Virgin got ballsy with the iPhone, and it’s great

Virgin Mobile’s crazy $1-a-year iPhone plan comes with a vacation

The prepaid carrier is only selling iPhones now, and offering a year of unlimited service for $1. Not good enough? It comes with a free flight and hotel stay.

by Bridget Carey




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Business magnate Richard Branson launches Virgin Mobile’s new all-iPhone plan Wednesday.

Josh Miller/CNET

Kick back and pass the popcorn.

A carrier has just made a big, bold move that has the potential to change its fortunes, and sweeten your phone-buying experience in the process.

On the surface, Virgin Mobile’s decision to transform itself from a run-of-the-mill prepaid carrier to an iPhone-only shop with lots of perks may not sound very impressive or important. 

Especially if you don’t know what Virgin Mobile is (a prepaid arm of Sprint’s network, alongside Boost Mobile), or don’t care about the involvement of business magnate Richard Branson, of Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Galactic fame.

I mean, this is a business that, up to now, its own US CEO called “ho hum.” Ouch.


  • How to decide if Virgin’s $1 mobile plan is right for you

But the decision to drop Android phones and become an iPhone-only prepaid carrier is the ballsiest change-of-direction since boat-rocking, rabble-rousing T-Mobile CEO John Legere started detonating contracts and moving to unlimited data plans, causing its competitors to scramble to do the same. It’s proof that big networks care a lot about what other networks do.

While going all-in on iPhone isn’t a move that many other networks will follow, it’s a shake-up that Virgin Mobile needed. More importantly, Virgin’s effort to tie a number of perks to its service may benefit phone-buyers everywhere if it causes other carriers to amp up their own deals.

Virgin Mobile’s gambit to disrupt the industry by promising perks may not work. Virgin Mobile is a tiny player in the grand scheme of things, so it may take awhile for the bigger national carriers to notice. But if it does pay off, look for other networks to bump up their offerings or carve out their own niches, too. You could start seeing some movement from their prepaid arms, including T-Mobile’s MetroPCS and AT&T’s Cricket Wireless. (Sprint’s other prepaid branch, Boost Mobile, will remain a low-price offering for now.)

What Virgin Mobile did

On Wednesday, Virgin Mobile announced that it’ll cut out Android phones and sell prepaid iPhones only — that’s everything from used iPhones to the new iPhone 8 we expect Apple to unveil in September.

What’s more, Virgin customers will get a year of unlimited data for $1 (using Sprint’s network), which will revert to $50 a month after the year is up (minus taxes), or go back to $1 per month for another year after buying a new iPhone.

(P.S. Sprint also offers a year of free service, but the promotion is limited.)


Virgin Mobile will sell red iPhones online and through Apple.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Virgin’s ecosystem promises perks for days

It gets better. The new-look Virgin Mobile hooks into the Virgin empire to dangle limited-time perks in front of deal-hungry buyers.

For example:

  • Free companion ticket on a Virgin Atlantic flight to the UK
  • One night’s stay at a Virgin Hotel
  • Up to 20 percent off of flights on Virgin America
  • $170 savings on an introductory offer to Virgin Wines club
  • 20 percent off of the Virgin Sport San Francisco Festival of Fitness

It isn’t a buy-one-get-one deal like other carriers have, but it amounts to a considerable savings for buyers who are already on board, and appeals to a broader sense of travel and lifestyle. For a lot of people, that’d beat out a free case or VR headset.

Both AT&T and T-Mobile also have rewards programs, too; AT&T Thanks and T-Mobile Tuesdays, respectively.

Why this is a huge deal for everyone, even you

Apple doesn’t need help selling the iPhone on either top-tier or prepaid carriers, but Virgin’s narrow focus makes it the only US carrier that’s dedicated exclusively to its product.

That’s a tremendous opportunity for Apple to upsell customers and try to keep them loyal. A Virgin customer is already buying an iPhone — the only question is, which one?

And the perks model? Genius. Virgin Mobile is closely related to the sprawling Virgin brand, so there’s much less negotiation that the carrier would have to do to make the perks work. Upshot for you: more lifestyle freebies.

Virgin’s iPhone-all-the-time stance means it’ll be the first prepaid carrier to sell in the Apple store. If Virgin Mobile is able to spear the kind of customer willing to spend more money on an iPhone — any iPhone — than on the cheapest Android phone, that could give the carrier more customers and more influence. Ultimately, its success could lead to more specialized iPhone deals for Apple fans.

T-Mobile declined to comment.

Read next: Everything you need to know about Virgin Mobile going all-iPhone