How to Save as Much Money as Possible Upgrading to the iPhone 11

That’s at least $5000 bucks worth of iPhone 11 Pro right there.
Photo: Apple

iPhones are fucking expensive. If you’re one of the millions thinking of upgrading to iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro next week, you will spend, at minimum, $700 by the time you’re done paying it off. You probably only need one phone, and you probably already have one, so should probably figure out a way to use your old phone to offset the cost of the new one.

Realistically, we should have already done this. According to CNET, the best time to trade your phone in is just before Apple announces the new phone. But that ship has sailed. You were fine with the phone you had until you saw the new iPhone 11 Pro’s nightmare-inducing camera holes, but now you need it. It’s cool. I’ve been there.

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If you’re going to sell or trade in your old phone, you should do it now (especially if it’s an iPhone.) Once the iPhone 11 comes out, your phone will be less valuable. That process can be complicated, I realize, and sometimes isn’t possible based on our finances, but you should still keep it in mind.

I’ve checked around and found that these are the options that will get you the most value out of your outgoing phone. Some involve selling it to another person. Some involve trading it in. None of them are perfect, but these are roughly ordered by how much you should expect to get and how big a pain it should be to get through the process.

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Sell on Swappa

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If your phone is in good condition, Swappa seems to be the best place to sell your phone online at the moment. As we we’ve written previously, they take greater pains to make sure everyone is happy in every exchange. The rates for used iPhones are better than most of the trade-in options, and there’s no sales fee from the company.

Since Swappa is a peer-to-peer marketplace like eBay, you get to set your own price. But the platform does show you the lowest price for a listing—though that may include a “fair” model with “noticeable wear and tear”—and gives you an estimate of its value and the average sale price. For example, the going rate for an iPhone 8 is $361 for the 64GB model, and $428 for a 256GB phone. In general, Swappa seems to be the place to go for pure dollar value.

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Again, since Swappa is a marketplace and not a service, you’ll be responsible for packing and shipping your phone to your buyer. That said, you can pass the estimated shipping cost to the buyer as a fee. The process is slightly less streamlined then trading your phone in to one of the big services.

Sell on eBay 

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For pure potential, eBay may be your best bet. At first glance, prices on the most popular online marketplace reach higher than Swappa. That said, eBay is also more volatile, and it’s harder to determine what the actual value is for a used iPhone being sold by a regular person. Even when you filter for “used” phones, many of the listings are for new and refurbished models from retailers, which obviously won’t help you or I determine how much our phones are worth.

Put it another way, eBay is the riskiest maneuver. It may pay off, but if you overvalue your phone it may a take a while to sell, during which time your phone may become less valuable. My advice: from what I’ve seen, people selling actual used phones seem to hew pretty close to Apple’s trade-in values. To see what value Apple might put on your phone, check prices on the iPhone 11 “view prices” page and fill out the portion for trading in your phone—then add $50 or so dollars and see if anyone bites.

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Trade in to Apple when you buy your iPhone 11

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When you go to buy a new iPhone, Apple asks if you’d like to trade in your old one. Depending on what phone you own, you can cut the cost of the new phone by quite a bit. (Especially if you bought your 2018 iPhone free and clear). Assuming you’re coming off a two-year plan, either with Apple or a carrier, most people should get around $150 for an iPhone 7 and $400 for an iPhone X when trading it in for an iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro.

Those prices presume your current phone is in working condition: It can’t be too scratched up or have a cracked screen, and it must still turn on. If your iPhone is damaged, you may be able to trade it in, but for significantly less. For example, an iPhone 8 Plus with a broken camera will net $100.

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One thing you should know: the prices listed for iPhones on Apple’s trade-in site aren’t as high as the ones listed when you trade your phone in as part of an iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro purchase. For example, trading in an iPhone 7 in good condition on the trade-in site, without buying something, will you get $120 in credit. If you set up your trade during your purchase, you will get $150.

If your iPhone’s damaged, trade it in to Gazelle (or Amazon) 

Photo: Warren R.M. Stuart (Flickr)

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Gazelle is a good bet for extracting the most money from your phone if it’s taken a few hits over the years. Gazelle will take more types of damaged devices, including phones that won’t power on, have a cracked screen, or that can’t hold a charge. The prices are dramatically reduced: A 64GB iPhone 8 will get you $252 in good condition, $140 with “clearly visible” scratches, $50 with a cracked screen, and $35 if it won’t turn on.

On the damaged phone front, Amazon’s trade-in system seems messier and more complicated than any of the options I’ve listed, but also does have better rates for some trade-ins. Specifically, it seems like phones with cracked screens (and no other damage) seem to get around twice as much as Gazelle based on checking a few models. Trading into Amazon nets you store credit, not cash, which makes it hard to turn around and spend that money on an iPhone 11, but if you’re okay not having the money go directly towards your new phone purchase, I’d say it’s worth checking both sites.

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What about the iPhone Upgrade Plan? 

Photo: Apple

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If reading this article and going through the rigamarole of maximizing your old phone’s value seems like a waste of time, you can take yourself out of the equation by signing up for Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Plan. The Upgrade Plan breaks down payment for the iPhone of your choice and an AppleCare+ insurance plan into 24 installments, after which you own the phone free and clear. Here’s the kicker—after 12 months you are allowed to trade in your phone for a new one—presumably an upgraded model—at no additional cost (unless you get a more expensive phone).

The upgrade plan, or “the Apple treadmill” as I like to call it, doesn’t really reduce your cost in any way. It’s the same price as buying a phone and an Applecare+ plan. I think it’s more transparent and less divisive than buying a phone through a carrier payment plan, but it’s most valuable for people who want to upgrade to the next iPhone every year. The value isn’t monetary, it’s in the convenience of not having to worry what to do when the time comes to upgrade and having the freedom to get the shiny new phone without having to figure out what that will cost.

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