iPhone and iPad

Should You Buy Your iPhone From Apple or Your Carrier?

Tim Chawaga 10-12-2019

When it comes to getting an iPhone, it’s a buyer’s market. Every major cell phone carrier has them, and they all compete against each other to bring you the best deal.


And while Apple has always sold iPhones in its own stores, recent initiatives such as the iPhone Upgrade Program and Trade-In have made the company a serious contender for your phone buying business. Let’s see which is the better option.

Prices Are Basically the Same

In previous times, cell phone carriers would let you pay off your phone in monthly installments. What they didn’t tell you is that they charged you a bit more than the total price of your phone over the course of 24 months, for the privilege of being able to spread it out.

Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program offered the same 24-month installment plan, with the option of upgrading to a new phone every year for free and trading in your old phone. If you paid the whole phone off, however, it didn’t cost you any more than if you had paid up front.

Carriers followed suit and now, for the most part, all carriers and Apple offer a monthly, no-money-down installment plan through which you purchase the phone from them over the course of 24 months. The monthly cost depends on the iPhone model you want, but across the board, they’re all the same.

iphone price comparison


There are a few exceptions to this. AT&T offers a plan at a lower monthly rate for a total of 30 months. Apple offers a higher monthly rate and includes AppleCare+ or AppleCare+ with Theft and Loss.

Winner: Essentially a tie.

Carriers Have the Deals

Apple is famous for almost never having deals. It might, in fact, be contractually obligated with the carriers to avoid offering deals on iPhones so as not to undercut them.

Carriers, however, frequently feature deals in order to compete with each other. For example, in 2019, AT&T offered a free iPhone XR with the purchase of any iPhone X or above. And Apple reporting its first profit warning in years could result in more deals than usual.


Winner: Carriers.

Locked or Unlocked?

While you can unlock a contract-locked phone How to Unlock a Carrier-Locked Phone: Your Guide to Mobile Freedom If you're phone is carrier-locked, you'll need this guide to unlock it. Read More , it’s a hassle, and you might have to wait for your contract to run out. The better move is to buy your phone unlocked in the first place.

An unlocked phone allows you to use that phone with any carrier, even if you’re not under contract with them. This is ideal for frequent international travelers, who can purchase a local SIM card and stick in their iPhone for service abroad.

If you purchase your phone through your carrier under a two-year service contract, the iPhone you buy might be locked to that carrier until that contract is up. Even after the two years, if you want to unlock it, you’ll need to contact them.


When you buy a phone from Apple under the iPhone Upgrade Program, it comes as a certified unlocked device. You can even pair it with an existing plan and retain your unlocked status.

Winner: Apple.

Insurance vs. AppleCare+

Both cell carriers and Apple offer all sorts of ways to protect your phone.

AppleCare+ comes in two different tiers: AppleCare+ and AppleCare+ with Theft and Loss. The pricing is different depending on what iPhone you have, but typically the Theft and Loss version costs about $100 more than the regular version. It includes, however, two opportunities to replace your iPhone if it gets lost or stolen.


Regular AppleCare+ covers repairs caused by accidental damage, but you must still physically have the device. See our breakdown of AppleCare+ AppleCare Warranty: What Are Your Options and Is It Worth It? AppleCare+ protects your Apple device, but is it worth the cost? Here's what AppleCare+ offers and whether you should get it. Read More to find out if it’s worth it for you.

Carrier cell phone insurance plans Do You Really Need Cell Phone Insurance? The Facts and Best Plans Considering cell phone insurance for your smartphone? Is insurance worth it? Which cell phone insurance should you choose? Read More like Verizon Total Mobile Protection, AT&T Mobile Protection, or T-Mobile Premium Device Protection have lots of different tiers and price plans. However, they roughly break down along the same lines that AppleCare does. On the whole, perhaps, cellular company insurance plans are slightly cheaper than AppleCare.

verizon total mobile protection

There are two major differences between AppleCare+ and a carrier’s insurance: the level of customer service and the quality of your replacement device.

Apple commits to providing you with a “new or equivalent to new” product when it replaces your iPhone. Its customer service is set up so that all you have to do is walk into an Apple Store and get a same-day replacement. Apple Stores are stocked with almost every model of replacement iPhone available for quick service.

Carriers, on the other hand, don’t have access to the same level of quality assurance for Apple’s products that Apple does. Often, your replacement phone will not be at the same level of “new or equivalent to new” that Apple promises. Instead, it will be a refurbished phone with non-Apple certified parts. Additionally, carrier insurance typically requires verification, and devices are often shipped through the mail.

Winner: Apple.

So, Apple Store or Phone Store?

You were once able to find some real savings by shopping around the various mobile carriers The Best Mobile Carrier for You: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint? Should you use Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint as your mobile carrier? We compare them to see which mobile carrier is best for you. Read More . But these days most carriers, including Apple, offer roughly the same price for a more-or-less equivalent service. However, Apple is a tiny bit better in terms of convenience, customer service, and repair quality. The Apple Store will probably provide you with a better experience, but if you time it right, your carrier might offer you a better price.

The Apple Store has another advantage: these locations are licensed to sell you an iPhone under a carrier’s plan. As a result, if you buy your phone at an Apple Store, you can actually see how much each phone will cost you under each plan. At each carrier’s stores, they will only show you how much it will cost under their own plan. By presenting all the options to you, Apple offers a level of transparency that the other stores can’t match.

By the way, if this is your first iPhone, take a look at how to set up your voicemail How to Set Up Voicemail on the iPhone Wondering how to set up voicemail on your iPhone? We show you how to get your voicemail set up so you can start using it now. Read More on iPhone.

Try a Refurbished Phone for Even More Discounts

Maybe saving money is your number-one priority, and you can’t wait for a seasonal discount at a carrier store. If so, you can buy a refurbished or used iPhone at Best Buy or Apple, or even online at Gazelle. Outside of an Apple Certified Refurbished product, the quality can be questionable, but that might not matter to you depending on how much you save.

Whether you buy your next phone straight from Apple or from your carrier, there are still more questions you should ask before buying a smartphone. You might want to know about embedded SIM cards or eSIMs. To use one, you need a compatible phone and a carrier that offers it. Here’s what you need to know about eSIMs.

If you still haven’t settled the iPhone 11 versus iPhone 11 Pro iPhone 11 vs. iPhone 11 Pro: Which One Is Right for You? Here are the key differentiating factors between Apple's iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro to help you decide which one to get. Read More debate, read our comparison of the two iPhone models to make an informed choice. After you make the purchase, be sure to personalize your phone with the best iPhone 11 accessories The 8 Best iPhone 11 Accessories Got yourself a shiny new iPhone 11? Then you'll want to kit it out, too. Here are the best iPhone 11 accessories you can buy today. Read More .

Related topics: Buying Tips, iPhone, Mobile Plan, Save Money.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Burtonz
    February 7, 2020 at 5:12 pm

    On the other hand, you can buy an iPhone at BestBuy and skip all the falderol.

  2. John Reich
    December 22, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    There is also the advantage with a carrier of not having to find and travel to an Apple Store since you can order in-line from carriers. They usually ship free 2 day FedEx.

  3. dale cardarelli
    September 25, 2019 at 12:32 am

    The embedded matrix comparing payment options across Verizon, AT&T, and Apple, where is the source this information is pulled from? The graphic shows drop downs but you only show it as an image. Please provide the linked source.

  4. Sal
    September 4, 2019 at 4:43 pm

    What about upgrade fees--what's the difference between purchasing from Apple vs. Carrier? (i.e. Can Carrior upgrade/activation fees be avoided?)