AT&T Advances iPhone Upgrade Eligibility

On the day of the next generation iPhone (s aapl) launch, AT&T (s att), out of the goodness of its corporate heart (or possibly from fear of a mass exodus to Verizon should Big Red get the iPhone), has moved up the eligibility date for some customers.

While the details will no doubt be announced at the WWDC Keynote today, anxious iPhone users can find out if they are among the iChosen right now.

Customers can log in to their accounts on AT&T’s website and select the “Check Upgrade Options” link to find their new eligibility date. You can also call “*NEW#” or “*639#” from your iPhone and get sent a text message with eligibility information. However, there may be caveats, at least that was my experience.

I bought an iPhone 3GS last July, so the earliest I expected an upgrade was March 2011, approximately 90 days before my two-year contract would be due to expire. Much to my surprise, as of today I am eligible for a fully subsidized upgrade with no termination penalty, just an $18 upgrade fee and another two years behind AT&T’s more bars in more places.

Unfortunately, my wife was not so lucky. Even though her iPhone 3GS was purchased on the same day, her eligibility date isn’t until March of 2011. A quick call to AT&T explained why. Not surprisingly, it’s about the money. Her iPhone is the add-on to our Family Plan, meaning my iPhone is billed for the voice plan and generates more money for AT&T. My monthly charges are approximately twice hers.

While this is a smart move on AT&T’s part, or possibly Apple bludgeoning its carrier partner into further submission, it’s a little annoying to be “offered” half an upgrade for our family. Not that my annoyance will stop me from taking the deal. Only a Verizon iPhone would do that.