When being off-contract and getting a new phone, I can understand about going back under contract but paying an activation fee for the new phone is something that I have never understood. Apparently, I am not the only one. In doing some research, I found that I wasnt the only one – http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1451998. I followed the instructions listed in the message chain on the MacRumors website. One thing I would suggest is that when you do this via the chat window as mentioned in the message, I had the AT&T website email me a transcript of the exchange, so that if I had a problem in getting the credit applied to my account that I had a record of it. Below is a snippet of my exchange with AT&T Customer Service –
“Alright, I have reviewed your account and since you are in good standing with us with good payment history, I will give you a 1 time courtesy standard fee waiver. Just to let you know. Future fee waiver will not be granted.”
There is some discussion of the last statement from AT&T as some have reported that they have been able to get an activation fee waiver on successive upgrades over a period of years. Not sure what success you may have with this but it is worth a try. The entire upgrade process for me was handled at the Apple store where I got the phone and took less than 1 minute, hence my concern about the validity of the activation fee.