Oct 29 2008
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AT&T $18 cell phone upgrade fee

Filed under: Hardware » Wireless,

So much for upgrading for free...

My new cell phone from a couple years back (a Motorola L6) gave up the fight after less than a year's use. Good thing that I hung on to some of my older cell phones - a trusty Samsung that, unfortunately (after being thrown at a wall - don't ask Eye-wink recently gave up the fight as well. I thought, okay, I'm probably eligible for another free phone upgrade. I signed on to our AT&T wireless account, and sure enough, they were advertising free phone upgrades and various discounts. I ended up selecting a refurbished Samsung (no more Motorolas for me) Blackjack II for $50, a steep discount from the $300+ retail cost. Checkout process is easy enough - but what happens in the end? Just before hitting the checkout button the final cost jumps to $68. I'm thinking, where did that come from? I hadn't done any plan upgrades, nor added any features or accessories.

Mandatory upgrade fees with most carriers

It turns out that just about all wireless carriers, including AT&T, charge a mandatory $18 upgrade fee, regardless of how long you've been a customer. I suppose there's overhead on the backend from shipping and processing costs with free phone orders, I can understand that. What I don't understand is why they specifically advertise the upgrade as free all over their website, when in fact upgrading will always cost $18 (some carries, such as Nextel, charge even more ($36 for a Nextel phone upgrade)). To me it's the principle - in this day and age companies need to be transparent and upfront about their costs. If they're not, it prompts a rant such as this one, and may others you'll find if you Google "AT&T (or any other wireless carrier) upgrade fee."

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Upgrade fees

Yea I'm mad. I've been with this so called best cell phone service company for almost 25 years. I called about getting a so called free upgrade for two phones on my line. The rep on the phone said "You can upgrade two of your three phones for free or actually .99 cents for the iPhone4S." So I go to the ATT store and they want to charge me $36 for each of the two phones that are eligible for their so called FREE upgrade. What is so free about an extra $72 on my next bill and needless to say another two year contract with them? My monthly bill runs around $250.00 a month, times that by 24 months and the total is $6000.00. That's just crazy that they (ATT) won't waive the so called upgrade fees. Guess what ATT you just lost $5928.00 from a loyal 25 year customer and I will tell everyone I know about this. Hello VERIZON! Maybe you will do the same, I have two words for you ATT and it's not "GOOD BYE".

Guess what? It just went up

Guess what? It just went up to $36. I have no idea how they justify this. Makes me wanna not upgrade out of principle.

Upgrade fees = Bait and Switch

Upgrade fees are nothing but a bait and switch tactic to get you to the point of sale for a device at one price only to slam you with additional mandatory costs.

For example, AT&T's upgrade price is $199.99 for an iPhone 4S with a (kinda hidden) $36 upgrade fee.  The phone is really $235.99!  You don't go to a restaurant and buy a $1.00 burger with a $4 assembly and delivery charge to pay for the expense of the chef that cooks it and waitress that delivers it!  Those expenses are supposed to be built into the core burger price.

How would it be any different if AT&T advertised a $99.99 iPhone 4S with a $136 upgrade fee or even a free iPhone 4S with a $235.99 upgrade fee?  Other than making it upgrade fee appear even more crooked and absurd there's really no difference!  This is bait and switch pure and simple, and this is why I am with one of those ghetto cheapo prepaid services.

AT&T's upgrade fee

Everyone is ranting. Who has the code to avoid/waive the fee? Does a code exist?

Customer service

As far as we know the only way to have it removed is to "talk" your way out of it. Ie. if you can convince them that this fee is what's keeping you from being a customer, they will most likely waive it.

Upgrade fee is just another junk fee ...

Customer service told me that they usually waive the upgrade fee but ordering online, the fee stays to cover backend costs. This is obviously a junk fee because the reasoning is ass-backwards - the real costs are with the phone orders, not the web orders.

I've been with AT&T for a long time (in some form or the other) and have suffered thru a couple of "forced" upgrades, where the carrier degrades coverage so badly that its customers are forced into upgrading.

As a corporate customer, I don't think I have ever been treated worse! Since I travel often, my old GSM candy bar phone works well, even at home where the coverage is minimal, I can still make and receive complete calls. Back in July, this abruptly stopped with calls dropping after 20 seconds or not making it to the phones. After jumping thru the hoops of customer service and then being told that the towers were down, we still have practically non-existent coverage.

We were twice offered a "free" AT&T 3G Microcell (essentially a mini-cell tower made by Cisco priced at $199). The local AT&T corporate store simply laughed me out of the store each time. I finally purchased one online for $100 on the threat of canceling my service. As illustrated in one of Lewis Black's comedy routines (he went thru the same experience as us), the Microcell is highly overrated and not reliable.

Since we were planning to upgrade to smartphones anyways, I got one for my wife which has the same performance of our old phone - the Microcell is intermittent and NOT reliable. I had to return my phone but then they bumped up the prices to make me seriously consider switching providers.

I Wasn't Charged with other Carriers

I didn't realize there was a fee for an att cell phone upgrade for existing customers. I had another major carrier for 10 years, and probably upgraded around 20 phones. They charged me for a new line activation but never for a replacement phone.

I never noticed this

Maybe I just never paid attention to my bill when upgraded my AT&T phones. I know for other carriers I had I didn't pay anything extra as an existing customer.

Who cares

It's $18 going towards investing in the network to make it a better company than all the rest. You get a free phone as the upgrade (selected models). The upgrade is not free. Unless you're under a business account then it will be waived.

But some of you people who say you've been a customer for 10 years when really us who can see that you have only been a customer for 2 are hilarious. Then you cry saying you shouldn't have to pay $18 to make a little investment in having better service. For those thinking "I pay enough on my bill" that's for maintaining the towers and airwaves and data channels. It's the most expensive as well. So 18 dollars to go towards making it better is really nothing to me anyways. For you others - don't upgrade your cell phone.

to "Who Cares"

I can't tell if you're kidding or not. But, assuming that you're not, and that you're not a troll:

I don't know who you work for, but an attempt to justify piecemeal, bait-and-switch pricing schemes of any company is unconscionable regardless of industry, but of your own employer (whoever they may be) is counter to your own interests. I will explain.

Regarding the nature of the "upgrade" fee; Replacing a dead phone is not an "upgrade", so it pisses me off that all carriers attempt to characterize it as such. I may be in the minority when I say I use a phone to make phone calls, primarily. As such, I don't seek out the latest features. So, endless expanding features (especially ones that are frivolous, and related to entertainment purely) I don't feel I should pay for anyway, but if I am forced to, that absolutely should be included in the monthly bill. By the way, before you accuse me of being a luddite, I have been in and out of the IT industry, from programming to tech support, since 1986. Yes, that makes me old, but it also provides some evidence that I'm not afraid of or incapable of dealing with technological change. I don't "upgrade", I replace failed equipment. It is also not my fault that most of this equipment has an engineered durability for ONLY the 2 year contract cycle.

Suggesting that and upgrade fee (or an activation fee) is acceptable is wrong. These fees are above and beyond what a person should reasonably expect to pay; not in amount (which is relatively a pittance), but in timing. Ostensibly, a person is attracted to a particular company based on exclusive equipment or services (or reputation of those services). These things are regularly advertised in active (broadcast, print, internet ads) and passive (carrier's own websites) media. However, except when activation fees are promotionally exempted, there are no advertisements of activation fees, and there are NEVER ads for "upgrade" fees. These fees are non-competitive, and not part of the pitch or sale; essentially they are a hidden part of the contract. A reasonable person (unless they are experienced in the phenomenon) should not normally expect to pay for anything other than the equipment (at the time of purchase) and service (in monthly bills while service is being used for length of contract). If any carrier wishes to pass on expenses of upgrading their network, this should be done where service is paid for. Ultimately, since I "upgrade" less, I would pay more, yet I argue this is where these fees belong.

As far as being an employee of a company and arguing that these fees do anything other than increase profits is just plain wrong. These upgrade fees are in no way tied directly to any expense. No fee does that. None. For any company. The only institution that even halfway does that is a government because some percentages of some forms of tax are legally obligated to be used for certain purposes. Corporate income is intended to maximize profits. You, as an employee, are an expense, and one other way to maximize profits is to cut down on expenses. They can add fees and get rid of you and your whole office and still make and increase profit. That is there sole mission. It is, in fact (and strangely) their legal obligation. It is not in your interest to defend their marginally legal pricing schemes. They don't keep you on because they maintain sufficient income to pay for you (or because you or they are loyal), they keep you on because you serve some necessary function. As soon as that function because obsolete (because of an "upgrade" no doubt), you are history. And right after they fire you, they'll increase the fees. Fees have no relationship to the expenses. They charge as much as the market will bear.

Funding improved service? More like dropped calls

I know this was posted forever ago, but that was great. I love intelligent retorts. I'd also like to add to that...if that upgrade fee was in any way an attempt to fund improved service, then my damn calls wouldn't be dropped more and more as time goes on. For as long as I have been with AT&T which is---yes---over ten years now (if we count back to when it was still Cingular) my service should be freakin' impeccable for as many times as I've upgraded. I live in a suburb of Philly that is heavily populated and I cannot drive through these neighborhoods without dropping calls 2-3 times. So much for that silly argument.

Get it waived

I got a new phone, and find the $18 upgrade fee on my bill 2 months later (their billing cycles are beyond bizarre). Well, after I call and fight with two reps over simply figuring out what the bill increase is from, I hang up.

Deep breaths.

Call again. Hello, I'd like to get the $18 upgrade fee on my bill waived. Sure, sure, the store employee that sold me the phone said it was going to be waived. Sure, I'll wait.

*ten minutes later*

Thank you, mister AT&T customer. Your fee has been waived. Thank you for being a dedicated AT&T customer for the last 6 years.

RE: AT&T Upgrade Fee Waiver

Just a note to update my earlier post: After replying by email to the Tech that denied my waiver, I called AT&T and spoke with a LIVE customer representative. He made the proper adjustment for me and waived the fee. I suppose it is a better idea to CALL instead of email. Smiling

AT&T Fee Waivers

I usually do not have any problems getting them to waive the $18.00 upgrade fees. However, I just upgraded my phone last weekend and a tech said they can't waive the fee. I don't think it's "can't". I think it is "don't want to". I helped my mom upgrade her phone last month at Radio Shack and AT&T later waived that fee. I was told that if the POS is done directly through AT&T, they will waive the upgrade fee. Now I've gotten an email stating that they can't do that. Pay a bill around $117 each month (which amounts up to approx $1404.00/yr). I can't believe someone would be concerned about an $18.00 upgrade fee!

Wait it gets better!

I went on also to get the Samsung Jack II (I just want a querty keyboard!) It says the $18 fee will be charged to my bill. Then I decide to add a gel cover-cover is $3.75 minus a $1.25 company discount we get because of where my husband works. I try to order a new phone but it says I have to upgrade my plan, but it won't let me upgrade the plan! So it wants to charge me $274, back to the drawing board I'll take a refurb. I put the refurb in, great the $274 goes away. Now they want my credit card number okay no big deal, I have to pay $2.50 for the cover. Next page they're going to charge $21.75 to my credit card-huh? Okay so they're charging me the $18 upgrade fee & for the gel cover but even though it says right there there is $1.25 discount they are still charging me $3.75! I'm done I'm going to find a phone on craig's list!

Upgrade fee

You can tell them to note on your account that you will be calling back for a refund on the $18 fee once you get the bill in the mail. It's really stupid because what happens is they bill you the $18, you call and tell them to credit your account (which they do). You have to pay the $18 upgrade fee that was billed to you, but there will be an $18 credit on your next phone bill. I guess they do it because most people won't take the time to call (like the ones who don't take the time to send in the rebate forms that they give you). I think the FCC needs to regulate it a little better, but that's just my annoyed opinion on the matter.

Hidden Fees

I got slammed with the upgrade fee just for going into the store and buying a new phone (cheapest they had) because my old one was no longer working. There was no new features with this new phone, nor did we sign any agreement.


I agree that this is ridiculous and what's worse is that there is nothing the consumer can do about it. That's the problem with most things in our economy is that we have all kinds of freedoms but have mandatory ridiculous charges and hidden fees that no one can seem to get out of paying. AT&T is a joke.

Upgrade fee

Yes, indeed! I've been a loyal AT&T customer yet they still charge a mandatory $18 upgrade fee.

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