Calling cards have been kicking around convenience stores forever and have always offered significant savings off the standard long distance rates charged by phone service providers, yet still many people choose not to use them. People like the convenience of being able to pick up the phone, quickly dial a number, and be immediately connected to their desired party. In other cases it may not be an issue of convenience, but instead an issue of complexity. Calling cards can be complex with huge lists of local access numbers, different rules and fees for using every card, and lots of fine print to read.
It is true that calling cards add in extra steps that can be cumbersome, so is using a calling card really worth it? I believe the answer to that question is yes! They can save you a lot of money, so in that regard they are worth it, and, after reading this guide, you should have a much better understanding of how they work, how you can make use of them without too much hassle, and what the best calling cards are for your personal needs.
In This Guide
- Understanding How Calling Cards Work
- Where To Buy Calling Cards
- The Best Calling Card For You
- Tips For Making Calling Card Use Easier
Understanding How Calling Cards Work
Calling cards can be complex animals so I want to take some time to go over some of the finer details so you know what to look for and how to properly evaluate a calling card when you are making your choice. You may want to skip this section if you already know how they work.
Almost all calling cards operate using an access number system where you first need to dial a special number connecting you to the calling card system. Then, you need to enter a PIN number identifying your specific calling card and finally you enter the full 10-digit phone number of the person you are calling to be connected with them.
Local Access Numbers (LANs)
Calling cards with the cheapest rates typically have a long list of LANs associated with them and you dial a different number to connect to the system depending on what city you live in. Unfortunately the list of supported cities is different for every card so you need to verify that your city is present every time you evaluate a new card. Smaller cities and towns are often excluded completely from the best cards with the lowest rates.
Toll Free Access Numbers
Many cards offer a toll free access number in addition to the LANs that they support so you can essentially use the card from anywhere in Canada and maybe other countries as well. However, using the toll free access number usually tacks on an additional per minute fee on top of the standard rate which makes using the card less practical for those without a local access number. A select few cards don’t charge any additional fees for toll free access, but the standard per minute rate is usually a little higher than other cards. People in smaller cities are typically better off looking for a card with a low rate card that has toll free access at no additional charge.
Calling cards have the potential to come with a lot of additional fees. Cards that have high fees typically advertise extremely low rates to attract potential buyers and if they aren’t careful then the fees will eat up most of the card’s value. Here’s a short explanation of most of those fees so you know what to expect:
Connection fees are a small fee that is charged for connecting each and every call that you make. If a card comes with high connection fees than you want to make only a few longer calls to get the best possible value out of your card. These fees can either be charged at the beginning or end of a call depending on the calling card. Those charged after the calls completes are usually better because it allows you to use up the full balance of your card without having to pay the connection fee in the end because there is no money remaining on the card.
Maintenance fees are periodic fees that are assessed for “maintaining” your calling card account. Having such fees ensure that your card won’t remain active in their system for an extended period of time as the balance will steadily be drained to zero as time passes even if you don’t use the card. These fees can be charged as frequently as daily but are often charged either weekly or monthly as well. Buying a card with maintenance fees is usually not advisable unless you plan to use the entire balance of the card before the recurring fees decrease your overall value. Occasionally cards with maintenance fees have such good rates to specific countries that it can make sense to buy this type of card for certain people. Buyer beware!
You may be required to pay taxes at the point of sale for a particular calling card and if that is the case there won’t usually be any additional taxes. However, in other cases there is a flat fee for the card and the taxes are levied after each call as a deduction from your balance. Still other cards build the cost of the taxes into their per minute rate so the rate you see is the rate you pay and your total number of minutes won’t be reduced due to taxes. Be wary of cards that asses taxes on a per call basis because you may think you are getting more minutes when purchasing those cards than you really are.
Using a calling card from a payphone is not something I normally do because I typically make calls from my cell phone while I am out but you should be aware that calling cards that work with payphones usually have additional fees charged to them for payphone calls.
Some cards go so far as to charge ambiguous fees depending on where you are calling from, how long the call lasts, or where you are calling without specifically informing you of what those fees are. Some cards also have disconnection fees that are levied when the call ends or service charges that are billed at the beginning, middle, or end of the call. It is best to avoid cards with variable and unknown fees like these that can potentially erode your balance without your knowing.
There are a few other conditions that are important to be aware of when making your calling card purchasing decisions such as card expiration and minute rounding.
Cards that comes with maintenance fees have no real need of an expiry date, but some of the card that don’t have recurring fees have expiration dates instead to make sure that cards won’t remain active in their system forever. Not all cards expire and most of them that do have reasonable expiration periods of either 6 months or 1 year from the date of first use. Your expiration counter won’t usually start ticking until you first use the card but you should read the fine print closely to make sure that is the case if you don’t plan to use the card right away.
I am not aware of any calling cards that offer per second calling; therefore all calling cards employ minute rounding to some extent. This isn’t really a big deal when rounding is done in 1 minute increments, which is the standard for most cards. However, some of the cheapest per minute rate cards have increased rounding of 3, 5, or even 8+ minutes. In those cases you will lose a lot of minutes for those quick calls or when the answering machine picks up so just be aware of that if you decide to go for a card with higher minute rounding.
Where To Buy Calling Cards
You can purchase calling cards from local stores, but purchasing them online is much faster (instant PIN by email) and usually much cheaper as well. I have purchased many calling cards for my own usage in the past few years and have done additional research for this guide to find the best and cheapest places for Canadians to buy calling cards. Click the links below to get more information or to make your purchase once you’ve made a final decision.
Pingo is more of a complete long distance service than just a basic calling card because they offer all kinds of convenient and helpful features along with good global long distance rates to make calling easy. Not only that but they offer toll free access throughout all of Canada for no extra charge so you don’t have to worry about remembering a different phone number when you are traveling to different cities. You get to choose your own PIN number that never changes and register your phone numbers with them so you don’t need to type in a calling card number every time either.
They also give $10 in free long distance (about 4 hours worth) to all new accounts so you can try the service free and only start paying if you like it. I have taken advantage of the $10 free offer myself and then paid for several additional top ups after that. I found the service to be very good with excellent call quality!
Toronto Calling Cards has a good selection of calling cards servicing the Canadian market at very reasonable prices. They often give their customers a 10% discount off the normal price of the cards that they sell. At the time of this writing, two of their best cards (CiCi and First Choice) both qualify for the 10% discount. Your calling card number will be delivered to you via email immediately after you make your purchase so you can start calling right away. You can even earn Aeroplan miles on several of the calling cards that they sell!
Comfi offers their own line of calling cards that have decent rates and most of them have quite a few Canadian access numbers. If you require toll free access, then the rates tend to be a little bit higher but you still might be able to find a card that works for you here. I have purchased their Continental calling card several times and I never had any issues with it. Their Royal Call card has an extremely low 1 cent per minute calling rate for those in most major Canadian cities and no maintenance fees or other hidden charges (except 15% tax) apply. Comfi phone cards are based around US dollars so the cost to purchase them in Canadian dollars can very depending on the current exchange rate.
Ontario Phone Cards is very similar to Toronto Calling Cards. They have a good selection of calling cards that service the Canadian market and if you can’t find a calling card to suit your needs using one of the above options, then they are another good place to try. I’ve purchased several calling cards from them in the past with no issues.
The Best Calling Card For You
Determining the best calling card depends on a lot of factors. Here I will cover the most common scenarios and try to pinpoint the best overall cards for those scenarios. In this comparison, I am only considering calls placed to Canada or the USA. Determining the best calling card for international calls is nearly impossible because rates differ for every possible country. If you need a calling card for international calls, I suggest looking at the rates on the top cards listed here for the country you wish to call and see which one is the cheapest. You can also try out the card selection tools over at the above mentioned websites to see a list of cards and rates that are available for the country you wish to call.
The Best No Fee Calling Cards For Multiple Calls
The best way to make using calling cards as easy as possible is to focus on cards that don’t charge any fees such that the minutes you see advertised on the card are the actual number of minutes you will receive. I have included cards in this list that have taxes associated with them because in those cases you usually don’t have to pay any taxes when purchasing the card so it balances out in the end. If you can find a card that doesn’t charge tax up front or when making calls, then that is definitely an added bonus.
|Calling Card||Per Min. Rate||Tax||LANs||Rounding||Expiry||Where To Buy|
|Royal Call||1.00¢||15%||14||1 min.||10 months||Comfi|
|First Choice||1.50¢||No||26||1 min.||3 months||Toronto|
|Champion||1.90¢||15%||9||1 min.||10 months||Comfi|
|Premier Plus||2.40¢||No||National||1 min.||6 months||Toronto|
|Cici||2.50¢||No||34||1 min.||6 months||Toronto|
|Continental||2.50¢||15%||18||3 min.||6 months||Comfi|
|Bizon||2.60¢||15%||15||1 min.||10 months||Comfi|
The Best Calling Cards For Long Calls (With Or Without Fees)
Calling cards with multiple fees, taxes, and high minute rounding usually only make sense when making longer calls. There are some people who only use calling cards for making long calls to family and friends. These cards are worth looking at if you can use up the entire balance of the card while making one or two longs calls. Doing so often allows you to avoid the drawbacks of connection fees, maintenance fees, and high minute rounding. I have calculated the effective per minute rate for the following scenarios: using an entire $5 card in 1 call, a 1 minute call, a 5 minute call, a 30 minute call, and a 2 hour call.
Cards with too many fees, a poor reputation, or unclear terms and conditions are not included because it is too hard to predict the real per minute cost of using them. Some of the cards listed below may have minor additional fees that aren’t accounted for in the table because they are hard to categorize and calculate properly. For that reason your per minute cost might be slightly higher but not significantly so.
|Calling Card:||Freedom||Partner||Gold||Royal Call|
|Per Min. Rate||0.50¢||0.80¢||1.00¢||1.00¢|
|$5 Card Only 1 Call||0.53¢||0.92¢*||1.1¢||1.15¢|
|1 Min. Call||29.0¢||2.76¢*||1.00¢||1.15¢|
|5 Min. Call||6.20¢||1.10¢*||4.03¢||1.15¢|
|30 Min. Call||1.45¢||0.92¢*||1.56¢||1.15¢|
|2 Hour Call||0.74¢||0.92¢*||1.19¢||1.15¢|
|Conn. Fee||29¢||No||15¢ + 7%||No|
|Maint. Fee||10¢ weekly||59¢ biweekly||No||No|
|Rounding||1 min.||3 min.||1 min.||1 min.|
|Expiry||6 months||10 months||6 months||10 months|
|Where To Buy||Toronto||Comfi||Toronto||Comfi|
* Includes taxes in the calculation because they are levied each time a call is made. When buying phone cards that charge you tax at the point of sale, remember to factor this in to per minute rates.
The Best Canada-Wide Toll Free Calling Cards
Most calling cards require the use of Local Access Numbers to get the advertised rates. Many of them also offer toll-free numbers that can be used in the rest of Canada but doing so usually tacks on an additional fee of about 5 cents per minute. Therefore, identifying those cards that don’t charge for using their toll free numbers is helpful to those Canadians who don’t live in a major city with a local access number.
|Calling Card:||Freedom||Premier Plus||Cici||Pingo|
|Per Min. Rate||0.50¢||2.40¢||2.50¢||4.15¢|
|Conn. Fee||29¢||See terms for fees||No||No|
|Maint. Fee||No||No||No||98¢ monthly|
|Rounding||1 min.||1 min.||1 min.||1 min.|
|Expiry||6 months||6 months||6 months||None|
|Where To Buy||Toronto||Toronto||Toronto||Pingo|
Tips For Making Calling Card Use Easier
One of the biggest complains people having when using calling cards is that they have to remember a local access number to dial, manually enter a calling card number or PIN number, and then also remember the number of the person they are calling. That is definitely a lot of numbers to remember or even just to dial because if you make one mistake you often have to start again from the beginning. There are several ways you can deal with these problems.
Use Technology To Do The Work For You
Speed Dial – Most home phones and cell phones have some sort of speed dial. You can program your local access number into the speed dial for easy dialing and, if your phone supports waits and pauses, you can even tell it to wait until you are connected and then enter the calling card number or PIN automatically. This can still be annoying when you are on a cell phone and you just want to pick a contact from your address book and be connected. With this method you still have to remember the number of the person you are calling, which can be a major pain while driving or if you have to try and look up the number once the call has already started.
Enhanced Dialers – Home phones typically are quite restrained in how numbers and contacts can be dialed but modern smart phones and even regular cell phones often have programmable dialers that can work with calling cards. With a proper dialer you can simply select a contact from your address book and it will ask you how you want to make the call. From there you tell it you want to use your pre-programmed calling card and it will dial the LAN, wait for connection, enter the calling card number or PIN, deal with any menus, and then dial the number of the contact you selected all with one click. If you have a smart phone, check to see if your phone’s standard dialer can do this and if not just search your app store or marketplace for “dialer” or do a Google search to see what is available. I used to use iDialer for Windows Mobile before I recently switched to an Android based device.
Choose A Calling Card With Enhanced Features
Pinless Dialing – Many calling cards have a feature where you can register the phone numbers you will be using to place your calls and whenever you dial in using the local access number it will automatically recognize you so you don’t to enter in your calling card number or PIN. This is great if you don’t want to use an enhanced dialer.
Permanent PIN – A permanent PIN is a calling card that never completely expires as long as you keep adding to its balance every so often. This way you get to keep the same PIN forever for easy memorization or so you don’t have to update your dialer with a new PIN number every time you buy a new calling card.
Auto Top Up – Many cards offer this enhancement that lets you register a credit card with them and they will automatically charge your card once your balance gets below a certain level so you will never have to worry about buying another card.
Speed Dial – This is a great solution when you can’t remember the phone numbers of the people you typically call using your calling card. Some cards allow you to store phone contacts in their system and access them after you’ve dialed the calling card access number.
Call History – Pingo and some calling cards like the Continental card from Comfi allow you to see a detailed call history online so you can review your usage and make sure everything is being billed properly.
Other Features – New features are always being added like the ability to make cheaper calls from your computer, recharge your account via SMS, set up a conference call, use your card as a toll free number, and many more. While choosing a card that you need it makes sense to consider the entire feature package that each one offers in your decision making process.
Check out the rest of Services section for ways to save money on all of your other services!