The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will be here in just over one week. If you're planning on picking up either of Apple's latest handsets, by now you probably have a good idea of which one you want. The decision might be easier than you think, but there's not much time left to pick — at least if you want to be guaranteed a phone on day one. Pre-orders start September 12th, and if history is anything to go by, availability of both devices will slip back by weeks sometime tomorrow morning. After that, you'll be stuck waiting in line with everybody else outside the Apple Store on September 19th if you must have iPhone 6 as soon as it's released. But if you're like us, you're getting too old for that game, so let's examine the best ways to get one without camping out all night.
Get up early or stay up really late
If you're determined to have a new iPhone on September 19th, the best path there is being awake and in front of your computer early Friday morning (12:01AM PDT / 3:01AM EST on September 12th) with a credit card in hand. Make sure you've got everything you need: if you're on a family plan, most carriers require the last four digits of an account holder's social security number to upgrade. And don't forget about the account password if your family has one set up.
There's nothing quite like waking up at 3AM to order a phone
Apple will begin taking pre-orders here just after midnight Pacific. Generally the company has done a decent job managing the huge rush of orders in recent years. So long as you're online at the right time, you've got a pretty good shot of getting the iPhone you want. Traditionally Apple has delivered pre-orders by mail, but this time it sounds like you'll also have the ability to choose in-store pickup. Avoiding the chaotic scene at Apple's stores seems like the entire point of pre-ordering, but if you just can't wait for the FedEx guy, the option's there.
Should Apple sell out, immediately head over to your carrier's website, as they'll all be kicking off pre-orders at the same time — and often have stock longer since most people go direct through Apple. Like last year's iPhone 5S, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will come in space gray, silver, and gold.
With two-year contract:
iPhone 6: $199 16GB, $299 64GB, $399 128GB
iPhone 6 Plus: $299 16GB, $399 64GB, $499 128GB
iPhone 6: $649 16GB, $749 64GB, $849 128GB
iPhone 6 Plus: $749 16GB, $849 64GB, $949 128GB
Carrier upgrade plans
US carriers will also be offering the iPhone through their respective early upgrade installment plans. And now more than ever, you can bet they'll be pushing those plans on customers — even over the traditional two-year contract. With Verizon Edge, well-qualified customers can opt to get a 16GB iPhone 6 for $0 down and 20 monthly payments of $32.49. The 16GB iPhone 6 Plus runs a bit more at $37.49 each month.
AT&T's Next 12 will let customers order an iPhone for $0 down and pay it off for $32.50 per month over the course of 20 months. After 12 installments, you'll have the option of trading in your iPhone 6 towards a new phone. Next 18 gives you more time to pay off the device — 24 months — and each payment is $27.09. With this option, you can trade in a phone after completing 18 of those installments.
Carriers will be pushing their $0 down installment plans in a big way
Sprint now has what it's calling an "iPhone for Life" plan where you actually lease the phone you're ordering. You never really own it, but Sprint thinks this is a more cost effective option for customers that upgrade to a new iPhone often, since you can just switch off to the latest device every two years. With this plan, you can lease a 16GB for $0 down and monthly payments of $20. Combined with the carrier's $50 unlimited plan, Sprint customers who choose this route will be paying $70 plus fees each month.
On T-Mobile Simple Choice plans, the 16GB iPhone 6 can be yours for $0 down and 24 monthly payments of $27.08. For the iPhone 6 Plus, those payments bump up to $31.24. Every carrier will also offer higher capacity models through their monthly installment plans, but in some cases you'll need to pay some of that cost up front, and spend more every month thereafter.
Best Buy, Walmart, Target, RadioShack, and other stores are also offering iPhone 6 pre-orers starting September 12th. These should probably be your last-ditch option: going through Apple or your own wireless carrier is always a safer bet. But if you're eager to save wherever possible, these retailers could be worth a look. For instance, Walmart will have the 16GB iPhone 6 for $179 on-contract through Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint. That's $20 off what you'd normally pay Apple or those carriers directly. Sam's Club is going slightly lower than its parent company: members will be able to get the 16GB iPhone 6 for $177 or the 16GB iPhone 6 Plus for $277 starting September 19th. RadioShack's not taking anything off the contract price, but will give you a $50 iTunes gift card to go along with your new iPhone. Going with big-box retailers could also mean getting more precious sleep: Walmart's not kicking off pre-orders until 9AM.
What to do with your current iPhone
Carriers and retailers alike are trying to entice consumers into trading in a current iPhone as they upgrade to Apple's latest and greatest. Most will give you gift cards in exchange for your smartphone, but even the guaranteed minimums that they're offering fall below what you'd get by selling an iPhone on Craigslist or eBay. It's always the same story here: if you're patient and willing to chance getting stabbed selling via Craigslist, that's the better way to go. (Seriously, meet at a Starbucks or someplace very public.)
But a whole lot of people will happily hand over iPhones to Verizon or Best Buy for a $200 or $300 gift card and never look back. Because that's the easiest thing to do. Amazon offers slightly more than its competitors for used phones if you're fine being paid in Amazon credit. Keep in mind that selling your phone isn't always the best path: it may make more sense to simply hand it off to a family member in exchange for their upgrade — assuming that person doesn't always need or want the newest iPhone out there.
So now you know the options. What's your plan?