The best Black Friday phone deals, and often the best smartphone deal all year, will usually be an offer for a free phone when you sign a contract deal with a mobile network like Verizon or T-Mobile. Although you could save a few hundred dollars on a phone from a major retailer, your mobile network provider has offers that may get you the best iPhones or the best samsung phones free. Of course, there is a catch.
Right now you can get a iPhone 14 Pro or one Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 for “free” from Verizon. On T-Mobile and AT&T, you can get a iPhone 14 with a similar contract. First, you will need to sign a long-term agreement. Usually it’s 24 months, but we’re seeing options that span three years.
Verizon may give you $1,200 off your new iPhone 14 Pro, but they’re not giving it to you all at once. You sign an agreement to pay for the phone in 24 installments, and as long as you’re a Verizon customer, they pay your installment every month. If you stay a customer for 12 months and then leave, you owe them 12 months of payments for the phone you bought a year ago.
In other words, you thought you got a free phone, but because you left early, you only got half the discount you expected. That’s still a big discount on a flagship smartphone, but if you weren’t expecting to be stuck with a $600 bill all of a sudden, it won’t sound so great.
You can’t get a free iPhone with a cheap phone plan
We use Verizon as an example, but every major carrier has a similar offer. If you want a free iPhone 14 Pro on Verizon, you don’t just need to sign a contract. You need to sign up for one of the more expensive phone plans offered by Verizon.
We’re not just talking about 5G. We’re talking about ultra-wideband 5G, the mmWave service that basically only works in stadiums and some major airports. If you want a free iPhone 14 Pro, you pay for it.
You will get unlimited data but only 50 GB on the premium 5G network. Then your speed will be limited. That’s a ton of data, but you can skim through it quickly if you watch a few seasons on Netflix while on vacation. You also have to pay for 25 GB of hotspot service whether you use this feature or not.
Wait, there’s more. You also get Disney/Hulu/ESPN+ streaming services as a “benefit” of your mobile network plan. You can skip those services and give Verizon the same monthly fee, then The Network will give you 50% off a watch or tablet, or other similar discounts. We love Disney and Hulu for streaming, but it gets a little complicated.
All of the items on this menu will set you back $80 per month on Verizon in the US, and that’s the lowest price for a plan that gets you a free iPhone 14 Pro. You can find a $70 plan that removes most of the benefits, but gives you a much smaller discount on the iPhone.
If you choose this $70 plan, you will have to pay monthly for the iPhone. Your monthly payments will be more expensive overall than if you opted for the more expensive monthly service when you add the price of the iPhone to the monthly fee.
You must exchange something good
If you don’t have a phone to trade in, you don’t get a phone for free. When Verizon or T-Mobile say they’ll give you an iPhone for free, that math involves giving you enough value for the phone you’re trading in for your trade-in to pay for your new iPhone. On T-Mobile we were offered $800 if we traded in an old one iPhone 11 Pro Max. That would pay for a new iPhone 14.
On Verizon, we were offered $1,000 for the same phone, plus $200 bonus credit for buying an iPhone 14 Pro. So the same trade would pay for a nicer phone. Verizon was also willing to take a broken phone, while T-Mobile marked down the value of a broken transaction to less than $200.
During a deal season like Black Friday or around a new phone launch, carriers will offer more value for deals and often accept broken deals for more than they are worth. This incentivizes you to sign a long-term contract, which is really what your mobile network expects of you.
Do you want to leave your mobile network early?
Statistically speaking, signing a mobile contract is a good bet. We rarely change network providers, so we should take advantage of our commitment. Verizon Reports (opens in a new tab) an average churn rate of just over 1%, meaning only 1% of its customers quit each month and go elsewhere. Other networks report similar loyalty.
That said, there are some factors that make us rethink our network decisions, especially in the case of Verizon. This Verizon monthly plan is very expensive. We are in the midst of a global cost of living crisis, and the economy may be getting worse, not better.
If this happens, we will want to reduce all possible expenses. Monthly subscriptions are the first to disappear. If you sign the “free” iPhone 14 Pro deal at Verizon, there’s a huge penalty for leaving. Since you’ve bundled Disney+ into your phone plan, you can’t cut costs by eliminating a streaming service from your feed.
Why does it have to feel so piecemeal?
These “free” phones are legitimately good deals if you understand and agree to the terms. Even with the hefty monthly contract fee, you still get a very expensive phone for free. The Disney streaming plan is also good value, for an additional $10 to your monthly mobile plan.
Why does this all have to seem so sketchy? From the moment we visit Verizon’s website to start the transaction, we feel like we’ve been cheated.
On the first page, there is an offer for unlimited plans at $30 per month. We hope for a low monthly cost, but in the small text we read that only a family of four lines will be eligible. Our cheapest option will be almost three times as expensive.
When we choose to trade in our old phone, Verizon puts us through a lot of hurdles before we get value for the device. We’re being offered a full $1,000 perk on older flagship phones like a Galaxy S21 Ultra or iPhone 11 Pro Max, which is great. It always felt like the business value was a secret that Verizon wouldn’t tell us.
When it’s time to choose the right plan, we lose almost $500 of our discount by choosing the monthly service without Disney or mmWave 5G. The text explaining the different reductions is very small, again.
All in all, it’s easy to get to the end of the deal only to be greeted with a much higher price than expected. It’s easy to make a mistake, and mistakes on Verizon have the unfortunate result of a higher monthly bill. The mobile network is offering Black Friday deals and freebies.
Bottom line: Should I buy a Black Friday phone with a contract
If you haven’t switched mobile networks in years and your financial situation is solid, go for it. You can actually get the best smartphones for free if you’re willing to commit to a carrier for two years. Your monthly rate will be higher, but you won’t run out of data, and the extra features, like a mobile hotspot on your phone and the Disney streaming plan, are very useful.
If there’s any uncertainty ahead, it’s better to own your phone and pay a much lower monthly fee. Even if you have to buy an older or refurbished phone, then you can take this device anywhere. When you already own your phone, mobile networks have to buy for your business, instead of you buying free phones.