Is Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program the best way to buy the iPhone 6S?

iPhone 6S hands on
Jeff Van Camp/Digital Trends
What Apple fan doesn’t want a new iPhone every year? Making sure the latest model is in your hands as quickly as possible is part of the fun, but it can be a very expensive and also very difficult process. Things are getting easier, with the introduction of leasing programs by carriers, but you still have to choose one provider, and there are a lot of deals to examine.

With the introduction of the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus, Apple has come up with its own way for fans to get the newest models with less hassle. It’s called the iPhone Upgrade Program, and at first glance it looks like excellent value. After all, it guarantees you a new phone each year, and comes with AppleCare+ coverage.

However, before you sign-up, let’s look at the plan in more detail, and compare it with some of the other options out there. Is the iPhone Upgrade Program the best way to buy your new iPhone? We went through all the available pricing offers for the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus to find out what the best deal is. Suffice it to say, the iPhone Upgrade Program is not the cheapest option. Read on for full details.

*Note: Current pricing info is limited, but we will update this when more info comes out.

Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program

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The iPhone Upgrade Program is very simple, because Apple has done a good job laying out the pricing structure. You apply to finance your new iPhone over a period of 24-months, get the option to upgrade to the new iPhone after 12-months, and receive two-years worth of AppleCare+ thrown into the mix. AppleCare+ covers the phone for repair or replacement in the event of failure, two accidents related to water, damage the screen, or problems after dropping it.

Here is a break down of the pricing for both iPhones on the Apple Upgrade Program with AppleCare+ versus the full retail price without AppleCare+.

iPhone 6S

Storage  Price per month Total price Retail price*
 16GB $32.41 x 24 months $777.84 $650
 64GB $36.58 x 24 months $877.92 $750
128GB $40.75 x 24 months $978 $850

*Normal full retail price for the iPhone 6S without AppleCare+ or the Upgrade Program

iPhone 6S Plus

Storage   Price per month  Total price Retail Price*
 16GB  $36.58 x 24 months  $877.92  $750
 64GB  $40.75 x 24 months  $978 $850
 128GB  $44.91 x 24 months  $1,077.84 $950

*Normal full retail price for the iPhone 6S without AppleCare+ or the Upgrade Program

So is it a good deal?

As you can see, the full retail price is $100+ less than the what you’ll pay if you opt for the Apple Upgrade Program. However, you won’t have AppleCare+ insurance if you decide to pay for the phone outright, and depending on which carrier you go with, insurance could cost you extra. Essentially, the Apple Upgrade Program asks you to pay for your new iPhone outright, and then some, but you will get insurance. If you habitually break your phone, and depend on Apple for service, it could be a good deal, though some carriers will offer less expensive insurance.

If you’re still interested in the Apple Upgrade Program, there are a few more things you need to know. To qualify, you’ll need to complete the status check, and have a valid U.S. personal credit card in your possession. You’ll also have to agree to activate the phone with AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, or Verizon. The phone is unlocked though, so you’ll be free to choose and swap between the carriers. If you decide to upgrade after a year, you’ll have to sign on for another two years with the program, and pay full price — and then some — for your next iPhone.

The deal is straight forward, and the cost is the same as buying an iPhone with an AppleCare+ program separately. You’re just paying for it monthly — with no interest — and getting a new iPhone after a year if you want one. Apple is still putting together the small print, and if anything changes we’ll update you here.

Learn more here.

Next page: Pricing on the networks

How about the carriers?

If you have no interest in the AppleCare+ warranty or just want to see if a better deal may be found with a carrier, then you’ll be interested in the promotions from the four major carriers in the United States.

T-Mobile

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The company’s website is still showing the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus as coming soon, but CEO John Legere announced how much the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus will cost — for a limited time — on its Jump on Demand program. Unfortunately, numbers are only currently available for the 16GB model.

  • 16GB iPhone 6S: $20 per month for 18 months = $360 total
  • 16GB iPhone 6S Plus: $24 per month for 18 months = $432 total

There’s no downpayment required, and you can upgrade your phone up to three times each year, rather than only once. There is a $164 charge at the end of the 18-month lease if you want to keep your new iPhone 6S, but that brings the total to $524 or $596 (depending on which model you choose), which is less than the full retail cost of a contract-free 16GB iPhone 6S or 6S Plus.

Insurance is an additional $8 per month, and is recommended if you’re considering upgrading the phone frequently. Add this to the $524 price tag of an 16GB iPhone 6S, and the grand total is $716 over two years. That’s much less than the Apple Upgrade program, even if you add insurance, which you do not have to do.

Learn more here.

AT&T

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Like T-Mobile, AT&T hasn’t released all its pricing yet, but its preview page states the cheapest prices for the 16GB iPhone 6S and 6S Plus on the AT&T Next 24 program.

  • 16GB iPhone 6S: $21.67 per month for 30 months = $650
  • 16GB iPhone 6S Plus: $25 per month for 30 months = $750

An upgrade will be possible after 24 months, so you’ll miss out on the inevitable iPhone 7, and insurance is an additional $7 per month, which means you’ll pay $860 for an insured 16GB iPhone 6S in total on the 30-month plan. If you don’t add insurance, AT&T’s iPhone 6S and 6S Plus deals on the Next 24 payment plan are cheaper than the iPhone Upgrade Plan, but if you add insurance, Apple’s plan is a better deal by almost $100.

Learn more here.

Sprint

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Sprint has a couple of options for users, including two-year contract prices, leasing options, and monthly payment plans. Sprint’s leasing plan is even cheaper than T-Mobile’s if you’re a current Sprint user who’s upgrading, and you’ll pay just $15 a month for the 16GB iPhone 6S and $19 per month for the 16GB iPhone 6S Plus. New customers who don’t trade in a phone will pay $22 a month for the 16GB iPhone 6S or $26 a month for the 16GB iPhone 6S Plus

This so-called iPhone for Life program lets you lease the phone for 22 months, and when a new version is released, you can upgrade to it immediately. However, the phone is never yours. Here’s the pricing breakdown.

For those who don’t trade in an old phone:

  • 16GB iPhone 6S: $22 per month for 22 months = $484
  • 16GB iPhone 6S Plus: $26 per month for 22 months = $572

For those who trade in their old phone:

  • 16GB iPhone 6S: $15 per month for 22 months = $330
  • 16GB iPhone 6S Plus: $19 per month for 22 months = $418

However, insurance through the Total Equipment Protection service will be $9 per month for the 16GB model, which adds $198 to the total prices listed above after 22 months.  The other models go up from there. As such, Sprint’s cheapest offer with insurance would cost you $528 total over 22 months. That’s much less than either T-Mobile, AT&T, or the Apple Upgrade Program, but these deals are limited time promotions.

Learn more here.

Verizon

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There are no official plans announced for the iPhone 6S or 6S Plus yet, but that’s sure to change in the coming hours. We’ll keep you updated here. In the meantime, you can sign up for more info here.

Existing deals for the iPhone 6/6 Plus may apply

Most carriers have various convoluted ways of ‘helping’ subscribers to upgrade. If you’re still confused, network comparison website WhistleOut shows the deals which are available on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, along with other devices here. It’s a handy, if confusing, guide; but doesn’t necessarily apply to the new 6S and 6S Plus, because it doesn’t take into account any of the special pre-order deals that exist.

WhistleOut compares general upgrade-ready plans between networks.
WhistleOut

The best deal?

Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program is competitively priced, and beats AT&T’s initial non-special offer pricing, while coming with the added benefit of the comprehensive AppleCare+ coverage and guaranteed upgrade. However, T-Mobile’s special Jump On Demand offer is cheaper, even with the insurance plan added, so may be worth investigating if you’re happy to choose that carrier. Same goes for Sprint, which actually has the cheapest options, even with insurance added.

Here is a breakdown of the prices without insurance (except Apple’s plan):

   Apple  AT&T Verizon   T-Mobile  Sprint*
16GB  iPhone 6S  $777.84 $650 Unknown $360  $330
 16Gb iPhone 6S Plus  $877.92  $750 Unknown  $432  $418

*Best prices listed. None of the above prices except Apple’s include insurance costs.

Apple’s Upgrade Program isn’t the best deal, unless you really want insurance that covers major repairs and other issues. If you just want the new iPhone, and don’t mind leasing, Sprint and T-Mobile have the best prices. Of course, their networks are also the least reliable in some parts of the United States. Verizon’s prices are expected to be similar to AT&T’s, so those two will likely be the most expensive options. That said, those two carriers have stronger networks than Sprint or T-Mobile.

In the end, it really comes down to the question of insurance and your choice of carrier.

We’ll keep you updated with new offers as they’re announced.

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