A few years back I travelled around the world and it was an incredible experience one I’ll never forget, another thing I’ll never forget is understanding the true value of being able to call friends and family using international calling cards.
For the most part I would stick to using my calling apps because it was free and my family lived in Australia which meant that they had a reliable internet connection so my calling app was perfect both for voice and video calls. But when I travelled to places that had unreliable internet or no internet at all this calling app was of course useless. In this situation, the humble calling card is my go-to simply because even in remote areas there is almost always a phone that can be used which makes these phone cards invaluable, according to phonecardpoint.
With that said, the calling card industry does have businesses that are operating to make a quick buck rather than providing reliable service to their customers. In this guide, I’ll share with you my best tips for ensuring that you get the best international calling cards without being ripped off.
5 Essential Things To Know Before Buying Your Calling Card
1. Connection/disconnection fees
A connection fee is a fee that is charged that is deducted from the phone card once there is a “successful” connection – that’s right, you get charged and an additional fee for the card doing what it is supposed to be doing, connecting your calls. Try and figure that one out. I’ve placed successfully in quotes because a successful connection could be one of three things:
- The person you want to speak to answers your call
- You get a voice message
- The person you don’t want to speak to answers the phone i.e. you get a crossline where your call somehow is connected to another person in another country (technical fault)
In each of these cases, your card will be charged that connection fee. In the 3rd case, it’s best to avoid making further calls and to call the customer service team to get the card issue resolved because it’s likely that the problem will continue. Are connection fees bad? Not necessarily, what you’ll likely find is that calling cards with connection fees will tend to have a slightly lower per minute charge so if you’re making long duration calls 40 plus minutes then it may work out cheaper. A disconnection fee works the same way as a connection fee but it charges you after the call.
2. Customer service
This one is incredibly important and almost nobody does this. I highly recommend calling the customer support line to speak with a rep before purchasing. This will give you a good idea of the professionalism of the company you’re dealing with. Here are a few quick things you need to know: How responsive are they? How long do you have to wait in queue, etc. Ask them how long it takes to resolve tech problems. Ideally technical issues should be resolved that same day, if it takes them a few days or weeks then avoid buying that card. Common tech problems will be:
- No being able to connect.
- Bad line.
- Connecting to a completely different person.
- The other person not being to hear you.
- No connection but still being charged.
The list is quite long and I’ve experienced them all and the calling card company should be ab le to resolved very quickly. Refunds. Ask them what their refund policy is and what does it cover. How long will it take to receive your card once purchased? Will they deliver it by mail or send it to you via email? Local access numbers. Local access numbers are the number you call to access the phone card service. Where are their local access numbers located? They might have local access numbers that are not within your area making the card useless.
Most phone cards tend to be rechargeable these days and there’s no difference between single card use and multiple use cards in terms of rates, it’s really a matter of how long you are going to use the card. Personally, I’d go with rechargeable every time so that way I’m dealing with the same PIN number.
4. Calling Rates
What are the calling rates and how are they calculated? Most calling cards will charge in billing increments or blocks, this basically means that instead of being charged say 10c per minute you’ll get charged 30c every 3 minutes if they charge in 3-minute increments. I call this death by 1,000 cuts what this means is that if you’re not ending your calls just before that 3-minute block then you’re handing money over to the phone card company on every single call.
It’s not likely that you’ll even notice this happening but they will be making a good amount of money over the usage of that card. Some phone cards will charge by the minute while some will charge you in blocks for example if your card is 5c per minute with 3-minute blocks then you’ll get charged 15c every 3 minutes. This means that if you’re only making short calls of say 1 minute you’re getting charged 15c for every call. It may not seem like a lot of money but it’s how a lot of these companies make money by skimming the cream so to speak.
5. Hidden fees
This one is important because it’s how the cheapest phone card companies make their money back. A word about cheap calling card companies. Finding the lowest prices is a good start but you need to be aware of any hidden fees, here’s a small list of common fees to look out for.
Connection fees – I mentioned this earlier. Avoid cards with connection fees unless they’re offering a much lower per minute rate.
Administration fees – these are junk fees. The reasoning behind them is that it costs the company to manage and maintain these cards, that’s their problem, not yours. Avoid these cards.
Expired credit – most calling cards will have a hard expiration date which means whatever credit you have not used will be absorbed by the service provider, free money for them and is probably the biggest moneymaker. Before buying, speak to the customer service rep and ask what happens to the credit if your card expires, there are in fact companies that keep your credit on your phone card even after expiration but these are rare.
Billing increments – this is when a card will charge you in set increments or blocks for example 10c charged in 3-minute blocks equals 30c every 3 minutes which means if you call for only 1 minute then you are charged 30c.
Breakage – this is when you have a balance that is too small to make a call, for example, you have 30c but the call costs 31c per minute then you can’t use that credit and the company eventually pockets that balance. This adds up over the course of thousands of cards. You can see that for some companies they will find creative ways to eat into your calling credit which is how they make a large portion of their money. Now that you know what to look for you’ll be able to reduce the amount of loss and get the best deal when finding your next international calling card.