The upgrade fee has been around for....4-5 years at least and it used to be lower, $30 I believe, nonetheless, the upgrade fee is going nowhere, especially seeing as how Verizon is only letting current customers keep 2 year contracts, all new customer cannot go on contract.
That BIG savings you speak of...it isn't, at all. You still pay full price because your line access charge stays at $40. No contract plans are $20 and then the monthly cost of the phone on a device payment plan. So, contract phones are still full price, but also have a $40 upgrade fee, whereas no contract plans have a $0 upgrade fee.