Ultra-cheap Microsoft Office deals, are they legal and work?

Those really cheap offers for Microsoft Office, under $60 for software that retails for hundreds.  Are they legitimate or a scam to take your money? We’ve had a look at some of these offers and their source.

We’ve all seen these offers for cheap software and games. We’ll focus on what’s called ‘lifetime’ Office 2019 or Office 2021 which are sold for under $60 instead of between $150 and $440 for the Professional bundle.

Prices from a popular site with Microsoft’s official US prices added.

Usually these offers are both time and supply limited.  However, the deals are so common, don’t worry if you missed out, there’ll be another similar offer in a few days or weeks at most.

This does NOT apply to Microsoft 365 plans (Family or Personal).  Discounts of 10-30% on Microsoft 365 plans are possible via legitimate retailers see Six simple steps for saving on renewals or first purchase of Microsoft 365

What are you buying?

No matter who you buy from, you’re getting a software license or right-to-use in the form of a  Product Key which looks like this:

Microsoft Product Keys are 25-character codes.  For Office perpetual license software they are vital for both the original install and later if you want to reinstall on another computer.  Always keep a record of your Office product keys.

Office activation

After installing the software, you’re asked to enter the Product Key.  The system then checks with Microsoft to see if the key is legitimate.  If it’s OK, the software will work normally.

Microsoft calls this: Software Activation and it’s the way Office has been working for some years.

More steps to activate software

The regular activation process sometimes isn’t enough for these deals to work.  Usually, all you need to do enter the product key into Office, after install, and the software is authorized by Microsoft’s system.

These offers can be different.  They usually come with very specific instructions for activation. Look for a ‘Key Activation Guide’ that comes with the product key.

Just one example of the extra steps that might be needed for Office software activation.

A common requirement is telephone activation.  You call a special Microsoft number to get an activation code. 

This has been available since the start of Office software activation but is now much easier. The original system was cumbersome. You had to type into your phone a 63 digit long Installation ID then write down a long Confirmation ID.

Now it’s easier calling for phone activation. Use a smartphone because Microsoft will offer to send a text link to a special web page.  That simple web page lets you type in the product key or Installation ID and, hopefully, get back an activation code you can put into Office.

Are the deals legitimate?

There’s no clear answer to that question because the sourcing isn’t known.  Let’s assume we’re talking about a deal like what we’ve described above.  A cheap price and you get the software activated, albeit by some less common method.

These licenses are in a gray area.  It’s accepted by Microsoft as legitimate (due to activation) but the path that the product key reaches you might not be entirely ‘kosher’.

The prices are suspiciously low.  If someone is selling $400 software for $60 or less, there’s something strange happening.  After all, that’s way under either the wholesale or high-volume license cost.  Somehow the seller is getting their licenses very cheaply to sell for such low prices and still make money.

The best we can tell is that you’re buying a legitimate product key sold by Microsoft to some large organization.  Sometimes companies buy more licenses/key than they need and you’re buying one of the extras.

But are these excess licenses being sold by the original purchaser?  It’s hard to understand why a company would sell off licenses for a pittance, assuming they are allowed to resell them at all. It seems more likely this is an under-the-table deal, perhaps by staff in the organizations?

That explains some Office bundles, especially ‘Professional Plus’ which is only available to volume license customers. But there are also plenty of consumer bundles available like Home and Student which aren’t normally bought by organizations in bulk.

Traps

There are many suppliers in this area of wildly varying legitimacy, so be careful.

We’ve seen offers for Microsoft 365 that work by sharing a single Microsoft account!  You login to Office using a given email/password (not yours) which means you’re sharing the same OneDrive storage and seeing other people’s documents in the Recent Documents list.  Need we say to avoid any such offers?

Some sellers offer software with product keys that don’t work.  The scam here is to sell as many keys as possible, put off complaints for a long as possible before skipping out with the money.

Your milage will vary

It’s best to only use well-established sites or providers.  https://www.kinguin.net/ has a good reputation or try Ebay sellers who have been established for some time with high rating.

We’d love to hear from readers. Have you tried some of these ultra-cheap Office deals?  How did it go … any problems?

Product Key might not work

Of course, the product key you buy might not activate software.  If that happens, check with the seller for help.  It’s often a problem following the exact activation instructions.

Always pay by credit card as a separate purchase (not bundled with other products) so you can, as a last resort, complain to your card issuer for a refund (aka a chargeback).

Avoid OEM licenses

Some Office licenses are listed as ‘OEM’ and cheaper.  It’s best to avoid OEM licenses or, if you choose to buy, be aware of the limitation.

Office OEM software is limited to one computer and CANNOT be transferred to another computer later.  Standard retail Office perpetual licenses can be moved to another computer.

OEM stands for ‘Original Equipment Manufacturer’.  When you buy a new computer with Office pre-installed, it’s a special license limited to that computer.  It’s how computer makers can offer Office for a lower price, by selling non-transferable software.

Six simple steps for saving on renewals or first purchase of Microsoft 365
Use the Office phone activation option a better way
Can you save buying Microsoft 365 from another country?
Save sales tax on Microsoft Office 365 and more

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