I love to travel and one of the essential items I carry around with me all the time is an internal phone card.
While there are plenty of other free options available, I have people who use Skype but not WhatsApp, or they live in areas where the internet underperforms or they don’t want to learn how to use video calling software.
I’ve found that there is nothing easier and faster than just being able to call up my friends and family on their landlines or mobile.
It doesn’t matter whether they live in Vietnam, Bali, Japan, Russia, Australia or New Zealand it’s just far better to make a phone call – by the way I’ve found a great guide if you’re calling Australia from NZ.
In this guide, I wanted to share with you my top tips on how to purchase a phone card without being ripped off.
1. Avoid phone cards with service fees
Once of my pet peeves when it comes to some phone cards is this idea of charging their customers for the privilege of using their service.
What is a service fee?
A service fee is a small deduction made to your card at certain intervals.
This could be monthly, weekly or even every other day.
Why do phone card companies charge this fee?
I’m not 100% sure but I have been told it is there to keep the service maintained to a high level, well you would think they would be doing this anyway, right?
The way I see it is that the phone card industry is so cut-throat and operates on such razor-thin margins that they need to recoup that with fees like these.
My advice is to simply avoid these types of companies because if they’re charging service fees there are probably other strategies they’re suing to skim more profits from their customers too.
2. Find a service with plenty of carrier lines
While I love phone cards for their convenience and dollar savings there is one issue that you will likely encounter at some point and that is technical hiccups.
This is when you experience weird things like:
• Your call drops for no apparent reason even though to have plenty of credit.
• You are directed to another person in a different country, i.e. cross line.
• Your call doesn’t connect to a specific phone number.
• Poor audio quality
In order for phonecard companies to offer such low calling rates they use lower quality carrier lines which can sometimes mean you run into a problem.
I’ve been pretty lucky and have had few problems but if you are looking at purchasing a phonecard I’d recommend calling the customer service team to find out how long it takes to resolve technical issues.
Good companies will be able to fix it that day, great companies with an hour.
3. Check the calling rates
Most people will purchase a card based on the per minute calling rate but this is often a mistake because there are 3 important data points you need to look out for:
• Per minute rate
• Minute rounding
• Connection fees
Per minute rate
The per minute rate is fairly straight forward, that is how much are you being charged per minute BUT this holds hands with the next data point…
Few phone cards will charge per minute, most will charge you in blocks of time.
For example you may see a phone card with a per minute rate of $0.10 but a minute rounding rate (also known as billing increment) of 3 minutes.
This means that you will be charged $0.30 every 3 minutes.
This means that if you call lasts for a minute you will be charged the full 3 minutes or $0.30.
For most people this will not be much of a deal since most phone calls are over 3 minutes but there are some cards that have large minute rounding one I seen a while back had a minute rounding time of 15 minutes!
Even if your call lasts for an hour you will still need to time your call to end right before the 15th minute to get the most out of your card.
The reason why phone card companies will use super long billing increments like this is to make money from your left over minutes they know most people will not timing their calls.
Connection rates are very common with phone cards and in 99% of cases I will typically avoid them but there are some cases where they may make sense for some people.
What is a connection fee?
A connection fee is a small deduction made from your phone card upon successful connection either to the person you wish to talk to or their voicemail.
A disconnection fee operates the same way but the card is charged once the call is finished.
For example, some phone cards that come with connection fees will actually have a lower per minute rate which means if you are making long duration calls say 40+ minutes it would actually work out cheaper for you.
4. Check for customer service
Before travelling I prefer to purchase my phone cards up front so I’m all set to go and I’ll typically purchase these online from a phone card provider, but there are some places where I need to get them from the store once I’m already travelling.
The reason why I prefer to shop online is because I can get the phone card information sent direct to my email address so everything is all in one place.
Secondly, I’ve been at this for a while so I know which phone card providers actually a customer service team in place.
If you haven’t yet purchased your phone card I would highly recommend using an online provider since they’ll be able to answer some important questions which I’ll list in the next section of this guide.
Key questions to ask:
• I’m calling to [country] what card can you recommend?
• Do you have any hidden fees like service charges, reactivation fees, etc.?
• How long to resolve technical issues? (poor audio quality, call drops, no connection, overcharging, cross lines, etc.)
• Are you available during public holidays?
• What happens to my credit once my phone card expires?