In 2023/22 we have so many options available to us when it comes to communicating with friends and family overseas with plenty of those options being free.
The internet has truly changed the way we connect with one another.
If you currently live in a fully developed part of the world you often forget that most of the planet still cannot take full advantage of these technologies that we take for granted.
For example, making a video call to lesser developed nations will often lead to laggy calls, video stuttering, delayed audio, frozen images and call drop outs.
Forget about calling people who live in rural areas, where it’s likely there will be no internet at all.
Enter the humble phone card.
Even though this technology is decades old it leverages an existing communication infrastructure that virtually everyone has and that is a phone line.
Phone cards are fantastic and it is one of the main tools I’ve used while travelling to stay in contact with everyone both back home and to places I’m travelling.
Phone cards have allowed me to connect with people when internet calling failed.
On top of that they’re super cheap (depending on where you are calling to of course) especially compared to what the giant telco companies are offering, I will typically be able to save anywhere from 50-90% on my phone bills using phone cards.
But, there are some things you need to know when using phone cards because in any industry where they’re offering the “cheapest” prices there are always hidden costs somewhere.
In fact, recently I found a study conducted by a consumer watch group in Australia that discovered some interesting findings regarding how some of the phone card industry operates and I thought I’d give my take on each one since I have purchased a lot of these things during my travels.
Let’s get started!
Only 28% of phone cards had any sort of in-store information about rates, terms and conditions
“Most customers just look at the per-minute rate, this is a mistake, they should be looking at connection fees, minute rounding, whether it’s better for landlines or mobiles, etc.” JT, nzphonecards.co.nz
Phone cards are a more complex product than most think, there are a lot of things to take into consideration, and it would be tough to have all of this information printed on the card, typically there would be at a bare minimum the call rates and how to use it.
Phone card companies have never been great at supplying their retail partners with solid information and for some companies it works in their favour because if the customer knew about all of the sneaky hidden costs they wouldn’t be able to sell them.
94% of salespeople couldn’t give the customer any information about calling rates for their phone cards
In my own personal experience buying literally hundreds of these things I can tell you that yes, if you purchase from a physical brick and mortar store chances are that few of them are going to have the information on hand to help with questions around, rates, small print, or anything like that.
If they specialize in phone cards then yes, they will but most of the times you are purchasing your phone card from a store that sells a hundred other types of products so it is a little unreasonable to think that they should know everything about the products they sell.
My advice is to purchase from a specialist phone card store or from an online phone card provider where you can see the rates, read the FAQ and terms and conditions and also call up the customer service team.
9% of the phone cards purchased had poor call quality
When you think about it this number is actually quite good, only 9%? And falls in line with my own experience.
Most of the cards I’ve purchased have had good audio quality, it may have not been as clear as what you would get from a large telco service but it’s really close.
This is great especially when you consider the discount you get from using these cards for me it really is a no brainer.
48% of phone cards applied a daily service charge or fee once the card is activated
This is something you really need to keep your eye peeled for.
The phone card industry operates on slim margins and so phonecard companies will look to try and find ways to recoup their acquisition costs and pad out their profit margins.
Sliding in hidden or junk fees is a great way for them to do exactly that.
A service charge is essentially a small fee that deducted from your card in intervals i.e. daily, weekly, monthly or every couple of days.
The reasoning for applying such a fee to these cards is help maintain the phonecard providers service and I guess it does in a way because if they didn’t, they would likely be out of business.
But you are not receiving any special additional benefits, it’s just pure profit taking from the phonecard provider.
Why should the customer have to foot the bill because that company is horrible at business?
The best piece of advice I can give to people who are looking to purchase a phone card is to make sure that the phonecard company has a responsive customer service team on hand.
This is by far the most essential must have for me, if they do not have a customer service team and move on, it is that important.
Why? If they have a customer support team you can ask them questions that will save you a lot of potential headaches in the future.
Questions you need to ask them are:
- I’m calling to [COUNTRY] which phone card would you recommend?
- What are the hidden fees? Are their service charges? Does this phonecard have connection fees?
- Does this card charge by the minute or does it charge by block time (i.e. charges you every 3 minutes)
- How long does it take for you to resolve technical issues? (connection issues, call drops, cross-lines, poor audio, etc.)