Calling Cards and Phone Cards

Calling cards and phone cards come in a variety of denominations - but that's just one parameter to keep in mind while choosing a card.

Cards from different vendors also come with different terms and conditions. Here are a few things to check on, before you buy or regularly start patronizing a particular calling card.

Voice quality
Voice quality varies from card to card, and even with the same card, depending on which country and what time of day you're calling. So a good tip is to determine when you make most of your calls. Then try out a few different cards to see which one gives you the best voice quality at your preferred time of day and to your preferred locations.

Billing frequency (also referred to as minute rounding)
Some cards bill in increments of a minute, some every 2 or 3 minutes, some by the second. If nothing else, do check this one point before comparing prices and purchasing a card. A card with 3-minute rounding, for instance, will charge you for a full call if you talk for any period upto 3 minutes (and for two calls, if your call goes to say 3.1 minutes). In general, the shorter the billing frequency, the better for you.

Activation or connection fees
Some cards deduct a small fixed fee every time you connect or make a call. Clearly, this lessens the amount of money available for talk time, and in effect, reduces the denomination of the card. But connection fees might not be always bad. If the card if offering a lower rate per minute and if you typically make fewer but longer duration calls, you might want to choose a card with connection fee. (Having said that, the general rule is: avoid a card with connection fees)

Maintenance fees
Some cards deduct a periodic maintenance fees (say every month, week or in the worst case, every day). Either stay away from such cards, or factor that into the effective rate/minute, while comparing cards. Also check when the fees gets deducted - on a certain date every month or at first usage etc.

Expiration period
A card might have an expiration period - a month, 3 months, 12 months and so on. This means the card will become inoperative after that period, notwithstanding any remaining balance. Either choose a card with a long/unlimited expiration period, or opt for a low denomination card that you're sure to use up before expiration.

Rates advertised on phone cards are sometimes valid only for landline phones. Dialing a mobile phone might trigger a higher rate. Similarly, calling from a public payphone might trigger a surcharge. Be sure you've checked the terms and conditions and factored in all such surcharges, while selecting a calling card.

Preferential country rates
Some phone cards might have a attractively low rate for calling a specific country. Such deals should be taken advantage of. Do remember, however, that the low rate might only be for the advertised country (or set of countries) and further, might be for a limited time.

PIN and PIN-less Dialing
To use a calling card, you usually have to dial an access number and punch in a PIN. However, many calling card services are, of late, the 'PIN-less' variety. In this scenario, you provide upto 3 authorized phone numbers while purchasing the card. If the access number is dialed from any of the authorized numbers, you don't have to type in your PIN - the system recognizes you. This is a really useful feature if you make your a lot of calling card calls from the same phone.

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