Because of how Apple’s in-app subscriptions work, you can save money on some subscription-based apps by changing to a cheaper, previously-available-but-no-longer-visible plan. It’s like ordering from the secret menu at McDonalds. Here’s how to do it.
Also, if you’re only offered an annual subscription in the app or there’s a longer free trial when you sign up for a more expensive plan, you can use the same trick to get a monthly subscription or enjoy the full trial before switching to a shorter, cheaper plan. Let me explain.
iOS Subscriptions Are Weird
iOS auto-renews your in-app subscriptions. Given how much flak Apple has gotten over its app store policies, this seems to be a pretty odd system, even though it’s bound by all the usual Apple red tape.
Twitter, for example, currently lists every SuperFollow as an individual in-app purchase to get around the limit on multiple subscriptions of the same type. Presumably Twitter will address this when they roll the feature out more widely, because it could create some unforeseen problems, but it shows how the current subscription system has more than a few quirks.
One of which we can use to our advantage.
Other, Cheaper Plans
How much an app charges for a subscription often changes. Sometimes prices go up, but only for new users. Other times they go down because there’s a holiday sale or other promotion. In many cases, app developers take the easy route and add a new subscription tier instead of updating the existing ones. This means the price you’re paying for a subscription might not be the only one available—and it might not be the best value available.
Apps have to show all of their in-app purchases in their App Store listing. To see them, find an app in the App Store, scroll down, then under Information, tap In-App Purchases to see a list. (You can also see it on App Store web pages.)
As you can see in the screenshots above, Calm doesn’t just list a monthly Premium subscription and an annual Premium subscription, they have a wide range of options—all with different prices and no indication that they’re available.
But when you go to sign up using the app, you’re only given one option: an annual Premium subscription for €49.99/year (approximately $58 USD.)
So what about all those other options? Well, in my testing not all of them are available to all users, but there’s a good chance some of them will be available to you. And sometimes that means you’ll be able to switch to a cheaper plan.
How to Swap to a Cheaper Subscription
To switch to a cheaper subscription or see if one’s available, you have to already be subscribed to the app—even just for a free trial. So if you don’t already have a subscription, sign up for the cheapest plan available. You can always cancel it and request a refund if this doesn’t pan out.
Yes, it’s a pain, but this is a hack-y workaround, so you can’t really expect any less. (For what it’s worth, this might also work with apps you have an expired subscription to, since they’re also listed in among your subscriptions, but I wasn’t able to confirm it.)
Next, go to the Settings app, tap Your Name, then tap Subscriptions.
Find the app you’re interested in and tap on it to see all the available subscriptions. Here are all the options I have with Calm:
And look, there: a €35.99/year ($42 USD) option I can choose instead (and a €15.99/month option too.)
If you find a cheaper option, select it and you’ll be asked to confirm your subscription change. Once you do, you’ll be all set.
How to Make the Most of This
I’ve been using this trick for the past couple of years to save money on app subscriptions, though I’ve saved the most with Calm. When I originally signed up, I think they were trying an annual price of around €70, so I was able to get it for half off.
If you are subscribed to a few apps on iOS, it’s worth looking through all your subscriptions to see if the plan you’re on is the cheapest one available. You might be able to save yourself a bit of money.
It’s also worth keeping an eye out for holiday sales and other promotions. If an app is offering a better price for new customers than what you pay, you may be able to switch to it.
This trick can also work if you’re forced to sign up for an annual plan. Check the in-app purchases—there’s a good chance there’ll be a hidden monthly option. Just change your subscription to it.
Also, if a free trial is only available when you sign up for a multi-month or annual plan, you can sign up for it, enjoy the trial, then swap to the monthly plan when it’s nearing its end.