The Great iPhone Flipping Adventure of 2020 – Can We Still Earn From Reselling iPhones?

I probably have a little too much time to spare, which is why this is a question I can answer as other people work on solving world hunger, poverty, and childhood obesity.

iPhone flipping used to be a thing. In years past, getting an iPhone on Day 1 meant $$$, as each phone could be sold for several hundreds of dollars above its retail price. At the peak of such an activity, I remember selling each iPhone for $300-400 above the retail. Moreover, profits aside, it was actually strangely fun.

WhatsApp group chat (with strangers) circa 2014… Blue got really philosophical

If “fun” meant the masochistic sort, that is. For a week or so, the obsession to flip the phones for the highest prices became a thing for many, and it was like experiencing a stock market in the flesh. Local traders and foreigners alike would gather outside the Singtel launch and approach people with their new phones, asking them if they were willing to sell. Prices fell and rose as supply and demand waxed and waned, and information was traded in WhatsApp group chat as there’d be the occasional exporter who wanted 50 sets at once and willing to pay a premium. It was an annual tradition that I kinda looked forward to even as I would constantly complain about the trouble.

Years on, a combination of an ever increasing list of launch countries and Apple opening stores in Singapore all but killed flipping profits in Singapore. During the iPhone X launch, the official store had seemingly unlimited stocks, and for the first time in iPhone flipping history, prices went below the retail price on Day 1. This went on for the next couple of years, but even last year had some activity of foreign buyers outside the Apple Store that this year’s pandemic wiped out.

It’s no surprise that the flipping community barely talked at all this year, with nobody interested to participate. But like I said, I have a little too much time to spare, and this year even presented itself with two launches instead of one for me to kill some time on.

iPhone 12 Pro Launch

I got two sets of iPhone 12 Pro from Apple at $2,149 each, and a set from Singtel with barely any upfront cost (long story, probably a post on its own), and all of them were unfortunately the 512GB variant which was less easy to offload. I sold them all for $6,250, or $2,083.33 each.

At this moment you might think that it’s pretty nuts to make a loss of more than $65 each, but I remembered my own advice and used a 4 mpd card, the OCBC Titanium Rewards, and got 8,580 miles per phone (not to forget a bonus 2,000 miles).

Ignoring the Singtel set, which could be a whole post on its own, that’s $131.34 for 17,160 miles (19,160, if we cound the bonus). It’s far from the best deal I’ve ever gotten by a long shot, but that’s essentially buying miles for 0.765 cents each, and I’m pretty sure many mile chasers would hop on this. If you use a 4 mpd card over a 5% cashback card, you’re already incurring a cost of 1.25 cents per mile.

iPhone 12 Pro Max Launch

Now a little wiser, I got 4 sets of iPhone 12 Pro Max in 256GB for launch day, and at $1,969 each, they came up to a tune of $7,876. That’s potentially 31,504 miles at 4 mpd, for those keeping track. I played it slightly differently though, and put half ($3,938) on the OCBC card for 15,740 miles, and the other half on my DBS Women’s World, fully aware that the DBS Women’s World card only gave 4 mpd on the first $2,000 and 0.4 mpd thereafter resulting in 8,755 miles. This was because I registered for DBS’s 8% promotion, and 8% is very, very good. This alone would clear almost $4,000 of my $6,000 goal – a spending target I probably wouldn’t achieve without this transaction.

Alas, I only realised my tactical error after collecting my phones: I could have placed one phone on the DBS WWMC, and the other one on my DBS Altitude, which would net a total 10,238 miles instead. That’s almost 1,500 miles lost, but there was little time to weep as I had to quickly offload the phones. It was nearing noon and prices would likely go down south quickly.

I managed to find a decent offer for my phones, and got rid of them at $1,950 each, which brings us a loss of $76 in total in exchange for 24,495 miles. That’s a little better, isn’t it? Also, the 8% rebate on two near $2,000 phones puts us really ahead in this one, so I’m going to ignore the fact that the shop sold the 4 sets they bought from me to a Chinese tourist literally next to me at $2,008 each 🙃

The haul

Total gain: 17,160 + 24,495 + 2,000 = 43,655 miles + potentially $317.52 in rebate

Total loss: $131.34 + $76 + hours of my life = $207.34 + time I’ll never get back

To finally answer the question, I’m going to say that’s an overall profit, although is it really worth the hours I spent trying to buy the phones, physically collect them, then sourcing for buyers on two separate days? Well, I begrudgingly enjoy the process, and I’m unhealthily obsessed with clocking credit card rewards, so I’m going to say see you next year.

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