If you’ve walked through the electronics department at Costco Wholesale this year, you may have noticed the cell phone kiosks have been covered and closed. Now, Costco’s phone kiosks have reopened. Unfortunately, they aren’t the same kiosks with great deals on cell phones that we’ve seen in the past.
In this article, I’ll take a closer look at what’s been happening with Costco’s cell phone kiosks including Clark’s advice on whether or not you should consider buying a phone at Costco now.
Costco’s Former Cell Phone Service Vendor Has Shut Down
In the past, Costco’s cell phone kiosks have been a great place to buy a new phone. In the warehouse, you would find plans available from AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile as well as additional bonuses and incentives that made buying a phone at Costco a great deal. However, those kiosks suddenly shut down toward the end of last year.
In February 2023, I reached out to a representative at Costco to ask about the halted phone sales. At the time, I received a response that management had no comment. Now, as the cell phone kiosks begin to reopen with new partnerships, money expert Clark Howard sheds light on what’s been going on:
“Costco had a sweetheart deal for years,” says Clark. “They had an outside vendor that set up the cell phone deal there and Costco members normally got vastly superior deals buying phones and signing up for service inside the Costco versus going to an AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon store or wherever.”
Costco’s additional bonuses included things like free or discounted phones, waived activation fees and Costco cash gift cards.
Plus, Costco members could choose from any of the three major service providers. At the time, the kiosks were operated by a company called Wireless Advocates.
“Unfortunately, the deal that Costco had negotiated was too good, and the vendor went bust. So those booths disappeared. And what’s in their place at least for now… Costco is temporarily renting space to the big cell phone carriers, and the deals stink!”
Buying a Cell Phone at Costco Now
Costco cell phone kiosks are reopening in warehouses, but you won’t find the same deals or plan selections that you’ve seen in the past. Instead, your local Costco will likely be offering postpaid plans from either AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon.
At the time of writing (September 2023) I visited a nearby Costco myself to see what was available. I found that this store had partnered with Verizon and offered the same postpaid plans I’d seen online.
There was an incentive for customers opening a new cell phone line: a $250 Costco Shop Card. The representative in the store couldn’t confirm that the same deal would be available at every Costco.
I also visited Costco’s website and found exclusive Costco Member discounts for AT&T and T-Mobile:
- AT&T: Get up to $350 off an eligible smartphone, save $10/month per line on AT&T Unlimited Premium and Costco will credit your activation fee
- T-Mobile: Get up to $400 when you activate with a Go5G Plus plan ($150 member benefit plus $250 credit)
While these deals may be worth comparing to in-store or online-exclusive deals from a major cell phone provider, it’s no longer safe to assume that Costco is offering the best deals.
“You go in there and you’re basically in a crummy cell phone store for one of the three major brands,” says Clark. “Unless Costco fixes this, don’t be conned into buying anything from those kiosks that are in the Costco stores now, because they’re nothing.”
“The one exception with Costco is Costco.com often sells iPhones cheaper than you can buy somewhere else. They do these regular promotions where they offer deals on iPhones significantly better than you can buy direct from Apple, and often better than what you can buy from one of the big cell phone carriers themselves.”
When I visited Costco’s website, I found a selection of eight iPhones available for sale. Options ranged from $799.99 for a 128GB iPhone 14 to $1,199.99 for a 256GB iPhone 14 Pro Max. All of the available iPhones were unlocked and included AppleCare+.
Alternatives to Buying a Cell Phone at Costco
If you’re looking to get the best deal on a cell phone or cell phone plan, you’ll likely be able to beat the selection, prices and incentives at Costco.
Here’s what Clark Howard recommends:
“So buying a cell phone now, how do you do it? Generally, the thing I’m finding best for people who don’t want to be in a payment contract with any cell phone carrier is you go direct to the selling site of the manufacturer (or often Amazon) to buy a new or reconditioned cell phone,” says Clark.
“Often, if you go to the manufacturer, they’re offering deals for you to buy a phone with an offer of crazy generous trade-ins. So generous that I’ll go and buy a used phone on eBay that’s in good condition and trade it in and often I’ll save $500-$800 on the phone by doing that.”
If you don’t already have an old phone in good condition that may be eligible for a trade-in, you can buy one online at places like eBay or Swappa for a great price. For more options, be sure to check out our top picks for the best places to buy unlocked phones. For more details on how to save at AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon with a trade-in, here are the latest deals for getting a free phone when switching service providers.
To save even more on your monthly phone bill, you may consider a prepaid phone plan instead. You’ll find affordable prepaid phone plans available directly from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. You’ll find the cheapest phone plans available from resellers like Visible, Mint Mobile, Tello Mobile, and others. For more options, check out our full list of the best and most affordable cell phone plans in 2023.