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4 ways to save money with Apple Refurbished

Inside the Apple Store in Knightsbridge, London
(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

As much as we love our Apple products here at iMore, we know they’re expensive. This is especially true if you want to get the latest and greatest right when it comes out because there are usually no discounts anywhere, at least within the first few weeks. But not everyone needs the newest shiny toy that Apple offers right when it is released, and if you’re able to wait a bit, you can actually save money, especially if you go the Apple Refurbished route.

I tend to buy the newest devices from Apple, especially the newest and best iPhone, because it’s a part of my job here at iMore. But if I wasn’t in this line of work, I could definitely get by with last-generation devices, such as the iPhone 12 Pro, instead of the iPhone 13 Pro. And if I wanted, I could upgrade with the help of Apple Refurbished and save money if I'm willing to wait. Here are some tips to save some dough with Apple Refurbished.

What is Apple Refurbished?

Pacific Blue iPhone 12 Pro stacked on top of Midnight Green iPhone 11 Pro on a navy blue placemat

(Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

Before we get started, we should probably explain what Apple Refurbished is. Essentially, they are pre-owned products that people returned because of some kind of defect or products that were turned into Apple’s own recycling program. They can even be products that were simply unwanted and returned with no issue at all. Usually, refurbished Apple products have a discount of 15-20%, but sometimes you can even find something for around 25% off, though it’s much rarer. The general rule of thumb is that the older it is, the lower the price. 

Regardless of where the device came from, Apple will make all necessary repairs and replacements on these products before selling them again on the Apple Certified Refurbished online store (opens in new tab). Before they go back on sale, Apple puts each product through a rigorous test to make sure that everything is working as it should.

Here is Apple’s full refurbishment process (opens in new tab) for each Apple Certified Refurbished Product, as outlined on its website:

  • Undergoes full functionality testing and any defective modules identified in testing are replaced.
  • Apple Watch and Apple Pencil devices that require replacement parts are not included in the Apple Certified Refurbished Program.
  • Is put through a thorough cleaning process and inspection.
  • Is repackaged (including appropriate manuals, cables, and new boxes).
  • Includes either the Operating System originally shipped with the unit or, in some cases, a more recent version.
  • Is placed into a final QA inspection prior to being added to sellable refurbished stock.
  • Is given a new refurbished part number and serial number.
  • Is placed into a Final QA inspection prior to being added to sellable refurbished stock (again).

And if you’re worried about products looking imperfect, Apple makes sure that every product not only works perfectly but is also free of blemishes and other cosmetic imperfections.

Packaging for Apple Refurbished products is slightly different than when you purchase a new item. While the refurbished item will be pretty much indistinguishable from the new one, it comes in a plain white box that simply states the product name, along with an “Apple Certified Refurbished” guarantee. Inside, you’ll still find the appropriate cables and manuals, just as you would a new product.

Use Apple’s Trade In program to get some extra cash for your next purchase

Stack of iPhones from the original iPhone to the iPhone 8

(Image credit: iMore)

If you are going the Apple Refurbished route, you’re probably replacing an existing machine or device that you have. If so, you should take a look at Apple’s own trade-in program (opens in new tab), where you can turn in an older device for credit towards your next purchase in the form of an Apple gift card. 

Of course, the trade-in value depends on how old the device you're turning in is, and you could probably get more by selling it for cash. However, if you don’t want to deal with sketchy people or shipping, this is a fast and easy way to get more money off your refurbished purchase.

Always check Apple Certified Refurbished stock and product descriptions

MacBook Pros from 2016, 2017, and 2018

(Image credit: iMore)

Unfortunately, one of the more annoying things about Apple Refurbished is how stock constantly fluctuates and is limited based on what people have returned or replaced. That’s why it’s always important to keep checking the Apple Refurbished online store if you plan on making a purchase.

There’s nothing wrong with purchasing a refurbished Mac, but there is something to note. While devices like iPhones and iPads are easily differentiated by numbers or generations in the name, the Macs do not have such differentiations, and old models can be shown alongside newer ones. It’s a little easier to tell apart M1 models from the older Intel versions, but you’ll want to make sure to double-check the product information to view the release year and spec details. Some models may not even be the standard stock configurations, and have various upgrades, so you want to double check that the specs are what you want them to be before purchasing.

If you are looking for a specific model with certain specs, you could use tools like Refurb.me or Refurb Tracker to get notified of when those particular models are available refurbished.

Apple’s warranty and protection saves you in the long run

Though you can find refurbished Apple gear at other sites for less, such as Amazon, Best Buy, Gazelle, and others, they don’t have the same warranty that Apple offers. Unlike many third-party retailers, you'll get a one-year warranty and 90 days of phone support. So if something goes wrong with your refurbished Apple product in the first 365 days, you can get it fixed or replaced at no extra charge. AppleCare+ can also be purchased for your refurbished product, extending the warranty period another 2-3 years, depending on the product.

While third-party resellers may offer refurbished Apple products, they won’t be certified and tested by Apple. Those won’t have the same warranty either, so if you plan on buying refurbished, the best place to do so is directly from Apple. And though these retailers have their own refurbished process, the warranties may be more limited than what Apple offers.

While I would recommend going through Apple for refurbished products, if you insist on more up-front savings elsewhere, then make sure to look for a retailer with at least a 90-day or more warranty. Unfortunately, you can only get AppleCare+ on refurbished items from Apple, and not third-party retailers, so keep that in mind.

Utilize your Apple Card if you have one

Apple Card held in hand

(Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

If you have an Apple Card, then you have even more of a reason to shop refurbished at Apple. That’s because Apple Refurbished is still technically an Apple purchase, so you will get the full benefit of 3% cash back on your refurbished purchase.

However, you can't pay for refurbished products with Apple Card monthly installments, unlike new products, so you do have to pay for it upfront. Yes, this includes Macs. But 3% cash back on these is still a good amount of cash back, and hey, whatever counts!

Every dollar counts!

Refurbished products from Apple are pretty much like new, all things considered. Apple has a very rigorous quality control process for every product before it goes out to be sold again (they basically get tested twice), and refurbished items look just like new — it’s incredibly hard to tell any difference on the surface. It’s just that the stock fluctuates based on returned or recycled products that Apple gets, but some tools help you get notified when what you want is in stock, and checking often helps, too (you may even find nice surprises).

You also get the benefit of a year of warranty coverage, which other retailers don’t do for their refurbished products. And AppleCare+ can only be bought for refurbished devices from Apple, which can be a huge advantage if something goes wrong later down the line. And finally, buying refurbished from Apple means you get 3% cash back if you use your Apple Card, which would be more cashback than other retailers (at max 2% for using Apple Pay).

If you don’t need the latest and greatest every year, then waiting for refurbished devices direct from Apple is a great way to save money. And with the iPhone 14 line coming up, those iPhone 13 devices may start appearing on Apple Refurbished, so keep an eye out, and trade in any old devices to save even more.

Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.

When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.