International phone cards are widely accepted as providing customers with very low rates to virtually anywhere on the planet, they are also very simple to use and on top of that use the same old traditional phone lines that we use when using our mobiles or landlines to call our friends and family but the phone card industry has an incredibly poor reputation, run a Google search with the term “phone card” and after all of the phone card sites you start to see articles and consumer awareness guides popping up detailing how rogue the industry actually is.
The goal of this article isn’t to provide counter arguments but rather to give you some very specific information around how to avoid the bad guys and find the best phone card companies.
One of the very first things to consider is the average length of time that you are going to be talking on the phone.
This is an important consideration.
For example, if you are making short calls then you are going to want to avoid international calling cards that come with a connection fee and also you will want to opt for a calling card that has very short billing increments 1 to 2 minute billing increments is preferable.
Later on inside this article I’ll go over what billing increments are and why they are important for getting the most from your money when it comes to buying calling cards.
Long call duration
If you are making longer calls 60 minutes plus then you can start to entertain the idea of using calling cards that come with a connection fee.
We’ll go into what a connection fee is shortly.
The reason why is that calling cards that come with a connection fee often times offer lower rates than their non connection fee counterparts.
For example, at phonecardchoice.com they have a calling card to call to Canada for 1.5c but comes with a 49 cent connection fee which means this phone card will break even at the 32.66 minute mark, once you’ve hit that then you will be getting very good calling rates, you can see why you need to know how long you are going to be calling for so you can make smarter buying decisions.
One of the unfortunate things about the calling card industry is that it has painted itself into a corner in terms being a “low budget” option for people who want to make international calls.
This means these companies are forced to work with razor thin margins and when you are a business that is working to tight margins chances are you are losing money on a some of your products which means that you need to think about how you are going to claw back that money.
Some calling card providers have introduced some very clever ways to offer cheap rates with one hand but then take that money back with the other.
Let’s cover off some of the most common ways they do this.
Daily Service Fees
Daily service fees are very common in fact it is estimated that a little under half of the calling companies charge this special fee for using their service.
What is a daily service fee?
This is a fee that is automatically deducted from your phone card balance at regular intervals (daily, weekly or monthly).
The interesting thing about the daily service fee is that it begins as soon as your calling card has been activated (typically by making your first phone call) and will continue to charge you regardless of whether you are actually using your international calling card or not.
The reasoning behind this some companies will say that it helps maintain the service, this is obviously rubbish, this is purely to increase profit margins.
Also, this is one of the main reasons why you should never base your buying decision on price alone, calling card companies know that customers are by default going to go with the lowest price, so some companies will create a very low price but then use things like admin fee or daily service fees to get that profit back.
Legally calling card services need to clearly state this on the packaging or online so my recommendation is to read the conditions of using that particular phone card before purchasing.
Unit Based Calling Cards
Another creative technique used by calling card companies is to convert the customers fiat currency into a totally different unit of currency.
For example, “$5 will get your 39 banana calling credits”, it’s a bit weird and makes it incredibly difficult to know exactly how much money you are spending on each call – time to get out your spreadsheet!
My recommendation here is to avoid any calling card that is converting your money into a currency that hides your calling costs.
Sometimes calling card providers will add connection fees to their phone cards and this is fine if there is some kind of added benefit to the end customer like how I mentioned before that you may have company offer calling cards with connection fees but they will also much lower rates.
Generally speaking when it comes to phone cards I will typically opt for a calling card that doesn’t come with a connection fee even if I’m slightly overpaying on the per minute rate, the reason for this is that sometimes you may not get through to the person you are trying to call, you may get their voicemail or even a cross line (your call ends up in a totally different country) and you end up getting hit with the connection fee.
Call the customer support team
My number one golden rule is this:
If possible, only buy international calling cards from online calling card companies or retail (brick and mortar) stores who specialize in calling cards – do not go with newsagents or supermarkets, etc. because when things go wrong they can do little but possibly offer you a refund.
The main reason for choosing a specialist retailer is because you can ask them very specific questions and they will have the answers.
If you ask about the billing increment, or what happens if your card is faulty, etc. you are not going to get a good answer, you will often find that they start reading the back of the phone card to try and get the answer.
Specialist retailers have a good customer support team who will be able to help you with all of your questions and especially if things go wrong in terms of tech headaches.