close to you and who you think would not mind doing you the favor. Ask someone who is not tech savvy and is perfectly content with a basic cheap phone. I have a few friends and family members who just don’t care to have an iPhone or a new cell phone. These are the perfect candidates to ask.


Again, please attempt this at your own risk. However, it is a shortcut that has worked for a friend of mine and that I expect would work for me, based on the research I have done.

Let me know if this works out for you and if you have any other tips for saving money on a new iPhone.

Why AT&T’s New Data Plan Will Likely Save You Money

Most of us were pretty upset when AT&T announced it would get rid of unlimited data plans, but if you are in the vast majority of iPhone users, a look at your past data usage will reveal that AT&T’s new plan will actually save you $60 a year.

Currently, AT&T’s unlimited data plan is $30 per month, but the new plan will cost $25 per month for 2 gigabytes of data, plus $25 for every 2 gigabyte increments you exceed. AT&T will no longer offer the unlimited data plan.

The idea of AT&T revoking the choice of unlimited data seems frustrating, but further investigation reveals that only extremely heavy data users will pay more money per month.

After doing some casual research, I realized that even a frequent iPhone user like me uses far less than 2 gigabytes of data per month.

Here’s what I found when I went to Settings >> General >> Usage:

iPhone Data Usage

These data usage statistics show that I’ve used a total of 9.3 gigabytes in the last 12 months, since I bought this iPhone 3GS. As someone who owns an iPhone-related website and is always on their iPhone, I was surprised to see that in the last year I have used only an average of .775 gigabytes per month. That’s less than 1 gigabyte per month without ever trying to restrict my data usage.

If my data usage is far less than 2 GB, I would venture to guess that yours is, too, unless you spend hours upon hours watching videos over 3G every day or downloading very large email attachments.

I have asked a few of my friends and family to check their own iPhone data usage, and every one has been surprised to find that they are actually going to save $5 a month with AT&T’s new data plan, since your data fee will drop from from $30 for unlimited data to $25 for more than you need.

You can thank those few extremely heavy iPhone users for subsidizing your new cheaper plan. Of course, as mobile phone usage continues to soar, we will likely start using more data, and perhaps spending more money in data chargers. At that point, will AT&T improve its infrastructure to meet the demand, or simply charge higher data fees?

How Much Data Do You Use?

Go to Settings >> General >> Usage and see how much data you’ve used since you purchased your iPhone. Will you save or lose money with AT&T’s new data plan?

WiFi-Only Video Calls Makes FaceTime Practically Useless

iPhone FaceTime

I have been wanting video calling on the iPhone for years. In fact, two years ago today I asked my readers if video messages for iPhone would be an appealing feature. I imagined different scenarios where mobile video calling would be practical, useful and fun.

So I was excited about Apple’s announcement today that the new iPhone 4 will feature a front-facing video camera as well as video chatting software, dubbed FaceTime.


The caveat is: FaceTime will only be usable over a WiFi network in 2010, and God knows how long we will have to wait for AT&T to step up and offer video calling over its 3G network.

Again, AT&T lets us down. We have waited for this feature for years, and now iPhone video chatting is here, but it’s crippled because you can’t use it over cellular data networks.

What good is video calling on a MOBILE phone if you can’t use it on the go? I mean, come on. If you live in the US, public WiFi hotspots are few and far between. And if I’m sitting somewhere where I have access to WiFi, then I’ll just use my laptop’s webcam to video call.

Does this bug you, too? How long do you think we’ll have to wait for video calling over 3G on iPhone 4?

No More Unlimited Data for iPhone on AT&T: Does it Tick You Off?

iPhone No More Unlimited Data AT&T

Thought unlimited data on your iPhone was too good to be true? It is now. AT&T has removed the option of unlimited data for smart phones and will begin charging new users based on how much data they use.

There are two new plans available for smart phone users. One, dubbed DataPro, offers 2GB of data per month for $25. If you go over, you are charged another $25. A second plan offers 200MB of data per month for $15, and if you exceed it, you’ll pay another $15 for 200 more megabytes.

This sucks if you ask me. Part of the magic of having an iPhone is the ability to do anything at any time without having to worry about data charges. Now, iPhone users will be forced to pay more to ration their data use, instead of AT&T paying more to upgrade its damn network already. What’s more, US iPhone users don’t have the choice to switch to another carrier because of AT&T and Apple’s exclusivity deal. This is not progress, it is regress, as Cult of Mac writer John Brownlee accurately points out:

&%$@ you, AT&T. Has there ever been a more worthless telecom? After three full years of supplying terrible service to their iDevice customers and skimping at every turn on using their profit from iPhone contracts to substantially improve their 3G networks, they’re now raising prices for inferior service. — Opinion: AT&T’s New Data Plans Make iPhone Look Worse Than Android

Time to go to Android on Verizon, where you can get unlimited data for $29.99. Either that or jailbreak/unlock your iPhone and use another carrier.

What’s Your Opinion?

Does it bother you that AT&T has removed the unlimited data plan for iPhone? Is it enough to make you switch to Android? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Trouble Finding an iPhone 3GS?

iPhone 3GS

I spent all day yesterday trying to buy a new iPhone 3G S, with no luck. Yes, the Apple Store had them in stock, but they don’t let you buy an iPhone unless the AT&T account holder is present. My dad is the account holder for our Family Plan, but he is over 300 miles away.

When I was in Miami, the Apple Store staffers told me I could buy an iPhone 3G S at the AT&T store without the account holder present, but no AT&T stores in Florida currently have them in stock, including stores in Miami, Orlando, Ocala and Gainesville.

I spent over an hour calling AT&T stores throughout the state. Why don’t AT&T employees have the capability to tell me if there is an iPhone in stock at a particular store???

I called an Apple Store in Orlando and asked how I could buy the iPhone 3G S without the AT&T account holder present, and an employee told me the only thing I could do was sign up for a new contract with AT&T… um, no thanks.

“No problem,” I thought. “I’ll order one online.”

So I went through the checkout process on, hesitating before clicking Complete and spending $543.36, including an extra $10 for 2-3 day shipping — that is, after selling my 3G iPhone on eBay for $315.

I finally placed the order and received an email confirmation that said my iPhone should arrive between July 9 and July 13, twelve to sixteen days from yesterday. I’m not willing to wait that long.

So I canceled my order, called my dad in Miami and asked him to pick one up for me and ship it up to Gainesville. Hopefully I’ll have it in a few days. The problem is that, in the meantime, my phone will be deactivated because Apple requires you to activate the iPhone in the store when you purchase it, hence deactivating any other phone that’s using that account.

It makes no sense that I can buy an iPhone 3G S on without a problem, but if you go to a physical Apple Store, they won’t sell it to you without the account holder by your side. In my opinion, if you’re willing to spend half a grand on a phone, you shouldn’t have to jump through hoops.

Has anyone else had trouble getting their hands on an iPhone 3G S? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.