Low-Cost Long-Distance Services
This field changes quickly—but it may pay to use a dial-around service or calling card
Suppose you have enrolled in a storytelling course that requires you to join telephone conference calls. What is the most economical way to join the call?
The answer will not be the same for everyone. It depends on your circumstances and needs.
What Are Your Circumstances?
- Will you be calling internationally or within the USA?
- What state or country will you be calling from?
- Will you be calling from your home phone, from a mobile phone, or do you need a service that will work from hotels or pay phones?
- What other long-distance calls will you be making?
- What other long-distance service(s) do you already have available?
- Do you have the equipment (and the comfort with technology) to use internet telephony like Skype?
It would take at least a complete website to answer the question, “What is the cheapest and most convenient way for me to join a conference call?” for all answers to the above questions.
Worse, that complete website would go out of date quickly, given how frequently long distance providers change their rates and charges.
So, I present some general hints and resources to help you get started in making a decision. Please keep in mind that, although I have tested some of these websites and services, I can’t guarantee that things haven’t changed since I did so. (Actually, I can just about guarantee that they have changed!)
Basic Types of Services
These are your basic choices for long-distance calls:
- Dial 1 services. Most people have this on their home or business lines. You have made a contract (often with the company that provides the phone line into your building) with a single long-distance provider. Their service is automatically chosen when you dial “1″ plus a long distance number. (Outside the USA you may access long distance differently.) You may even have unlimited minutes for calls within your home country.
- Mobile (cell) phone minutes. Your mobile phone plan comes with a certain number of minutes per month, valid for a certain calling range (usually within your home country).
- Internet calling (“Voice over IP”). The best known services are Vonage and Skype. These require broadband internet access and either a computer with a microphone, special phones, or perhaps a special “box” to connect your phones to the internet.
- Calling cards. These cards provide you with a special access number to call. The access number may be a toll-free number or may be a local call. Once you have connected to the service, you can dial your long-distance call. Some calling cards are pre-paid; others bill you each month depending on your usage.
- Dial-around services. These work from your home (or business) phone only. Before you make a long-distance call, you dial a series of numbers starting with “1010″; then you dial “1″ plus the number you are calling. Dial-around charges are either added to your phone bill or billed to you separately. Unlike “Dial 1″ services, you can subscribe to more than one of these.
The Short Answer
If you’re taking a course via conference call, you need:
- Lots of minutes per call;
- Only a few calls per month. (One to four?)
Depending on your circumstance (see above), your best bet is likely to be one of the following, in order of convenience and likelihood:
- Use your existing dial-1 service if you have the minutes pre-paid or have a low per-minute rate.
- Use your mobile phone if you have the minutes and have good reception.
- Use a pre-paid card if you need to call from a hotel or pay phone.
- Use a dial-around service if you are calling from your home or business.
Most people understand the first two choices. The rest of this article will speak to helping you with the last two.
What PrePaid and Dial-Around Have in Common
Both prepaid cards and dial-around services have complex rates. With either, you may be charged one or more of the following:
- A per-minute charge (always);
- A per-call charge;
- A monthly minimum charge;
- A monthly flat-fee;
- A monthly add-on percentage of your per-call and per-minute charges.
On top of this, the services tend to change their rates frequently, adding a minimum charge, say, or changing both the per-call and per-minute rates.
As a result, figuring out which service will be cheapest for you is difficult! Fortunately, some websites provide recommendations. Some even provide calculators where you can enter your expected number of minutes and number of calls per month.
The following sites claim to stay on top of these changing fee structures and to list calling-card and/or dial-around services. Sadly, even the sites change frequently, so read carefully when consulting them:
- 1010 Phone Rates (has good explanations of how dial-around services work and what to watch out for)
- Cagey Consumer. (Covers much more than just phone rates. Posts bulletins announcing changes in rates by carriers, etc.)
These sites have calculators that show you (within the relatively small number of services that each calculator lists) which service is cheapest for your calling needs (how many minutes per call, how many calls a month):
My Experience and Recommendations
Finally, I can say that I have experience (in years past) with this service. Note: it has closed and re-opened since then, so it may be quite different now!
This service, listed at 1010 Phone Rates looks good to me (but keep in mind that I haven’t used it personally):
If you have experiences you’d like me to pass on, please leave a comment below or contact me via my contact form.
All the best,