Your Annual New T-Mobile Phones Were Just A Beautiful, Forbidden Dream

Every year since 2007, Jim and his wife have celebrated the arrival of their federal income tax refund by going to the T-Mobile store, renewing their contract, and picking out shiny new phones at the new-contract discount. Year after year, they’ve done this, even though they’re renewing the 2-year contract every year. This was just part of what made being T-Mobile customers so awesome. Until, suddenly, the carrier stopped being as awesome, and insisted that the last five years and all of those discounted phones were all a dream.

My wife and I became T-Mobile customers when we moved from Milwaukee to Minneapolis in 2007, since our old carrier (U.S. Cellular) did not offer service in the area. Because of this, opting out of our old contract without penalty was no problem. We chose T-Mobile as our new carrier based on the fact that our existing U.S. Cellular phones were compatible with T-Mobile’s network at the time, meaning we could start service just by swapping our SIM cards. So, after signing a new 2-year contract, that’s what we did.

The next year, we got our federal tax refunds earlier than we’d expected, so we decided to go to a T-Mobile store to replace our by-now very beat-up 2-year-old handsets. T-Mobile was just fine with that, and even offered us the new-subscriber discount on the phones if we’d agree to sign a new 2-year contract. Having no problem with their pricing or service, we agreed. Starting then, it became a yearly tradition for us to head to a T-Mobile when our IRS refunds arrived in the mail. And every year since 2007, T-Mobile has had zero problem with us picking up new phones, and only charging us the new-customer prices for them…Just as long as we re-upped for another 2-year stint.

This year, all of that changed. And it not only changed, it changed so thoroughly that T-Mobile was actually able to RE-WRITE HISTORY.

This year, we once again deposited our refund checks, and went to the T-Mobile store. After browsing a bit, my wife and I decided on the phones we’d like to leave with: The HTC Amaze for her, and the Samsung Galaxy S II for me. But after waiting our turn in line and speaking to the CSR, we were informed that we’d be unable pay the discounted price for the phones, as we still had a year left on our current contract. We explained to her that we’d been down this road before, but had always been able to simply exercise the option of a new contract in order to enjoy the discount. She immediately went on the defensive, and told us that this would not only be impossible, but that for the last eight years that SHE had been an employee, it would ALWAYS have been impossible.

My wife and I were understandably confused. Not only did we know for a fact that this was something we had always been able to do going back at least five years, but the last two times we had been able to do it, we had done so in the very store we were standing in at the time!

We explained this to the CSR assisting us, but she utterly refused to budge. She maintained that our usual M.O. was completely out of the question, and would ALWAYS have been so. Not used to being called liars, we were a little irritated by this.

To T-Mobile’s credit, they weren’t entirely unsympathetic. When my wife added in the fact that another reason she’d been hoping to replace her phone was because her current handset had recently developed some bizarre performance issues (random re-starts, constant signal loss, etc.), they did offer her a comparable replacement 4G MyTouch handset to swap out her buggy HTC G2, which she accepted. That said, the CSR never backed down from her insistence that our previous dealings with T-Mobile simply would not and COULD not have ever happened the way we know they did.

Needless to say, the entire exchange left a bad taste in our mouths. We’re still T-Mobile customers owing to the year that remains on our contract, but we were a little rattled by having our honesty called into question. So, once the time arrives when we ARE able to get new phones with a new-member discount, I’m thinking we’ll actually become “new customers” somewhere else. And perhaps when the numbers continue to drop, T-Mobile will spin up the P.R.-O-Matic and assume that everyone has joined the ranks of the mass exodus down to their lack of an iPhone. And maybe for some, they’d be right. But in our case, we’ll be opting out in favor of a carrier less-apt to accuse its customers of unethical behavior.

Best of luck to Jim and Mrs. Jim in finding a carrier that will let them have a discounted handset every year.


Edit Your Comment

  1. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Ask for manager or someone with real authority. Resolve. Then come to Consumerist.

    • Eagle Eye says:

      Right! “Consumerist, I can’t believe there’s a less than stellar individial working at a T-mobile store. Noooo!!”

      Agree they should have spoken to the manager with their concerns about the issues they had with the CSR.

    • jaybeebrad says:

      Yes, seriously. These things have a paper trail; both your situation with the cell company and, more importantly, your purchases at this location. Rather than abandon an entire company that you say has been excellent for years – over the idiocy of ONE employee out of thousands – why not take a moment to gather together all of your receipts and documentation. Then take it into this store and demand to speak to a manager, lay out your evidence and couple it with a complaint that their rude employee called you liars.

      If you don’t get your discount after that – if for no other reason than the employee’s behavior – then start making bigger decisions.

    • smo0 says:

      Honestly, I find it funny I read a story like this when I just tried to get an upgrade from a galaxy 1 to a 2 and was told that I’d have to pay the full retail price with a 100 dollar discount…

      450 dollars…

      but getting that phone as a new customer was 100… wtf

  2. TuxthePenguin says:

    So wait, you were supposed to get new phones biannually, but they were doing it annually. Sounds like you were just getting lucky.

    Have we really become this much of a soft country (and consumers) when we whine when suddenly we’re forced to play by the rules?

    • Lyn Torden says:

      Many people, through many carriers, have been able to get new phones before their contracts ran out by re-upping their contract for 2 years from that date. Usually, they don’t do this until the 1 year date. And this is just what Jim and his wife were doing according to the story.

      • Kestris says:

        Exactly. My SiL and I got new (free) phones at the 1yr mark through Sprint when she renewed us for another 2 year contract.

        Sprint even sends us notices yearly as to when we are eligable to ‘upgrade’ our phones.

        • ninjatoddler says:

          Tmobile has upgrade deals for existing customers which differs in pricing from the new customer deals which is similar to yours.

          But those guys just got real lucky these past so many years. All carriers have this policy officially.

    • vnlindstrom says:

      But in answer to your question, Tux, yes.

  3. TheUncleBob says:

    “Best of Luck” is right. :D

  4. Get A Amberlance says:


    • rookie says:

      i thought i heard an echo…

      carry on…

    • Costner says:

      I used auto-deposit, but from submission to deposit was a total of eight days – which was impressive considering two of those days were a weekend and one was President’s Day.

    • momtimestwo says:

      We got our refund 2 weeks ago, we use TurboTax and have it to direct deposit into our account.

    • gttim says:

      I electronic filed mine last Thursday and got my federal and state refund this week vie direct deposit. Easy!

    • Kestris says:

      Filed electronicly Jan 31st. 7 days later, had our frederal refund in our bank account. So it may be just those who paper file that are having to wait longer.

      tHough, it’s been 2 weeks and we still haven’t gotten our state refund…

    • LanMan04 says:

      I e-filed on February 9th. Had my refund on the 21st.

  5. Fast Eddie Eats Bagels says:

    As a TMO customer for about 8 years now, I’ve found this story very true and I used to do the same every year as well. I was so pissed one year that I called in to cancel all three lines a year early and I was immediately transferred to the retentions department. I told the very nice CSR in the retentions why I wanted to cancel and she right then and there offered me a highly discounted phone for the one line that I wanted it for. Ironically for the HTC G2, your wife’s old phone.
    If the OP is reading this I suggest calling in and asking to be sent to the retentions dept because you want to canceling.

    Best of luck

    • Fast Eddie Eats Bagels says:


      Also I bet they store employee didn’t want to give a discounted phone because that store’s location is hurting on sales.

    • LinisAstald says:

      I agree, call in and speak to the Loyalty Dept. I’m sure they will do it. I have had to call them several times in the last month due to issues, and every time they exceed expectations on resolving the issue(I ended up with a cheaper rate on unlimited plans then what I was paying for 750 minutes, and then on top of that they dropped the cost on my data).

    • Jawaka says:

      Go ahead, cancel your three lines. I hear that AT&T has much more consumer friendly plans.

      yes, sarcasm.

  6. Get A Amberlance says:


  7. donjumpsuit says:

    Make sure they know that everyone else doesn’t allow early upgrades anymore.

  8. Get A Amberlance says:


  9. brotheryang says:

    They did the same thing to me in 2011. I’ve had them since suncom became t-mobile and enjoyed the yearly upgrades also until they said they never offered that kind of upgrade.

    It was bound to happen though. i don’t know of any other carrier that offered that.

  10. RogerX says:

    I was a T-Mo customer from 2007 through January 2012 (left to get iPhones), and my wife and I always had to wait two years. They price the phones to subsidize them based on two years’ worth of service; the Galaxy S II is a $600 off-subsidy, and they’re not going to eat $400 a year on smartphones. Reading my contracts, this was pretty clear.

  11. LRM216 says:

    I think it just depends on the person you are dealing with. I’ve been with T-Mobile now for about 10 years, and I too have extended my two year contract at the end of year 1 in the past and got the discount on the new phone. I also had the same response from the CSR as the poster my last time arjound as the poster did – I left the store and did it over the phone instead with no problem whatsoever. Crazy way to do business, but apparently, that’s how T-Mobile rolls.

  12. comedian says:

    Looks like that T-Mobile employee is putting the 3gs into gaslighting.

    “Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory and perception. It may simply be the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred…”

  13. yurei avalon says:

    Whaaat? That’s bizarre if I understand the situation correctly. I know US Cellular, Verizon and pretty much every other carrier lets you “upgrade your phone for free” or for a subsidized price every 18 months or 2 years or whatever it is as long as you renew your contract.

    • dorianh49 says:

      So does T-Mobile. These guys, however, were able to renew their 2-year contract EVERY YEAR and get a new, subsidized phone each time. The fine article clearly states this.

  14. NeverLetMeDown says:

    Some customers have, in the past, been able to upgrade earlier than 2 years with all the carriers (usually really high spending, high value customers). All the carriers are cracking down on this hard, however (giving a new $200 flip phone every year to somebody spending $200 a month can make sense – hard to justify giving a new $600 smartphone every year).

  15. blinky says:

    From the headline I thought T-Mobile was going to demand that the customer keep all ten years of contracts or something. Given that all that’s happened is T-Mobile is not being as generous as it has been in the past, I think the customer is a whiner.

  16. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    It was just 1 anal store clerk. Talk to the manager, or go back when that CSR isn’t there, or talk to a phone rep.

  17. TMN says:

    Regarding the closing dig… Sprint will give you half the regular discount if you renew after a year. It’s encoded in their website, and they send you mailers about it, so it’s less likely they’ll try to weasel out of it.

  18. Straspey says:

    “Look folks, I’ve been working here for the past eight years and – as everybody else but you seem to know – the Earth is flat. So it would be impossible for you to have done that because if you did – you would have fallen off. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.”

  19. sven.kirk says:

    Most carriers have been doing this doing this for a while now. They will only let you upgrade at 20-22 months out in a 2 year contract. And then it is at current customer prices, not new customer prices.

  20. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    The 2008 and transaction shouldn’t have been a surprise since they didn’t buy phones in 2007.. So that leaves ’09, ’10, and ’11.

    But tax returns year after year.. to blow on phones. Good grief. Adjust withholding and save that money.

    On the other hand I need to do my taxes. A mid year lump sum and employer change has left me with the biggest refund I have ever had coming despite cutting my withholding to nearly nothing the second half of the year. And I took the $7500 home buyer loan in ’08.

    • rlkelley says:

      With new customer prices they could easily be paying less than $500 for their phones. Unless you are filing a new withholding form every quarter at work, this amount really isn’t an outrageous annual income tax refund.

  21. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    If you have a large enough account AT&T will do yearly upgrades for the primary line…

  22. akronharry says:

    Every year they would go with their refund check and get another phone? Such losers.
    Go to Walmart (gasp!) buy a phone and buy the “Straight Talk plan .
    When the phone breaks, buy a new shiny one to impress your friends with and still save money in the long run.

    • Bripanov says:

      StraightTalk iirc is one of TracFone’s brands, and they do some weird stuff to their SIM Cards and Phones beyond the standard network operator lock. The phones won’t function without TracFone’s SIM, period – and as for their SIM, even if you do put their SIM in their existing handsets it may not work.

      IIRC, never actually attempted this, because I don’t care to waste my money finding out

    • wbabbit says:

      Yeah, they’re total losers for buying what they want with their money. I’m certain YOU never buy something that isn’t 100% frugal. Asshole…

    • akronharry says:

      Hey, Sorry if I offended wbabbit and called him “small one”, I have to realize that some people have no common sense and that a phone may be a statement for some stating “I’ve arrived”……kind of like Nike shoes

      So yes, I am an as——– for assuming that others may have the intelligence to not waste money on bright and shiny objects.

    • BlkSwanPres says:

      There are no strait talk phones that you can impress anyone with, unless you have a time machine.

  23. Damage Incorporated says:

    Verizon used to have this. It was called their annual upgrade program. If you were the primary line on a smartphone plan, you could sign a new 2 year contract and get a subsidized phone at your 1 year date, effectively extending your current contract by one year. It wasn’t really advertised but the policy was on their site and employees knew about it if you asked.

    They killed the plan off about a year ago when they also got rid of the New Every 2 discount and one year contracts.

  24. dush says:

    Just walk out and come back another day when that “CSR” isn’t working.
    Why waste time arguing?

  25. benjitek says:

    …and contracts used to be a year, not 2. AT&T used to let you upgrade by re-extending after a year, now it’s 18 months. Their companies, their rules.

    Seems like a case of consumers hoping that by whining in a public consumer forum, they’ll get their way.

    • UglyShirts says:

      Just a question…If you don’t like people “whining” when they aren’t treated consistently or fairly by corporations, then why in the hell are you reading The Consumerist?

      I’m not being rhetorical. I’d genuinely like to know.

  26. Unstable says:

    one of the best TNG episodes ever!

  27. djdanska says:

    T-Mobile upgrades are beyond wonky. I upgraded 2 of my lines a few months ago. One in november, the other in december. As of this week, shows full upgrade eligibility. Been happening since 2003. Beyond weird.

  28. razremytuxbuddy says:

    I’ve been a happy T-Mobile customer for a couple of years now (no contract, ever), and I’ve been amazed with the “perks” they give. Usually the perks are common sense gestures for retaining happy customers, but that other wireless companies withhold as opportunities to keep people locked into a never-ending series of long-term contracts. Unfortunately, I think I’ve lately seen T-Mobile cutting back on some of those customer-friendly gestures that have set them way apart from their competitors. I hope they don’t change too much. T-Mobile receives the highest customer approval ratings for a reason.

    When I did have an issue with T-Mobile service, I posted on their Facebook wall, and got a quick reply directing me to contact their T-Force who was willing to focus on the issue.

  29. wcnghj says:

    Funny. US Cellular doesn’t use SIM cards and has never…