The Switch to Sprint Free Unlimited for a Year Offer – The nightmare of dealing with Sprint

In the fall of 2017, I began researching cellular phone plans for my 12-year-old son. He had recently been going to dances and other school functions where it would be useful for him to have a phone with reliable service so he could text his mother or me if he needed to come home. We knew he only needed basic texting and calling and we didn’t want to spend the enormous amount of money per month to put him on our plan. We started with Freedom Pop which is a free/paid service that uses Sprint and other cellular networks. Freedom Pop’s free plan includes 500mb of data, 500 texts and 200 minutes of talk. Freedom Pop’s plan sounded perfect for what we needed, so I signed him up and he tried out the service.   Unfortunately, what we found was that with Freedom Pop all talk and text is delivered over data or Wi-Fi. This means that once you are out of data, you can no longer use the phone. That wasn’t going to work for us, but it did at least give my son some level of service and his own phone number.

As I continued researching, I found that Sprint was running an offer where they would provide free service for a year if you were switching from another carrier to Sprint.   It looked like the offer was primarily targeted at Verizon users, but there was nothing in the literature that stated you had to be coming from any carrier in particular.  So, Freedom Pop qualified from all I could tell.  The offer was (and still is) promoted with a large banner ad on Sprint’s website:

I had heard from others that Sprint was a difficult company to work with, but I figured it was worth trying as it was a great deal.  I started by researching which phones were supported by the offer. There was a fairly long list of phones, and my son’s Moto E4Plus phone was on it. Below is a screenshot of the list of phones on the Sprint website where this offer is still being promoted.

With hardware compatibility out of the way, I started down the registration path. I clicked on the offer and filled in the phone IMEI code. The site said the phone was compatible, as I expected, so I continued through the registration process, I printed each step to PDF as I completed it which is where these screenshots came from:

Verification of IMEI and Phone number from old carrier (note that the plan is free until 1/31/19):
Autopay (address obfuscated):

The final page was the most interesting. It says clearly on this page to print it because “Your account PIN is shown on this page.” The problem was, there was no pin listed on the page. I looked for it. My wife looked for it, it simply wasn’t there:
The next day I received the SIM in the mail. Well, I received the first SIM. I tried the link in the email (shown above) and attempted to activate. In the first step of the activation process I was asked to enter my PIN. This would be the first Sprint lesson I learned. Without your PIN you can do nothing with your account. I called customer support at Sprint and was told they couldn’t reset my PIN; they could do nothing for me. I needed the PIN, the PIN they never sent me. It was about this time I started receiving calls from the number porting department. They wanted to help me port the number. Their first question, of course, was “What your PIN or security phrase?” Since I never received a PIN, I couldn’t port the number either. Finally, after my second time on the phone with support I was told my only course was to go to a Sprint store to have my PIN reset. They would verify my identity and reset the PIN to one of my choosing.

Later that week I headed to the Sprint store with my son. I provided identification and they were able to reset the PIN and set a security phrase. At this point I thought we were over the big hurdles to getting the service working. I headed back home installed the SIM and ran through the rest of the activation procedure. The system again told me my PIN was shown on the page, again, it wasn’t:

After installing the SIM in the phone I knew we had some kind of problem as the phone started reporting “SIM not found” even though the SIM was in the phone. At this point I didn’t know if this was an issue with the phone or Sprint. I went back and forth with Sprint support, I tried contacting Motorola but I got nowhere. In the end I ended up returning the phone to Amazon who still accepted it even though it was out of the return window and we got a Moto G5Plus which is also on the Sprint compatibility list for BYOD. Once this phone arrived I put the SIM in and saw it recognized with no error message. However, after a few days we still had no service. I called support again and was told at this point we needed a new SIM in order for this phone to work which I ordered (another 10 dollars or so).  Sprint support said this issue had to do with a network difference between the Moto E4Plus and the Moto G5Plus.   When that SIM arrived I called back support as instructed and they again tried to activate the phone. This SIM also didn’t work. They told me I needed to go to the Sprint store and that they would be able to provide me a working SIM. So, off to the store my son and I headed again.

The Sprint store staff really tried to help and clearly wanted to try to fix our issue but activation was difficult.   I learned that Sprint has no less than 11 different SIMS (perhaps more) and that when they are trying to activate a phone they have to enter the IMEI code and then scan each SIM they have until one is accepted. There is no compatibility list mapping phone to SIM. Once the rep determined they had no SIM in the store that would work they took one out of another Motorola phone (I believe it was a Moto Z) and put it in ours. This SIM was accepted and they were allowed to proceed with activation which completed. Here you’d think we had a working phone? You’d be wrong. The service still wouldn’t work. We headed back with a non working phone and instruction to contact the phone support again, which I did. However this again got me nowhere. I was told I needed yet another SIM. This apparently is the answer you always get from the support staff. I told them the SIM had been checked and was compatible. They again sent me back to the store. It was at this point that the rep at the store told me that sometimes phones just don’t work. Everything is correctly configured but they just won’t.  He recommended I head to a different Sprint store which was also a repair center.  He said they may be able to tell me at the technical level what was wrong.

I went to the other Sprint store at 2 pm or so the following week.  I walked in and there was a line of about 5 people at the front waiting.  I stood in line for about 20 minutes before realizing this line wouldn’t be moving fast enough for my liking.  I decided to come back later.  I returned to the store after work at about 5:30.  Much as I expected it to be busier then, there was actually less of a line.  I waited patiently and got to witness another customer going through his own pain with Sprint.   This poor fellow had just upgraded to a new iPhone.  Apparently,  he had left his new and old phones behind at the store so they could port his personal data (images, videos, etc) but the store had failed to get the data transferred.   The employee working with him gave him the choice of either taking his phone as is (without his content) or he could roll the whole purchase back which would take hours and manual intervention by customer support.  Understandably, the guy was a bit irritated and said he’d been back numerous times to the store already today and had “wasted his entire day” porting his phone.   The employee escalated the issue to the store manager who took over talking to the irate customer and then talked to me.  I explained my activation issues and my hope that since this was a repair center they could help me.  The employee told me the repair center was only for Sprint supplied devices and didn’t deal with activation issues like I was having.  He let me speak to the manager who told me the same thing and recommended (no surprise) that I talk to customer support.   As I left the store I told the irate customer who was still waiting that I’d been working to activate my phone for over a month and that he’s be better off with a different carrier if he was actually paying for this service.

With all this going on Christmas was quickly approaching and my son had been talking about how he’d like to switch to an iPhone. I talked to the rep at our local Sprint store asked if they’d ever had activation issues with iPhones and he said it was rare, they usually just work. I called back phone support and asked if we could switch to an iPhone to get a successful activation since to this point we’d really had no service. They said yes. So we held off on further trying to get the Moto phone to work and started shopping for used iPhones instead. We made a deal with my son that he would return the second Moto phone and the refund from that would be applied to his iPhone the difference being paid by us as part of his Christmas present. By Christmas we had received his new phone and my wife set down the path of activating it. After several days we finally had working service.

In reviewing the online account I noticed that we were now on a paid plan. So, my wife headed back to the store to get this corrected. The rep assured us they would move us back to the plan we were on prior and that it would be all set. A few days later when it wasn’t corrected the store said we would need to contact phone support (surprising eh?). My call to phone support wasn’t pleasant. They claimed that since we hadn’t been on the plan for 4 months we couldn’t change phones even though prior a rep had said in this case we could since we had so many problems getting the service to work. I escalated the call all the way up to the supervisor who told me there was no way for them to move us back to the free plan once we were off of it, the system didn’t allow it and they couldn’t do it. It was at this point my wife took over and began dealing with the Sprint store. She spoke with the rep who said that Sprint could change the plan back, they just didn’t want to. The rep spoke with the district manager who approved the plan change for us. Now all that needed to be done was to have the change made in the system. This was something that was akin to an act of God as it turned out. My wife went back to the Sprint store several times a week trying to get this all resolved for several weeks. The last time this past week she actually was in the store when the district manager was there and the manager explained that Sprint stores and Sprint corporate are two different entities. The manager also explained that once we switched phones we were in breach of contract and that this is supposed to be an online-only offer so stepping foot in the store also made the offer void. It would have been great if the phone rep had told me this rather than saying we could stay on our plan by switching to the iPhone and to go to the store for activation help.

The last word from the district manager was that we should wait until Wednesday (3 more days) to see if she could resolve the issue before cutting our losses and paying whatever we had to to get out of this and have our days of dealing with Sprint over.  The following week I began digging more on the internet about this issue and if anyone had seen the same issue and if so, how they resolved it.  I found that our issue wasn’t unique and that there was a community at Sprint where people were posting about the very issue we were having.  Many had been switched off their free plans as soon as their phones were activated.  I sent the information to my wife and she said she’d try reaching corporate but was going to start with a social media post.  She has a decent sized twitter following so she started there.

With one post on twitter inquiring whether this plan offer was actually a bait and switch she got the attention of Sprint and was contacted within 10 minutes of posting the tweet.  Later that day she was talking to a representative from the home office in Kansas.  Since then we did finally see that we were back on the the Bring Your Phone plan:

However, the online account still showed that we owed $71.38 and, as you can see in the image above, our plan expiration was now 10/31/18 instead of 01/31/19 as it should be.  You could also see this in the plan details on the account:

My wife set out later that day to try to set this right.  We had put off off paying the bill and you’d think with these sorts of issues they’d stop normal processes on this account but, no, they actually shut the phone off due to nonpayment.  So my wife ended up on chat with the Sprint rep who apparently started by explaining that we had to pay to get the phone turned back on.  Once she explained she wasn’t calling about the disconnect and instead about billing she got more of the same.  So she went back on twitter to get their attention and then finally got a supervisor on chat:

The supervisor agreed to credit our account the amount that would bring the price down to the 10 dollars or so the plan taxes equated to.  She went online later that day to try and pay the $4.99 the rep said would be due but of course $71.38 was still due.  I thought maybe we were dealing with a nightly job that need to run to update the billing so we decided to wait till the next day.  I tried logging onto the account in the morning and found it unresponsive and not working.  I tried again, still not working.   All I got was the following message after a long delay:

I first tried to login at 6:45AM and I tried again throughout the day as did my wife.  The site finally came up at 2:20PM.  So it was down for at least 7 hours before they fixed it.  Anyway, when we finally got back in we still owed $71.38.  Because I was concerned about this being sent to a collection company at this point I decided to finally pay the bill, much as it angered me to do so.

The next day my wife took it as her  mission to recover this $66.39 and also to verify that next month we will be billed appropriately.  She also wanted to fix the plan issue.  She started on chat and spent around 5 hours total between chatting, waiting for reply and relaying issues to a representative in their home office in Kansas.  The rep said it was crazy that this had taken so long to resolve and apologized for what we’d gone through (I imagine he probably also thought we were crazy for sticking with it so long).  He verified the credit had actually been applied to the account but that (as my wife suspected) next month’s bill would also be wrong because we were on the wrong plan for most of it.  He said we would see a credit for that month as well as this one.  He also said we were on the wrong plan.  Apparently, the free for a year deal has multiple plans and termination dates and the termination date is tied to the plan and can’t be set by customer support.  So, if he changed the plan it would mess up our current billing and credits.  So what we had learned is that the overseas call center may be unable to switch you back to this plan but the reps in Kansas can.

A week or so after her last discussion with the rep in Kansas I received a message via email stating that my account had been updated.  When I went into the account I noticed that the plan had finally been updated to a termination date of 1/31/19.  The account also now showed a credit balance.  So, our account was finally; after all this time; right.  A few days later my wife received a call from Sprint to verify we were happy.  I’m sure they were mostly trying to make sure she didn’t tweet any more complaints about Sprint.  This is one process we are both quite happy is over.

The key things I/we have learned in the process of dealing with Sprint are as follows:

1) Just because Sprint says in their offer a phone will work with their network doesn’t mean it actually will. Go with a phone that Sprint sells if you choose to try it.  When in doubt talk to a store and ask if the rep has specifically activated the phone you are thinking about porting.

2) Sprint phones require a unique SIM per phone/phone family and there are over 11 different SIMS. If they send you a SIM in the mail assume it will not work.  Even if you verify your IMEI with customer support it still may not work.

3) This offer is void if you have to set foot into a Sprint store. Even if the rep on the phone tells you to go there to get a SIM or help you could find yourself outside the plan terms.

4) Sprint phone support staff are always respectful but seldom helpful for anything that matters.  They do try to help but they either don’t know how or don’t have the power to.   The Sprint store staff are helpful for providing SIMs but little else.

5) There are actually two different sets of support staff.  An overseas call center which has little or no power to help and then the staff in Kansas that can be summoned by complaining on twitter.  Only Kansas can actually solve a problem as “complex” as ours was.

6) So far Sprint’s network has been fine for my son’s use, he has internet access everywhere and hasn’t had issue texting or making calls either.  Their service seems reliable once it’s activated.

I’ve written this post so hopefully others will come across it before they start down the path of taking advantage of this offer or just switching to Sprint as a carrier.   The time spent with activation of phones that clearly aren’t supported, issues with switching to a phone that is supported, and then fixing billing issues makes the savings of around $900 dollars not nearly as attractive as it would be if the service just worked.  With Sprint being known as a low tier carrier some of these issues were expected but I couldn’t have imagined it would be as bad as it was.   We have spent at least $900 dollars worth of time getting this plan setup correctly.