Citi has a credit card that comes with a $650 bonus after $2000 spend. The catch? It can only be earned towards the purchase of a phone directly from AT&T. So, if you were considering an iPhone 6s or something, getting this card would bring your total bill down to about $100+tax for the 16GB model. Not bad! But the cheapest plans on AT&T cost around $50 a month. What if you are on Virgin or Ting or RingPlus and you’re already happy with your service? Here’s what you do. Note: I have personally done all of the following, but used this Flyertalk thread as my guide. After buying the phone you want from AT&T, do this:
1. Immediately unlock it. Before opening the box or powering the phone on. Go to AT&T’s unlock request page. Once you agree to the terms and conditions, fill out the info from your phone on the next page, and for “customer type” choose “Non-AT&T Mobility customer” — it means you don’t have an account with AT&T. Now wait for the unlock email. Mine arrived within minutes of submitting the request. Follow the steps in the email to unlock your phone.
2. Activate AT&T service on it using a friend or family member’s account. To get the $650, you have to activate and keep service for 15 days. It’s ok if you don’t keep your friend’s SIM card in your phone for the entire 15 days*. Your new phone just has to be activated on AT&T’s network for it to count towards the bonus.
My network is Virgin Mobile. I already had a SIM card specifically for an iPhone 6s, but the website “swap a handset” functionality didn’t work. I kept getting “Invalid sim” or “No sim” or “Could not activate cellular data”. If you get these messages, it’s because your device is not on the Sprint whitelist. No amount of messaging Virgin Mobile through email, Facebook, or even calling them will help you. They will escalate to the tech department and tell you that they can only activate replacement iPhones directly from the Apple store, not unlocked phones. They will tell you that your phone is not in their database and that it’s impossible to add it. Do not deal with Virgin Mobile or any other Sprint mvno directly. Just do this:
3. Walk into any Sprint store and ask a manager “Can you put my phone into your system?” The manager will ask to see your phone’s info (IMEI/MEID/ESN, which will be in Settings > General > About on an iPhone), and enter it into their system which is called DNA 2. This will take about 20 seconds.
Now your phone will be recognized by any Sprint mvno.** Congratulations! Now your you can pay $9.99 (or less) for service on your shiny new iPhone that you got for $100!
* I don’t have proof of this, but there are reports that as long as service isn’t canceled within 15 days, you’re good to go.
** A similar process will probably work for Verizon mvnos but I have not tried it.