I just saved $850 on the Galaxy Z Fold 3 — here’s how

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

At this week's Galaxy Unpacked event, Samsung lifted the curtains on both the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3. Both phones saw price cuts from what previous versions costs, but the Z Fold 3 still sat at a steep $1,799. While the Z Fold 3 looking to retake the throne on our best foldable phones list (there's not a ton of competition) that high price keeps it out of reach for most consumers.

But upon looking at T-Mobile's Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 pre-order page, I took a glance at devices that were eligible for trade-in. To get $1,000 in trade-in credit, the obvious contenders were there: iPhone 11 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S21, OnePlus 8 Pro and other newer models. But eligible trade-in devices included some older models that still fetched a generous return.

In my case, that was the Samsung Galaxy S9, a phone released more than three years ago. It also seems that AT&T's Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 pre-order page is offering the same trade-in deal, but only for the Phantom Green and Phantom Silver colors. Verizon's Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 pre-order page is also offering $1,000 for an S9 trade-in, but only for new lines.

The trade-in value seemed out of whack to me. How was it possible for three year-old phone to net $1,000 in trade-in credit? For example, iPhones, which are known for holding value, don't approach that kind of retention. According to sold eBay listings, a 256GB iPhone XS Max is selling in the $350 range.

Getting a phone to trade in for the Galaxy Z Fold 3

I jumped over to Facebook Marketplace to see what I'd have to pay for a used 64GB Galaxy S9. Most individual sellers were asking around $200. But I came across an S9 in good condition that cost $150. I shot over a message. 

Turns out, the seller was not an individual, but a local business in the Houston area. Since Houston is a large metropolitan area, there's a robust and competitive phones and electronics district. If you've ever ventured into a city in Asia, you might notice that all sellers for a particular category congregate in one area. It's kind of like that. 

For Houston, this smartphones district is on Harwin Drive, a street west of downtown and slightly north of Houston's vibrant Chinatown. There, I came upon Wireless Liquidation, a small but humble operation that likely supplies phones to budget-conscious buyers or smaller independent sellers. 

As I walked in, there were a shelves lined with accessories and phone boxes. I started talking with one of the employees there, and I explained to him T-Mobile's trade-in promotion. He looked at me in bemusement. But he was also curious. I bought a black Galaxy S9 for $150 (before tax), and he requested I send him an update via Facebook after trading in the device.

Trading up for a Galaxy Z Fold 3

At the nearby T-Mobile store, it seems I was the first person to walk in requesting a Galaxy Z Fold 3 pre-order. While the foldable phone has generated a decent amount of hype online, it clearly doesn't cause the waves in demand that a new iPhone release would. (Actually, recent survey data shows that 44% of current U.S. iPhone owners plan on upgrading to the iPhone 13. Galaxy S21 sales, by comparison, have been the worst in years, with sales reportedly being 47% lower than the S10 series.)

The T-Mobile representative began processing my trade-in request. She was also surprised by the $1,000 trade-in credit offered, which would be credited to my phone bills over a period of a few months. She looked in the system. If it weren't for the Z Fold 3 trade-in promotion, a 64GB Galaxy S9 would normally only net $45 in credit. 

After signing some paperwork, I was given a shipping label to send in my Galaxy S9, and had reserved a Phantom Green Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 for $950 (before tax).]

There's "a desire to boost sales without resorting to outright discounts that erode perceived value," said Avi Greengart, founder and lead analyst at Techsponential in an email interview with Tom's guide. "And, for carriers, these deals almost always include a service level requirement, an extended device payment term, or both."

For example, Samsung took the bold step of allowing people to trade in up to four devices (up to $800 total) toward a Z Fold 3. 

And remember, I'm being given $1,000 in bill credits, not a Visa gift card. Surely, an individual's $100 phone plan does not cost the carrier that much. 

In speaking to colleagues in tech journalism, our best guess was that Samsung was doing whatever it could to bring in new customers into the Galaxy ecosystem. Its foldables give consumers something they haven't had before, which could help the company form a new loyal customer base, as it did with the Note series. Plus, with the nearest competition being the 2019 Motorola Razr, there's not much else to switch to — at least not until the rumored Google Pixel Fold or iPhone Flip hit the market.

Leading up to the launch of the Z Fold 3, interviews I had done with industry experts said that large foldable phones would hit the sub-$1,000 mark in the next three years. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 has certainly hit that mark with a $999 starting price. And thanks to this trade-in promo for the more fully featured Galaxy Z Fold 3, I'll be able to get in on the foldable fun before 2025.

Imad Khan

Imad is currently Senior Google and Internet Culture reporter for CNET, but until recently was News Editor at Tom's Guide. Hailing from Texas, Imad started his journalism career in 2013 and has amassed bylines with the New York Times, the Washington Post, ESPN, Wired and Men's Health Magazine, among others. Outside of work, you can find him sitting blankly in front of a Word document trying desperately to write the first pages of a new book.