This is not a joke. There actually is a way to get a free-ish MacBook Pro. As a matter of fact, I am typing this on one, right now. Here is how I got it.

My wife’s white plastic MacBook died sometime over the summer. It wouldn’t even turn on. Since she rarely uses her MacBook (at home, she mostly uses her iPad), she didn’t notice it was broken for a while. After she did, I made an appointment to take it to the Apple Store to see if it could be resurrected. It was a pretty old laptop, but I had just added some memory to it, and it suited her needs. On balance, it made sense to keep it going.

At the Apple Store, the person who helped me told me the logic board was bad. She offered to send in the MacBook for refurbishing, since there could be other issues, related or not. She said they would give the laptop a complete once-over and fix any problems they found for a flat fee of $280. It came back two days later with a new logic board, new battery, new keyboard, new trackpad, and other new stuff. We got over $1,000 worth of parts and a 90-day warranty for just $280 (plus tax, of course). It felt like a great deal. The computer felt nice and zippy with a new, long-lasting battery.

Except the problem wasn’t fixed. It kept freezing after waking up from sleep, or just randomly when my wife was in the middle of something important (she took the MacBook with her to a two-day arbitration shortly after it came back from the Apple Store). It took us a few weeks to get it back to the Apple Store, and it turned out the new logic board was also bad. The service rep came out and told my wife he had great news. Her MacBook had just passed the five-year mark, and was now considered “vintage.” My wife kind of liked the idea of owning a vintage computer, but the rep explained that Apple did not stock parts for vintage computers. They couldn’t fix it. At this point, I imagine my wife was getting ready for bad news, but none was coming. Since they could not fix her computer, they would have to replace it with an equivalent new laptop, which turns out to be a 13″ MacBook Pro.

They even let us upgrade to a 13″ Retina MacBook Pro for the difference in price.

This was the day before Christmas, which made it even better. The day after Christmas, they called to let us know that my wife’s files had been transferred, and we took our new laptop home.

Yes, it was not actually free, since we had to pay for our old MacBook to be refurbished in order to wind up in a position to get a new one. It was also a pretty unusual chain of unlikely events that led to the replacement. But if you want a free Mac of your own, here’s a step-by-step guide to maybe getting one:1

  1. Have a Mac that is nearly five years old (it will need to turn five years old after you get it serviced but before the 90-day warranty on that service expires) that has a hardware problem.
  2. Make an appointment at the nearest Apple Store. Hopefully, they will give you the option to refurbish it.
  3. Cross your fingers that whoever fixes your computer pulls a faulty part out of the bin. (If they don’t, at least you will be able to use your broken computer again.)
  4. If your computer breaks, make another appointment at the Apple Store after it turns five years old, but before the warranty on the refurbishment expires.
  5. If all goes according to plan, new Mac!

Okay, that’s obviously pretty hard to replicate. And I suppose it wasn’t actually free, since we had to pay for the old MacBook to be refurbished. The Apple Store rep who helped us said it had not happened at that Apple Store for two years. He described the chain of events that led to our free MacBook Pro as a “perfect storm.” He meant it nicely, though. I think he was even a little jealous.

It is probably not worth trying to replicate this unless you have a nearly-five-year-old Mac with a hardware problem, and even then, only if you would want to use that Mac if it did not have a hardware problem. In that case, the cost of refurbishing your computer is a great deal all on its own, and it’s great to know that Apple will stand behind the work — even if that means giving you a brand-new computer to replace the one it couldn’t fix.

  1. If it’s not clear, this is a pretty ridiculous way to go about trying to get a free Mac. Don’t blame me if you try it and it goes wrong.