iphone: at&t vs. apple store (rematch)

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back when i bought my 3g iphone, i had an annoying experience when i went to upgrade it from the 8 gig (i bought on the first day they were out) to a 16 gig (during the two week return period). here's a link to the relevant july 26th blog entry. basically, even though apple and at&t are in a partnership, it doesn't seem like they work very smoothly together. this opinion was further verified last week.

the hrc had accidentally dropped her 1st gen iphone in a bucket of water, then watched as her tree frog screen background pic went from bright green/red to yellowish hues and then faded to black. she was a bit frantic over this, and understandably, since in addition to it being a pricey bit of gadgetry she uses the phone all of the time for work (it is necessary, not nice). so after her dramatic retelling of the events, i went with her to the apple store in the galleria to get a replacement. (what with my previous experience dealing with iphone purchasing and exchanges, plus for support.)

here are the complications: [1] her previous at&t account for the 1st gen iphone was a pre-pay go phone account. it was a pre-pay at least partially because [2] she needed a $750 deposit to set up a regular account.

we went to the galleria and she decided to get a 16gig white 3g iphone. the 3g iphone can only be purchased as part of a regular account (it's not available for pre-pay go phone accounts) and they said they couldn't do number transfers, just new activations, so they would give her a new account with a temp number and then she could go to the at&t store and have them transfer her current number. this made her a bit nervous, but she agreed. the deposit was made, the phone was bought, etc. (although the receipt system broke and it took forever for them to figure out how to get a print of a copy and paste of a screenshot or something.)

we drove over to the big at&t store on 59 near buffalo speedway, and when we walked in she said she needed to transfer her current go phone number to the new iphone she just bought at the apple store in the galleria. they said "great!" and took her name. we waited a bit and then the rep came up to help us. the hrc said what needed to be done and he didn't say "sure, no problem!" no, he said "i don't think we can do that." he went and called to be sure, and the final verdict was that there is no way for at&t to transfer a pre-pay (go phone) account phone number to a post-pay (regular) account. i tried to think of ways it could be done, but there was nothing. we tried suggesting second line flips, account mods, closing/re-opening accounts...nothing. the only way was to return the apple store iphone and cancel that account, then come back to the at&t store and buy the iphone there then upgrade the pre-pay (go) account to a post-pay. the only way.

and the apple store normally charges a 10% restocking fee on items. but they might be willing to forgo that under these circumstances.

and, oh yeah, there'd be a $750 deposit on the phone purchased from at&t. what about that $750 deposit made at the apple store? we were very adamant he make sure that canceling the just created account would not forfeit the deposit. he called to verify, and it seemed to be the case that if you canceled the account within 3 days then they would...no, not refund the deposit to your credit card...cut you a check and mail it to you. *sigh*

while we were at the at&t store and he was talking to people on the phone, i called the apple store to explain the situation and see if they had any answers. the girl i talked to didn't seem to know, but she said a manager might be willing to waive the 10% restocking fee but she couldn't guarantee anything. but we should be able to return it.

with a bit of a queasy feeling about the whole thing, we went back to the apple store. fortunately, as we were explaining what was going on, they were very nice and apologetic about everything. they said there was no restocking fee. (maybe that is a policy on iphones, i don't know.) they took the phone, refunded the money, and wished us luck. (of course, the $750 deposit was out of their hands and they had no control over it.) we were in and out pretty quickly.

we trudged back to the at&t store. a new phone was purchased and another $750 deposit was dropped down. the go phone account was changed from a pre-pay account to a post-pay account. finally, the hrc had a new, working phone and her original phone number.

so the lesson from this is that unless you are new to at&t or are upgrade eligible, don't buy from the apple store because at&t can't handle it. you will be forced to return the phone to the apple store and buy it from at&t directly. ironically, the customers at&t can help the least are their own (current at&t customers).

and she's still waiting to find out that first $750 deposit has been refunded and a check cut. when she called the next day to make sure the account had been closed, i don't think it had been. even though we were told returning the phone should cancel the account. they also said an email would be sent when the check was cut, and she hasn't gotten an email yet. then a day or two ago she got a text message saying they were about to charge her go account for the next month in 5 days. she called and they claimed it shouldn't...maybe the text system just hadn't updated...so the rep "added a note to her account" and "hopefully that would work".

yeah, "hopefully" appears to be about the best you can expect with at&t.

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They could get in a lot of trouble if the credit card company finds out they are issuing a refund for something charged on credit card with a check. If my memory is correct, that could result in a $20,000 fine by the credit card company to them if they want to keep accepting credit cards. The credit card company looks at that as a cash advance and AT&T is trying to swindle them out of their 20% (or higher) cash advance interest rate by making it a regular charge. The hrc has some ammunition to fight with if you go to MC & Visa's websites and download the PDF of their acceptance rules & threaten to turn them in.

yeah, i don't know what people in the at&t camp stated that...if it was the rep in the store himself or someone he talked to on the phone. i'm pretty sure she talked to someone on the phone a day or two later who added the bit about her being emailed when the check was cut.

whatever the case, within a week or so the $750 charge was reversed on the credit card. so i guess at&t did that one right, even though their reps explained it otherwise.

that's interesting info to know though. i always figured the "refund only to the credit card" thing was fraud prevention, but i guess maybe the point of sale is actually restricted by credit card rules.

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