AT&T customers who logged to their accounts on Monday, found an option to upgrade to an iPhone for a $200 discount. For example, the 16GB iPhone 5 costs $450 vs. the normal $650 for an early upgrade model. The 32GB and 64GB models -- as might expect -- cost $100 and $200 more, respectively.
Basically, the pricing is the two-year agreement price + a $250 early upgrade fee (and yes, your contract clock starts over at another two years). While this isn't the first time AT&T has offered such a perk, it's more expensive this time around. Early such offers ran $200 over the standard pricing.
The extra $50 is due to a change in AT&T's early upgrade policy, which took place in April. AT&T changed the fee from $200 to $250, saying at the time that the change "reflects the increased costs" of carrying more sophisticated devices.
To be clear, the early upgrade perk is only available if a customer is opting to move to a new iPhone. It does not, however, mean that you can only upgrade if you currently have an iPhone.
These sorts of promotions not only clear out inventory for older iPhones, it also locks AT&T customers in for additional years of service. Of course, unless you really, really need to upgrade to a new phone right now, it would be best to wait the two or three months necessary for the iPhone 5S to be introduced.
Update: AT&T released the following statement to us:
This is business as usual. We offer an early upgrade option for customers with an account in good standing and who purchased their current phone at least 6 months earlier.