Where to buy an iPhone

Should you buy at an Apple Store? Carrier? Big-box retailer? Online?

iphonex launch dubai apple store

Updated 12/07/17: Added some new Best Buy deals.

When the original iPhone went on sale a decade ago, there was no asking where you should buy one. The only possible options were the Apple Store (if you were lucky enough to live near one) or AT&T carrier store. The bigger concern was who had any in stock!

Today, the iPhone is sold all over. Every carrier store has it, Apple Stores are all over the place, big-box retailers like Best Buy and Target carry them, and of course, you have a seemingly endless number of online options. So...where should you buy your iPhone from? The answer can be complicated, so let’s break down some of the most common options.

For each, we’ll tell you about any current special deals, when you should consider buying there, and when you shouldn’t.


Best deals

Amazon deals are ephemeral, popping up and quickly gone again—sometimes in just a few hours. We’re not aware of any particularly good deals on new iPhones right now.

Why you should buy here

Amazon rarely has great deals on carrier-locked phones, but it can be a last refuge for those who want to buy fully unlocked phones that may be otherwise hard to come by.

You may pay a premium for it. Consider this unlocked iPhone X, which at the time of this writing sells for almost $200 over the retail price and is not even eligible for Amazon Prime.

If you have the patience for it, you can keep an eye out for flash sales and Gold Box Sales, but that’s usually where you find deals on accessories, not the phones themselves.

Amazon is a great place to find older iPhone models at steep discounts, though. For example, you can pick up a refurbished iPhone 6S in Rose Gold for $320. Just be sure to check the seller ratings!

Why you shouldn’t buy here

If you’re not struggling to find the hot new iPhone unlocked, or in the market for an old model at a cheap price, there’s generally no reason to go to Amazon to buy an iPhone. On the latest models, Amazon sellers generally charge full retail price or more. If you want to switch carriers or activate a new line, carrier stores will typically offer a big incentive.

Most phones seem to be sold through third-party sellers, so you have to dig into the seller ratings to verify that you won't get ripped off. That can be a hassle.

Apple Store

Best deals

Apple’s not running any iPhone promotions of note right now. But it is one of the few places you can buy a new, SIM-free, unlocked iPhone X.

Why you should buy here

If you really want to kick the tires on a new Apple product, a trip to the Apple Store is probably the best way to do it. If you have a lot of questions or need help with setup, Apple Store employees are generally going to be helpful, accurate, and patient, without pressuring you to buy stuff.

If you want to buy your phone with the iPhone Upgrade Program, you’ll have to do it at the Apple Store or in the Apple Store iOS app. T-Mobile customers can’t get the iPhone Upgrade Program through the app—you have to go to a store to enroll in T-Mobile’s own upgrade program (which is essentially identical to Apple’s).

If you always want the latest iPhone every year, the iPhone Upgrade Program is a pretty good deal. You pay off your iPhone in 24 monthly installments, but can swap it in for a new iPhone after 12 months (thus renewing the 24-month contract). You get Apple Care+ included, too.

Why you shouldn’t buy here

If you plan to switch carriers, buying directly from the carrier can be a better bargain—many carriers offer nice incentives to switch over. From time to time, carriers may offer deals ("buy one get one free" or other rebates), though those usually require some sort of long-term commitment. The best carrier deals tend to be for new line activations and transfers, though.


Best deals

AT&T has a “buy one, get one” deal on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. It’s got a ton of strings attached, though.

Basically, you have to buy two iPhone 8 (or 8 Plus) phones on the AT&T Next plan, one of which has to be a new line. Then you’ll get $700 in credit applied over 30 months, enough to wipe out the cost of one regular 64GB iPhone 8. Or you can apply that credit toward reducing the price of an iPhone 8 Plus. You can’t use it toward an iPhone X.

Why you should buy here

As with other carriers, the deals from AT&T are designed to lock you into a long-term commitment of one kind of another (usually the AT&T Next lease program), and often require new line activations.

If you’re switching to AT&T and know you’re going to be with them for years, you might save some money.

Why you shouldn’t buy here

If you want the freedom to move to another carrier in the next couple years, you’re not going to like most of AT&T’s deals. By the time you pay early termination fees or other costs of getting out, you'll have eliminated any potential savings from whatever sale price you got—and then some.

Best Buy

Best deals

Best Buy is offering up to $250 (in the form of a Best Buy Gift Card) when you trade in your old iPhone and buy an iPhone X. You can see how much your trade-in is worth here.

You can save up to $200 on an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus. The savings vary from $50 to $200 depending on phone model and carrier. Also depending on carrier, you'll need to either pay in monthly payments for up to 30 months, or pay monthly payments and open a new account or activate a new line.

The iPhone 6s is $150 when you sign up with a carrier and pay in monthly installments. Again, the precise requirements vary by carrier.  

Why you should buy here

Best Buy iPhone deals tend to come in two forms: A decent-sized gift card (useful only if you plan to buy more stuff from Best Buy) or a discount on buying a new phone with activation of a new line, paid in monthly installments. So, it’s not dissimilar to buying from a carrier, and only worthwhile if you don’t mind a long-term commitment.

If you are thinking of purchasing through Best Buy, be sure to compare its discounts with other big-box retailers and the major carriers. The best deal can vary depending on when you look.

Why you shouldn’t buy here

If you want to just pay the full price for an unactivated, unlocked iPhone, you shouldn’t do it here. Best Buy used to be one of the very few retailers who would sell you a SIM-free, unlocked iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X, but it charged $100 over retail for the privilege. It has since stopped offering those phones unlocked at all—you have to activate with a carrier just like most retailers. 

You can still buy an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus unlocked at Best Buy, but they charge you $50 more than retail price. You’re better off going to an Apple Store or buying with the Apple Store app if you’re not near a retail location. 


Best deals

Buying a phone directly from a fellow consumer (be it a used or new-in-box option) can always be a bit of a risk. But you can also save plenty of money if you’re willing to be patient and negotiate on price.

Just be careful. Only buy from qualified sellers with lots of positive feedback, or from someone local so you can go inspect the phone and make sure it works properly and is in the promised condition before handing over a single penny.

Why you should buy here

There are two good reasons to buy an iPhone from eBay or Craigslist (or other similar person-to-person markets):

1. You don’t want the newest hottest model and aren’t in a rush to buy, so you can take your time finding a good deal on the phone you want in great condition.

2. You do want the newest hottest model, the one that’s totally out of stock everywhere, and you just have to have it now even if it means paying an inflated price.

Why you shouldn’t buy here

If you want the latest iPhone and it hasn’t been on the market for six months, you’re not likely to find a good deal. You’ll spend a lot of time trying to find one that isn’t scratched, chipped, or cracked. And then, on top of all that, you have to worry about getting ripped off.


Best deals

Sprint is trying to get people to switch from other carriers, and their iPhone deal reflects that. If you move a phone number from another carrier to Sprint, you'll save $350 on an iPhone 8, 8 Plus, or X. That’s a really good deal, but as usual, it’s not so simple.

Not only do you have to move a number from another carrier, you have to sign up for Sprint Flex, a lease program that breaks up your iPhone payments into 18 monthly installments (and you don’t own your phone, but you can trade it in after 12 months for a new iPhone and re-start your lease). The $350 you save comes in the form of lower monthly payments.

Why you should buy here

Given the current Sprint deals, the only reason to buy your iPhone from them is if you’re switching your number over from another carrier, and you’re okay with being on the Sprint Flex lease program.

Why you shouldn’t buy here

The only deals available are for people switching from another carrier, so if you’re not, you’re better off buying your new iPhone somewhere else and then simply activating it on Sprint.


Best deals

As a person-to-person sales market, deals on Swappa vary a lot. Depending on the age and condition of a device, you can pay anything from above retail (on very hard-to-get iPhone models) to hundreds of dollars less. It’s worth a quick look to see if the particular iPhone model you want is available here.

Why you should buy here

There are lots of person-to-person sales services out there, from eBay to OfferUp to Facebook Marketplace, and they all carry their share of risk of the seller trying to rip you off.

We like Swappa because it does more to protect buyers: The company reviews every listing to help ensure that the seller isn’t a scammer. It verifies ESN numbers to weed out any that are not fully paid for, listed as stolen, or unavailable for activation. It makes sure that sellers have reset the device and disabled iCloud so it can be set up as a new user. And it requires verification photos to prove ownership and verify condition.

Is it fool-proof? No, but sellers on Swappa have to jump through just enough hoops to keep most of the scammers at bay. If you’re buying a phone from a random person on the Internet, that’s a big deal. 

Why you shouldn’t buy here

No matter how diligent Swappa is about eliminating scammers and fraud, you’re still buying a phone directly from another human over the Internet using a PayPal account. You can save a lot of money, but there are always things that can go wrong--and you don’t have the same recourse as if you bought from a major retailer or carrier.


Best deals

While the magenta un-carrier had a BOGO deal that included iPhone 7 models during Black Friday weekend, it has no noteworthy deals on iPhones right now.

Why you should buy here

As with the other carriers, the deals you find from T-Mobile are usually only worthwhile if you’re willing to be on the hook for a couple years. T-Mobile also offers a trade-in program which will give you up to $300 for your old phone (depending on model and condition), but that’s comparable to most other carriers and not really a great bargain.

T-Mobile is the exception to the official Apple iPhone Upgrade Program: You can’t enroll at an Apple store and get your phone upgrades through Apple. But T-Mobile offers its own iPhone Upgrade Program that basically works exactly the same way. You just have to get it through T-Mobile.

Why you shouldn’t buy here

When T-Mobile does have a deal in place, it usually requires new phone activations or number transfers, and sometimes enrollment in a lease program like JUMP! On Demand.

The only regular postpaid plan that the company offers anymore is T-Mobile One. It includes unlimited everything—talk, text, and data—at a very reasonable price, but with a lot of strings. You have to pay extra for full-resolution video streaming, hotspot data, international calling, and so on.


Best deals

Right now, Verizon’s best iPhone deal is really an iPad deal. Any cellular model iPad is $200 off (with 2-year activation), but you get an additional $50 off if you buy any iPhone. So, basically, you get $50 off an iPhone-and-iPad combination.

Why you should buy here

Verizon is the nation’s largest cellular network, and while it doesn’t win every “average download and upload speed” contest, it does tend to have the biggest footprint. So if you are primarily worried about coverage in hard-to-reach areas, Verizon is often your best bet.

If you plan to activate a new line and don’t mind a long service commitment (typically two years), you can often get a pretty good discount.

Why you shouldn’t buy here

Verizon’s deals, like more carrier deals, are designed to lock you into long-term commitments. Always read the fine print—do you have to maintain an active account for two years? Do you have to have to buy the phone on a long-term payment plan, or can you pay it off? Verizon’s activation fee ($30) will sometimes reduce or eliminate your savings.

Even if you plan to use Verizon as your carrier, there’s typically no real benefit to buying it directly from one of their stores unless you plan to activate new lines with long service commitments. Verizon may offer you money on trading in your old phone, but so do many other retailers (and Apple currently offers more on some phone models).

Shop Tech Products at Amazon