Sprint charges an activation just like everyone else. Never trust marketing to care about your best interest. I live in the 2nd largest city in my state and both Sprint and T-Mobile have terrible coverage compared to Verizon. Never going back to "emergency calls only" no matter how desperate their ad campaigns are.
You use Verizon as your carrier because you want to be in touch with your loved ones at any given time, not for freebies masking a subpar network.
While there are certainly places where VZ is much better, overall the differences are becoming much less as the competition improves their networks. Lots of reports on the internet, some showing VZ best in most places, but others with much more variation, and showing other carriers have much faster speed in some areas.
In general, Verizon Wireless has made the decision to "standardize" things, the reps are given very little autonomy, so loyalty etc won't normally come into the picture, you get the same treatment as anyone else with the plan etc. This makes sense for the company, reps are not able to make costly mistakes, and the customers are treated equally fairly or unfairly. And customers may well leave, but a) others are coming who have been equally badly treated by some of the competition, and b) it's cost effective. Better to lose some customers than have expensive training etc!
So it can really make sense to leave and try something else. With number portability the effort is fairly low, you can keep your phone or get great deals as new customers. The experience might not be better after a while, but it may feel good to make the change!