The key to getting a new smart phone from your carrier is to know when to hold em, and when to fold em.  What does that mean?  Often, it means a game of bluff poker where your best cards have to do with your contract being up and your wireless carrier being desparate to keep your business.  Here’s what to do.

1. Talk to the right people

When you’re looking to get a new smart phone and you want to keep your existing carrier, don’t just talk to the first person you get on the phone and don’t tell them you want to renew your contract.  In fact, do just the opposite.  Tell them you’re thinking of cancelling your service and you want to talk to the RETENTION DEPARTMENT.

The retention department is a special division in all wireless companies who’s job it is to keep your business.  As such, they are empowered to do more than the typical service rep.  They are the ones who can get you a new smart phone for a two year deal and they’re the one’s who can make sure you get to keep your unlimited data plan when you do.  And that’s key.  If you go online and buy a new phone or talk to some Johnny Come Lately at the AT&T store, they’ll be happy to sell you a new phone, and they will also be happy to stick you into a new contract with stricter data limits and higher prices than what you currently enjoy.  That’s because even the slightest change in your wireless service will allow them to void your old deal and stick you in the new one.

2. Negotiate relentlessly

When you do go get to the retention department, tell them you’re thinking about going with someone else.  What can they do to keep your business?  They’ll whip out quick offer. And they know that most people will likely take it.  That’s what the numbers say.  Balk.  Counter with a better model, keeping your old deal, etc.   Keep pushing.  The longer you’re on the phone with them, the better chance you have. Now here’s where it gets tough. there is one thing you have to be willing to do.  LEAVE.  If they don’t give you the deal you want, you have to be prepared to go elsewhere.  In fact, tell them that.  Tell them you were in a competitor’s store and they can get you a better deal on that new smart phone.  They will give you a better deal.  Even something you didn’t expect.   They may even offer you that new smart phone you really want.  If not, ask for it.  And always ask for more than you’re willing to accept.  And always be willing to walk away.  There are not only plenty of carriers interested in your business, but phones as well.  With so many choices, consumers can now choose the carrier first and then choose the phone they want.

3. Ask questions

Make sure you ask questions about the phone .  They may offer you a smart phone you like, but it may be refurbished.  That’s not really a bad thing in that the price will be REALLY low on a new phone.  Refurbished phones are phones that have been returned and usually can’t be sold brand new due to state and federal laws.  So they are sold for far less.  The downside is, they also usually have a shorter warranty period – may be even 90 days.  So push for a longer warranty.  Ask if it will affect your existing data plan.  As stated above, any change to your deal will allow them to void any previous deal, and if you have been “grandfathered” with an unlimited data plan, you may be forced into plans with data caps if you’re not careful.  Also, make sure you can return the phone if you don’t like it and choose another.

4. Get it in writing

Ask for a written confirmation of the terms of the deal so that you can be sure you can prove that they gave you the right phone or are allowing you to keep that unlimited data plan.

5. Think refurbished

If the phone you’re looking at is over 6 months old, there’s a really great chance you can get it for half price or more by choosing a refurbished phone.  As we stated above, they can’t sell these phones new and you can get them for cheap – but with a shorter warranty period.  Normally, this would be a deal breaker, but if you pay for the phone with a credit card that has extended warranties as a perk of membership, then the shorter warranty isn’t that big a deal.

6. Buy online

Many online retailers offer better deals than the carriers themselves and sometime include a free Bluetooth headset or carrying case.  Checkout Amazon and Wirefly as they often sell phones below the carrier’s price.  However, you’ll still need to sign a 2-year contract.

7. Buy a phone unsubsidized

If you like the deal you have and don’t want to rock the boat, buying a phone at full price will enable you to keep the deal you have an get the phone you want.  It will cost you more up front, but in the long run, you end up paying less.  Yes, that’s right, less.  When you do the math about how much you’re paying every month for smart phone cell and data service, you realize that you’re paying up to twice as much for that phone than you would if you bought it unsubsidized.  That’s why your wireless companies can offer those phones so cheap.

The bottom line is you can make your wireless companies work hard to keep your business.  You just have to be ready and willing to say good bye if they choose not to.

James DeRuvo