Negotiate Your Next Cellphone Contract Like A Diva

If your cellphone contract is ending, you can haggle the next one into a much better deal. Here’s how:

• Decide what you want (free phones, an amazing plan) and stick to it
• Don’t bother with front-line customer service reps
• Pit one company’s offer against the other
• Don’t be a sucker for their first offer
• Escalate up the customer service chain until you reach someone powerful enough to to give you what you want

You’re the princess and you deserve better. Make them court you.

Reader Virginia used these methods to get Sprint to give her two, new, expensive cellphones with her new Sprint contract.

Read her letter inside and find out how she did it. — BEN POPKEN

    “My husband and I have been with Sprint for almost two years. Unlike many other folks, we have had a good experience with them. Once or twice they accidentally charged us roaming (we have a no-roaming never-ever-ever plan) and one call to them took care of the charges. But our phones were aging, lacked the functionality of newer phones, our contract was up at the end of the month, and we were considering switching providers to get better phones. Sprint sent a postcard offering us $100 credit toward new handsets (and another two-year contract) but that didn’t even begin to cover the price for two new fancier handsets. This was a token offer but I knew they could do better.

    I researched other cell providers and called to see they would give us to switch. Sprint’s competition naturally salivated like Pavlov’s dogs and promised us the proverbial keys to the castle if only we would sign up with them. Brand-new phones, free text messaging, their first-born children, the works. I’ll admit it – I enjoyed the butt-kissing. I write all the offers down and call Sprint.

    I know the front-line CSR can’t really give me anything so I tell her, “Our contract is up in two weeks and I am considering switching providers. Would you please transfer me to a retention specialist?” Five seconds later, I’m live with the guy whose sole mission is to sign me up for another two years. He offers me the $100 credit. Oh please. That is not nearly enough groveling. I pull out my list of offers and ask him why I should stay with Sprint when I’ll end up paying (after the credit) over $300 for two new phones and the privilege of another two year contract? If I switch, Cingular will give me two much nicer phones for nothing and their rate plan is $9.00 a month less. Verizon’s offer is even better.

    We go back and forth as the boot-licking intensifies. Free text messaging for three months? No, we’re over 30; we don’t text. Free web access for a little while then a higher monthly fee when the trial time is over? Uh, no. Finally he offers me any two phones currently offered for free on the website if I will stay on as a customer at my current rate plan. I tell him that sounds *okay* but I don’t want to buy a phone unless I’ve seen it in person. He notes his offer in my account and we hang up. Two free phones that are free anyways? Not good enough.

    The next day, hubby and I head to the Sprint store to fondle the new phones. The salesperson in the store admits he can’t match the retention specialist’s offer but now we know which phones we like. Neither of them are offered for free on the website. I call Sprint back, get transferred to a retention specialist right away and I tell her exactly what we want. She looks at our account and then asks me to hold for one moment, presumably to consult with someone more in charge than she is. In a couple of minutes, she’s back on the line and gives me the good news. Yes, she can give me those two expensive, not-free-on-the-website phones for free if we sign up for another two years. Yay! Good answer, Sprint! Activation was waived, we are signed up, our phones are here, we love them, and all is right with our cellular world. We are now free to take bad pictures of people’s butts on the subway and annoy everyone around us by using the speakerphone feature (turned all the way up, naturally) in public places.

    I know cell companies get raked over the coals on Consumerist pretty much daily but I wanted to share this success with you because I truly believe it was a positive experience because of things I learned on your site: don’t bother with the front-line CSR, pit one company’s offer against the other, don’t be a sucker for their first offer, and escalate things up the customer service chain until you reach someone who can give you what you want. So thanks!”


Edit Your Comment

  1. xian says:

    I hop around cell phone companies like a rabbit on crack (thank you, number portability), and I agree that Sprint is the best to deal with in terms of being flexible with their offers and retaining customers. The worst? Cingular. They couldn’t care less if you switched to another carrier. But sometimes even the best offer can’t be matched by your current company, so that’s why I switch so frequently. That and Amazon gives phones away for free.

  2. synergy says:

    I thought I’d point out that the standard offer is $150 dollars off a phone for people who’ve been with Sprint for 2 years. It’s called the New To You Upgrade Program. I know because I’ve used it twice in the 6 years I’ve been with Sprint, the most recent time being last week. I also got $50 off my next bill and no activation fee with minimal haggling.

    The free month of web use is also standard and has been for at least 2 years. They’ll stick it on your account automatically and hope you’ll forget to cancel it before the month is up.

  3. VA_White says:

    Yes, they sent us a postcard offering that New-To-You credit towards new phones. But even with the credit, we would have had to pay $300 out-of-pocket for the phones we really wanted.

    I figured if they really wanted to keep us, they would give us a better deal than the standard offer. And they did. The retention guy even tried to upsell us on added services that we didn’t want or need. I also expect a few calls in the coming weeks trying the upsell again since the new services will now work with our new phones. But guess what? I’m going to say NO again.

    We could have taken the New-to-You credit and gotten two less expensive phones for free and then negotiated free text messaging (worth $360 over 2 years) but we don’t text so that “free” service would be useless to us. I wanted the cool phone, my husband wanted the cool phone, so that’s what I pushed for.

    The best thing is that the whole process was friendly, pleasant, and cooperative. The retention folks really seemed interested in matching their offer to our needs. It certainly wasn’t AOL-hellish. I needed something from them, they needed something from us. We banged out a fair deal and we’re both happy. Cellular bliss is achieved.


  4. mustang says:

    Just a few weeks ago I talked Rogers (GSM Canada) into giving me a free razor. I purchased a razor from them about a year ago but it suffered from that horrible white dust issue that seemed to plague so many razors back then. Anyways they let me keep my current razor shipped me a new one and gave me a $100 (one months worth of services for me) credit. All because I told them I would leave the company (I also purchase internet access, cable television and home telephone services from Rogers) and move to there arch nemesis Bell. Later that same week my internet went out for three days. I phoned the company and told them I wanted to cancel my services until I was eventually transferred to a person that started to offer me things for free. They gave me two months of free internet and about fifteen extra cable channels for free for the next six months. I find that if you’re polite but firm with them they seem to be willing to meet your demands. I’m satisfied with the services I’m receiving now but I won’t hesitate to leverage my $275 a month to get what I feel I deserve in the future.

  5. MrBartokomous says:

    I picked up a Treo off-contract and was getting the phone/data service month-to-month through Bell, with my monthly bill showing a roughly 50/50 split between phone and data. I realised I wasn’t really using the data all that much so I called to cancel the data plan, presumably paying the half of the bill I paid for phone service. They refused to do it, offering me less phone service for 3/4 of the price of my phone/data contract.

    Then I threatened to cancel and I’m getting more minutes and free voicemail for about a third of the price of my original contract. If they weren’t total scumbags I’d feel bad that they’d rather give me a deal that’s worse for them than just give me what I ask for. Then again, I’m paying less… so yay.

  6. elboc says:

    Being the shopper I am, I am not one to call all around expecting things to be free. Being one who has worked in telecom, I know that companies leave notes on your account. When you have a “real issue” people look at your notes on your account to see if you have been a pain before. If you are a cheapskate that thinks everything is free and you are entitled to the world they have a tendency to not help, or at least not as much as they could. If i have a provider on any service that treats me right, i’m staying! Guaranteed. I’m not putting up a fight to save a few dollars on a phone when they treat me right and have the right plan for me. especially in telecom where i might need more info later or have a “real issue” and need help. I was told since i was young to choose my battles. I’ve seen people switch companies because their carrier charged $20 for a phone so they went to another and paid $10 more dollars per month on a worse plan just because the phone was “free?”. Simple math!