AT&T Upgrade Fee Is a Poke in the Eye

I recently had to buy a new phone after my 3 year old iPhone 3GS became unusable. AT&T Wireless, as usual, stuck me with an upgrade fee – this time it went from an annoying and distasteful $18 to a ridiculous $36.

Like usual, I called and asked that it be waived. The lady told me it was not even possible in her computer system to do so.

A few minutes later she told me her job would be in jeopardy if she waived it.

at&t upgrade fee wiaved

I asked her, “so lying to your customers doesn’t put your job in jeopardy? You just told me you weren’t even able to do it.”

Caught in a lie, she muttered something about if she did it, a manager would see and she’d get in trouble, but if I’d like, she could let me talk to a supervisor. She also said she could give me a $25 credit right now.

Rather than take this any further and risk a fist-sized hole in my drywall, I took my $25 credit.

Please pardon my rant, but AT&T Wireless must not think I’m a valued customer when they stick me with an “upgrade” fee for the privilege of being a customer for another two years.

As a longtime customer who has spent over $10,000 with this company, I am very put off when asked to pay a fee SIMPLY FOR BEING A CUSTOMER.


What the Heck is an Upgrade Fee?

Upgrade fee? Seriously?

I’m not upgrading anything. I bought a lower grade phone.

I am asking to continue to give you money every month for the next two years, not to move into your basement.

Hell, they should call me and thank me for being a customer, not charge me a fee.

There AT&T, are you happy? After getting $10,000 from me, you had to shake out another $11.

If you need $11 that bad, should I even trust your company?


If You Are Going to Extract Money From Your Customers, Be Smarter About It

Look, if you really need to recover more money from customers because the price of “upgrading” has gone up (SIDE RANT: Maybe the reason your cost of signing papers for customers is going up has something to do with the army of frat bots I saw with iPads strapped to their hips last time I was in your store).

If I’m correct, Verizon Wireless doesn’t charge an upgrade fee. I suspect that this is not because they don’t like money, but because they are smart enough to just sneak it into the price of their phones or plans, or whatever other way they are using.

Which is my point.

If you have an increased cost of doing business, RAISE YOUR PRICES. Don’t hide behind some silly “upgrade fee.”

That puts you in the company of those late-night infomercials selling a ten-dollar product with twenty-dollar shipping and handling.

Say what you want about AT&T vs Verizon – at least Verizon pretends to care about their customers, or maybe more shocking, they realize that treating a customer right is good business in the long run.


How to Get AT&T Upgrade Fee Waived

If you’ve never had your AT&T Wireless upgrade fee waived, just call in and ask. I don’t think the employees in the store have the power to do so.

Even if you’ve had it waived before, call anyway. They at least deserve to know how you feel about their fee.

They may have to escalate you to a supervisor or manager, or they may offer you a credit for a smaller amount in the hopes you will be tired of fighting and relent.

Most likely they will waive the fee for you.

It has worked for me almost every time.

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48 thoughts on “AT&T Upgrade Fee Is a Poke in the Eye

  1. I don’t consider this a rant more than it is a “public service” announcement which is why I tweeted and liked it! Myself, I stopped getting gouged years ago with contracts and “consider yourself lucky to be our customer” fee’s! I switched to Metro PCS which works just fine for me and yes; I’m getting what I paid for 🙂

  2. It’s annoying whenever companies try to do this. I really don’t get it and it’s a dumb way of doing business. All they have to do is hide the prices within their phones or plans (as you mentioned) and nobody would know the difference. Instead they choose to annoy people…but I doubt they lose much business from it; so what do they care?

  3. When I got them to give me a $200 phone for free they also said they would waive the upgrade fee. Naturally it showed up on the bill. All I had to do was contact an online chat Rep and say it was supposed to have been waived and they credited my account. Maybe you could try that and end up with a double discount!

  4. That is exactly why I buy all of my phones from Wirefly or Let’s Talk. Not only are the phones deeply discounted (or even free), there are always promotions for waived or rebated activation/upgrade costs. Plus you can always find a coupon code for a little bit of an extra discount or a free memory card or something like that.

    I do have to take issue with the way you brought up how much money you have spent with them though, John. Nothing personal, but I worked in retail in my younger years, and would hear the same line over and over again: “Do you know how much money I’ve spent in this place!?” To be honest, there are tons of people who spend much more than almost every person who uses that line. And, in most cases, unless you are a super-spender, the company really does not care if you walk away from them. Sad truth of the matter.

    • That’s not true. My experiences have been that they bend over backward to keep a customer, at least on more trivial issues, like the upgrade/phone number change fees. It’s just smart business sense to wave $36 in order to get many dollars times that over a number of months. You’ve had a different experience?

      • Been on with two supervisors at ATT this afternoon asking to waive the $36 fee—I spend an average of $550/month for ATT Services for my family. Answer was No. Both women said that it’s never done and that they have no wherewith all to do so. Wow–pay a couple hundred dollars for new phone, add two years to the contract, and give them $36 dollars for the privilege of doing so. I declined the opportunity.

  5. You know, our cell phone companies are greedy as hell and don’t appreciate any long term business. They figure as long as they got you stuck with a 2 year plan its your problem. Part of why I hate dealing with phone companies and have been using prepaid this entire time.

  6. As a Verizon customer, I’m not sure they’re actually further ahead in any metric except “better ways of naming bullshit fees.”

    I really was hoping for this: “…risk a fist-sized hole in my drywall.”

    That would have made a great read. I’m more than a little disappointed.

  7. I had a friend who worked in AT&T call center. She had to quit because she was too honest and her bosses told her to make stuff up if she didn’t know the answer. Keep ranting.

  8. This happened to my younger sister at Rogers in Canada when she tried to upgrade after twoyears. They wanted over $100! Plus activation fees! :S It was cheaper to buy out the plan and switch providers.

  9. I recently had the “upgrade fee” battle twice with them. Luckily, I was working with a great sales rep who waived it both times, no problem. Sorry to hear baout your issues with the giant greedy orange monster.

  10. John, of course I know another way around this Damn fee! Many large employers have discount programs set up with all the large cell carriers: AT&T, Verizon etc they will give you a discount up to 25% and waive the activation fee! I’m on a family plan and my mom’s employer has a discount plan that waives the fee, my employer also waives the fee.

  11. Once again, calling and asking usually does the trick. It was pretty awesome to say goodbye to AT&T, but I’m not sure if jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire by going with Sprint. At least we were able to get the activation fee waived because we belong to a credit union.

    … the army of frat bots I saw with iPads strapped to their hips last time I was in your store ….

    Ha, what douches. I wish you could have seen the sales guys at Best Buy next to us when we got our new phone. I can’t believe they let these guys walk around unmitigated.

  12. You got charged an upgrade fee to downgrade your phone?! Ridiculous! I would have stuck out to talk to a manager — it’s the principle!

  13. I greatly dislike the need to “ask” the company to give you a reasonable price which is why I’ve slowly fazed out as much cable/phone/internet services out of the budget as possible.

    These companies definitely have something coming to them, it might be 10 to 20 years away, but at some point, their hold on telecom is going to end as all things do.

    • I wouldn’t hold my breath. Oil/gas companies, pharmaceuticals, insurance, banks, and automobile companies have deserved a comeuppance for a long time, and yet they thrive in spite of the anger they generate over nickel and diming. I hope that I’m wrong.

  14. We just upgraded my wife’s phone at a Best Buy Mobile and no upgrade fee was mentioned (of course not). I called the AT&T Wireless number listed on and explained that the fee hadn’t been mentioned and that I would like to have it waived, and much to my surprise the agent made no argument. She said she was waiving it as a one-time courtesy due to the situation and that it normally cannot be waived. And that was that.

    Most U.S. cell phone carriers are evil and greedy, including AT&T. I think my next phone will be a no-contract Nexus.

  15. You could definitely get those fees waived whether they are new activation fees or upgrade fees. Specially if you are doing more than one line at a time. It has worked for me every time. They sometimes can do it at the store while you are getting the phones but most times you will have to call customer service and get it done. I have yet to pay one of those fees and every time i get charged one i just call and get rid of it. Been with them for over 10 years.

  16. I have a shared plan which includes 4 phones. I didn’t pay close attention to my bill over the past year yet blindly paid it. I thought it was high but looking closely I see AT$T changed one of my $9.99 add-on basic phones to an iphone and started charging a data plan increasing my bill for that 1 phone $30+/mo. It went on for over a year and when discovered they offered $100 refund. That’s all they can do, “I should have paid closer attention to my bill”. I want to upgrade all 4 phones and now they want an additional $36/phone for upgrade fees. I paid about 8 upgrade fees worth of overcharges from the previous year that they “can’t” refund and yet they wan’t/demand more free money.

  17. Starting Feb. 1, 2013, AT&T has made it standard policy not to waive the activation/upgrade fee unless stated in the customer’s contract if they have a business discount. Many times, customers will get different answers from different agents because call center Site Directors each had their own standards. AT&T has cracked down on these credits because they are making it even across the board. Even if you’ve used your upgrade to “downgrade” to a lower technology phone, I guarantee that you saved at least $250 out of pocket (based on no-contract device purchase). Just because flip phones are out of date for some people doesn’t mean the the raw materials and precious metals used to make the devices are any cheaper. If you don’t want the fee, don’t sign the contract. Go prepaid. Just remember, you get what you pay for.

  18. I just got the upgrade fee waived. (Well, I’m going to watch the bill to make sure.) I had to be transferred to customer relations and she had to ask me to answer ‘yes’ to “So, if you have to pay the upgrade free, you are considering moving all your lines to another provider, correct?” Once I said “yes” to that question, she not only added a notation to waive the fee on the line I’m trying to upgrade, but also on the other two lines that are not quite ready to upgrade, yet.

    • By the way, I love how capitalism just works like this. This is exactly why we need to get big government out of everything and let capitalism do its job. Under real capitalism, this huge corporation was actually afraid that I would leave it after 10 years and they did things to make sure I didn’t. When big government gets involved, we get so many rules and regulations that the businesses can’t exist, much less change things to keep our business.

      (And sorry, that’s a separate rant…but one I needed to make.)

      • Right, because deregulation worked so well for us with banks and Wall Street and companies don’t all agree to pull the same nickel and diming BS, so no matter what company we threaten to go to, we’ll still have the same issue. Nice mental gymnastics, though, Von Mises. I give you a 7.6

  19. I think its not possible Upgrade fee. AT&T has made it standard policy not to waive the activation/upgrade fee unless stated in the customer’s contract if they have a business discount. My experiences have been that they bend over backward to keep a customer, at least on more trivial issues.

  20. AT&T learned it hard way doing like this… what they heck is upgrade fee for being a customer who paid $10,000.. LOL… They are like this previously but At&T is much better in customer service. I am a customer and i never saw such silly upgrade fees mentioned in my bills.

  21. I just started a chat session with AT&T and was able to get one of my two upgrade fees waived without any arguing.

  22. AT&T is a well-known,reputed company for its products,facilities and customer services.I am shocked to learn that you got such a ill treatment from them.It is really unfair and unethical to ask you for the upgrade fee.It is good that you have come up with this post to let the readers know your horrible experience and make them alert in case they need to deal with AT&T in future.
    I guess one should learn from these incidents that big name does not always guarantee you the excellent conduct.

  23. It is really horrifying to read the injustice imposed on you by AT&T.May be you should take more strict action on them by seeking a help from Police department.
    Your post spreads an important message to readers not to fall prey to any tempting offers by any companies as one says ‘Everything that glitters is not gold’.

  24. I am shocked by reading this article. I too want to change my laptop and was just browsing the net for information when I stumbled upon this article. I had visited AT&T website for the same and was considering different options. But now I think I should think over again.

  25. I too have AT&T wireless from last few years and yes,they too did charge me but very much less than $36.It is unbelievable that such a renowned company can rob its own customers by such unethical means.I think I too need to be alert dealing with them in future.
    On a funny note,are they themselves warning their customers to rethink before investing in their company just as the tagline of their banner says’ AT&T:Rethink plausible’?

  26. I just got two upgrade fees waived. It took a long time and I had to be transferred to customer service. But it was worth it. Not only did they waive the fees but they gave me a much better phone than the one I was ordering because the one I ordered was out of stock. So, I saved the $72 on the upgrade fees plus the $199 it would have cost me for the phone that they gave me. My wife ordered an IPhone that was in stock so she got what she ordered.

    In addition, I bought IPhones for my daughters for Christmas and they waived the upgrade fees for them also.

  27. Great Post! I hate to think about all the debt I have from my student loans and even worse, people try to hire me with a Bachelors for $10 an hour! No wonder America as a whole is married to debt.

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