Jonathan Zschau, author at Cult of Mac

How to save money on Mac repairs with your credit card’s extended warranty


Use your credit card to solve your Apple problems. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Buy your Mac with a credit card and you could save big money on repairs. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Have you ever had an Apple product bite the dust only a few months after its warranty or AppleCare expired? Out-of-warranty repair costs can easily soar into the hundreds of dollars for Apple products, but if you purchased your Mac using a credit card that offers extended-warranty protection, you might be able to get that money back.

Many credit cards offer purchase-protection and extended warranties, which are usually included as a free benefit for qualifying purchases made using the card. I recently had a MacBook Air die. It was over three years old, so it was no longer covered by Apple’s One-Year Limited Warranty or AppleCare. Fortunately, I purchased it using an American Express credit card and, therefore, AMEX’s extended-warranty program gave me extra coverage.

Read on to learn how Apple repaired my broken MacBook Air and AMEX reimbursed the cost — saving me nearly $300.

Unboxing a New Mac: Simple Tips Everyone Needs to Know



If you’re fortunate enough to receive a new Mac this Holiday season, in addition to graciously thanking whoever gave it to you, you should make some time to take care of a few basic preliminary matters, which will end up saving you time and money in the long-run.

Unboxing. Unbox your Mac while being careful not to rip, tear, destroy, or discard any of the box or accompanying materials. There are a number of reasons why this is a good idea, but here are two of the biggest ones.

First, if something ends up being wrong with your Mac – whether it’s defective or an incorrect model – you’re going to need its original packaging (provided you’re still within Apple’s return policy period). Note here that although Apple’s return policy normally permits returns for up to fourteen days after purchase Apple has extended the deadline for returns on purchases made during the holiday season. This year, any purchases made between November 1, 2013 and December 25, 2013 can be returned through January 8, 2014.

Second, let’s think long-term here. Macs retain their value like no other consumer electronics products and, therefore, there’s a good chance that you may want to resell your Mac at some point in the future. Having your Mac’s original packaging materials always helps make the product look more attractive to potential buyers and will certainly help you sell it faster and for a better price.

Initial Inspection. Conduct a basic inspection of your new Mac. Have a good look at its exterior. Is there any damage? It doesn’t matter how slight because exterior damage may be evidence of a greater issue or defect. Make sure there aren’t any scratches on its body, chips or cracks in its screen, or any other evidence of damage or mishandling.

If your Mac is even slightly damaged you should take advantage of Apple’s extended holiday return policy and exchange it for a new one.

In my experience, Apple permits the return of damaged Macs provided the damage is reported very shortly after purchase. The longer you wait, however, the more likely an Apple representative will assume you caused the damage.

There are at least two reasons why you should do this: first, if your Mac turns out to be defective you’re going to have to take it to Apple for repair. If your Mac has undocumented damage an Apple Genius or repair technician may refuse to honor its One-Year limited Warranty or AppleCare (if you purchased AppleCare) because of the damage. It’s going to be their word against yours and – whether or not you eventually convince Apple honor the warranty or AppleCare – that’s not an argument you ever want to have to make. If Apple doesn’t honor your Mac’s warranty or AppleCare you’re stuck paying for the repair out of pocket.

Second, damage will always reduce the resale value of your Mac. If you ever do decide to resell your Mac you may have a more difficult time getting a good price, or even finding a buyer, if it’s damaged.

Check for Defects. Apple makes great products, but defects are a sad reality of any manufacturing process. You should put your Mac through at least an elementary vetting process where you inspect it for potential defects. Defects are different from physical damage. Unlike physical damage, which is not covered by Apple’s standard One-Year Limited Warranty or standard AppleCare (not to be confused with AppleCare+, which does provide limited coverage for accidental damage on iPhones) defects are fully covered and, therefore, there’s less of a sense of urgency here. That said, without going into all of the reasons, it’s always better to get defects handled sooner than later.

Chances are your Mac will not be defective, but do your due diligence just in case. When I’m checking my Macs for defects, I like to break it down by the various hardware components that make it up and I go through them one-by-one – asking myself whether each component behaves as advertised. For example, does the screen have an unacceptably high number of dead pixels; is my Mac able to connect to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices; does the battery hold a proper charge; etc.?

If something seems to be awry with any part of my Mac – something is visibly broken or a component is just not performing as I think it should – I research the specific symptoms online and make a decision about whether or not I should take it in for further inspection, repair, or replacement.

Save the Date. If, after carefully unpacking and inspecting your new Mac, you’re happy with its condition then it’s time to set a few extremely important reminders. Mark your calendar or, better yet, set an alarm on your Mac’s iCal to notify you of the key dates in your Mac’s life. Determine the relevant dates by going to Apple’s Warranty Status page. This page will tell you when your One-Year Limited Warranty and/or AppleCare (if you purchased AppleCare) are set to expire. Once you have determined these dates, you should proceed to set the appropriate alarms.

First, set one to go off on January 6, 2014. If your Mac was purchased during this holiday season then this is two days before you will have to decide whether or not to return your Mac to Apple. Second, set an alarm for two weeks before your Mac’s One-Year Limited Warranty expires. When it goes off, take some time to give your Mac a thorough inspection for any defects that may have manifested during the first year of its life. Third, if you purchased AppleCare or have any other operative dates (third-party insurance, credit card purchase protection, etc.) set an alarm to go off one to two weeks before those expire and conduct the same type of inspection when the time comes.

Stay Informed & Never Stop Learning. If you’ve followed the our advice, you’ve taken several of the most essential steps towards protecting yourself from the some of the most common issues owners of Apple products experience. Enjoy your new Mac, but also remember that it’s an expensive piece of equipment and worth owning responsibly. It’s up to you to stay informed about the particular model of Mac you now own as well as Apple products in general.

There’s always more to learn and circumstances do change – as time passes defects become more documented and articulated by online communities and Apple periodically implements special repair or replacement programs for its products. Reading sites like Cult of Mac or books like Buying and Owning a Mac: Secrets Apple Doesn’t Want You to Know will help you to become your own consumer advocate, which will help you to save you time and money during the life of your Mac.

Choosing the Right Protection Plan for Your iOS Devices



It’s the season for new iPhones and iPads. If you’re buying a new device you may be wondering how to best protect it from the risk of defect or damage. Aside from using a case, you may also be thinking about purchasing a supplemental protection plan.

There’s a reason why many consumer rights advocates agree that protection plans are a bad deal for consumers. The plans are expensive and only a small fraction of people that buy them actually end up using them. With that said, some people find value in the peace of mind and ease of repair that protection plans offer.

If you do decide extra protection is right for you then weigh your options carefully. Protection plans aren’t cheap and their terms and conditions vary widely from one plan to another. Buying an overly-expensive plan or assuming that a plan offers coverage where it doesn’t can be a frustrating and costly mistake.

So, how do your options stack up? Let’s look at a few of them with a focus towards plans most suitable for the new iPhone 5S. Hopefully this article will give you some ideas about the types of things you can look out for when you’re shopping for protection plans. You’ll find a table summarizing the protection plans at the end of this article.

Apple’s One-Year Limited Warranty

While not technically a protection plan, Apple’s One-Year Limited Warranty is your first line of defense. It comes included with every new or refurbished Mac including the iPhone and iPad regardless of where you purchase it. For example, if you buy a new iPhone 5S from your local T-Mobile store it’s still covered by Apple’s One-Year Limited Warranty. The warranty covers your device from manufacturing and design defects, but it does not protect it from theft, loss, or accidental damage. As the name suggests, it gives you coverage for one year. If you find a defect within that first year, Apple will repair or replace your device, free of charge. There is no signup fee; there is no deductible.

If you spot a defect, contact Apple as soon as you can and arrange to have your device repaired or replaced. If Apple fails fix your defect, bring it back to Apple again, repeating as many times as necessary. Apple must fix your defective device, replace it, or give you a full refund if, after a reasonable number of repair attempts, Apple fails to fix it.

If defects are your main concern, then remember that Apple’s One-Year Limited Warranty provides very good protection at no extra cost to you. If, however, you are genuinely concerned about loss, theft, accidental, damage or extended warranty coverage beyond the first year then maybe a protection plan is right for you.

Apple’s One-Year Limited Warranty at a glance.


Despite recent price changes, AppleCare+ is still the Cadillac of protection plans in terms of convenience and service. AppleCare+ offers extended warranty coverage and protection from accidental damage from handling (known as “ADH”). AppleCare+ is only available for the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and iPod Classic and for those devices AppleCare+ is your only AppleCare option (i.e. you cannot purchase standard AppleCare for those devices).

The plan’s convenience and service quality are its standout features. First, Apple is your one-stop-shop for everything you need. You can buy AppleCare+ along with your device, or any time within 30 days after purchase. When doing the latter, Apple does require you to have your device inspected either in-person at an Apple Store or through remote diagnostic by calling (800) 275-2273. Servicing your device under AppleCare+ is also extremely convenient. You can choose from the many service options Apple offers: carry-in to an Apple Store or Apple Authorized Service Provider (“AASP”), mail-in service, do-it-yourself service (“DIY”), etc. Carry-in service often results same-day service, which is as good as it gets.

Second, you should expect parts and labor under AppleCare+ to be of the highest quality because Apple, the original manufacturer, is doing the work. It’s one thing to say Apple has a great track record in this regard, which it does, but Apple also backs it up on paper. The AppleCare+ policy states that when repairing your device Apple will use new parts or parts that are equivalent to new in performance and reliability.

This is actually a very high standard when compared to other protection plans, which often leave the quality of replacement parts up to the discretion of the provider or only guarantee to use refurbished or re-manufactured parts. Apple also guarantees any parts and labor tendered under AppleCare+ through the duration of the plan, so you have recourse if there are problems with parts or labor.

AppleCare+ does have its drawbacks. It has always been one of the more expensive protection plans and upcoming changes to AppleCare policies and procedures may, someday, render it a less attractive option. The recent increase to the ADH service fee has made it even more expensive. AppleCare+ for the iPhone will now cost you $99 up front and $79 per ADH incident (limited to two ADH incidents). AppleCare+ for the iPad will now cost you $99 up front and $49 per ADH incident (limited to two ADH incidents).

Additionally, Apple may be making changes to its repair and replacement procedures, which could negatively impact quality and convenience. Rumors have been circulating that Apple is poised to begin repairing certain types of defect and damage at its retail locations.

While this may sound like a great idea, remember that Apple’s current procedure for carry-in service for many devices is to simply give you a new device. The current process usually takes a matter of minutes, which is one of the plan’s best features. If these proposed changes become a reality, then you may be forced to wait while a technician performs the repair work. Time will tell whether this negatively impacts the quality of service, but it will most certainly increase the amount of time you need to wait for a repair.

AppleCare+ at a glance.

Third-Party Protection Plans

If you’re looking for coverage or pricing options that are different from AppleCare+, then third-party protection plans may be a good alternative. Third-party protection plans give you diverse options in terms of cost, coverage, and service.

However, the diversity in these plans is a double-edged sword because they vary widely depending on who is offering the plan, what you’re protecting, and specific protection options (e.g. two-year vs. three-year terms, deductible-free plans, etc.). To make things more difficult, important information is often buried deep in contract legalese.

The devil is in the details: read the fine print and evaluate your choices carefully in terms of pricing, coverage, and service. For simplicity’s sake, let’s compare SquareTrade’s iPhone 5S protection plans to AppleCare+ for the iPhone 5S (prices and plan options as of September 2013).

Pricing differs both in terms of the signup fee and ADH service fee. SquareTrade’s iPhone protection plans cost between $124 for up to two years of coverage and $154 for up to three years of coverage. AppleCare+ costs $99 for two years of coverage. SquareTrade does offer special promotional pricing from time to time. AppleCare prices generally do not change. For repairs, SquareTrade’s plan costs $50 per ADH incident for the iPhone 5S whereas AppleCare+ costs $79 per ADH incident.

Term of coverage is also different. AppleCare+ provides two years of extended warranty support plus two incidents of ADH. There are no other limits on support or service. SquareTrade gives you up to two or three years of extended warranty support (depending on the plan you buy) plus up to four incidents of ADH, but limits the life of the protection plan to the value of the protected device. Note the emphasis placed on “up to” when describing SquareTrade’s plan. Once SquareTrade performs repair or replacement services that, in aggregate, add up to the value of your insured device the plan is terminated and your device is no longer covered.

These differences in coverage term can impact you in unexpected ways. For example, consider how the different coverage terms play out in situations involving warranty-type defect repair (i.e. defects typically covered by warranty). If your iPhone is still under its One-Year Limited Warranty Apple will service it under that, no questions asked.

If your iPhone is no longer covered by its one-year warranty Apple will service your iPhone under AppleCare+ (assuming you purchased AppleCare+). Under AppleCare+ Apple will repair or replace your defective device with no limitations just as it did under the warranty period. Warranty-type service does not carry a deductible, it do not count as an ADH incident, and there are no limitations on number of defect repairs.

Under SquareTrade’s protection plan, SquareTrade will refer you to Apple if your iPhone is still covered by its one-year warranty. If your iPhone is not covered by its warranty, then SquareTrade will have you mail it to them so they can do the repairs. There is no deductible for warranty-type service under SquareTrade’s plans either, but the cost of repairs will be deducted from the life of your protection plan.

SquareTrade deducts the value of any repairs or replacements from your contract regardless of whether the problem is related to a defect (extended warranty service) or ADH. Therefore, depending on the particulars of your situation, you could end up getting far less coverage with SquareTrade’s protection plan than with AppleCare+. It will to depend on the number and type of issues you have.

For example, let’s say SquareTrade values your iPhone at $549 and during the second year of ownership a manufacturing defect in the iPhone’s screen renders it inoperable. SquareTrade will service your iPhone, but it will deduct the value of the repair from your protection plan contract. If SquareTrade values the repair at $230 then you will have $319 left of coverage ($549 – $230 = $319) under the protection plan. Should misfortune strike again, you had better hope the cost of repair doesn’t exceed $319. Under AppleCare+ the warranty service will not impact your remaining ADH coverage in any way.

Finally, the service is very different. You can expect both the process and quality of repair services to vary dramatically between third-party protection plans. No matter how you look at it, there is more red tape involved under third-party protection plans than there is under AppleCare+.

AppleCare+ lets you choose from a number of different service options including carry-in and mail-in service, while most third-party protection plans require that you mail your device in for repair. Although SquareTrade does let you bring your device to Apple (essentially carry-in service), you will need to pay Apple up-front for any service Apple performs and then submit the bill to SquareTrade for reimbursement. It’s a process, which takes time.

The quality of repair services also varies. As mentioned above, AppleCare+ guarantees a high standard: replacement parts are guaranteed to be new or equivalent to new in performance and reliability. Not all third-party protection programs make specific guarantees about labor or replacement parts. Many of these plans guarantee only re-manufactured parts, refurbished parts, parts of merchantable quality, or are silent on the subject altogether. SquareTrade guarantees new or refurbished parts. The quality of repair parts and/or workmanship may matter to you and, if it does, you should take time to understand how different protection plans will repair your device.

SquareTrade’s protection plan at a glance (focused on iPhone 5S).

Carrier Insurance Plans

Mobile carrier insurance plans are just third-party protection plans offered directly by your mobile carrier (usually through an affiliated insurance company). Many of the same caveats with mobile carrier insurance plans also apply to other third-party protection plans – read the fine print.

Two of the biggest advantages of mobile carrier insurance plans are their low up-front cost and extensive coverage. First, mobile insurance plans typically do not charge a hefty signup fee. For example, AT&T’s Mobile Insurance Plan for the iPhone 5S costs $6.99 per month for the duration of AT&T’s standard two-year mobile services contract. If spending $99 or more up front on a protection plan isn’t in your budget right now, then perhaps a low monthly fee would work better for you.

Second, mobile insurance plans typically offer far more coverage in terms of types of loss and amount of coverage than you might get with AppleCare+ or third-party protection plans. AT&T’s Mobile Insurance Plan protects your device from “loss,” which it defines as accidental loss, theft, ADH, or warranty-type failure outside of coverage period of the original manufacturers warranty. AppleCare+ and SquareTrade do not cover lost or stolen devices. AT&T’s Mobile Insurance Plan guarantees protection from two loss incidents per twelve-month period, for a total of four loss incidents over the life of your contract. The coverage value for each incident is capped at $1500, which is more than enough to cover an iPhone 5s (although each loss incident also carries a hefty deductible). AppleCare+ and SquareTrade have more stringent limits due to ADH allotments or limitations on value of service (discussed earlier).

The biggest disadvantages of mobile carrier insurance plans are that they’re extremely expensive in the long term and they suffer from many of the same process and service quality headaches common to third-party protection plans.

The overall prices are staggering for both the overall cost of premium and deductible. AT&T’s Mobile Insurance Plan costs around $170 over its term and $199 per loss incident (the latest iPhone is considered Equipment Tier 3). It’s also worth emphasizing that AT&T’s Mobile Insurance Plan considers warranty-type failure as loss and, therefore, there is a $199 service fee charge for extended warranty repair, whereas AppleCare+ and SquareTrade do not charge a deductible for extended warranty service (i.e. repairs or replacements due to manufacturing defect).

Process and quality of service considerations are similar to other third-party protection plans. AT&T’s Mobile Insurance has a claims filing process, which imposes certain duties that you need to understand. For example, if your loss incident involves any violation of law or loss of possession (e.g. your iPhone 5S was stolen) you are required to promptly notify local law enforcement and obtain proof of that notification. If you have ever had to report stolen property to the authorities, you know that it is not often a very convenient or streamlined process…

AT&T’s Mobile Insurance also makes limited guarantees about replacement parts and devices. The plan only guarantees new AT&T Certified Like-New, remanufactured, or other models of like, kind and quality. Just so that there’s no confusion, AT&T’s brochure even goes so far as to state that device colors are not guaranteed. Would AT&T dare replace your gold iPhone 5S with a space gray one? Probably not, but according to the contract language they could.

AT&T’s Mobile Insurance Plan at a glance (iPhone 5S).

Credit Card Purchase Protection

Credit card purchase protection programs offer a superb way to mitigate risk without paying out-of-pocket for a protection plan. A number of different companies offer cards (credit and debit) that include automatic purchase protection.

Credit card purchase protection programs give you additional but limited return, extended warranty, ADH, loss and theft protection for anything you buy using the card. There are no enrollment conditions; there are no signup fees; there are no deductibles. Although many cards that offer purchase protection charge annual fees there are plenty that do not. For example, the AMEX Blue Cash Everyday card has no annual fee and includes purchase protection as one of its benefits.

Credit card protection programs typically offer extensive coverage from ADH, loss, or theft for up to 90 days after purchase and extend the terms of any manufacturer’s warranty by a year or more beyond expiration. For example, AMEX’s purchase protection program will extend Apple’s One-Year Limited Warranty by one year after it expires. Moreover, AMEX’s purchase protection program also extends manufacturer service plans by up to one year (i.e. AppleCare+ because Apple is the manufacturer).

For example, if you sign up for AppleCare+, AMEX’s purchase protection plan will give you extended warranty protection for one year beyond the expiration of AppleCare+. This would mean you get a full three years of protection from warranty-type defects by combining AppleCare+ and AMEX’s purchase protection program.

The biggest drawbacks to credit card protection programs are their limited coverage, varying terms and conditions, and lack of convenience compared to more comprehensive protection plans such as AppleCare+ or SquareTrade. Coverage from loss, theft, or ADH lasts only for a short time; after 90 days you’re on your own.

Terms and conditions vary between cards. For example, where AMEX will add plus one year to any manufacturer warranty or manufacturer-provided service plan, up to a total of five years after purchase, MasterCard’s protection program will not extend warranty coverage beyond three years under any circumstances. While this is not an issue for iPhone and iPad AppleCare+ plans, it may pose one for standard AppleCare plans (i.e. standard AppleCare for a MacBook Air). Finally, there is a claims process and claims are typically paid out in the form of cash or credit as opposed to repair or replacement services. It’s less convenient, but did I mention purchase protection is free?

AMEX purchase protection at a glance.

Here is a table summarizing some of the key points of the plans we discussed in this article.

Summary of plans discussed in this article
Summary of plans discussed in this article (iPhone 5S plans where not otherwise specified). All prices and terms and conditions ca. September 2013.


The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide For Gifting Apple Products [Holiday Shopping Guide]



There’s a good chance you can think of someone who plans on giving an Apple product this holiday season. Apple has rolled out its own Holiday Gift Guide and has its own gifting information page, which details the basics about gifting Apple products. If you’re looking for a little more assistance when shopping for Apple products then this guide is for you. Here we offer some simple tips to help the average holiday shopper save time and money when gifting Apple products.

WP Politics: An iPad App That Helps You Understand Politics [Review]



The Washington Post’s WP Politics app for the iPad is an excellent resource for anyone interested in United States politics. I spent a few days with this free app and found it to be an excellent tool for tracking and understanding the 2012 election season. While not without its flaws, this app does two critical things exceedingly well. First, it aggregates media and information from a broad range of sources into one tool. Whether you’re looking for the latest news about a particular candidate or economic data from years ago, it’s all here. Second, it organizes and contextualizes the information in a way that helps the casual user to understand it. It classifies news articles by genre, organizes Twitter feeds by source, and breaks candidates down by their stances on the issues.  If you’re looking for an app to help you follow the upcoming election, or politics in general, look no further.

Didn’t Preorder? How To Get An iPhone 5 A.S.A.P. [Buyer’s Guide]



The iPhone 5 pre-orders kicked off last Friday at 12:00 a.m. PST and it only took a few hours for delivery estimates to start to slip well into October. A little perspective – it took nearly a day (approximately 22 hours) for last year’s iPhone 4S pre-sale to begin to run out; the iPhone 5 did the same in about an hour.

Hopefully Apple will be able to keep up with the demand for the iPhone 5. But if not here are a few tips based on what we have learned from past iPhone releases that might help lessen headaches and improve your chances of getting your hands on an iPhone 5 this season.

Is Your iPhone 4 Warranty About To Expire? Here Are The Defects To Look Out For


iPhone 4 side promo

While many of us already have our eyes set on the new iPhone, which Apple will likely release this fall, there are still millions of people using the iPhone 4.

Released on June 24, 2010, the first round of iPhone 4’s are about to hit their two-year anniversary. This means that those who purchased an iPhone 4 along with the AppleCare protection plan, which effectively extends warranty protection to two years, are about to lose coverage.

If you bought an iPhone 4 in the summer of 2010 you should take some time to examine it in order to ensure that no part of it is showing signs of defect. Here’s what you need to know.

Blogger Shows Us How It’s Done – Wins Suit Against Apple Over Defective MacBook Pro



A few years back Seattle Rex had gone all out on a 17” MacBook Pro – spending approximately $4,500 on the then top-of-the-line machine ($5,100 including AppleCare). The particular MacBook Pro he bought turned out to be defective. The laptop’s Nvidia graphics processor started displaying symptoms of the defect shortly after his AppleCare expired. A few days later the laptop died completely – it wouldn’t even start up. At the time Rex’s laptop broke down the defect was a known and well-documented issue. Apple had even issued a tech note and was replacing defective models as they failed.