Samsung's launch promotions make its Upgrade Program a foolish choice

Samsung's Upgrade Program appears to be a good option when you purchase a new Samsung phone, but with all of its launch promotions and significant depreciation after a year it's not the option you should ever choose.

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Last year when the Galaxy Note 9 launched, I bought it through the Samsung Upgrade Program since I tend to buy the new Note devices each year and this seemed like the most reliable way to make yearly upgrades. It turns out, it's actually one of the worst ways to purchase a Samsung phone and offers no value over purchasing your phone in full.

After spending a few weeks with the Galaxy Note 10 Plus I passed the eligibility date, you have to complete a full 12 months of payments to upgrade, to upgrade my Note 9. While there are some reasons to make this move, there are just as many reasons to skip this year's upgrade. Given I've already paid more than 50% of the Note 9, upgrading to the Note 10 Plus will be a significant cost and I'm not making the move.

Also: Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus vs Note 9: Is it worth the upgrade?

Let's get into some of the details of the Samsung Upgrade Program and why I think it's not the best choice for most people.

  • Trade-in value equals pay-off price: I currently owe just about $450 to pay off the Note 9 and that is the value Samsung is offering me on the Note 9 to upgrade, so there's really no added value to the program since I'm just financing the full price of the new Note 10 Plus like I did with the Note 9. In addition, if I wait a few months and make the upgrade, Samsung only offers a credit for the amount still owed, making the program worth even less value.
  • Launch promotions: When Samsung releases a new phone, it throws in lots of freebies and elevates the trade-in value of existing phones, often beyond what you could sell it for on your own. While Samsung will currently only give me $450 for Note 9 as part of the upgrade program, it is offering $600 if Note 9 is traded in with a financed or full purchase. Thus, by paying it off and trading it in I could see a benefit of $150 towards buying the Note 10 Plus. These trade-in values change all the time so this deal is subject to change but shows how one can be patient and take advantage of launch offers.
  • Unclear process: After visiting the Samsung Upgrade Program website, login to your Samsung account to check your eligibility. However, no matter how many times I logged in successfully, nothing about the website changed to indicate that I satisfied the eligibility and there were no specific directions on how to order a new device and take care of sending back the Note 9. There was also no confirmation of the value of my Note 9. I opened a chat session with a Samsung representative who was able to provide me with the value, but not much else. I dove into the program terms and conditions to find that you just order the phone through Samsung Financing, accepting the full cost and monthly payment terms and then send back the phone you are upgrading from. Samsung will then check over the phone you sent and if it is acceptable it will adjust the monthly Samsung financing payment. All of these unknowns and hopes are a bit unnerving and I doubt people will spend as much time as I did try to figure out how the program works. Samsung needs to update the program process to make it crystal clear how everything works while giving people information on what the total and payments maybe if the device you return is in prime condition.
  • No accidental damage coverage: Many people use Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program and that refined program is one reason I considered the Samsung program for my Note 9. The iPhone program includes AppleCare+, which is of great value since you won't lose out on your investment if you drop and break your phone. Samsung should consider including its Protection Plus coverage for people in the program.
  • External financing service: When your credit is checked and you open up a new obligation, your credit is affected. Samsung currently uses TD Bank for the financing of the program. There is currently no interest and it's been fine over the past year, but you do need a separate account and login to view your payment status and history so it's something else to manage.

Overall, the Samsung Upgrade Program is not much different than just purchasing your phone through the financing option and everything is a bit more clear using the financing option. Given that Samsung phones do not retain their value like the iPhone, your best strategy if you want a brand new Samsung is to take advantage of launch specials or carrier specials. If you are willing to wait a couple of months, Samsung flagships will drop in price. Even better, buy the previous year's phone from a carrier, Samsung, or Swappa and save about half the cost with very little compromise in functionality.

Also: Here's why Samsung's Note 10 Plus is such a boring upgrade

Given that I enjoy watching video content more on the OnePlus 7 Pro, not to mention all the other great things about this phone, and that my Note 9 does everything I could ask for in a Note device, I'm keeping my Note 9 and passing on the Note 10 this year. I will also never use the Samsung Upgrade Program again.