Best way to buy your new iPhone

This year, are three new flagship phones from Apple — iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR. While we feel that the best way to buy your new iPhone is through the iPhone Upgrade Program using the Apple Store app, we've also assembled the best alternatives for those that want or need to purchase another way.

Best overall

iPhone Upgrade Program

If you're a Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile customer looking for a quick and easy way to get your hands on the iPhone XS or iPhone XR, then you'll want to buy it through the iPhone Upgrade Program using the Apple Store app.

The iPhone Upgrade Program lets you pay a monthly fee for an unlocked phone, rather than the full price up front, with an option to upgrade to a new phone once per year after 12 monthly payments. You'll only need to pay the phone's sales tax up front. What's more, AppleCare+ service is included, which covers phone support and two accidental damage incidents. Apple's new AppleCare+ addon, Theft and Loss, is an additional $4.17 on top of your Apple Upgrade Program monthly payment.

Use the Apple Store app

You can sign up for the iPhone Upgrade Program via the Apple Store App, which is great, because the Apple Store App is the best way to pre-order a new iPhone. Using the app, you get all of the advantages of ordering online, without having to worry about stalling pages. You can use your existing credit card information to make your purchase, buy with gift cards, and even check out with Apple Pay. It also requires very little effort on your part, which is great for those late-night pre-orders.

The Apple Store app offers access to a variety of payment plans for your phone, including a one-time purchase, the Apple iPhone Upgrade Program, and the available AT&T and Verizon carrier installment plans. Here's how each of those break down for the iPhone XS across it's three storage options:

Apple iPhone Upgrade Program Apple iPhone Payments One-time Payments AT&T Next (24-month) AT&T Next (30-month) Verizon Device Payment
Upgrade After 6 months and 12 Payments No No After 12 months or sooner with eligible trade‑in After 24 months or sooner with eligible trade‑in After 12 payments or sooner with a down payment
AppleCare+ Included N/A + $9.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $199.00 + $9.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $199.00 + $9.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $199.00 + $9.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $199.00
AppleCare+ with Theft and Loss +$4.17/mo. N/A + $14.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $299.00 + $14.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $299.00 + $14.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $299.00 + $14.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $299.00
Financing Citizens One Citizens One N/A AT&T AT&T Verizon
Unlocked Yes Yes Yes No No Yes
Payments 24 24 1 24 30 24
APR 0% 0% N/A 0% 0% 0%
Monthly cost 64GB: $49.91 256GB: $56.16 512GB: $64.50 64GB: $41.62 256GB: $47.87 512GB: $56.20 N/A 64GB: $41.63 256GB: $47.88 512GB: $56.21 64GB: $33.30 256GB: $38.30 512GB: $44.97 64GB: $41.62 256GB: $47.87 512GB: $56.20
Total cost 64GB: $1,198.00 256GB: $1,348.00 512GB: $1,548.00 64GB: $999.00 256GB: $1,149.00 512GB: $1,349.00 64GB: $999.00 256GB: $1,149.00 512GB: $1,349.00 64GB: $999.00 256GB: $1,149.00 512GB: $1,349.00 64GB: $999.00 256GB: $1,149.00 512GB: $1,349.00 64GB: $999.00 256GB: $1,149.00 512GB: $1,349.00

And for the iPhone XS Max:

Apple iPhone Upgrade Program Apple iPhone Payments One-time Payments AT&T Next (24-month) AT&T Next (30-month) Verizon Device Payment
Upgrade After 6 months and 12 Payments No No After 12 months or sooner with eligible trade‑in After 24 months or sooner with eligible trade‑in After 12 payments or sooner with a down payment
AppleCare+ Included N/A + $9.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $199.00 + $9.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $199.00 + $9.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $199.00 + $9.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $199.00
AppleCare+ with Theft and Loss +$4.17/mo. N/A + $14.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $299.00 + $14.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $299.00 + $14.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $299.00 + $14.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $299.00
Financing Citizens One Citizens One N/A AT&T AT&T Verizon
Unlocked Yes Yes Yes No No Yes
Payments 24 24 1 24 30 24
APR 0% 0% N/A 0% 0% 0%
Monthly cost 64GB: $54.08 256GB: $60.33 512GB: $68.66 64GB: $45.79 256GB: $52.04 512GB: $68.66 N/A 64GB: $45.80 256GB: $52.05 512GB: $60.38 64GB: $36.64 256GB: $41.64 512GB: $48.30 64GB: $45.79 256GB: $47.87 512GB: $60.37
Total cost 64GB: $1,298.00 256GB: $1,448.00 512GB: $1,648.00 64GB: $1,099.00 256GB: $1,249.00 512GB: $1,449.00 64GB: $1,099.00 256GB: $1,249.00 512GB: $1,449.00 64GB: $1,099.00 256GB: $1,249.00 512GB: $1,449.00 64GB: $1,099.00 256GB: $1,249.00 512GB: $1,449.00 64GB: $1,099.00 256GB: $1,249.00 512GB: $1,449.00

Finally, the pricing options for buying the iPhone XR from Apple break down like this:

Apple iPhone Upgrade Program Apple iPhone Payments One-time Payments AT&T Next (24-month) AT&T Next (30-month) Verizon Device Payment
Upgrade After 6 months and 12 Payments No No After 12 months or sooner with eligible trade‑in After 24 months or sooner with eligible trade‑in After 12 payments or sooner with a down payment
AppleCare+ Included N/A + $9.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $199.00 + $9.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $199.00 + $9.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $199.00 + $9.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $199.00
AppleCare+ with Theft and Loss +$4.17/mo. N/A + $14.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $299.00 + $14.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $299.00 + $14.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $299.00 + $14.99/mo. per month for up to 24 mo.month or $299.00
Financing Citizens One Citizens One N/A AT&T AT&T Verizon
Unlocked Yes Yes Yes No No Yes
Payments 24 24 1 24 30 24
APR 0% 0% N/A 0% 0% 0%
Monthly cost 64GB: $37.41 128GB: $39.50 256GB: $43.66 64GB: $31.20 128GB: $33.29 256GB: $37.45 N/A 64GB: $31.21 128GB: $33.30 256GB: $37.46 64GB: $24.97 128GB: $26.64 256GB: $29.97 64GB: $31.20 128GB: $33.29 256GB: $37.45
Total cost 64GB: $898.00 128GB: $948.00 256GB: $1,048.00 64GB: $749.00 128GB: $799.00 256GB: $899.00 64GB: $749.00 128GB: $799.00 256GB: $899.00 64GB: $749.00 128GB: $799.00 256GB: $899.00 64GB: $749.00 128GB: $799.00 256GB: $899.00 64GB: $749.00 128GB: $799.00 256GB: $899.00

Note for T-Mobile customers

While in previous years, T-Mobile customers would need to purchase their new iPhone directly at an Apple Store to take advantage of the iPhone Upgrade Program, this year, you'll be able to use the Apple Store app.


Why you might want to skip the iPhone Upgrade Program

Despite its advantages, there are reasons you might not want to get your phone through the iPhone Upgrade Program.

The biggest reason you may want to avoid the program is the monthly cost. While a 64GB iPhone XS starts at $41.63 per month through AT&T's installment plan (if you take the 24-month option), for instance, that same phone costs $49.91 through the iPhone Upgrade Program. And when all is said an done, and that iPhone XS is paid off, on AT&T you'll have paid $999, while with Apple, you'll have paid $1,198. The price of AppleCare+ is factored into Apple's monthly installment, but if you don't feel you need the protection, why pay more for it?

Additionally, if you like owning your phone, the iPhone Upgrade Program might not your best option. While you can certainly hang on to the same phone for 24 months, the program seems geared more towards those who upgrade every year and don't mind parting with their older device.

Best way to buy an iPhone without a contract

Buy it outright

Of course, if you're a saver, or just have the disposable income, you can always purchase your new iPhone outright.

If you're not keen on having to make monthly payments, being forced into an upgrade schedule, or being tied to a specific carrier, this is a great option.

If you're buying outright, here's what you can expect to pay:

Model Price
iPhone XR (64GB) $749
iPhone XR (128GB) $799
iPhone XR (256GB) $899
iPhone XS (64GB) $999
iPhone XS (256GB) $1,149
iPhone XS (512GB) $1,349
iPhone XS Max (64GB) $1,099
iPhone XS Max (256GB) $1,249
iPhone XS Max (512GB) $1,449

You have a number of options for purchasing your iPhone at the full retail price and without a contract:

  • Apple - As you might expect, Apple lets you purchase the iPhone at full price for the four major carriers as well. For the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, there's even a SIM-free option that lets you take your new iPhone to any carrier that you want.
  • Carriers - Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint all give you the option to purchase your iPhone at the full price up front, though naturally that option is often emphasized less than their own installment plans.
  • Third-party retailers - Best Buy, Target, and Walmart also offer the iPhone at full price, though these retailers don't offer SIM-free options. So while you can purchase your iPhone outright and without a contract, you'll still come out of the purchasing experience as a customer of one of the carriers.

Best on a budget

Installment plan

If you'd rather not pay all of that money at once, you can spread it out over multiple months with an installment plan. It's exactly what it sounds like: You take the full price of the phone and divide it up over 12, 24, or 36 monthly payments (usually with 0% interest).

This is the best option for those on a budget, because you can increase or decrease your monthly payments depending on how soon you'd like to pay off your device and upgrade to a new one.

Best with a carrier

Carrier payment plan

If you're tied to your carrier (i.e. you've already started an installment plan on Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, etc.), the carrier payment plan might be best for you.

Most carriers have moved away from the subsidized two-year contract option instead of offering you the option to pay a monthly installment plan alongside your monthly fees for data, text, etc.

  • AT&T offers an AT&T Next plan that lets you upgrade your phone every one or two years.
  • Verizon offers an Annual Upgrade Program that lets you upgrade your phone each year provided you've paid off at least 50% of your installment plan.
  • T-Mobile offers T-Mobile Jump!, which gives you the option to upgrade your phone provided you've paid off at least 50% of your installment plan.
  • Sprint offers the iPhone Forever plan, which — for $22 a month — lets you trade up to the latest iPhone at no extra charge.


Not the best

Trade up

If you're not tied into any upgrade or carrier plans, you may want to trade in your current iPhone for credit toward your next one. You can visit an Apple Store with the phone you want to trade in to get instant credit or fill out an online form and mail in your phone — you'll get a gift card via email.

This option is arguably worse than the others. That's because at most you're getting $260 toward the purchase of your next phone, so you're not necessarily walking away with the new iPhone XR or iPhone XS in hand. That said, if you have an older device you're willing to part with, trading it in for credit isn't a bad idea. Who knows, maybe Liam will be the one recycling it!

Conclusion

The iPhone Upgrade Program is a solid option for most people looking to get their hands on a new iPhone, and using the Apple Store app makes buying through the program even easier. With AppleCare+ included in the monthly cost, it also gives you extra peace of mind about your brand new phone.

Update October 2018: Added information about the iPhone XR.

iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR

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