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Exclusive: AT&T ends Walmart promotion after errant marketing

An in-store sign at a Walmart store in Suisun City, California contains information about an Unlimited Max promotion.
An in-store sign at a Walmart store in Suisun City, California contains information about an Unlimited Max promotion. (Photo by The Desk)

AT&T has quietly ended an exclusive promotion with Walmart that claimed to offer a top-tier unlimited plan for $45 a month after an investigation by The Desk found many stores were not honoring the promotion for customers.

The issue stemmed from errant AT&T marketing material posted on the Walmart website and displayed in some stores that did not fully explain the terms under which customers could sign up for an unlimited wireless plan that was only offered with in-store activation.

Earlier this year, AT&T made headlines when it began offering a promotion exclusively in Walmart stores that offered customers unlimited high-speed data on the company’s 4G LTE and 5G networks if they activated a single prepaid line of service in store.

The plan, called Unlimited Max, cost $45 a month when a customer signed up for an AutoPay and offered a number of perks that were largely unheard of at that price point, including prioritized access to high-speed data, the ability to stream video in high definition and a bucket of hotspot data.

Last month, The Desk visited four Walmart locations in Northern California in an attempt to sign up for the promotion.  Associates at a store in Dixon said they were unable to assist because specific employees who run the mobile phone section of the store were not on duty, and an associate at a store in Suisun City said the store had run out of AT&T Prepaid SIM cards.

Associates at two other stores — one located in Vacaville, and another in Suisun City — said they were not aware of the promotion at all. Unlike the stores in Dixon and Suisun City, neither the Vacaville store nor the one in Suisun City had any promotional displays or other material mentioning the $45 a month deal.

Associates at both stores called a manager based in Sacramento to inquire about the deal. The same manager picked up both calls and explained the promotion was only available to new AT&T Prepaid customers who activated a new line of service and who purchased a new prepaid phone inside a Walmart store.

Promotional material reviewed by The Desk notified customers that Unlimited Max was only available with a new line of service when it was activated inside a Walmart store and when a customer opted to have their bills automatically paid through the AutoPay feature. None of the in-store or online promotional material reviewed by The Desk mentioned customers had to purchase a new device in order to take advantage of the deal.

In an e-mail dated June 1, a spokesperson for AT&T said the company was responsible for distributing marketing material to Walmart stores and admitted its promotional material for the Unlimited Max plan contained omissions.

“Unfortunately, some of our promotional materials were not as clear as they should have been, and we are in the process of updating them,” the spokesperson said.

Instead of immediately updating the marketing material, Walmart continued to show the error on its website and inside some stores until this week when AT&T and Walmart quietly ended the $45 a month promotion. In its place is a new Unlimited Max plan that costs $50 a month; this time, the marketing material says a new phone must be purchased in order to get the deal.

AT&T says customers who purchased a prepaid SIM card and activated a new line at Walmart earlier this year can contact customer service to take advantage of the $45 a month promotion.

“We will honor the offer for any customers who purchased the AT&T Sim Kit at Walmart and activated a new line, but who were not allowed to enroll it at the store,” the spokesperson said. “They would need to contact us at 1-800-901-9878 to take advantage of this offer.”

A spokesperson for Walmart did not return a request for comment.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).