Changing cell phone carriers has long been one of the easier ways for consumers to save money on cellular phone service and get a new phone at the lowest price. However, new pricing models and an increase in internet shopping competition have opened up new ways to save money- without switching.

Consumers often complain that cellular providers do not appreciate current customers. All major wireless carriers offer free or reduced price phones for “new customers only.” These deals require new customers to sign a contract, usually for two or more years. Existing customers often feel left out.

In the past, customers stayed with their providers out of convenience and loyalty. A major factor was the ability to keep the same phone number. However, Wireless Number Portability was introduced in 2003. This allowed consumers to switch carriers and keep the same phone number.

When wireless number portability came into play, more cellular customers started switching carriers to find the best deal. Since there are so many providers with wide coverage and customers can keep the same phone number, there is little incentive to stay.

However, many carriers, including Verizon Wireless and AT&T Cingular, have become more aggressive in offering incentives to keep current customers. For example, Verizon now offers the “New Every 2” policy for existing customers. Current customers can choose from many free phones after fulfilling a two year agreement. This allows them to save $100 or more over the previous “upgrade” prices.

Cingular Wireless, now a part of “the new AT&T”, also offers aggressive pricing structures. Many of the phones offered for free to new customers are now available to current customers who extend their contracts for two years.

Online wireless affiliates and authorized retailers have long offered lower prices than the carriers offer directly. This allows customers to save even more money. Cingular is one of the few major carriers that allow online wireless stores and their affiliates to offer phone upgrades. As of this writing only Sprint and Cingular offer phone upgrades on the popular cell phone websites. Existing customers can order a Cingular Upgrade at many websites and usually get a free phone offer.

Before you ditch your current cell phone carrier for the hot free phone from their competitor, do some research. Ask your current provider what specials they can offer, but do not stop there. Before switching or paying a higher price, you should do an internet search. Chances are you will find a reputable wireless agent with the price you want.

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