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How to Save Tons of Money When Buying a Cell Phone

by on September 28, 2010
in Phones and Mobile, Phone Accessories, Cell Phones, Tips & How-Tos, Guides & Reviews, Money Savers :: 7 comments

Buying a cell phone from your local wireless carrier's store—AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint—is easy. Just walk in, pick out your phone, setup your plan and go.

But you can save a lot of money on the exact same phone with the exact same plan by buying online instead—as much as $200, for some of the hottest new smartphones.

Who are these fly-by-night online retailers? How about AmazonWireless and Walmart. And also, Wirefly, the largest online cell phone retailer (which operates Radio Shack's online store, as well).

As you can see from the price comparison, the amount you save will vary by carrier and model, but it's often considerable. And, you even get free shipping (2-day with AmazonWireless) and phone activation promotions not available through the carriers.

Price Comparison - New 2-Year Contract (9/27/10)
 
Model
Carrier
Website/Store
AmazonWireless
Walmart**
  Wirefly 
 Savings
vs.
Carrier
AT&T
BlackBerry Torch
Samsung Captivate
$199.99
$199.99
$99.99
$59.99
$99.99
$59.99
$99.99
$59.99
$100
$140
Sprint
HTC EVO
Samsung Epic 4G
$199.99
$249.99
$179.99*
$199.99*
$199.99
$219.99
$189.99
$199.99
$20
$50
T-Mobile
Samsung Vibrant
$199.99
$99.99
$99.99
$59.99
$140
Verizon
Droid 2
Droid Incredible
Droid X
Samsung Fascinate
$199.99
$199.99
$199.99
$199.99
$99.99
$79.99
$179.99
$.01
$49.99
$79.99
$179.99
$99.99
$49.99
$79.99
$179.99
$9.99
$150
$120
$20
$200
*Sprint phones are only available through Amazon.com, not AmazonWireless.com.
**Price only available w/certain plans. Lower priced plans will result in higher phone cost.

And it gets even better. Buy a cell phone from one of the carriers' stores and you'll need to mail in a physical rebate form to get the full discount—what decade are these guys in? The online retailers bake it all into the price—no extra steps necessary.

And there's really no catch. You're buying a brand new phone with the same calling and data plans available through the carrier. Of course, you'll also have the same contract restrictions, early terminations fees, etc.

Okay, there's one catch. You won't get help transferring your data from your old cell phone to your new one if you buy online. Most of the carriers' brick-and-mortar stores will transfer your contacts and other basic information if you buy from them. Though, if you're already syncing your contacts with your computer or a web service (e.g., GMail), resyncing to your new cell phone is a breeze.

(UPDATE 9/28/10: Corrected to show that Sprint phones are available through Amazon. Since pricing was posted yesterday, the Samsung Vibrant and Droid 2 have both dropped to $49.99 on AmazonWireless.)

Want to save even more? Trade-in your old cell phone.

Your old phone is worth money—often more than you think. So when buying a new phone, it pays to check out the trade-in value on your old one, rather than just throwing it in a drawer until it becomes completely obsolete.

There are both in-store and web-based trade-in programs available. The in-store ones will usually credit you with a store-issued gift card. The online ones pay cash.

There are too many trade-in websites to list and cover in this space, but some of the leaders—which you should consider checking first—are BuyMyTronics.com, Gazelle.com and CExchange.com.

For more details, check out our article on maximizing the value of your trade-ins.

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Discussion loading

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Although not mentioned, we found

From Mark K on January 26, 2011 :: 2:15 pm

Although not mentioned, we found similar deals at our local Best Buy,and they moved everything from old phone to new(they also seemed more interested in assisting with selection).

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I found the same with

From CindyM on January 26, 2011 :: 6:56 pm

I found the same with Best Buy!  They were awesome in customer service!  Great Prices also!  They made me a very satisfied customer!  I will return often!

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Actually, you can transfer numbers

From bbnetter on February 07, 2011 :: 7:15 pm

Actually, if you buy from an authorized retailer, you can get help transferring numbers.  Just order the phone from Wirefly, then after it’s activated, walk into the Verizon or Sprint store and ask them to help transfer the numbers.  They’ll still do this for you.  You don’t give up any of your rights as a customer when you order from an authorized retailer.  I’ve purchased my last several phones from Wirefly.com and it’s a piece of cake.

Also Wirefly now has a free app that backs up your contacts.  It’s not quite as easy as having somebody else do it for you but it stores them remotely so it still works even if you switch carriers.

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Thanks for the money saving

From Sair on June 17, 2011 :: 2:46 pm

Thanks for the money saving tips, I’ve been in the market for a new cell phone!

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There is a catch with Wirefly.

From james on November 08, 2011 :: 5:14 pm

If you bail out of your service contract before it ends, you not only owe your provider an ETF, you WILL ALSO owe Wirefly an ETF. Yes, a double ETF! Go look it up.

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The "catch" is not such a big deal

From fis on November 08, 2011 :: 5:25 pm

The “catch” with Wirefly is not such a big deal.  It only applies if you bail on your contract in the FIRST SIX MONTHS.  That’s the way all authorized agents work.  If you cancel within six months, Verizon revokes the agent’s commission.  It’s just Wirefly’s protection against fraud.

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Trade-in cell phone

From Jon Vays on March 21, 2012 :: 12:20 pm

There is only 3 mentioned above, but there are actually a lot more of these trade-in websites. Many promise high values for your device, but end up pulling a bait and switch telling you that the device is in worse condition then it actually is. A friend of mine used http://www.tradeinspot.com and was very happy so I decided to try for myself. Just mailed my phone out yesterday, so we will see what happens.

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