Sprint's discount brand Virgin Mobile is going decidedly upmarket.
Starting next week, new Virgin Mobile customers will only be able to buy an iPhone to use on the network, which piggybacks on Sprint's infrastructure. But in return for giving up a broad choice of phones, they'll get some considerable perks and discounts courtesy of Richard Branson's Virgin empire.
To start, anyone who buys an iPhone from Virgin Mobile by July 31 will get 12 months of unlimited talk, text, and data for $1. They can also join the new Virgin Mobile Inner Circle club, which is offering a free round-trip companion ticket to the UK on Virgin Atlantic, one free night at Virgin Hotels, and other discounts and offers for people who sign up by Sept. 30.
If you're already headed to the UK, the free companion ticket could represent significant savings. For most Americans, though, the free year of service will be the most enticing offer: Virgin Mobile's unlimited service is normally $50 per month, which essentially pays for the cost of the iPhone.
Customers who buy a new iPhone from Virgin after July 31 will get six months of service for $1, an offer that Virgin Mobile CEO Dow Draper indicated will be permanent.
"It's always six months of it for $1," he said at an unveiling event in San Francisco on Wednesday. "We view this as the best test drive ever. You're going to buy the iPhone anyway. Why not try Virgin Mobile?"
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Virgin Mobile's parent company Sprint is also offering a similar, limited-time offer of an entire year of unlimited talk, text, and data for free, though it's only open to people who switch to Sprint from other carriers.
The ultimate answer to Draper's question, however, will hinge on what you think of Sprint's network quality. In PCMag's 2017 Fastest Mobile Network test, Sprint's data network was noticeably slower and less reliable in many areas of the US than the networks of its chief competitors, including Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T.
Still, even if Sprint doesn't offer good service where you live, the new Virgin Mobile offer might be enticing to deal hunters planning on an overseas trip. Buy the iPhone, resell it, and get a free airline ticket and hotel night for your trouble. And there's even the possibility of a surprise visit from Branson during your free hotel stay. The eccentric billionaire joked at Wednesday's event that he would "be happy to come and read to you a goodnight story."