With One Up, Sprint has devised an early upgrade program that doesn’t seem like a total ripoff. Sprint’s program lets you get a new phone once per year without any down payments. The full price of the phone gets divided into 24 monthly installments, but you’re free to upgrade at no cost once you’re halfway through. You also get a $15 discount on Sprint’s Unlimited plans, bringing the cost of wireless service down to $65 per month.
If we use the 16 GB iPhone 5S as an example, normally you’d pay a subsidized price of $200, plus $80 per month for an unlimited plan on a two-year contract. With One Up, the full $650 price is divided into 24 monthly payments–so $27 per month–plus $65 for the unlimited plan. After a year, One Up is actually $56 cheaper than the subsidized route ($1,104 for the former, $1,160 for the latter), and you can trade your old phone for a new one, and the only cost is a $35 activation fee plus sales tax.
Other plans from T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon Wireless stack the odds of saving money against you. T-Mobile’s Jump plan charges $10 extra for early upgrade privileges, and you still owe a down payment on each new phone. AT&T’s Next and Verizon’s Edge plans don’t require down payments, but monthly rates are high and you don’t get a discount on the cost of service. As my colleague Harry McCracken points out, a better alternative to these plans is to buy your phone at full price (or swallow the early upgrade fee when you want to replace it), keep it in good condition and sell the old phone yourself through eBay, Craigslist or a buyback service such as Gazelle.
Sprint’s plan looks cheap enough that you don’t have to go through all those extra hoops. There’s just one thing to be aware of: The lack of a down payment is billed as a “limited time” offer. A Sprint spokeswoman wouldn’t say for how long the offer would last, and what the down payments might be in the future.
As for the $15 discount, that also goes away if you end up making all 24 payments on a single phone. The good news is that as long as you keep upgrading to a new phone after 12 months, you’ll keep getting the $15 discount on service.
Sprint says it’s offering One Up to new customers in its retail stores, with online availability and other channels coming soon. Existing customers can get on board, but they’ll have to give up their current smartphones to sign up.