Where to buy the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Pro

We break down the best deals from the big carriers and retailers.

Credit: Apple

It’s been a long time since you could only get an iPhone directly from Apple or from AT&T. Today, it’s offered by all major carriers and big retailers, and many of them want to entice you to buy with them by offering special deals. Of course, you can always buy from Apple directly, either in-store or online.

If you haven’t yet put in your order for an iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Pro, here’s a summary of some of the deals and promotions offered by different retailers to help you make up your mind. For each, we’ll tell you about any current special deals, when you should consider buying there, and when you shouldn’t.

Apple Store

Best deals

Buying direct from Apple is one of the few ways to buy an unlocked, SIM-free iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Pro, and it’s the go-to place to join the iPhone Upgrade Program. Apple will let you trade in your old iPhone (in good condition) as credit toward a new purchase, too.

This year, Apple is partnering with AT&T and Verizon to offer discounts on the iPhone 12 mini (which isn't avaiable until November) and iPhone 12. Instead of paying $729/$829 you get a $30 discount if you buy a phone activated on AT&T or Verizon. 

Both AT&T and Verizon have discounted trade-in plans that you can purchase through Apple (you will trade your phone in directly to the carrier, not Apple). With AT&T, you can get the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 mini for $0 a month over 30 months if you trade in at least an iPhone 8 in good condition.

On Verizon, you’ll pay or $11.95 a month for the iPhone 12 mini or $14.95 a month for the iPhone 12 over 24 months with the trade-in of an iPhone X or newer.

For the iPhone 12 Pro, AT&T’s trade-in deal will cost you $6.64 per month for 30 months, while Verizon will be $23.29 for 24 months, again with the same trade-in requirements. For the iPhone 12 Pro Max (available in November) those rates go up to $13.30 and $27.45, respectively.

Note that these deals require you to be on a monthly payment plan with AT&T or Verizon and to subscribe to an eligible Unlimited data plan. You’ll get the cost of your phone reduced in monthly bill credits.

Read more about these requirements here.

Why you should buy here

iphone x launch unionsquare apple store Apple

This is the first time in a long time you can get carrier trade-in deals when buying direct from Apple. This may have something to do with promoting carriers that want to push the iPhone 12 to get customers on their 5G networks, and it may have something to do with COVID-19 precautions making in-store shopping less common.

As usual, those carrier deals come with a lot of caveats and lock-ins, but they can definitely get you into an iPhone 12 with little to no up-front cost.

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

When buying directly from Apple with an Apple Card, you get 3 percent cash back. What’s more, Apple will now let you pay for a new iPhone with your Apple Card in 24 monthly installments, interest-free.

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.

It’s also one of the few places you can get your iPhone 12 or 12 Pro SIM-free and unlocked.

Why you shouldn’t buy here

If you plan to switch carriers or open a new line, 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.

Apple offers trade-in value for your old iPhone, but it’s often not as much as a carrier (with the caveat that carriers want to lock you into a long-term payment plan). 

Amazon

Best deals

The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro do not appear to be available from Amazon as of this writing.

Why you should buy here

Amazon rarely has deals on the latest iPhone models, but it can be a good place to score a deal on an older certified refurbished model.

Why you shouldn’t buy here

You’re almost never buying directly from Amazon, but rather through a reseller. And most of the iPhones you’ll find on Amazon are certified refurbished, which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not the place to go if you’re looking for a brand new model.

AT&T

Best deals

AT&T is offering an iPhone 12 for free, where “free” means up to $800 in bill credits when you trade in an old phone and finance the new one over 30 months. You can get a more expensive iPhone 12 (a Pro, or more storage) and reduce the cost by $800 this way, too.

There are gotchas, of course. You’ll need to:

  • Purchase an eligible smartphone on a qualifying installment agreement, including taxes on full retail price (up front) and $30 activation/upgrade fee.
  • Add a new line of service or upgrade an existing line.
  • Activate postpaid unlimited wireless service (min. $75 per month for new unlimited customers before discounts). 
  • Trade-in an eligible Smartphone in good working condition with a minimum trade-in value of $95 for $800 credit ($35 for $350 credit) within 30 days of activation.

If you meet all those conditions, you get an iPhone 12 “free” because they’ll give you bill credits enough to cover the monthly installments for it. If you want more storage or an iPhone 12 Pro, you get up to $800 worth of bill credits.

Why you should buy here

att sf IDG

If you’re already a happy AT&T customer, or if you don’t mind being saddled to the company for a few years, you might as well buy directly from the carrier. Just know that the deals are typically designed to get you really attached to the carrier. They want you paying monthly installments for years, so deals are designed to save you money on a second phone in exchange for locking you in to the carrier for a long time. 

Why you shouldn’t buy here

If you just want to buy one phone, or if you want the freedom to hop to different carriers at a whim, buying your iPhone 12 or 12 Pro directly from AT&T is not your best option.

There’s a bunch of fine print to consider on the current deal. 

Best Buy

Best deals

You can get an iPhone 12 mini,  iPhone 12iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max for $100 off the regular price at Best Buy, but only if you activate a new line on Sprint (which is now part of T-Mobile). For upgrades and other carriers, Best Buy isn’t offering a discount.

All new iPhones bought through Best Buy will get you four free months of Apple Music and Apple News+, but that’s only for new subscribers to those services.

Why you should buy here

best buy logo Best Buy / IDG

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. 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 iPhone, but you now have to sign up with Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint (really T-Mobile). 

There are no special deals for AT&T or Verizon customers at Best Buy right now, either.

eBay/Craigslist

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.

On a just-released phone like the iPhone 12 or 12 Pro, you’re not likely to find a good deal when buying directly from another consumer. In fact, you’ll probably pay more, especially if the model you want is in short supply. But if every store is out of stock and you can’t get one for another three weeks, and you just have to have that particular model right now, this may be your only option.

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.

Sprint

Sprint is now T-Mobile

Sprint doesn’t really have any iPhone 12 deals for regular consumers, because Sprint all but doesn’t exist for regular consumers anymore. Sprint has been bought by T-Mobile, and all Sprint deals are essentially redirected through them.

If you have Sprint, your new phone purchase deals are delivered through T-Mobile. If you don’t, you can’t even really sign up for Sprint service anymore. Existing customers are grandfathered into their plans, but service is through the “new T-Mobile.”

Swappa

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. If you missed the early-preorder window and you want a hot new iPhone right away, you can probably buy a new-in-box model direct from another consumer...at a considerable markup.

Don’t expect to find any good deals on the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Pro in any person-to-person marketplace until the phone has been available for at least a few months.

Why you should buy here

There are lots of person-to-person sales services out there, from eBay to OfferUp to Letgo 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.

T-Mobile

Best deals

Those who want to switch to T-Mobile with their spouse will probably dig this deal. T-Mobile will sell you two iPhone 12 Pro phones (128GB) together with its Essentials unlimited plan for both for a total of $100 per month. To get it, you’ll have to trade in two “eligible devices” in good condition.

It breaks down like this: you pay $90 per month for two lines of the Essentials plan and then $5 per month for each iPhone 12 Pro, after an $850 bill credit.

Existing customers who don’t want to add a line can get bill credits up to $850 on any iPhone 12 device when you trade in your old iPhone. Only the iPhone 11 Pro, 11 Pro Max, XS, XS Max are worth $850 in trade-in value, others are worth less, but that’s still quite a good trade-in value.

Why you should buy here

The deal for two new lines and two iPhone 12 Pros is fairly inexpensive, though you only get that price after monthly bill credits that stretch out 30 months. If you cancel before that, you’re on the hook for the remainder of the credits. 

And T-Mobile also has pretty good trade-in value (again, as bill credits) for people who are already customers and looking to upgrade without adding lines. 

Why you shouldn’t buy here

It’s all 30 months of bill credits as far as the eye can see! You’re essentially locked in to T-Mobile, or you’ll have to pay the remainder of your bill credits. The Essentials unlimited plan is T-Mobiles least-expensive and most perk-free plan, too.

Verizon

Best deals

If you already have Verizon, you can get an iPhone 12 for $15 per month over 24-months. To do so you’ll need to finance the phone on Verizon’s monthly installment plan and trade in an eligible phone. You will also need to be on a premium unlimited plan or the old Above or Beyond unlimited plans. 

New customers and switchers can get an iPhone 12 for free when they sign up for a Do More, Play More, or Get More unlimited plan and trade in an eligible phone.

Why you should buy here

verizon store Verizon

It’s a big savings if you happen to meet all the conditions—Verizon customer, don’t mind 24 monthly installments, getting a new Unlimited plan.

Why you shouldn’t buy here

The best deal is for new customers who sign up for unlimited plans and want to stick around for 24 months.

People jumping to Verizon and Unlimited can save a decent amount, but everyone else, including existing Verizon customers looking to upgrade, are probably better off just selling their existing phone or shopping somewhere else.

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Jason Cross

Jason Cross

Macworld.com
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