PSA: It's a good idea to trade in your old iPhone before the iPhone 14 launch

iPhone 11 review
(Image credit: TechRadar)

It's heavily rumored that the iPhone 14 will be launching early next month. Thinking about upgrading? You're not alone - millions of consumers will be looking to hand over their old iPhone as part of a trade for a shiny new device. We've got an important tip, however - it may be better for you to trade in that old device before the iPhone 14 launches.

While the looming launch of a new generation of Apple flagships may offer a tempting prize, it's important to understand how the trade-in game works. Those on an older device, in particular, should time their trade-ins accordingly to get the very best value possible out of their old phone.

It could, for example, be the case that you'll get better value if you trade in for an iPhone 13 right now instead of waiting for the iPhone 14 - such is the way that the trade-in programs work at the major carriers. While it's too early to say what the iPhone 14 pre-orders window will offer, it's certain that some older iPhones will dramatically fall off in value.

Trade in tiers explained

iPhone 13 mini

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Generally speaking, because there are so many iPhone models on the market now, retailers and carriers generally group them into tiers when determining value. Newer devices or more premium models obviously belong to higher tiers, whereas older or more budget-orientated models populate the lower tiers. 

Where things generally get a little fuzzier is on the models that sit somewhere in between - think something like the iPhone XR or iPhone XS. These are still great devices with good specs but they're definitely advancing in age.  It's safe to assume that, while still serviceable, these older models are the most likely to drop in value when the next generation of flagships is announced. Both these devices are just an example but they're decidedly "last gen" now - namely because of their aged design, but also because they're only 4G capable.

We expect the 5G compatible phones (iPhone 12 and upwards) to be a lot more resistant to resale value drops as they're not only capable of supporting the latest cellular networks, but they also feature a design that's outwardly the same as the later models.

How much will I get for a trade exactly?

Best Buy trade-in values

Up to $800 off:
- iPhone 13
- iPhone 12
- iPhone XR
- iPhone XS
- iPhone X
- iPhone SE (2022)
Up to $400 off:
- iPhone 8
- iPhone 7
- iPhone 6
- iPhone SE (2020)

One of the best places to see the "trade-in tier" system in action is in the terms and conditions for carrier cell phone deals. Take this page for Verizon iPhone 13 trade-in promotions at Best Buy for example. 

Here we can see the existing iPhone models laid out in tiers. Everything newer than the iPhone X, assuming it's in good condition, will get you up to $800 off an iPhone 13 with a trade. Anything older, like the iPhone 8, will only garner a maximum trade-in rebate of up to $400 off. Those with a comparatively ancient device like the iPhone 5 are out of luck completely.

While this is only a snapshot of one carrier's deals on one model at one retailer, nearly all trade-in deals at the big names follow this kind of system. Subsequently, you may either find yourself in the trade-in value sweet spot or on the cusp of losing out big time on your device's value, regardless of your choice of carrier. 

Note, we're assuming here that $800 is the maximum trade-in rebate you'll be able to get for the upcoming iPhone 14 deals since this is the value that's generally been offered at launch for the past few releases. Take this value with a big pinch of salt, however, as the device itself hasn't been officially launched and nothing is confirmed.

What about second-hand resale values?

iPhone SE 2022

(Image credit: Future)

The second-hand unlocked market fundamentally follows different rules to the carrier trade-in system. If you have an iPhone 13 that you want to sell, you'll want to shift it before the iPhone 14 is announced.

There's of course another option for upgrading - simply selling on an unlocked device via eBay or a second-hand phone site. In this case, it's likely you'll still take a hit with the announcement of a new iPhone but won't face the steep drop-off in value associated with the trade-in tiers.

The second-hand phone market site SellCell published a report earlier this month showing that the value of existing iPhone models dropped 14% on average in the month following the iPhone 13's announcement. Interestingly, the newly displaced flagship models (the iPhone 12 series) had the sharpest drops with an 11.9% decline on average while the slightly older iPhone 11 series saw a flatter decline of just 8.8% on average. Here's a quick graph taken from SellCell's report showing the iPhone 12 series' value drop off following the iPhone 13's announcement.

Second-hand iPhone 12 value data on SellCell

(Image credit: Sellcell)

It's interesting to note here that the second-hand unlocked market fundamentally follows different rules to the carrier trade-in tier system. If you have an iPhone 13 that you want to sell for example, then you'll want to shift it before the iPhone 14 is announced, based on the SellCell report. If you have an older phone like an iPhone 11, then it's likely you won't be faced with quite so sharp a drop-off in value, although you'll probably still want to sell it before the new flagship is announced.

Should you upgrade before the iPhone 14 launch?

If you're thinking about upgrading your old iPhone, then we'd at least recommend exploring the various trade-in tiers at your preferred carrier ahead of launch. Doing so will at least make sure you don't get caught flat-footed at launch.

This advice is particularly important if you're on an older flagship device like the iPhone X or XS - devices that are very much in danger of falling down from a tier one to a tier two trade-in value. Not being at least aware of your device's value could cost you upwards of $400 if you're not careful, so it's well worth doing a bit of research.

Of course, if you're looking for the shiniest and most feature-packed design on the market, then this advice isn't going to be useful - you'll have to take your chances and opt for the iPhone 14 when it launches. If you don't mind jumping the gun for a slightly older device, then it's well worth going for the iPhone 13 or iPhone 13 Pro, instead. Not only are these still fantastic devices, but they'll remain serviceable for many years to come (at least until it's trade-in time again). 

Alex Whitelock
Deals Editor

Alex is deals editor at TechRadar. With over three years of experience on-site and eight years working in e-commerce, Alex has made it his personal mission to share all his favorite tips, bargains, and deals with our readers here at TechRadar. At work, he specializes in computing, phones, and covering huge sales events like Black Friday and Amazon Prime Day. Outside of work, you'll find him indulging his keen love of photography and PC gaming, or down at the local climbing gym hanging off boulders far too difficult for his abilities. His editorial bylines also include contributions to T3 and GamesRadar.