Office 2013 pricing loophole discounts suite by as much as $40

'Product key code' prices up to 14% less than pay-to-download single licenses at retail

Microsoft customers can save between $20 and $40 on a one-PC, perpetual license of Office 2013 by purchasing a "product key card," a retail offer that consists of a 25-character activation key.

Product key cards, or PKCs, debuted three years ago alongside Office 2010 as a replacement for Microsoft's long-standing upgrade policies, which previously offered current users of the suite a lower-priced edition when it revamped the bundle.

Microsoft prices Office 2013 Home & Student at $140 on its e-store, and other online retailers, such as, sell that edition -- which includes Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word -- for the same price. But retailers, again including Amazon, also sell a PKC for $20 less, or $120. That's a 14% savings.

There are similar savings for PKCs of Office 2013 Home & Business and Office 2013 Professional, the other, more application-packed editions sold at retail or by Microsoft. A PKC of Home & Business sells on Amazon for $190, or $30 off the $220 list price, for a 14% discount. As a PKC, Professional runs $360, a $40 -- and 10% savings -- from the full price of $400.

The PKC and standard versions of each edition are identical, although the means customers acquire Office may differ.

PKCs were intended to provide a way for users to obtain a working copy of Office on a new PC that had a trial version of Office pre-installed. The idea was that customers would evaluate Office using the trial, then pay for -- and activate -- the suite with the 25-character key code purchased on a PKC.

That still holds true: Major OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) such as Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo include Office trials on their new machines.

But PKCs can also be used to activate a copy downloaded directly from Microsoft's website.

That's the same way, more or less, that buyers acquire Office from Microsoft's online store or at Amazon, where they plunk down money and then download the suite. (No retail edition of Office 2013 comes with a DVD or other physical installation media, a Microsoft Store sales representative confirmed today.)

There's also no difference between the full-priced and PKC versions on the rights their licenses grant.

As Microsoft pointed out Tuesday in a blog post, all Office 2013 versions have adopted the more restrictive rights that first showed up in Office 2010's PKCs. Office 2013 licenses are permanently tied to a specific PC, and cannot be reassigned to another machine unless that PC conks out during its warranty period.'s marketing materials, for instance, labeled the Office 2013 license as a "one-time purchase for the life of your PC; non-transferrable."

Office 2010 PKCs had the same limitations, Microsoft said in attempt to convince customers that it had not really changed the Office license with 2013. But the full-priced versions, called "Full Packaged Product," or FPP, by the company, could be reassigned.

FPP versions vanished with the debut of Office 2013.

The cheaper PKC copies of Office 2013 soften the sting of Microsoft's price increases for the suite: It bumped up prices of a single license as much as 17% when compared to 2010's PKC prices.

The $120 for a Home & Student PKC, however, is the same as the PKC for Office 2010 Home & Student, while the $190 for a PKC of Office 2013 Home & Business is $10 less than the same version of Office 2010 as a PKC. Office 2013 Professional's $360 for a PKC, meanwhile, is $10 more than the $350 for a PKC of Office 2010 Professional.

Office 2013 pricing

2010 PKC 2013 Download Change 2013 PKC PKC Discount
Home & Student $120 $140 17% $120 -14%
Home & Business $200 $220 10% $190 -14%
Professional $350 $400 14% $360 -10%
'Product key codes,' or PKCs, for Office 2013 cost up to 14% less than Microsoft's retail SKUs, but give customers the same suite in the end. (Source: Microsoft)

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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