Activate Today vs Activate Later (Best Buy)?

When you buy an unlocked smartphone through Best Buy, you can choose to “activate today” or “activate later” . What is the difference?

“Activate today” means the phone comes with a service plan and a new SIM card from a supported carrier, with a discounted device price. “Activate later” means you can use a SIM from any carrier to activate the phone. You typically pay full price for the phone. 

What does “activate today” and “activate later” mean in Best Buy?

Let’s compare in more detail the “activate today” and “activate later” options when you purchase an unlocked smartphone from Best Buy:

Activate Today

“Activate today” means the unlocked phone will be set up for the carrier before it ships to you. In other words, you create a new account and get a new SIM card from a carrier supported by Best Buy.

You activate the device with one of the supported carriers (i.e. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile) at the Best Buy store or on the website when making the purchase of an unlocked phone.

If you use the “Activate today” option, you get a discount from Best Buy. The goal is to drive more sales and entice customers to activate a device on the carrier’s network at checkout.

However, you need to sign up for a plan with the carrier, which makes up for the discount you get on the phone. 

Note that your new phone will still be unlocked if you use the “activate today” option, that is, it will work with carriers other than the one you activated the phone with. 

Activate Later

“Activate Later” means that you can activate the unlocked phone with any preferred carrier at a later time after buying the device. 

For most carriers, this can be done by simply swapping the SIM card from your old phone into your new unlocked phone, and it’s instantly ready for use on the new carrier network.

In short, you can use any SIM card later to activate the unlocked phone.

If you don’t have a SIM card, then you need to purchase a plan from the carrier of your choice on your own (not through Best Buy) and get a SIM card for the new plan.

When using the “activate later” option, you’ll likely pay the full retail price of the unlocked device.  

Do you have to activate your phone at Best Buy?

It’s not always necessary to activate your unlocked phone if you purchased it from Best Buy. You can choose the “activate later” option to avoid immediate activation. 

You can use the phone with any supported carrier; simply insert your SIM card and use your purchased plan on the device.

Conversely, you can use Best Buy’s “activate today” option if you want to select a Best Buy supported carrier and activate the purchased phone with that carrier. 

How much does it cost to activate a phone at Best Buy?

The following are the activation fees for a phone at Best Buy as per the supported carrier:

Best Buy Supported CarrierActivation Fee
Verizon$40
AT&T$30
Sprint$30
T-MobileNone

Does Best Buy charge an activation fee for Verizon?

Best Buy will charge $40 as an activation fee for Verizon if you use the “activate today” option when buying an unlocked phone or go with Verizon’s version.

So if you use the “activate today” option for an unlocked device and you get a $100 discount, you will have to pay $40 as Verizon activation charges. Thus, your total savings will be $60 on that unlocked phone. 

How do I avoid Verizon upgrade fee?

It’s not possible to avoid the Verizon upgrade free at Best Buy as it’s a one-time amount everyone needs to pay.

You may certainly reduce the upgrade fee by as much as 50% by speaking to them through Verizon’s official chat.

If you don’t want to pay the upgrade fee, a better way is to purchase the unlocked phone and insert the SIM card from the old phone.

If Best Buy doesn’t sell an unlocked version of your desired phone, then you can buy it directly from manufacturers like Apple or Samsung. 

Can I buy an iPhone without a carrier at Best Buy?

iPhone 12 and 13 versions can’t be purchased unlocked (without any carrier plan) from Best Buy. To get an unlocked iPhone 12 or 13, you must buy directly from Apple.

The latest iPhones bought from Best Buy are sold locked to the initial carrier they are activated on. It’s not the Best Buy but the carrier that can unlock the phone once the device is paid off.

That said, Best Buy sells pre-owned unlocked iPhones, mostly older models like iPhone 11, iPhone X, or iPhone SE (2020). These iPhone models are used but in a good condition. 

Can I buy an iPhone and activate later?

You can purchase a pre-owned unlocked iPhone from Best Buy and activate it later.

The iPhone will work with any carrier including those not directly supported by Best Buy. You can simply swap the SIM card from your old phone to your purchased iPhone. 

If it doesn’t work, you’ll need to contact the carrier’s customer care or go to their webpage online for activation after receiving the device.

Again, Best Buy doesn’t sell unlocked variants of the recent models in the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13. These only come with the “activate today” option and are locked to a carrier. 

If you want to unlock an iPhone for use with any carrier, check the unlocking policy of the carrier the device came locked with. 

What does the option “unlocked (with activation today)” mean?

Phones purchased through Best Buy with the option “unlocked (with activation today)” mean that these come with a service plan.

This means that even though the phone is unlocked (can be used with any carrier), you get a new SIM card with it from a specific carrier among the following:

  • Verizon
  • T-Mobile
  • AT&T
  • Sprint

The option activates a new line for the unlocked phone. Phones with the “activate today” label are generally sold at a discounted cost if you purchase a new line or trade in an old phone. 

However, “unlocked with activation today” does not lock the phone  to a specific carrier, and you can still change carriers by inserting an existing SIM card into the purchased device. 

Can Best Buy activate unlocked phones?

If you use the “activate today” option when buying an unlocked phone from Best Buy, the retailer will activate the phone and leave it unlocked.

By choosing the “activate today” option, you can do an upgrade with the carrier, add a line, or create a new account through the carrier using the Best Buy online system. However, the phone will not get locked to that carrier.  

Once you receive the device, it will accept and work with a SIM card from any carrier – provided the SIM has the right size (e.g. nano-SIM card). 

On the other hand, if you choose the “activate later” option when purchasing an unlocked phone, Best Buy will not activate it for you. 

In most cases, the phone can be activated by inserting a SIM card from a supported carrier that you already have into the new phone by yourself.

Refer to the first section “What does “activate today” and “activate later” mean in Best Buy” to find out more details about the options of the retailer. 

Can Best Buy activate a Sprint phone?

If you’re buying a smartphone that is locked to the carrier Sprint, Best Buy does offer an “activate today” option. 

Just select this when buying a Sprint phone and follow the on-screen instructions after adding it to the cart on the Best Buy website.

This allows you to pay the full price of the phone in advance and activate it with Sprint the same day.

Best Buy also offers an option to pay monthly installments for the locked phone for 24 months.

Note that such a phone is not unlocked and there is no “activate later” option here. If you want to be able to use the phone with any carrier, look for an unlocked device instead.  

Will Best Buy change my SIM card?

If you buy a carrier-locked phone or use the “activate today” option when buying an unlocked phone, Best Buy provides you with a new SIM card.

In a Best Buy Store, the mobile associate will physically insert the SIM card into your new device and activate the device for you.

If you are ordering through the Best Buy website, the phone will ship with a new SIM card. Instructions will be provided on how to install the SIM card and activate the device on the carrier’s network. 

How much does Best Buy charge to unlock an iPhone?

Typically Best Buy will charge $39 for the service to unlock an iPhone and reset it (if required). However, the current price for the “Unlocked Phone Service Fee” is around $25 on the Best Buy website.

This service is done by Geek Squad which is a subsidiary of Best Buy; its purpose is to repair all consumer electronics including cell phones. 

Geek Squad sections can be found in almost all of the Best Buy stores in the US and you can schedule a service with them.