AT&T promised me a free iPhone — or did it?

1000 Words / Shutterstock.com
1000 Words / Shutterstock.com
Tomas Stockton is offered a “free” iPhone 5 from AT&T. So why isn’t he getting it?

Question: I recently spoke with an AT&T representative via chat about a billing issue with my U-verse Internet account. After resolving the issue, she offered me wireless service.

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At first I declined, stating that I was happy with my current carrier. But the representative persisted and offered me a family plan consisting of four lines of service and four “free” iPhone 4s’s for $179 per month with all taxes, surcharges and fees included.

Then I asked about the iPhone 5s and the representative stated that I could switch all of my iPhone 4s’s to the new iPhone 5s’s for free after 30 days. I was very skeptical and told her to contact me in 10 days. I printed our chat session as evidence.

A few days later, I called AT&T and spoke with a different representative and explained the offer. After I told her that I had it in writing, she agreed to honor it. She said that after 30 days, all I had to do is walk into an AT&T corporate store and pick up my free iPhone 5s’s.

A month later, I walked into the AT&T corporate store to pick up my free iPhone 5s’s and they had no idea who I was and could not find any notes on my account or any history of the offer.

I contacted AT&T, and a representative explained that the U-verse representative did not have the authorization to make that offer, and since it was not part of any current AT&T promotion, they would not be honoring it.

Please understand that I am happy with AT&T’s wireless service. I just want them to honor their offer of the free iPhone 5s’s. Can you help? — Tomas Stockton, Round Rock, TX

Answer: When someone offers you something for “free,” don’t walk away — run! Even if AT&T’s written offer had been legit — and I’m not saying it was — then the “free” part was a scam. No one is giving away “free” iPhones. At best, they are included in the price of your purchase.

To know just how brainwashed the buying public has become in regards to the word “free,” I point you to the hateful comment on this post about the true meaning of “free.”

You can’t make this stuff up. People believe in free, even when the facts say otherwise.

Only this time was different. At least, that’s what you thought. You were led to believe that you could walk into an AT&T store just 30 days after buying four iPhone 4s’s and trade them in for iPhone 5s’s at no additional charge. (That’s not a “free” phone, by the way; the price of your original iPhone 4s’s would have included an upgrade. If it were truly free, then AT&T would be handing out iPhones on the street corner. Last time I checked, it wasn’t.)

By the way, wireless companies are notorious abusers of the word “free.” Look at all these free phones from the AT&T site. Are they really “free”? No, they are not. You have to sign a contract and pay AT&T real money to get your hands on one.

You might have appealed your case to someone higher up at AT&T. I list their executives on my customer service wiki. But I’m not sure if it would have done you any good.

I went back and forth with AT&T on this issue several times. A representative reviewed your grievance and said you were right about the first iPhone 4s offer.

“The confusion comes when we get to the iPhone 5s issue,” he says. “We would not have offered anyone four of these devices for free. They were, still are, a leading product for us and that’s something we wouldn’t have done. We are just not sure how the customer might have gotten that impression.”

The chat transcript shows a representative saying you can upgrade your iPhone “and there is no fee.” But you interpreted that as AT&T saying the entire upgrade would cost nothing. AT&T sees it differently. It says that it was only agreeing to waive the upgrade fees, but not the cost of the phone.

You’re going to have to keep those iPhone 4s’s. Don’t worry, they’ll be eligible for an upgrade in two years.

Was AT&T's offer too confusing?

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