Monday, April 9, 2007

What are calling cards, anyhow?

A calling card is, plain and simple, a way to lower your long distance costs. Technically, calling cards are a form of dial-around; this just means that when you use a calling card to place a call, you are routing the call specially to get a different (usually lower) rate. Calling cards usually come with two important numbers: an access number, which is the phone number you dial to begin your call, and a PIN, which you must enter to prevent others from accessing your account without your authorization. More sophisticated cards allow you to register phone numbers with your calling card so that you don't have to enter a PIN when calling from these numbers.

Some calling cards are postpaid, which means that you have an account and are billed for your usage, usually monthly. Others are prepaid, so you can only spend a set amount. Prepaid cards frequently have lower rates, since by paying upfront you enable the calling card provider to negotiate the rates in advance.

There are prepaid cards designed specifically for use between two countries, between a group of countries, or just within a single country. There are cards for students, cards for businesses, and cards for just making phone calls. We'll go into this in more detail in a future post - it's not hard to choose a calling card, but there are a few important things to consider.

What aren't calling cards? Don't confuse the calling cards we talk about in this blog with the cards used in many countries to activiate payphones; these cards usually contain smart chips and have many names, including phone cards, telecartes, and calling cards. We don't mean these, either.

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