Prepaid calling cards can be a good way to use the landline for international calls when you're staying with family at Christmas, but you need to make sure you pick the right one. An analysis of calling cards by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) found that 40 per cent of cards on the Australian market had "significant problems".
ACCAN performed an anonymous shopper test, purchasing 100 $10 calling cards from 30 different shops. The analysis aimed to identify whether sufficient information was given about the cards at point of sale, and to see if they offered as many calling minutes as they claimed. Getting information from sellers is a major challenge: ACCAN found that 94 per cent of staff in stores selling cards didn't know anything about the rates, and only 28 per cent had information in-store. The claimed totals should also be treated with scepticism: 23 per cent of the cards ACCAN tested did not include as many usable minutes as advertised.
ACCAN's picks for best value? The Genuine Aussie Phonecard, China Gold and Hong Bao all offered good value, no hidden fees and straightforward per-minute charging. Card it singled out as worth avoiding were Call Mama, Talk Tomato and Hot.
Your choice of card can be heavily influenced by where you want to call: a cheap rate for the UK isn't much help if all your relatives are in Botswana. Issues ACCAN highlights that are worth considering include:
- Check the expiry date carefully; three months is typical.
- Watch out for cards which impose a daily charge; these will reduce credit quickly even if you don't use them. They're a reasonable choice if you plan to use the credit quickly over a short period, but not otherwise. (According to ACCAN, almost half the cards on the market have a daily charge.)
- Check that the card works; 7 per cent of those purchased by ACCAN failed to activate. If it doesn't work, call the customer service line and ask for a replacement.
- Aim for a card which charges per minute. Some cards charge in 15-minute blocks, which is wasteful for short calls. The same applies to cards with fixed connection (flagfall) and disconnection fees.
- Watch out for strange surcharges: one card charged $2 after four minutes.
Which calling cards can you recommend, or recommend avoiding? Tell us in the comments.