AT&T offers T-Mobile customers $450 to switch

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The war for mobile customers is heating up with AT&T making this pitch directly to T-Mobile customers: Switch to us and get $450.

It’s not cash. AT&T is offering T-Mobile refugees a $200 credit per phone line, plus the chance to trade in their smartphones for up to $250.

It’s the latest in the battle between AT&T and T-Mobile, the underdog that’s been hounding its larger rival on every front.

With its very public “uncarrier” strategy, T-Mobile has set its sights on AT&T as well as Verizon. First, T-Mobile eliminated contracts, opting instead for customers to pay lower monthly rates and buy their own phones. Then came the “Jump” program, which allows customers to upgrade phones twice a year. Then T-Mobile killed roaming fees and slashed per-minute and text charges.

AT&T is fighting back by appealing to T-Mobile customers’ wallets. But the company’s announcement didn’t make clear how long the $450 offer would last.

T-Mobile is currently the fourth largest wireless company in the U.S. But it has always been viewed as a possible takeover target.

In fact, AT&T and T-Mobile agreed to a $39 billion merger in 2011 but AT&T wound up scrapping the deal once it became clear that regulators would block it. Now there is speculation that Sprint, the nation’s third largest carrier, may want to buy T-Mobile.

Shares of T-Mobile fell nearly 4% in early trading Friday. But the stock is up more than 20% in the past month due to the reports of a possible Sprint takeover.